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Underwater Photo/Video Buyer’s Guide – Spring 2019
By DPG Editorial Staff, April 9, 2019 @ 04:00 AM (EST)


If you’re living in the continental U.S., it’s been a cold, wet and stormy start to spring, and we feel for you. Truth is, we can’t do anything about the miserable weather, but we have a small suggestion that might help: a good session of retail therapy!

After all, The Mirrorless Revolution is in full swing—this is our first Underwater Photo/Video Buyer’s Guide that doesn’t feature any DSLRs—and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t get a piece of the action! We’ve got plenty of great cameras here to whet your appetite, and we’ve also rounded up the hottest lighting equipment and accessories out there right now.

So, whilst you’re waiting for the sunshine to show up, check out our recommendations and daydream a little: Your summer underwater photography adventures are just around the corner and you’ve got shiny new gear to test! 

Please help support DivePhotoGuide by choosing to purchase your gear through our knowledgeable retail partners at Backscatter.

 

1. Full-Frame Mirrorless Cameras

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Canon EOS R

For its first foray into full-frame mirrorless, Canon wisely chose to build the EOS R around a tried-and-true sensor borrowed from its wildly successful 5D Mark IV. Other technologies from its DSLR lineup have been included, too, most importantly Dual Pixel CMOS autofocus—with a whopping 5,655 manually selectable AF points. And while the RF-mount is new, you can still employ all of your trusty EF lenses via an adapter, which has been accommodated by the growing list of underwater housing makers throwing their enthusiastic support behind the EOS R. $2,300 | www.canon.com | www.backscatter.com

Who Should Buy It?

The question most photographers will be asking is: Will the EOS R do the job as well as my DSLR? The answer remains to be seen—keep an eye out for DPG’s forthcoming review—but the specs and features are very encouraging. Videographers may be disappointed, however: While the EOS R boasts 4K, video capture comes with a 1.8x crop, meaning you can forget wide-angle underwater 4K footage.


Housing Options
 

  • Ikelite: The U.S. housing maker has endowed its EOS R housing with all of the great features found in its DSLR housings. For your modest outlay, you get the company’s signature durable, lightweight ABS-PC construction and its foolproof Dry Lock port system. And with the addition of an optional TTL converter, you get Ikelite’s industry-leading TTL exposure with compatible DS-series strobes. Pop in Canon’s EF-EOS R Adapter and you’re good to go! $1,695 | www.ikelite.com | www.backscatter.com

  • Sea&Sea: If a machined aluminum housing for the EOS R is in your future, then consider Sea&Sea’s offering, which features integrated handles and a window for viewing the camera’s top LCD panel. Cleverly, the housing’s focus/zoom dial has two gears—one for the new RF-mount lenses, and another for your good old EF-mount lenses. TTL and manual exposure photography is possible via an optional converter. $3,495 | www.seaandsea.jp | www.backscatter.com


Canon EOS RP

Six months after unveiling the EOS R, Canon followed up with a slimmed-down and much more affordable version in an even smaller body. For a cool $1,000 less, you lose the in-body stabilization and the top plate LCD, but the other specs should prove more than enough to cater to the needs of those looking to enter the full-frame game. Packed into this tiny box, you’ll find the latest DIGIC 8 processor, a 26MP sensor, and a Dual Pixel AF system with 4,779 selectable AF points. $1,300 | www.canon.com | www.backscatter.com

Who Should Buy It?

As with the EOS R, this is an incredibly small and lightweight full-frame camera, and all underwater shooters who travel—that’s pretty much everyone—will reap the benefits. Plus, the EOS RP’s full-frame sensor is an invitation to make full use of Canon’s impressive full-frame EF-mount lenses—and the $1,000 you save over the EOS R will get you started nicely!


Housing Options
 

  • Ikelite: As they often do, Ikelite beat everyone else to market with their housing for the EOS RP. Beginners will love the signature transparent back, which allows you to check the camera is sitting pretty and the integrity of the seal is sound. To enjoy Ikelite’s excellent TTL automatic exposure, all you need to do is add the converter kit and one, or preferably two, DS-series strobes. $1,695 | www.ikelite.com


Nikon Z6

Since Nikon joined Sony’s full-frame mirorless party, all of the attention has been focused on the Z7, and its D850-like ultra-high-res (45.7MP), ultra-fast (9fps) credentials. But the Z6, its lower-resolution sibling, is arguably a more interesting proposition for most, not least because of the considerably lower price tag. Built around a 24.5MP sensor, the Z6 is also a more rounded camera, aimed at the photographer who doubles as a filmmaker: Full-pixel readout in 4K mode promises better video quality than that produced by the Z7, which uses the line skipping method. $2,000 | www.nikonusa.com | www.backscatter.com

Who Should Buy It?

