Summer is a-sizzlin’ in many parts of the world. And while the mercury rises so does the hype around new underwater imaging gear. Seriously: Some models like the Nikon D850 are so hot they have been hard to find in stock.
Our Summer 2018 Underwater Photo/Video Buyer’s Guide has something for every shooter, whether you are itching to accessorize your existing setup or build a 4K video monster from scratch. The outdoor pools are open—is there a better place to test out all this new gear?
When purchasing underwater photography equipment like the products mentioned in this article, please support DPG by supporting our retail partner—Backscatter.
How hot is the D850 right now? If you’re a Nikon shareholder, then you might have an idea. Nikon credited the uber-popular full-frame DSLR for a 700-percent-plus increase in year-on-year sales. So, consider grabbing a D850 and some Nikon stock for the summer. $3,300 | www.nikonusa.com | www.backscatter.com
Who Should Buy It?
You’re probably aware of the specs by now: 45.7-megapixel BSI-CMOS sensor, ISO 64–25,600, 153-point AF, 7fps continuous shooting, and UHD 4K. So, are you the right buyer? In short, if you’re looking for a Nikon full-frame camera, then yes. With a price tag below the flagship D5 and a wider array of housing options, the D850 is impressive enough to make tried-and-true cropped-sensor pro shooter Keri Wilk make the switch to full frame.
- Ikelite: Ikelite’s housing for the D850 was one of their first to feature their “Dry Lock” style port system. The result is a more lightweight—but durable—housing with a port system that eliminates the risk of getting water drops on the camera when switching lenses. Our reviewer, Brandi Mueller, especially liked the ability to customize the housing to your shooting needs and budget. $1,695 | www.ikelite.com | www.backscatter.com
- Subal: The company says it has made this housing lighter than their previous housings, but you still get a hefty slab of aluminum for your money. With the optional Subal TTL V2 system, you can hook up all of the popular strobes by Ikelite, Sea&Sea, Inon, and more. Oh, and if the classic “Subal gray” doesn’t do it for you, there’s always the limited edition 100-year anniversary model—with bright yellow and black accents. $3,950 | www.subal.com | www.backscatter.com
- Nauticam: Holding your breath for two minutes to photograph tiger sharks is a demanding task. Up for the challenge is the Nauticam housing for the D850, which reviewer Keri Wilk took freediving at Tiger Beach in the Bahamas. Among all the plus features, Keri lauded the ability to customize several of the controls to meet the needs of the on-the-go pro shooter. $3,800 | www.nauticam.com | www.backscatter.com
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
Celebrating its two-year anniversary, the 5D Mark IV continues to be the go-to full frame for many Canon shooters—and for good reason. The autofocus system is still one of the best in the DSLR category: 61 AF points (41 cross type) cover over 24 percent more vertical territory of the frame than the camera’s predecessor. The groundbreaking Dual Pixel RAW mode is a nice touch, allowing users to make “micro adjustments” in focus during post-processing. $3,500 | www.canon.com | www.backscatter.com
Who Should Buy It?
There’s not really much in the way of rumors of a new 5D Mark V around the corner. With that said, we’ve seen a slight price decrease in the 5D Mark IV ($3,500 to $3,000), which will further entice first time full-frame buyers or those who currently own the model and are looking for a backup body.
- Sea & Sea: This housing for the 5D Mark IV is a jack of all trades, as it accommodates not only that model but the 5D Mark III, 5DS and 5DS R as well. Fine-fingered photographers will note the attention afforded to the shutter trigger. You can adjust the tension on the lever as well as the distance needed to half-press the shutter. $3,900 | www.seaandsea.jp | www.backscatter.com
- Isotta: Designed by underwater photographers for underwater photographers, the Isotta housing for the Canon 5D Mark IV features noticeable features that demanding shooters will dig: long-lasting buttons with laser-engraved labels, adjustable handles for thick gloves, and a one-hand open/close. $2,750 | www.isotecnic.it | www.backscatter.com
- Ikelite: Ikelite’s 5D Mark IV housing incorporates their popular Dry Lock system and has the option to include built-in TTL. Depth-rated to 200 feet, the housing is the culmination of Ikelite’s recent housing technology developments, which includes the option to switch in a lighter back plate (giving the housing a 50-feet depth rating) for more maneuverability when freediving, snorkeling or using for pool fashion shoots. $1,695 | www.ikelite.com | www.backscatter.com
2. Mirrorless Cameras
Sony α7R III
When Time magazine names a camera as a “Top Gadget” of the year, then you know it’s worth checking out. Such a title is appropriate for the Sony α7R III: It’s doubled the continuous shooting prowess of its predecessor (up to an astonishing 10fps) and increased the buffer to 28 uncompressed RAW images—impressive considering those huge 7,952-by-5,304-pixel image files. DPG’s in-depth review is coming soon. $3,200 | www.sony.com | www.backscatter.com
Who Should Buy It?
