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Underwater Photo/Video Buyer’s Guide – Summer 2019
By DPG Editorial Staff, August 7, 2019 @ 02:00 AM (EST)


Summer is in full swing, and if you’re anything like us, you just want to escape the heat and go diving! So how about taking some cool new imaging toys with you? Welcome to the summer edition of DPG’s Underwater Photo/Video Buyer’s Guide!

Just starting out and don’t know where to start? Exasperated with your current rig and want to upgrade? No matter whether you’re in the market for an action cam, compact, mirrorless, DSLR, lights or accessories, we’ve got a sizzlin’ recommendation (or several) for you!

 

CONTENTS

  1. Full-Frame Cameras
  2. Cropped-Sensor Cameras
  3. Compacts and Action 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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Panasonic Lumix S1R

Hot on the heels of Nikon and Canon, Panasonic joined Sony’s full-frame mirrorless party with not one but two models, and it’s the 47.3MP S1R that will most interest stills shooters. In addition to the impressively high pixel count, the S1R boasts a very high-resolution viewfinder packing 5.76M dots, 5-axis in-body image stabilization, and 6fps burst shooting with continuous autofocus. As well as shooting 4K video from the full-sensor width, the S1R can capture Full HD footage at 180p, which can then be played back at 30p for buttery smooth 1/6th slow-motion. $3,700 | www.panasonic.com | www.backscatter.com

Who Should Buy It?

Producing images of up to 8368 x 5584 pixels, the S1R promises to be a fantastic camera for photographers who want to print big. True hybrid shooters may want to opt for the S1 and its more modest 24.2MP sensor because oversampling is used to achieve higher-quality 4K/30p video, unlike the S1R’s pixel-binning method. It’s worth noting that both cameras shoot 4K/60p video, but the S1 has a 1.5x crop while the S1R has only a 1.09x crop, making wide-angle shooting a more viable option.


Housing Options
 

  • Ikelite: The US company’s signature features from its DSLR housings are included here: the Dry Lock (DL) port system for compatibility with even the biggest and most professional lenses, ergonomic (and optionally extendable) shutter release and AF-ON control levers, and TTL exposure with Ikelite DS-series strobes when you add on the DL3 DS Link TTL Converter (see Accessories). $1,695 | www.ikelite.com | www.backscatter.com

  • Nauticam: Accommodating both the S1 and S1R, Nauticam’s rugged aluminum housing is characteristically engineered to route every camera control to the perfect position on the housing within reach of one of the integrated handles. The company’s familiar N120 port system is employed, allowing the use of L-mount lenses as well as Sigma EF-mount lenses via an EF-to-L adapter.  $3,800 | www.nauticam.com | www.backscatter.com


Nikon D850

In this year’s Underwater Competition Series, the D850 shot 20% of the winning images—more than any other camera. And while that doesn’t necessarily mean the D850 will shoot competition winning images every time, Nikon’s 46-megapixel beast is definitely one of the absolute best full-frame cameras on the market right now—mirrorless or DSLR. And as our reviewer Brandi Mueller found out, don’t make the mistake of thinking the D850 can’t compete on video either: Shooting 4K/30p and 1080/120p from the full sensor width, this is a serious all-around powerhouse of a camera. $3,000 | www.nikonusa.com | www.backscatter.com

Who Should Buy It?

The D850 convinced pro shooter Keri Wilk to finally consider switching from a cropped to a full-frame sensor: “The combination of super-high resolution, massive dynamic range, and plenty of shooting speed is hard to beat.” Enough said.


Housing Options
 

  • Aquatica: Apparently recognizing the D850’s not inconsiderable bulk, Aquatica has made this housing 12% lighter than its housings for the D800 and D810, and no bigger than its housing for the D500. Controls are positioned at your fingertips when gripping the handles. The housing is available with dual optical connector, dual Nikonos connectors, or single Ikelite connector. $2,895 | www.aquatica.ca | www.backscatter.com

  • Isotta: If you own a “Ferrari” among cameras, you might as well get an Italian housing in Ferrari Red! But Isotta’s anodized aluminum housing for the D850 isn’t all about looks: Dual integrated handles allow fingertip control over the camera’s most important functions, you get the convenience of Isotta’s signature one-handed open-close, and there’s an integrated optoelectronic TTL trigger that works with a variety of strobes. $2,990 | www.isotecnic.it | www.backscatter.com

Canon EOS R

When Canon decided to enter the full-frame mirrorless game, the company made some smart choices for its first model, the EOS R: Borrow the much-loved (30.3-megapixel) sensor from the 5D Mark IV, make Dual Pixel AF work just as well as it does on its DSLRs, and allow the Canon faithful to continue using their lovely EF lenses. The EOS R achieves all these things, and your good ol’ glass can be happily used with the new RF-mount by adding an adapter. $2,300 | www.canon.com | www.backscatter.com

Who Should Buy It?