If you take your photography seriously—and you have deep pockets—the Z7’s gigantic pixel count may well be irresistible. For the rest of us, particularly those who dabble in video, the Z6 should be high up on the short list.


Housing Options
 

  • Isotta: The beauty of the Nikon Z6 and Z7 is that they are externally identical, so one housing will cover both models—and Isotta’s housing is no different: It says “Z7” on the tin, but the Z6 will slide right in there. Aside from that lovely “Isotta red,” you get a machined aluminum build, adjustable handles, and the company’s signature one-handed opening/closing rotary knob—plus a TTL converter included as standard. $2,790 | www.isotecnic.it | www.backscatter.com

  • Ikelite: As with all Z7/Z6 housings, Ikelite’s Dry Lock port system is designed to accommodate lenses using the new Z-mount as well as your old F-mount glass via the FTZ adapter that was launched with the Z-system. And as with all of Ikelite’s recent housings, TTL exposure is an optional but simple addition: The new DL1 DS Link Nikon TTL Converter (see Accessories) allows you to toggle between TTL and manual exposure with the press of a button. $1,695 | www.ikelite.com | www.backscatter.com


Sony α7 III

In case you missed it, Sony’s been monopolizing the full-frame mirrorless market for years, and it shows: Their Alpha 7 series is several generations in, and whether you go for the high-resolution option (α7R), video-centric model (α7S), or the all-rounder (α7), you’re getting a refined piece of kit—very much in contention alongside Nikon’s and Canon’s recent offerings. With the α7 III, Sony has made improvements in key areas, especially the new backside-illuminated 24MP sensor and beefed-up processor for faster and more-accurate focusing in low light. $2,000 | www.sony.com | www.backscatter.com

Who Should Buy It?

Sony’s Alpha 7 series are still the “hybrid” full-frame mirrorless cameras to beat: If filmmaking and picture-taking are equally important to you, the α7 III should probably be the first camera you check out.


Housing Options
 

  • Subal: For a pro-grade housing built to stand the rigors of the road, Subal’s α7 III is a top choice. The company offers a ton of customization options, from high-quality viewfinders to bulkheads for different strobe brands. There are different color choices and there’s also an upgraded version that’s good down to 120 meters (almost 400 feet). $4,100 | www.subal.com | www.backscatter.com

  • Aquatica: Ergonomic design is at the center of Aquatica’s housing for the α7 III/α7R III. With its self-centering, spring-loaded controls, they’ve made it a breeze to insert the camera into the housing. There’s also a nicely positioned control for back button AF and a redesigned joystick, making it easy to access the camera’s 425 autofocus points. $2,500 | www.aquatica.ca | www.backscatter.com

 

2. Cropped-Sensor Mirrorless Cameras

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Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II

Olympus marked its centennial with the release of the OM-D E-M1X, a chunky vertical-grip-endowed version of the popular E-M1 Mark II, but there are surprisingly few differences considering that the latter was announced way back in September 2016. Perhaps that’s why Olympus also celebrated 100 years in the business with a silver version of the E-M1 Mark II—it’s still a great little performer. And its specs still sound respectable today: 20.4MP Four Thirds sensor, 18fps continuous shooting, and 4K/30p capture. $1,600 | www.getolympus.com | www.backscatter.com

Who Should Buy It?

Whether you’re wearing your photographer’s hat or your filmmaker’s cap, the E-M1 Mark II won’t disappoint, outputting both high-quality video and detailed images even in low-light situations. In short, it’s a superb option for underwater shooters of all levels.


Housing Options
 

  • Olympus: Olympus is one company that seems to take underwater imaging seriously, with its steady stream of “proper” housings for its camera models, and the PT-EP14 is no different. Depth-rated to 200 feet, the lightweight polycarbonate housing offers full control over the E-M1 II’s main functions, and includes optical fiber ports for hooking up strobes, including the company’s own UFL-3. $1,300 | www.getolympus.com | www.backscatter.com

  • Nauticam: As with the Olympus housing, the Nauticam NA-EM1II houses the camera with the bundled Olympus FL-LM3 compact flash attached to the hotshoe, giving TTL strobe triggering at 2–3fps via dual fiber-optic ports. Installing Nauticam’s optional Mini Flash Trigger makes triggering up to 10fps possible—as long as your strobes can keep up. $1,900 | www.nauticam.com | www.backscatter.com

Sony α6500

In the midrange mirrorless market, Sony has been a dominant player for years with its α6000 line—proven by the fact that the original α6000 from 2014 is still a current, and very competitive, model. The top-of-range α6500 is physically almost identical to its siblings and offers the same 24.2MP CMOS sensor, 425 phase-detect AF points, and 11fps burst rate. It differs in two significant respects: First, it’s the only member of the lineup that offers in-body image stabilization. Second, it has some serious processing power on-board, with a huge buffer that allows 100-plus RAW images in a row. $1,100 | www.sony.com | www.backscatter.com

Who Should Buy It?

