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Underwater Photo/Video Buyer’s Guide – Spring 2020
By DPG Editorial Staff, March 13, 2020 @ 10:00 AM (EST)


The season of renewal is very nearly upon us! And that can only mean one thing: It’s time to welcome some new imaging gear into your life! And what better place to begin your search for exciting new creative tools than the spring edition of DPG’s awesome Underwater Photo/Video Buyer’s Guide?

As usual, we’ve rounded up all the coolest gear that’s arrived over the last few months and combined it with some of the hottest products of the moment to create another epic guide to help you navigate the choppy waters of the underwater imaging marketplace. Whether you want to upgrade a component in your system or experiment with a new and exciting gadget, we’ve got a ton of awesome recommendations for you. Let’s clear away the winter cobwebs and get some shiny spring toys on your shelves!

 

CONTENTS

  1. Full-Frame Cameras
  2. Cropped-Sensor Cameras
  3. Compact Cameras
  4. Lighting
  5. Accessories
 

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

 

1. Full-Frame Cameras

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Nikon D780

For many serious shooters, the D750 has been their workhorse, taking on the toughest underwater conditions with aplomb and delivering consistency high-quality images. But after five years, Nikon’s midrange full-frame DSLR was in need of a refresh: The D780 delivers 12fps continuous burst when using the electronic shutter, promises improved autofocus accuracy in low-light situations, and offers much improved movie capabilities, including 4K/30p and 1080/120p with no crop, 10-bit video via HDMI, and video tools like zebra striping and focus peaking. $2,300 | www.nikonusa.com | www.backscatter.com

Who Should Buy It?

D750 users who solely shoot images may wish to stick with their trusty cameras, as the jump in quality and/or functionality on the stills side isn’t huge. For everyone else who’s ready for an upgrade—especially “hybrid” shooters who want to be able to capture high-quality video—the D780 is a no-brainer.


Housing Options
 

  • Ikelite: The U.S. company doesn’t mess around when it comes to getting housings to market, and it wasted no time in being first again this time. The greatest selling point when it comes to Ikelite, of course, is their tried-and-true automatic TTL exposure with compatible Ikelite DS-series strobes. The TTL converter that you’ll need to add gives you on-the-fly switching between TTL and manual modes, allowing you to get as creative as you want. $1,695 | www.ikelite.com | www.backscatter.com


Sony a7R Mark IV

A quick glance at the a7R IV’s spec sheet and it really does seem like Sony have created the high-end full-frame mirrorless that all the other brands dream about building: As well as that breathtaking 61-megapixel BSI-CMOS sensor, there’s 5-axis image stabilization, 10fps burst shooting with continuous AF, and 4K/30p video at 100Mbps. Heck, even the EVF comes with off-the-charts resolution of 5.76 million dots! So, the choice is yours: Get the Sony now or wait a few years for the Nikons and Canons to catch up. $3,500 | www.sony.com | www.backscatter.com

Who Should Buy It?

The a7R Mark IV could be the perfect camera for (a) people with really big, empty walls, or (b) black-water shooters who want to go crazy with their cropping. Do the rest of us really need that insane detail and those massive image files? Well, maybe…


Housing Options
 

  • Isotta: With its signature red anodized aluminum construction and integrated adjustable handles, Isotta’s housing offers a high-quality home for your precious a7R IV. It’s also set up for videographers who are serious about their movie making: Its large-bore M24 port is ready for bulky HDMI 2.0 cables for connecting up a 4K external recorder. $2,590 | www.isotecnic.it | www.backscatter.com

  • Sea&Sea: If you prefer your machined aluminum housing with a splash of yellow, check out Sea&Sea’s eye-catching MDXL-series housing with its uber-cool lemon-colored silicone handle inserts (for improved grip). Optionally pop in the Optical YS Converter for fiber-optic connectivity with compatible Sea&Sea strobes in both TTL and manual modes. $3,495 | www.seaandsea.jp | www.backscatter.com

 

2. Cropped-Sensor Cameras

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Nikon Z50

A little over a year after Nikon introduced its first full-frame mirrorless cameras, the Z7 and Z6, to broadly universal acclaim, the Japanese company recently unveiled the Z50, hoping to perform the same trick in the APS-C realm. The result, as you might expect, is a sort of “mirrorless D500” boasting a 21MP BSI-CMOS sensor, 11fps burst shooting with continuous AF, and both crop-less 4K video at up to 30p and Full HD at up to 120p. In other words, plenty of camera for a mere… $860 | www.nikonusa.com | www.backscatter.com

Who Should Buy It?