With such improvements to its continuous shooting performance, the α7R III is a natural choice for fast-paced wildlife photography. And if you’re debating between this mirrorless monster and a top-notch DSLR, check out Backscatter’s detailed analysis after spending several weeks putting the D850 and α7R III head to head.
- Nauticam: Nauticam’s housing for the α7R III combines many of the features that have made the company’s DSLR line so popular in recent years. The red port-locking lever, built-in vacuum seal, and a highly ergonomic control layout are all niceties that demanding pros making the switch from DSLR to mirrorless will appreciate. $2,850 | www.nauticam.com | www.backscatter.com
- Aquatica: Coming this summer, Aquatica’s D850 housing is also all about refined ergonomics. The simultaneously accessible shutter and AF-ON levers are designed to make it as intuitive as possible to operate autofocus separately from releasing the shutter. Customizable buttons can also be accessed without taking your hand off the grip. $2,500 | www.aquatica.ca | www.backscatter.com
Panasonic Lumix G9
Building on the strengths that made the video-centric GH5 so well-liked, the photo-centric Panasonic G9 is built around a 20.3-megapixel Micro Four Thirds CMOS sensor. A big selling point for nature and outdoor shooters is the addition of a 6.5-stop image stabilization system. Panasonic claims that the camera features the world’s fastest autofocus system: It uses 225 AF points to achieve focus in as little as 0.04 seconds. $1,700 | www.panasonic.com | www.backscatter.com
Who Should Buy It?
The Panasonic G9 might just be one of the best “bangs for your buck” when it comes to mirrorless cameras. At a retail price of just $1,700, the G9 offers a solid mix of impressive still and video specs for those hybrid (or undecided) underwater image-makers.
- Nauticam: Nauticam’s housing emphasizes the duality of stills and video embodied by the G9. Placement of the AF/AE lock button close to the handle makes it possible to easily access this key control for videographers. For still shooters, there’s also space inside the housing to fit Panasonic’s DMW-FL70 Flash for optical TTL. $2,650 | www.nauticam.com | www.backscatter.com
- Ikelite: Ergonomics and versatility are the order of the day with Ikelite’s G9 housing: The AF/AE lock and shutter receive dedicated levers and users can extend both for use with a tray and grips. As well, the addition of the PT1K Panasonic Kit makes it possible to pair the camera with the TTL exposure provided by Ikelite’s DS-series strobes. $1,595 | www.ikelite.com | www.backscatter.com
Sony’s α6500 fits many of the performance specs of the company’s higher-end mirrorless models in a much more compact, travel-friendly form. The α6500 is a beast when used in fast-action scenes, with 5-axis image stabilization and the ability to shoot continuously up to 11 frames per second (and with a buffer of more than 100 RAW images). It also incorporates solid 4K specs: Video is captured at 100Mbps at an oversampling of 1.5x for increased quality. $1300 | www.sony.com | www.backscatter.com
Who Should Buy It?
Considering all of the specs listed above, it seems crazy that you can get your hands on a Sony α6500 for around $1000. For this reason, this model is more suited towards compact users looking to upgrade, rather than existing DSLRs making the mirrorless switch.