If you’re the kind of shooter who thinks the Sardine Run is the ultimate playground for underwater photography, then the lightning-fast α6500 is the perfect tool. With its extensive video feature set, it’s also an excellent option for filmmakers, although if you’re shooting in 4K, you’ll have to live with a moderate sensor crop.


Housing Options
 

  • Fantasea: As our reviewer put it, “The α6500 really shines in Fantasea’s housing, which follows the camera’s compact build and gives you effortless control over the camera’s important functions.” Users will also appreciate Fantasea’s extensive system of FML interchangeable ports and an M16 bulkhead that makes an HDMI connection possible. A supplied adapter kit allows you to accommodate the α6300. $775 (housing only) | $1,000 (bundled with lens port and zoom gear) | www.sonydive.com | www.backscatter.com

*Fantasea also makes the FA6000, an almost identical housing for the previous-generation Sony α6000, which is currently available as a bundle with lens port and two free gears for $1,000 (US price).
 

  • Aquatica: If metal is your preferred material, Aquatica’s α6500 housing has got you covered, with its aluminum build, integrated handles, and adjustable tray. But Aquatica’s real trick up its sleeves is the optional Power Saddle, a rechargeable battery pack that plugs into the camera’s micro USB port and attaches magnetically to the camera’s mounting plate—that’s two extra batteries worth of power. Nice. $1,650 | www.aquatica.ca | www.backscatter.com

Sony α6400

If you were wondering why Sony’s model names went from α6300 to α6500, now you know: It’s because of the recently released α6400, which sits between the two in the lineup. While it doesn’t have the α6500’s in-body stabilization, the α6400, being a newer camera, does offer some advantages over the flagship model: even faster focus acquisition speed (“world’s fastest AF” according to Sony), and improvements to tracking and Eye AF. A future firmware update promises tracking of animals’ eyes, too—can’t wait to find out if that works on fish! $900 | www.sony.com | www.backscatter.com

Who Should Buy It?

Any one of Sony’s α6000-series cameras is a no-brainer for underwater photography, but if the price differences aren’t a consideration, the α6400 is the obvious choice. Keep in mind that the α6400’s articulating screen means a deeper body and therefore no compatibility with existing α6500 housings.


Housing Options
 

  • Ikelite: As you’d expect, Ikelite’s dedicated housing for the α6400 is very similar to that for the α6500. Most notably, you get the big, easy-to-operate control levers for the shutter release and the AF/MF button for the all-important back button focus. Where Ikelite’s α6300 and α6500 housings have integrated TTL circuits, there’s more flexibility on offer here: TTL can be optionally added via the DL2 DS Link Sony TTL Converter. The housing can also accommodate the α6300 or α6500. $775 | www.ikelite.com | www.backscatter.com

Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K

It’s been a year since Blackmagic unveiled its impressively spec’d Pocket Cinema Camera 4K, but the wait is finally over for filmmakers wanting to take it underwater (check out Nauticam’s housing below). We reckon there’s plenty of justification for other housing makers following suit: How about 4K/60p video capture for silky smooth playback at half speed? Or 13 stops of dynamic range? Or the 5-inch Full HD (1920x1080px) screen? (Are you sure you want to spend an extra 700 bucks on that Panasonic GH5?) $1,295 | www.blackmagicdesign.com

Who Should Buy It?

If you didn’t know, Blackmagic are usually in the pro digital film camera business, so the implausibly affordable Pocket Cinema Camera 4K is, if nothing else, extremely cool. Add the fact that there’s an extensive ecosystem of Four Thirds lenses to choose from, and you’ve got an obvious candidate for your hard-earned pennies.