Although the EOS R’s sensor resolution is overshadowed by its rivals, photographers who are content with what is still a decently high pixel count should find Canon’s first full-frame mirrorless effort holds its own against the company’s popular DSLRs in a similar price bracket. Videographers will very likely want to look elsewhere: The EOS R’s 4K capture comes with a 1.8x crop, so getting those wide-angle subjects in the frame will be all but impossible.


Housing Options
 

  • Sea&Sea: Not every camera has a top plate LCD, and Sea&Sea has gone the extra mile to provide a window that allows you to see it. Made from machined aluminum and featuring integrated handles, the housing has a focus/zoom dial with two gears—one for the new RF-mount lenses and one for your “old” EF-mount lenses. An optional converter facilitates TTL strobe exposure. $3,495 | www.seaandsea.jp | www.backscatter.com

  • Ikelite: If you want the light weight and durability of a ABS-polycarbonate housing, Ikelite’s modestly priced housings are the way to go. With all the features of the U.S. company’s DSLR offerings, the EOS R housing is built around the foolproof Dry Lock port system and additionally accommodates Canon’s EF-EOS R Adapter. For Ikelite’s industry-leading TTL exposure, all you need is a few optional extras: a TTL converter and a couple of DS-series strobes. $1,695 | www.ikelite.com | www.backscatter.com

 

2. Cropped-Sensor Cameras

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Fujifilm X-T3

While everyone has been talking full-frame mirrorless, Fujifilm has been slowly but surely turning its X series into a seriously competitive APS-C camera line. At the top of the heap is the X-T3 and the feature set reads like a hybrid shooter’s dream: 26.1MP sensor, 20fps continuous shooting, and 4K/60p video at 10-bit 4:2:0 internally (10-bit 4:2:2 output to an external recorder)—albeit with a minor 1.18x crop. That’s a lot of camera for... $1,500 | www.fujifilm.com

Who Should Buy It?

Unlike its competitors, Fujifilm’s retro-styled X-T3 offers a high level of direct control over basic settings, including aperture, shutter speed and ISO, giving photographers a different kind of shooting experience that is (arguably) an unusually good fit for underwater photography. Videographers have cause for celebration, too: The ability to capture 4K footage and play back at half speed is a game-changer at this price point.


Housing Options
 

  • Nauticam: Noticing the potential of the X series earlier than most, Nauticam has been showing its support for Fujifilm since the X-T1. For its third-generation offering, the Hong Kong-based company has retained its signature features—integrated handles, DSLR-style housing and port locks, and “Mission Control” concept for control placement—but in an even more figure-hugging form factor. A new bulkhead supports an HDMI 2.0 connection to the Atomos Ninja V for 4K/60p 4:4:2 10-bit recording. $2,990 | www.nauticam.com | www.backscatter.com

  • Subal: Another early supporter of Fujifilm’s flagship mirrorless, Subal has created a premium housing for the X-T3 that’s built to withstand the toughest conditions at depths down to 80 meters (260 feet)—with a special option that will survive at 120 metres, or nearly 400 feet! In terms of strobe connectivity, the housing features dual Sea&Sea optical ports, and the option of bulkheads with Nikonos V, Ikelite or Subtronic S6 sockets. $3,350 | www.subal.com | www.backscatter.com


Canon EOS Rebel SL3

Canon has been a master of the cheap-and-cheerful DSLR for, well, ever, and the SL3 is the latest embodiment of this. But just because it puts a small dent in your bank balance doesn’t mean you don’t get a whole bunch of impressive specs along with solid picture-taking and video-making performance: the latest Digic 8 processor, a 24-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, Dual Pixel CMOS AF, 5fps continuous shooting, and 1080p video at up to 60p with no sensor crop. That’s more than enough camera for any beginner. $650 | www.canon.com

Who Should Buy It?

The SL3 is a no-brainer for any beginner who wants a “proper camera”—even if (comparatively) chunky DSLRs are yesterday’s fashion. A couple of decent pieces of glass and you’ll soon be able to start producing a high-quality record of your underwater journey. Keep in mind that 4K/30p video is on offer here but there’s a hefty crop, so you’re better off sticking with Full HD.


Housing Options
 

  • Ikelite: An inexpensive DSLR that only weighs a pound needs a lightweight housing that’s easy on the wallet, and Ikelite’s housing fits the bill nicely. The TTL circuit is integrated, so you don’t have to pay more for a separate converter to start shooting with one or two of the company’s DS-series strobes for perfect flash exposures every time. Upgrade with dual quick-release handles and extension of the shutter lever. $1,295 | www.ikelite.com

Sony α6400

Sony has been refining both its full-frame and cropped-sensor lines with equal aplomb, and the most recent release in the latter class, the α6400, inherits the awesome autofocus capabilities of the big brother α9 and α7/α7R III. Otherwise, you get the same core specs that made the α6300 such a great camera: a 24.2MP sensor, 11fps continuous shooting, and 4K UHD 30p and Full HD 120p movie recording using the full sensor width. Testing the camera shooting wrecks, pelagics, macro, and reefscapes, DPG’s Alex Lindbloom concluded, “The overall image quality of the photos and videos produced by the α6400 truly gives higher-end mirrorless cameras like my Panasonic GH5 a run for their money.” $900 | www.sony.com | www.backscatter.com

Who Should Buy It?