- Fantasea: The Fantasea housing matches perfectly with the affordability and compact form factor of the Sony α6500—without sacrificing the nuances for more advanced shooters. The built-in leak alarm, double O-ring, and shock-resistant construction are all features that make the Fantasea A6500 an ideal setup for the user constantly in the field—think divemaster or travel photographer. $775 | www.fantasea.com | www.backscatter.com (housing) | $998 | www.backscatter.com (housing, port and zoom gear bundle)
- Sea & Sea: Go all out with your α6500 underwater setup by opting for the Sea & Sea housing, which incorporates many of the specifications of the company’s higher-end models: aluminum construction, external port lock and lens release, LCD tilt and monitor hood, and luminescent button labels for shooting in dim conditions. $1,800 | www.seaandsea.jp | www.backscatter.com
Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K
With such a dope name as “Blackmagic” it’s surprising that the compact cinema cameras produced by this company don’t get more ubiquity within the dive community. It’s not just the name: The recently announced Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K is a true videographer’s camera. Built around a 4/3 HDR sensor with 4,096x2,160 resolution, it offers recording up to 4K/60p with 13 stops of dynamic range and a native ISO of up to 25,600. There aren’t currently any housings on the market, but we’re expecting to see one produced by Nauticam sometime soon. $1,295 | www.blackmagicdesign.com
3. Compact Cameras
Olympus Tough TG-5
It’s hard to overstate what a powerhouse the ultra-compact TG-5 is for underwater photographers. As a tough camera, the TG-5 is waterproof down to 50 feet (without housing) and is both “shockproof” and “crushproof.” But the camera is more than just robust: It is also powerful. You can capture up to 20fps with a RAW buffer of 14 frames and the fabulous Microscope Mode allows the capture of critters as small as an inch or less. $450 | www.getolympus.com | www.backscatter.com
Who Should Buy It?
It might be possible that the TG-5 is the only camera in this guide that would work for any underwater photographer. DSLR or mirrorless shooters could easily slip this camera into their pockets for a topside or boat camera that is quite capable. Want to make the TG-5 the center of your underwater setup? Combine the camera with a housing, strobes, and a wide-angle wet lens for a streamlined system that can take on almost any subject.
- Isotta: The TG-5 is already durable, but the Isotta housing, constructed from anodized aluminum, makes the camera virtually indestructible. The camera’s working depth is increased to 330 feet, and dual O-rings provide an extra layer of protection. $720 | www.isotecnic.it | www.backscatter.com
- Olympus: Olympus’ proprietary housing for the TG-5 is arguably one of the most popular. Affordable and lightweight, the housing is depth-rated to 147 feet—more than sufficient for most recreational diving purposes. Plus, you can use the money saved to snap on accessories such as the Backscatter M52 or AOI UWL-04 wide-angle wet lens. $300 | www.getolympus.com | www.backscatter.com
DC2000 Pro 2500 Set
For newer photographers in search of a simple all-in-one system, the SeaLife DC2000 Pro 2500 Set delivers. Our reviewer, Chase Darnell, praised the DC2000’s features and ease of use: “The DC2000 is an ideal system for divers who want an easy point-and-shoot experience, but it also caters to the more-adventurous shooter ready to break into the realm of full manual control.” Pair that with a tray, flex arm, and a 2500-lumen light for a capable setup right out of the box. You might even want to carry it around in the super suave SeaLife Photo Pro backpack. $1100 (DC2000 Pro 2500) | www.sealife-cameras.com | $120 (backpack) | www.sealife-cameras.com
Canon PowerShot G9 X Mark II
Unveiled at last year’s CES, the G9 X II is built around a 1-inch 20-megapixel sensor. With a 28–84mm (equivalent) built-in lens, you’ll need high-quality wet lenses to make this camera effective for macro or wide-angle underwater photography. But the low price point and slim form factor continues to make this line attractive for newer underwater image-makers. $530 | www.usa.canon.com | www.backscatter.com
Who Should Buy It?
Another great option for the entry-level underwater photographer, the Canon G9 X II features an improved image processor that pushes the burst mode to 8fps. In-camera RAW conversion capabilities is another boon for beginner photographers who might want to skip complicated post-processing options.