Housing Options
 

  • Nauticam: With their NA-BMPCCII housing, Nauticam’s well-known attention to detail is once again on display, with every control routed to just the right place under your fingertips. But there are a couple of features that really make this housing stand out: With the included battery cage, which holds four lithium batteries, you get an impressive three hours of run time (as opposed to the usual 40 minutes), and there’s also space inside the housing for a compact SSD, giving you the recording capacity you need to keep on filming. $3,950 | www.nauticam.com | www.backscatter.com

 

 

3. Compacts and Action Cameras

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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VI

Much like its α6000 line does for APS-C mirrorless cameras, Sony’s RX100 series of compacts has been the standard by which all others are judged. With the RX100 Mark VI, Sony has tweaked their formula slightly—changing the long-running 24–70mm f/1.8–f/2.8 lens for a 24–200mm f/2.8–f/4.5 lens—but the latest iteration retains everything else that made the Mark V great: the 20.1MP 1-inch stacked CMOS sensor, 24fps burst shooting (with AF), 5-axis image stabilization, and 4K/30p video from the full sensor width. $1,200 | www.sony.com | www.backscatter.com

Who Should Buy It?

While the new do-it-all zoom makes the Mark VI the perfect compact for travel, the increased zoom range won’t be of use to underwater photographers; the RX100 Mark V, which remains in Sony’s lineup, is still the better choice. Filmmakers, on the other hand, may be swayed by the video tweaks that made it into the Mark VI but are not found in the Mark V, like the Hybrid Log Gamma picture profile or S-Log3 capture.


Housing Options
 

  • Fantasea: With the change in zoom lens, Fantasea has come out with a brand new Limited Edition housing for the Mark VI which appropriately restricts the use of the longer focal lengths. Otherwise, the housing shares the same great features as its predecessors, including double O-ring main seal, built-in moisture detector, and dual fiber-optic connectivity. With the housing’s 67mm threaded port, you’re ready to attach any of the wide-angle and macro wet lenses in Fantasea-AOI’s extensive range. $400 (approx.) | www.sonydive.com

  • Hugyfot: The concept with Hugyfot’s “Vision” housing is simple but effective: Turn your camera into a lean, mean video machine by adding an integrated seven-inch HDMI monitor and a couple of power banks to beef up run time. Genius. And if you want something a bit more traditional, there’s a second version that drops the monitor in favor of buttons and dials for full access to the camera’s controls. €1,945 (monitor version) | €1,420 (controls version) | www.hugyfot.com

Olympus Tough TG-5

The Olympus TG-series of cameras keep on making it into our Buyer’s Guide for good reason: They can take fantastic photos. Be not fooled by its diminutive size: This thing offers RAW capture, impressive white balancing abilities, and that insanely cool Microscope mode, which lets you get within 1cm of your subject for ridiculous super-macro shots. All you need is a great wide-angle lens (see Accessories) and you can pretty much shoot anything under the sun. $400 | www.getolympus.com | www.backscatter.com

Who Should Buy It?

Everyone should have one—it’s just so much fun to shoot! Beginners can literally start taking pictures underwater out of the box, and as you progress, it can be built up into a complete system, with housing, strobes, video lights, and wet lenses.


Housing Options
 

  • Olympus: The PT-058 “underwater case” from Olympus is the most obvious first step towards more serious underwater imaging with the TG-5. Fiber-optic ports will accept one or two strobes (including Olympus’s own UFL-3), and the 52mm thread can be stepped up to a standard 67mm thread, if needed, to allow the attachment of wet optics. $300 | www.getolympus.com | www.backscatter.com

  • Isotta: If you really want to pimp up your TG-5, Isotta’s anodized aluminum housing is the way to go. As well as that lovely signature red paint, you get full access to the camera’s key controls, a built-in moisture detector, and the company’s signature one-handed rotary open/close to secure the housing. There’s also both 52mm and 67mm threads, so it’s a simple matter to mount your wet attachments of choice. $720 | www.isotecnic.it | www.backscatter.com

SeaLife Micro 2.0 Pro Duo 4000 and Micro 2.0 Pro 2000

Continuous lighting, rather than flash, is a great option if you’re starting out in underwater imaging—what you see is what you get—and one of the best ways to get up and running is SeaLife’s Micro 2.0 with one or two photo/video lights from the company’s Sea Dragon range. One of the newest offerings is the Sea Dragon 2000F, which boasts a powerful 2,000-lumen, 90° beam underwater, and easy one-button operation. Pair the Micro 2.0 with a tray, grip and single light (Pro 2000) or tray, two grips and dual lights (Pro Duo 4000)—and start shooting! $1,000 (Pro Duo 4000) | $790 (Pro 2000) | www.sealife-cameras.com

