The Best Underwater Cameras and Waterproof Housing

The best underwater cameras and accessories give you a whole new frontier to explore! Either by equipping yourself with waterproof digital cameras or by outfitting your regular camera with underwater housing, you can take things in a whole new direction. The technology for underwater photography has come on leaps and bounds, and these days it’s commonplace to see underwater photographers using professional DSLRs and underwater strobe lights and flash.

In this guide, we’re going to take you through everything you need to know about underwater photography and the best cameras for underwater photos and videos. We’ll discuss the advantages and disadvantages of using natively waterproof cameras versus standard cameras with underwater housing, and we’ll look at the best accessories for underwater photography.

We’ve divided our top picks into sections to make it easier to navigate. However, if you’re already feeling a little lost at sea, click the link below to jump straight to our “Underwater Photography Explained” section, where we run through all the key concepts involved.

Best Underwater Cameras

You don’t need to spend a lot of money to shoot underwater. There are loads of great budget underwater cameras out there, and provided you don’t need to dive too deep, they will reliably take underwater images and videos. For underwater shooting, you can look at action cameras, which are optimised for video, or tough cameras, which tend to be geared a little more towards photography. Here are our picks from both categories...

DJI Osmo Action

Free DJI Osmo Action charging kit worth £79

£329.00 View

Pro: Excellent video stabilisation

Pro: Dual LCD screens

Con: Stabilisation can cause lag

Con: No HDMI port

Waterproof depth: 11m

The best action camera for underwater photography, the DJI Osmo Action is a highly capable and dependable little shooter. While it’s well-suited for stills – capturing high-quality images with that classic ‘action-camera’ perspective – the DJI Osmo Action comes into its own when shooting video.

With a maximum resolution of 4K at a frame rate of 60p and a bit rate of 100 Mbps, the DJI Osmo Action puts professional-quality video in the hands of ordinary users. Best of all, its sophisticated RockSteady image stabilisation system is one of the best in class, making it possible and even easy to capture silky-smooth footage on the move. 

Waterproof down to 11m, the DJI Osmo Action is a fantastic way to capture your underwater exploits. You don’t need to sweat the technical stuff, and can just get on with capturing top-notch underwater images and videos. 


Insta360 ONE R Twin Edition

£399.00 View

Pro: Great in low light

Pro: Punchy colours in images

Con: Not much waterproofing without housing

Con: Headline feature unusable underwater

Waterproof depth: 5m natively; 45m with housing

The Insta360 One R Twin edition is a clever action camera – really it’s multiple cameras in one. Its modular design allows the user to swap between the 360-degree module and the 4K module, opening up multiple perspectives and different shooting options. Of course, you’re not exactly going to be swapping modules underwater – and natively, when everything’s sealed, the camera can only go down to 5m.

However, combine it with the Telesin 45M Underwater Housing and it’s a different story. Taking the Insta360 One R Twin Edition down to depths of 45m allows you to really make the most of some of its imaging strengths, such as its strong low-light performance and punchy colours, and allows you to explore different perspectives in the deep. 


Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FT30 Digital Camera - Blue

£129.00 View

Pro: 4x optical zoom lens

Pro: Tough exterior

Con: No 4K

Con: Only 8m waterproofing

Waterproof depth: 8m

The Panasonic Lumix FT30 is a great choice of budget underwater camera. It’s a compact tough camera, and while it doesn’t have the high-end video capabilities of the Osmo Action, it does have an optical zoom lens. This allows you to get closer to the action without compromising on image quality. 

Shooting stills at a resolution 16MP and capturing video in Full HD quality, the Lumix FT30 is a capable camera in the water and out. Like many tough cameras it has a hard shell that’s also shockproof and freezeproof, making it an excellent choice for all-around adventuring. 

There are definitely underwater cameras that can offer you more features and a broader suite of options, but the Lumix FT30 is excellent value, especially for family holidays. 


Nikon Coolpix W150 Digital Camera - Blue

£149.00 View

Pro: Very easy to use

Pro: Underwater face-detection modes

Con: No manual exposure controls

Con: Can’t zoom while recording video

Waterproof depth: 10m

It’s hard to find a purer point-and-shoot experience than the Nikon Coolpix W150. It doesn’t have manual exposure controls or anything like that – while this will be restrictive to experienced photographers, it makes the camera a superb choice for families with children. It’s simple enough for a five-year-old to use.