If you love your F-mount lenses but want to dip a curious toe into mirrorless waters, the Z50 is the way to go (with the help of the FTZ adapter, of course). D500 users who dabble in video will appreciate the Z50’s impressive movie capabilities—especially 4K shooting without the D500’s heavy crop.


Housing Options
 

  • Ikelite: As with their D780 housing, Ikelite is first out of the gate with their housing for the Z50. Highlights include the company’s signature ABS-PC blend construction and a clear back, ergonomically shaped levers for shutter and the AE-L/AF-L button, and an M16 port for an accessory like an HDMI bulkhead. Unusually for Ikelite, there’s also fiber-optic strobe connectivity on offer, as the housing makes use of the Z50’s pop-up flash. $1,695 | www.ikelite.com | www.backscatter.com


Sony α6400

If you’re considering an APS-C mirrorless, it’s hard to ignore the proven track record of Sony’s α6000 line, and the α6400 occupies the sweet spot between the entry-level α6100 (which lacks a magnesium alloy body and weather sealing plus Log profiles for movie recording) and the flagship α6600 (which costs much more for image stabilization that you probably don’t need). Those differences aside, you get the same impressive specs that have made these cameras so popular: a 24.2MP sensor, 11fps continuous shooting with AE/AF, Hybrid AF with 425 phase and 425 contrast detection points, and no-crop 4K/30p and 1080/120p recording at 100Mbps. $900 | www.sony.com | www.backscatter.com

Who Should Buy It?

If you’re considering the α6400, perhaps your main consideration is whether to spend (significantly) more money on the α6600 with its fancy 5-axis in-body image stabilization. But IBIS isn’t the only thing you get for your $500 extra: There’s also the α6600’s bigger battery, which has twice the capacity of that used by its siblings: 720 versus 360 shots per charge.


Housing Options
 

  • Fantasea: If lightweight, robust and affordable all sound like just what you’re after, Fantasea’s FA6400 polycarbonate housing will be a great choice. Dual ports allow you to trigger strobes with fiber-optic cables and you can add bulkheads for electrical triggering if desired. Peace of mind comes at no extra charge with the Hybrid Vacuum Safety System, Fantasea’s integrated vacuum check and leak detector. $775 (housing only) | www.sonydive.com | www.backscatter.com | $998 (bundled with lens port and zoom gear) | www.backscatter.com

  • Nauticam: If your budget can stretch to it, you can go aluminum with the NA-A6400 housing, which features integrated handles and Nauticam’s characteristic highly ergonomically arranged controls. The housing deals with the α6400’s battery shortcomings by making space for an optional 2500mAh battery pack, wired to the camera via USB. $1,730 | www.nauticam.com | www.backscatter.com


Olympus OM-D E-M5 III

After almost five years—a lifetime in tech terms—the Mark III of Olympus’ midrange mirrorless arrived with some serious upgrades: increased resolution of 20MP (up from 16MP), improved autofocus system (similar to that in the E-M1 II), much faster burst shooting (10fps vs 5fps with continuous AF), and naturally, the addition of 4K/30p video capture (both UHD/DCI). Bonus: The launch price has only increased by 100 bucks, so it’s still very competitively priced. $1,200 | www.getolympus.com | www.backscatter.com

Who Should Buy It?

The E-M1 III wasn’t a huge leap forward compared to the Mark II, which makes the midrange E-M5 III an even more attractive proposition. Use the money saved towards one of the awesome housings below.


Housing Options
 

  • Nauticam: Built around Nauticam’s N85 port system, the NA-EM5III offers not just access to a wide range of Micro Four Thirds lenses but also easy compatibility with the company’s impressive corrective optics. Videographers can also easily make use of the camera’s 4K/30p 8-bit 4:2:2 HDMI output by adding a Nauticam-housed Small HD monitor. The housing supports either the Olympus FL-LM3 flash for around 3fps bursts or the Nauticam Mini Flash Trigger for up to the maximum 10fps—if your strobes can handle it! $1,675 | www.nauticam.com | www.backscatter.com

  • Ikelite: If you want to enjoy the industry standard in automatic TTL flash exposure, Ikelite’s E-M5 III housing is the way to go: Just add the company’s DL3 DS Link TTL Converter and one or two compatible DS-series strobes for nifty in-camera exposure compensation as well as the ability to switch between TTL and manual modes at the press of a button. Other highlights include ergonomically shaped shutter release and AE-L/AF-L levers and laser-engraved control symbols on the back. $950 | www.ikelite.com | www.backscatter.com