- Fantasea: Fortunately for owners of the older G9 X model, you can upgrade to the Mark II without needing a new Fantasea housing. The housing is unique in that it allows for easier camera control by providing access to select parts of the touchscreen. “With the simplification of controls without loss of functionality, you also have a very capable system that is easy to operate for first-time shooters,” we noted in our Mark I review. $360 (housing) | www.fantasea.com | www.backscatter.com | $830 (housing & camera bundle) | www.backscatter.com
- Ikelite: Ikelite’s tradition of affordable, lightweight compact camera housings continues with this one for the G9 X Mark II. Whether you want to throw it in a backpack for a beach snorkel, take it down to 200 feet, or try your hand at some surf photography, this “Action” housing will do the job. $200 | www.ikelite.com | www.backscatter.com
I-Divesite Symbiosis SS-2
I-Divesite’s Symbiosis light systems make perfect sense for the modern underwater photographer by providing both strobe light for stills and constant light for videography. The latest edition—the SS-2—comes with video light power up to 2,000 lumens as standard, but can be upgraded to 4,000 lumens. Our reviewer, Sascha Janson, dabbles in both stills and video, and appreciated the system’s versatility: “The Symbiosis really came into its own with the convenience of switching easily between shooting stills and capturing footage.” $800 | www.itorch.ca
At long last, the Inon strobe faithful were rewarded for their patience with the announcement of the Z-330. Along with a boost in power (a new guide number of 33), the Z-330 has a built-in light shade that can rotate all the way around to reduce flare and backscatter. Inon also redesigned the dials to be larger and more intuitive to use. Simon Lorenz put the Z-330s to the test for both macro and wide-angle photography, crowning it “one of the best options out there.” $650 | www.inon.jp | www.backscatter.com
SeaLife Sea Dragon 4500
SeaLife’s foray into the world of professional underwater video lighting kicked off with a bang with their Sea Dragon 4500. First displayed at DEMA 2017, this 4,500-lumen light is equipped with COB LED lights that produce a color rendering index of 92, closely matching the natural quality of sunlight. The Sea Dragon 4500 can be easily used along with a strobe because of its “Auto Flash Detect Mode,” which automatically turns off the light momentarily when a strobe flash is detected. Keep an eye out for our forthcoming review. $700 (head only) | www.sealife-cameras.com
Fantasea-AOI UWL-400F and UWL-04F Wide-Angle Wet Lenses
Go big or go home with the UWL-400F and UWL-04F wide-angle wet lenses from the tandem of Fantasea and AOI. The UWL-04F is designed specifically for compact cameras with a 28mm lens (equivalent) at its widest—producing a 160-degree field of view. For cameras with a 24mm lens, the UWL-400F increases the field of view to 120 degrees. The lens bodies are hard-anodized aluminum while the domes are scratch-resistant polycarbonate. $425 (UWL-400F) | $425 (UWL-04F) | www.fantasea.com
SeaLife 0.5x and 0.75x Wide-Angle Wet Lenses for DC2000
The SeaLife DC2000 already has a relatively wide 31mm built-in lens, but adding either the 0.5x Wide Angle Dome Lens or the 0.75x Wide Angle Conversion Lens opens the door to large subjects like shipwrecks, big animals and reef scenes. The 0.5x lens changes the effective focal length of the DC2000 to 16mm, perfect for wide-angle scenes. If you want to better fill the frame with more timid subjects like sharks or dolphins, the 0.75x lens is a solid choice. $500 (0.5x) | $200 (0.75x) | www.sealife-cameras.com
|0.5x Wide Angle Dome Lens||0.75x Wide Angle Conversion Lens|
Inon Underwater Tripod System
Inon’s Underwater Tripod System is truly a “system”—customizable for a variety of cameras and purposes. Essentially, the system is composed of the “UW Tripod Hub” and the “UW 3-Way Panhead,” which can then be combined with Inon’s array of carbon fiber and stick arms to build a tripod. Videographers can take advantage of the added stability, while macro still shooters can use the camera’s fixed position to manually focus on tiny critters. $220 (Tripod Hub) | $150 (3-Way Panhead) | www.inon.co.jp
Backscatter FLIP6 Pro Package
It’s hard for GoPro users not to flip their lids with the announcement of Backscatter’s FLIP6 Pro Package. Arguably the most complete and versatile GoPro filter system to date, it includes Shallow, Dive, and Deep filters, as well as the +15 Macromate Mini close-up lens. With only two adaptors, every filter in this package fits GoPro HERO3 through HERO 6. $180 | www.backscatter.com
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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