With a range of bright colour options and a hardy tough shell, the W150 is waterproof down to depths of 10m. It also has some handy face-detection modes that work underwater – great for capturing a child’s first swim in the sea! It records Full HD video too, and has a 3x optical zoom lens for getting in close. The 2.7-inch LCD screen makes it easy to monitor your shots, and the sensor does pretty well in low light. 


Olympus Tough TG-6 Digital Camera - Red

£369.00 View

Pro: Can be improved with underwater accessories

Pro: 4K video

Con: Only 12MP stills

Con: Limited manual control

Waterproof depth: 15m natively; 45m with housing

The Olympus Tough TG-6 is probably the best tough camera you can buy right now. As such, it costs more than contenders like the Panasonic Lumix FT30, but if you’ve got the budget then we reckon it’s well worth it. With a native waterproof depth of 15m, it outstrips its contenders in this field, and it also produces fantastic images and videos with its 25-100mm equivalent 4x optical zoom lens.

What really sets the TG-6 apart in underwater terms, however, is the fact that you can add the PT-059 underwater housing to extend its waterproofing depth of 45m. This puts it head and shoulders above its competition, and it’s worth factoring in as well that you can use the Olympus LG-1 LED Light underwater, further augmenting your setup. A fantastic tough camera for serious photographers, the Tough TG-6 is a superb underwater compact camera. 

Best Underwater Camera & Housing Combos

If you’re more serious about underwater photography, an underwater housing is the way to go. These are effectively waterproof shells that fit around a camera, allowing you to still operate the controls while keeping the valuable electronics safe from harm. They tend to be able to handle much greater depths than tough cameras and action cameras, and also have the advantage of allowing you to use a regular camera, which likely has a superior sensor to a standard tough camera. The trade-off is that underwater housings add expense and are considerably more cumbersome than a natively tough camera. But ultimately, if you want to shoot underwater, this is your best option.

Sony Marine Pack MPK-URX100A

£320.00 View

Pro: Superb image quality

Pro: Housing works with older RX100 cameras

Con: Battery life is an issue

Con: Short-ish lens reach

Waterproof depth: 40m with housing

The Sony Marine Pack MPK-URX100A is an underwater housing designed to protect the famous RX100 series of pocketable compacts, allowing them to be used underwater. These cameras are so popular that they’ve got seven iterations, with all models still in production, and this housing works with the RX100 Mark V (or VA) and all the models that preceded it.

Producing stills and videos in top-notch quality, the RX100 VA is a superb camera, with a 1-inch sensor that’s far superior to what you’d find in any tough camera. Its 24-70mm equivalent lens covers a good range, too.

The housing itself is highly sophisticated, with double gaskets for total waterproof security. Handily, it also has an accessory shoe, making it simple to attach extras like an underwater flash if you have one. It’s still easy to control the camera with the housing fitted, and any RX100 user will feel right at home. 


Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II Digital Camera

Save £100, was £569

£569.00 View

Pro: Good for burst-shooting

Pro: Built-in flash diffuser

Con: No 4K

Con: Middling battery life

Waterproof depth: 40m

The Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II has proven popular with a host of users, from amateur photographers to YouTubers. The Canon WP-DC55 Underwater Case is a case specifically for this compact camera, allowing it to be used up to 40m underwater. 

The clear-plastic construction of the housing is designed to protect the camera while preserving as much image quality as possible. Handily, it features a diffuser for the G7 X II’s built-in flash (built-in flash is a much more useful tool for underwater photography than it is on land).

While there’s no 4K capabilities on the G7 X Mark II, its Full HD video looks fantastic – there’s a reason it’s become hugely popular among YouTubers. It’s capable of burst-shooting stills at up to 8fps, and has a generous shot buffer that’ll let you capture a good number of images.


Panasonic Lumix DMC-G80 Kit with 12-60mm lens

Free 25mm lens worth £148

£620.00 View

Pro: Class-leading depth rating

Pro: Excellent image stabilisation

Con: Ships without lens port 

Con: Can’t use built-in flash

Waterproof depth: 61m 

The mirrorless Panasonic Lumix G80 is a highly capable camera that’s ideal for underwater exploration, and this is made possible thanks to the Ikelite Panasonic Lumix G85/G80 Housing. Providing access to almost all camera functions, this is a well-engineered housing that’s ideal for serious underwater photographers. 