 

3. Compact Cameras

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SeaLife ReefMaster RM-4K

If you want to produce awesome stills and 4K video underwater without worrying about housings, port systems and strobe connections, SeaLife are the folks you should be looking up. From the Micro 2.0 to the DC2000 and now to the ReefMaster RM-4K, they have been producing super-intuitive cameras that are ready to dive out of the box. As well as 4K/30p video, you get 14MP stills from the Panasonic sensor and a fisheye lens that’s compatible with various add-on wet macro lenses. All you need is a lovely SeaLife Sea Dragon photo/video light (or two) and you’re good to go! $300 | www.sealife-cameras.com

Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III

With the G7 X series, Canon has incrementally refined the ideal compact camera for the underwater image-maker by sticking with the same excellent 24–100mm (equiv.) f/1.8–f/2.8 lens that pairs so well with your wet lenses. The Mark III ups the ante with a new stacked CMOS sensor (just like the latest in Sony’s rival RX100 line), RAW bursts up to 8fps with continuous AF, and both 4K/30p video sans crop and 1080/120p capture for silky-smooth quarter-speed playback. $750 | www.canon.com | www.backscatter.com

Who Should Buy It?

There’s arguably no better place to begin your imaging journey than an “advanced compact” like the G7 X Mark III: While you can happily point and shoot, you’ve also got a lot of tech on-board that you can gradually make use of to challenge yourself and, in time, achieve more creative results.


Housing Options
 

  • Fantasea: Flexibility is on offer with the Fantasea FG7X III: Opt for the “advanced” version of the housing if you want the integrated Fantasea Hybrid Vacuum Safety System. Go for the cheaper “basic” version and you’ll get an M16 port that allows you to install this pre-dive vacuum check and moisture detector system—or other accessory—at your leisure. Either way, this rugged, feature-rich housing is designed to allow you to maximize your results with the G7 X III. $500 | www.canondive.com | www.backscatter.com

  • Nauticam: Milled from a block of aluminum and hard anodized, this housing is an excellent platform to build your full-featured Nauticam rig, including tray and handles, flip adapter, and wet optics like the WWL-1 and CMC-1 for wide angle and macro, respectively. The housing features a dual fiber-optic bulkhead for triggering strobes, an integrated vacuum monitor, and an M16 port for adding a monitor/recorder via HDMI. $1,150 | www.nauticam.com | www.backscatter.com


Smartphone Housings

What’s easier than buying a camera to immortalize your underwater exploits? Using the one you already have in your pocket—duh! Leaving aside the merits (or demerits) of going diving with your very expensive phone, there is a growing army of underwater housings out there that allow you to get remarkably decent results with the itty-bitty sensor (or sensors) round the back of your INSERT PREFERRED BRAND OF SMARTPHONE HERE—we’re not taking sides.

Who Should Buy It?

OK, so you bought it already. The question we should perhaps be asking is: If it happened to get dunked in seawater, would your entire existence unravel and your life grind to an unceremonious halt?


Housing Options
 

  • Easydive: This Italian company has now taken their ingenious universal camera housing concept to the smartphone arena. How? Like the Leo3 housing for DLSRs and mirrorless, the Leo3 Smart uses wireless technology to control your device—and it likely works with your model of iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, Sony Xperia, or Huawei smartphone. Electronic control allows you to adjust things like shutter speed, ISO, and white balance, and switch between photo and video mode at the touch of a button. The housing’s built-in 9000mAh battery pack powers all the cleverness and keeps your phone juiced at the same time. €990 | www.easydive.it

  • Aquatech: The AxisGO housing is specially designed for various Apple smartphone models, including the latest iPhone 11, 11 Pro, and Pro Max; and as far back as the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. Depth-rated to 33ft (10m), the housing features a polycarbonate membrane that allows normal swiping, tapping, pinching and zooming to control your favorite imaging app, while stainless steel buttons operate the iPhone’s volume controls, either of which release the shutter. The housing has an interchangeable lens port system that accepts an ultra-wide-angle lens and a six-inch dome port for split shots. A pistrol grip is also available. $200 | www.aquatech.net

  • NiMAR: If you want to keep things simple and just have fun taking pictures and shooting video underwater, NiMAR’s universal housing is a great choice: Depth-rated to 130ft (40m), it’s compatible with just about any smartphone with a screen between 4.5 and 6.5 inches. The housing doesn’t allow you to use the touchscreen, but instead has four stainless steel buttons that interface with the virtual buttons in Nimar’s dedicated photo/video app. A vacuum valve and built-in leak check circuitry is included to secure the housing before you dive. $130 | www.nimarwaterhousings.com