GoPro HERO7

GoPro’s HERO range needs no introduction, and in its seventh incarnation and “Black” flavor, this is the action cam to beat. The HERO7 Black gets you a ticket into the exclusive “4K/60p” club occupied by the likes of the Panasonic GH5 and Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, and you also get “HyperSmooth”—the in-camera image stabilization feature that has received high praise. Then, all you need to do is pair it with Backscatter’s brilliant FLIP7 Pro Package for glorious underwater color and awesome macro. $400 | www.gopro.com | www.backscatter.com

 

4. Lighting

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ONEUW ONE160x

At the end of last year, Italian company ONEUW became a member of the strobe club with the release of the high-end ONE160x. Boasting a circular flash tube with a maximum output of 157Ws (hence the “160” in the name, with a little rounding up applied), the strobe can be triggered via an electrical connection or fiber-optic cable. Nikon or Canon versions are available for i-TTL or E-TTL, respectively. $1,700 | www.oneuw.com | (for Nikon cameras) | www.backscatter.com | (for Canon cameras) | www.backscatter.com

SeaLife Sea Dragon Duo 9000F

Known for their extensive lineup of continuous lights aimed at beginner and intermediate users, SeaLife upped their game with the release of the Sea Dragon 4500. As the name suggests, the photo/video light offers a seriously powerful output of 4,500 lumens, and—what you don’t see in the model number—a very impressive color rendering index of 96. SeaLife are now offering a pair of lights in a set bundled with a tray, grips and flex arms from their Flex-Connect range—along with a decent cost saving. $1,350 | www.sealife-cameras.com

 

5. Accessories

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Backscatter M52 Wide-Angle Air Lens for Olympus TG-5

The TG-5 has plenty of macro fans, and why not? With its crazy Microscope mode, it can take some stunning images of tiny—and we mean really tiny—critters. But in the wide department, it needs a little help, and that’s where the good people at Backscatter come in. Their new lightweight wide-angle lens is specially designed to restore the TG-5’s topside field of view underwater—from a limited 60 degrees to a much more usable 81 degrees. (And if you want to take on the biggest animals and reef scenes, you can always go the whole hog and invest in Backscatter’s more weighty big brother, the M52 Wide-Angle Lens, with its 120-degree angle of view.) $150 | www.backscatter.com

Fantasea-AOI UCL-900F Super Macro Wet Lens

We’ve been seeing a fine selection of wet lenses emerge from the collaboration between Fantasea and AOI: The lens bodies are hard-anodized aluminum, the glass elements have anti-reflection coatings, and the results are optically first rate. The macro maniacs will be most excited by the UCL-900F: This +15 diopter lens promises the magnifying power to deliver images of the ocean’s smallest inhabitants in all their detailed glory. With its standard 67mm thread, the lens is ready to attach to your compact, mirrorless or DSLR housing, and there’s the same thread on the front for stacking or filter attachment. $320 | www.fantasea.com

Fantasea-AOI UWL-04F Wide-Angle Wet Lens

With its 28mm (equivalent) focal length, the wide end of your compact’s built-in lens just won’t cut it if you have your eye on the really big stuff. But fret not: Screw on Fantasea-AOI’s UWL-04F and that way-too-narrow perspective will be transformed into a glorious 160-degree field of view. And if you have a compact with a 24mm (equivalent) lens at its widest, Fantasea-AOI have you covered, too, with the UWL-400, which will give you a 120-degree field of view. There are two versions: The UWL400F has a 67mm thread mount, while the UWL400Q can also accommodate the QRS bayonet mounting system. $400 (UWL-400F) | www.fantasea.com | $430 (UWL-400Q) | www.fantasea.com | $425 (UWL-04F) | www.fantasea.com

Ikelite DL1 DS Link Nikon TTL Converter

If you want to take advantage of Ikelite’s excellent TTL flash exposure using its DS-series strobes, you have the option of adding the appropriate TTL converter to your housing. Nikon shooters just need to hook up the new DL1 DS Link Nikon TTL Converter, which comes in two different versions: one for users of Ikelite housings (or other housings with Ikelite ICS-5 bulkheads) and another for housings with Nikonos N5 bulkheads. The coolest part? You can switch between manual and TTL exposure on the fly at the press of a button. $350 (Ikelite bulkhead) | www.ikelite.com | www.backscatter.com | $395 (Nikonos bulkhead) | www.ikelite.com | www.backscatter.com

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When purchasing underwater photography equipment like the products mentioned in this article, please support DPG by supporting our retail partner—Backscatter.com.

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