The Ikelite housing is rated to depths of 61m, and features an ergonomic control layout that makes it almost as easy to operate the camera underwater as it is on land! Having the G80 at your disposal also means such useful features as 4K Photo Mode, which allows you to extract an 8MP still from 4K footage. Crucial for ensuring you never miss the moment!

The clear polycarbonate body of the housing is rigid and strong – perfect for exploring the deep seas! While the camera’s on-board flash won’t work in the housing, it is possible to attach an underwater strobe, to ensure you always have light when you need it. 


Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III Digital Camera

£1,139.00 View

Pro: Generous APS-C sensor

Pro: Stunning images and videos

Con: Shorter zoom range

Con: f/2.8-5.6 maximum aperture

Waterproof depth: 40m

One of Canon’s flagship compacts, the Canon PowerShot G X Mark III is a hugely impressive machine. Packing an APS-C sensor into its relatively diminutive body, it offers image quality that’s streets ahead of any tough camera. Its lens is a 24-72mm equivalent optic, with a variable maximum aperture of f/2.8-5.6.

Having the Canon Waterproof Case WP-DC56 allows you to take the G1 X Mark III down to depths of 40m. The case features a built-in diffuser for the on-camera flash, and offers easy access to most camera functions. 

With Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS autofocus system and good high-ISO performance, the PowerShot G1 X Mark III ticks a lot of boxes for underwater photographers. It’s basically a little DSLR, and merits serious consideration for any underwater photographer. 

Underwater Camera Buying Guide

Types of underwater camera

Action cameras

Pocketable and affordable, action cameras are the simplest type of underwater cameras. They tend to be distinctive cube shape. A prominent example would be the DJI Osmo Action.

Action camera advantages: Extremely portable and able to take a pounding, action cameras are also generally equipped with impressive video specs – so much so that they are sometimes used in professional filmmaking. Action cameras can often be extensively customised with bespoke or third-party accessories, and have sophisticated features like 3-axis video stabilisation. For watersports and shallow-water adventures, they’re superb. 

Action camera disadvantages: There’s a reason that the wide-angle action camera perspective is so distinctive – it’s the only one they can really produce! The small design of an action camera generally prohibits an optical zoom lens is included, which limits the user’s options. They also lack other basic camera features like a built-in flash, and generally can’t be submerged much deeper than 10-15m.

Browse our full range of action cameras »

Tough cameras (or underwater compacts)

In many respects, these resemble entry-level compact cameras, but with the difference that they are housed in a protective shell that protects them from water, dust, bumps and other outside dangers. They are physically larger than action cameras, and tend to be brightly coloured – which helps if you drop them in the water.

Tough camera advantages: Unlike action cameras, tough cameras can field an optical zoom lens, meaning you can get closer to your subject without any loss in quality. They are more comfortable to hold without a grip than small action cameras, and tend to be very easy to operate, which makes them good for children and beginner photographers.

Tough camera disadvantages: Tough cameras resemble entry-level compacts in more ways than one – they tend to have a very small 1/2.3-inch sensor, which can inhibit their light performance in low light. They also don’t tend to play well with accessories, meaning what you see on the box is pretty much what you get.

Browse our full range of compact cameras »

Underwater camera housings

These aren’t cameras exactly, but instead are a way to convert your regular camera into a machine capable of shooting underwater. They are waterproof shells that encase a camera completely while still allowing access to its controls. In sheer quality terms, this is the best option for underwater photography – any professional underwater photographer you see will absolutely be using a housing setup.

Underwater camera housing advantages: As mentioned – it’s all about quality. No more do you have to put up with small sensors or minimal features; with a housing, you can get professional image quality underwater. Housings tend to be rated to go much deeper than tough cameras or action cameras, further expanding the user’s options. 

Underwater camera housing disadvantages: High-quality cameras are already large, and putting a housing on them only makes them larger! The added expense also means the stakes are higher if something goes wrong. Also – and this can vary from housing to housing – sometimes an underwater housing will restrict certain functions, most commonly a camera’s built-in flash unit. This can necessitate buying more accessories, further adding to the cost. 

Browse our full range of underwater housing »

Underwater photography accessories

There are plenty of accessories for underwater accessories that can make life much easier when you’re shooting in the deep. Here are a few options to consider

Underwater lighting

Being able to effectively use flash is a hugely important part of underwater photography. Available light is significantly reduced once you get underwater, and this only gets more pronounced the deeper you go. There’s no point in finding the coolest underwater subjects if all your camera is capable of capturing is a muddy blur.