 

4. Lighting

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Backscatter Mini Flash

When it comes to strobes, all the talk is about power and coverage, but neither of those things matter much if you’re primarily shooting macro. Enter the Backscatter Mini Flash (MF-1), a tiny strobe that’s perfectly designed for shooting the small stuff. Want to get a bit more creative? Hook up the matching Optical Snoot (OS-1), position the modeling light exactly how you want it, and shoot! In his review, Ron Watkins said: “Backscatter really got it right with the easy-to-use Mini Flash and Optical Snoot, which was designed for macro, but I found very useful for close-focus wide angle as well as some traditional wide-angle.” $500 (MF-1 and OS-1 combo) www.backscatter.com | $400 (MF-1) www.backscatter.com | $150 (OS-1) www.backscatter.com

SeaLife Sea Dragon 5000F Auto and 3000F Auto

Easy-to-use underwater-ready compact cameras aren’t the only thing that SeaLife does brilliantly. It also has an extensive catalog of continuous lights designed for underwater shooters of all levels—whether they’re using SeaLife’s own cameras, GoPros, compacts or even bigger mirrorless or DSLR systems. Two of the latest models are the top-of-the-range 5000F Auto and the midrange 3000F Auto, boasting 5,000 and 3,000 lumens, respectively. As well manually adjustable power levels, both offer an automatic mode that adjusts brightness from 10% to 100%, and a special red light mode for assisting autofocus when photographing skittish subjects. $800 (5000F) | $300 (3000F) | www.sealife-cameras.com

Sea Dragon 5000F Auto Sea Dragon 3000F Auto

 

Retra Flash Prime and Flash PRO

One of the new kids on the strobe block is Retra, which made a name for itself with its popular Light Shaping Device, or LSD. The company’s strobe comes in two flavors: the Retra Flash Prime and Retra Flash PRO, which have similar features but differ in terms of power, the former outputting 100Ws and the latter, 150Ws. Highlights include a 130-degree beam angle, a color temperature of 4900°K, and 13 power levels. Triggering is via fiber-optic connections as standard, but there’s an optional converter if you prefer electrical triggering. $950 (Prime) www.retra-uwt.com | www.backscatter.com | $1050 (PRO) www.retra-uwt.com | www.backscatter.com


Sea&Sea YS-03 Solis

If fiddling with manual strobe settings sounds like a chore, the entry-level YS-03 Solis keeps things super simple for the beginner: With this strobe, all you have to do is hook it up via fiber-optic cables, switch it on, and let your camera’s pre-flash perform its TTL magic. With a guide number of 20 and a beam angle of 100° (110° with the included diffuser), the YS-03 Solis makes it a breeze to shoot a wide variety of subjects. Bonus: The on-board target light can also be used as a dive light. $350 | www.seaandsea.jp | www.backscatter.com

 

5. Accessories

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Sea&Sea 210mm Universal Dome Port

Domes come in glass or acrylic, right? Well, not if we’re talking Sea&Sea’s new 8-inch universal dome port. According to Sea&Sea, this dome is made of a special “optical resin” called PLANEXT, which offers low optical distortion on par with glass domes, but with the lower weight benefits of acrylic domes. Depth-rated to 330 feet, the Universal Dome Port 210 AR comes with a bayonet mount for Sea&Sea housings and another bayonet providing compatibility with other housing brands. $1,095 | www.seaandsea.jp | www.backscatter.com


Nauticam WWL-C (Wet Wide Lens for Compact Cameras)

Compatible with compact, Micro Four Thirds and full-frame cameras with a 28mm equivalent lens, the original WWL-1 Wet Wide Lens was designed to produce a 130º field of view along with stunning corner sharpness and offer incredible close-focus capabilities. The new WWL-C produces the same 130º field of view but for 24mm equivalent lenses—perfect for transforming compacts like the Olympus Tough TG-6 into lean, mean wide-angle machines! $1,035 www.nauticam.com www.backscatter.com

Nauticam WACP-2 (Wide Angle Conversion Port 2)

Unlike wide-angle wet lenses, the original WACP-1 was a “dry” corrective optic designed to modify a 28mm equivalent lens to an extremely sharp 130º field of view while allowing for extreme close-focus wide-angle shots. Employing a similar concept, the new WACP-2 is optimized to work with a 14mm equivalent lens to produce a mind-boggling 140° field of view while maintaining full zoom-through optical capability. $7,460 www.nauticam.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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