On-camera flash really comes into its own when shooting underwater. On dry land, the conventional wisdom holds that on-camera flash is mostly best off not used, as it tends to create a harsh and unflattering light on a subject. Underwater, however, this isn’t a problem. Some underwater cameras are equipped with built-in flash, and some underwater housings allow you to access and use the flash on the camera. 

If this isn’t the case, however, then it’s worth picking up an underwater light to make sure you always have illumination for the job at hand. The Olympus LG-1 LED light, for example, is a really good choice, providing both constant illumination and a ring-flash for video and stills alike. There are also bespoke speedlights available for specific underwater systems, like the Nikon SB-N10 Underwater Speedlight for the older Nikon 1 series of compacts. 

Browse our full range of underwater equipment »

Memory cards

It’s hugely important to have a good memory card equipped in your underwater camera to record and store all the images and videos you take. When shooting underwater, more so than on land, you want to make sure you get a high-capacity card, as you won’t exactly be able to swap it out for a new one while you’re mid-shoot! Check which type of card your camera is compatible with before buying, though it will very likely be a Secure Digital (SD) card

We’d recommend choosing something like the SanDisk 128GB Extreme PRO 170MB/Sec UHS-I SDXC Card, as these cards are not only high-capacity, but also waterproof! This gives you an extra layer of protection in case a moment of clumsiness causes a very unfortunate accident near the water. 

Wrist strap

Underwater cameras may be hardened against water ingress, but they don’t float! If you drop one while swimming, it could spell disaster, so it’s a good move to get an inexpensive wrist strap so you can keep it secure. This means you can swim without having to keep a secure grip on the camera at all times.

We’d recommend something simple like the Peak Design Cuff Camera Wrist Strap, as this will create a secure hold on your camera while also allowing for quick separation thanks to Peak Design’s bespoke anchor system. You can browse our full selection of camera straps here.

Underwater Photography Tips

Scuba diver using underwater camera in a river.jpg

So, you’ve got your underwater camera and it’s time to get started with underwater photography! Here are a few tips and good things to remember so you can ensure you get the best images possible.

Try out the gear before you dive

Whether you’re using a simple compact camera or a more complicated setup involving a housing, it’s worth making sure you’re comfortable using it before you head underwater. Figuring out how a new camera works can be tricky enough – no need to make it harder on yourself by trying to do it underwater! Spend some time online making sure you’re comfortable with your camera controls, and you’ll maximise the effectiveness of your time underwater.

Don’t shoot alone

This goes double if you’re diving, but even if you’re messing about in shallower water, it pays to have a buddy there to look out for you. Try to always be with at least one other person on your underwater shoots, and you’ll be able to keep an eye on each other in case something goes awry.

Shoot in RAW if you can

It’s murky down there, and you may find that even with flash, your camera struggles to pick out details. If your camera gives you the option to shoot in RAW format, you will find that it gives you much more latitude to get a usable image when you come to editing the shots. Shooting in RAW will also mean you have to worry less about settings like white balance – can be fiddly to change underwater – as you’ll be able to correct any issues in post.

Remember how depth affects your images

The deeper you go underwater, the less light you’re going to have to work with. Skin tones will look pretty vibrant just below the surface, but once you start going deeper, they’ll start to lose their lustre and look quite drab. You’ll get more of a green/blue colour cast too. Using flash and, again, shooting in RAW are good ways to counteract this.

Get close 

The lack of light underwater significantly reduces your camera’s vision, even with flash, and this means you need to be much closer to your subjects than you would normally. As a rule of thumb, try to get closer than you think you need to for the best results. 

Dive in the sun

For all this talk of the lack of light underwater, one of the best things you can do to mitigate the issue is simply to try and time your underwater shoots for bright sunny days! You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes, particularly to the quality of the water near the surface, and you’ll find your images look much better as a result. Just remember to use sunblock!

Glossary

Here’s a quick overview of some of the key terms you will encounter in underwater photography.

Depth of field

This is a term you’ll hear a lot in photography. It’s nothing to do with water depth – it refers to how much of an image is in focus. When an image has a shallow depth of field, it has a very narrow plane of focus, so the main subject will be in focus while everything else is blurred. Most professional portraits will tend to have a shallow depth of field. Greater depth of field means more of the image is in focus and is often used in landscape. Depth of field is controlled largely by the aperture setting of the lens, which can be expressed in F-numbers or F-stops – more on this below.

F-stop

F-stop, or F-number, refers to the aperture setting of a lens, which is normally expressed like this: f/2.8. The smaller the F number, the wider the lens aperture is set, and this both lets in more light and allows for the creation of shallow depth of field. When shooting underwater, you generally want to be shooting at the lowest F-number possible, as you have less light to work with, unless you’re using flash.

IPX rating

IPX is a scale of waterproofing for electronic devices. You won’t hear it too much in professional underwater photography, as underwater housings and cameras will possess a level of waterproofing that far outstrips the IPX scale. However, if you’re planning on doing some shallow-water photography with a smartphone, it’s worth knowing about IPX ratings.The IPX scale runs from 1 to 8. Devices rated IPX 1 can basically only survive light droplets of water for a short period of time. Devices rated IPX 8 can survive immersion in water deeper than 1m, but usually no deeper than 3m, and probably for a limited amount of time. If your underwater aspirations are any grander than this, you’ll need a hardier device.

ISO

The system used for camera sensors to denote sensitivity to light; the acronym is short for “International Standards Organisation”. Cameras set to higher ISO levels can be used in darker conditions but will produce more “image noise” (unwanted digital artefacts and grain). The lower light levels underwater mean it’s worth picking a camera that can shoot at higher ISO settings (at least 6400 is a good starting point) and that actually performs well when set to these levels.

Minimum focus distance

The closest a lens can be to a subject and still reliably acquire focus. In underwater photography, the lighting conditions mean you want to get as close to your subjects as possible, so it’s worth familiarising yourself with the minimum focus distance of your lens so you don’t get too close. It will generally be printed on the front of the lens.

RAW format

A specific type of image format that retains all the detail the camera records, allowing for much more flexibility in post-processing. RAW files can’t be viewed without specific software, so they need to be converted to JPEG or a similar format before sharing.

Sync speed

The fastest speed at which a flash unit can be used with a camera. If you’re using an external flash unit, it’s worth checking the sync speeds in advance so you know what kind of shutter speeds you’re going to be working with.

Underwater housing

A protective shell designed to fit around a non-waterproof camera, protecting it from damage while still allowing the key controls to be operated.

White balance

White balance is how a camera ensures that the colours in your images are accurate. Lighting with different colour temperatures can make objects look different – a white sheet under a blue light will appear blue – and while the human brain can decode these pretty easily, a camera isn’t quite that smart. Colour temperature is measured on a scale of Kelvin. Low Kelvin values of around 2,000K have a reddish hue, and as Kelvin values get higher, the light will appear bluer. Due to the nature of water, underwater images have a very blue colour cast. Setting white balance underwater is a matter where advice will differ depending on the ambient conditions and whether you’re using flash – one good practical thing to do is shoot in RAW, so you can correct it in the edit.

FAQs

Q: How long can underwater cameras stay submerged?

Each model of underwater camera will have a different rating here, and it’s important to familiarise yourself with the relevant starts for your camera or housing. Water pressure is a powerful force, and if any device spends too long underwater it can potentially be compromised.

Q: Can you use underwater cameras above water?

Absolutely! Many are tough cameras that are designed to be used in all sorts of extreme situations such as freezing temperatures or dusty conditions. 

Q: When did underwater photography start?

It’s older than you think! The first underwater photograph was most probably taken by an Englishman named William Thompson. An avid underwater enthusiast, Thompson constructed a metal box that was effectively the first underwater housing, in order to shoot an image on wet collodion plate. 

Q: What lens is best for underwater photography?

As we’ve discussed, underwater photography is characterised by a lack of available light. This means that any lens used should have two qualities – a larger maximum aperture to maximise the light that hits the sensor, and a short minimum focusing distance that lets you get up close to your subjects. 

Q: What should you wear for underwater photography?

Assuming you don’t have your own wetsuit, you should really just wear clothes that are comfortable. If you’re photographing another person (or being photographed yourself) then a good rule of thumb is to wear long, flowy clothes that will move with the water, for more visually interesting results. 


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About the Author

Jon Stapley is a professional journalist with a wealth of experience on a number of photography titles including Amateur Photographer, Digital Camera World and What Digital Camera. See more of his writing on Jon's author page.