With its class-leading autofocus, the α6400 is the APS-C mirrorless to beat, whether your obsession is photography or video—or something in-between.


Housing Options
 

  • Fantasea: Made from robust injection-molded polycarbonate, the FA6400 housing boasts a double O-ring seal and offers access to all the important camera controls. There are dual ports for triggering strobes via fiber-optic connections, and you can add bulkheads for electrical triggering if desired. The housing ships with the Fantasea Hybrid Vacuum Safety System—a vacuum check and leak detector. $775 (housing only) | www.sonydive.com | www.backscatter.com | $1,000 (bundled with lens port and zoom gear) | www.backscatter.com

  • Ikelite: Although the α6400 has a slightly deeper body than the α6300 and α6500—to accommodate its flip-up-for-vlogging LCD—Ikelite’s housing is compatible with all three cameras. Big, easy-to-use levers control both shutter release and—importantly, for back button focus—the AF/MF button. As well as out-of-the-box fiber-optic strobe triggering, TTL can be optionally added via the DL2 DS Link Sony TTL Converter. $775 | www.ikelite.com | www.backscatter.com

 

3. Compacts and Action Cameras

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Olympus Tough TG-6

The latest iteration of Olympus’ Tough series, the TG-6 is outwardly barely distinguishable from its predecessor. The LCD is the only hardware component that has seen an upgrade; otherwise, it’s the same 25–100mm (equiv.) f/2 lens, 12MP sensor, 20fps continuous shooting, and 4K video capture. Instead, interestingly, all the changes relate to how the camera functions. Crucially, the mind-blowing Microscope Mode can now be accessed in Program Auto and Aperture Priority, so it’s now possible to select small apertures and finally have your macro subjects benefit from improved depth of field and darker backgrounds. $450 | www.getolympus.com | www.backscatter.com

Who Should Buy It?

If you have no clue where to start in underwater photography, there’s one little camera that should be at the very top of your list: the TG-6. You can take on almost any subject, from the tiniest critters (with the phenomenal Microscope Mode) to big animals like sharks (with the addition of a wet lens like Backscatter’s M52 Wide Angle Lens; see Accessories).


Housing Options
 

  • Olympus: If you’d like to take things to the next level with the TG-6—and you want to keep it in the family—then look no further than the PT-059 “underwater case” from Olympus. Just hook up one or two strobes (including Olympus’s own UFL-3) via the fiber-optic ports, and attach your preferred wet optics to the threaded port. $300 | www.getolympus.com | www.backscatter.com

  • Nauticam: If you want to go a bit fancy, this milled aluminum housing for the TG-5 and TG-6 is the way to go. As well as gaining the ability to take pictures at a depth of 100 metres (330 feet), you can optionally pimp out the housing with tray and handles, and even Nauticam’s CMC-1 macro accessory lens for ultra-high-quality close-ups outside of Microscope Mode. $810 | www.nauticam.com | www.backscatter.com

  • Ikelite: If the TG-6 is the ideal camera for the newbie underwater photographer, then this is the perfect starter kit. Along with camera and housing, you get the compact and lightweight DS51 strobe with TTL receiver for spot-on flash exposures; tray, quick-release handle, and ball arm; and a fiber-optic cord for good measure. In short, for a little less than 1,600 bucks, there’s everything you need to take your first steps on the path to underwater imaging glory. $1,595 | www.ikelite.com

GoPro HERO7 Black

With the HERO7 Black, the Holy Grail of 4K frame rates is on offer—60fps—and with it the ability to play back ultra-high-definition footage at half speed. Plus, for those heavily into the silky-smooth cinematic thing, you can also shoot Full HD video at a staggering 240fps for 8x slow-mo. To create underwater magic, all you need is a housing and Backscatter’s awesome FLIP7 Pro Package, which includes three filters to bring back color at different diving depths, plus the Macromate Mini for stunningly detailed macro shots. $400 | www.gopro.com | www.backscatter.com

Who Should Buy It?

A better question is: Who shouldn’t buy it? At the very least, the HERO7 is the ultimate B-roll camera, but it’s capable of such great results, it can also function as your primary video camera if you take the time to work with its strengths and limitations. 


Housing Options
 

  • Hugyfot: When it comes to the GoPro, being tiny has two small caveats: that little 2-inch screen and the frustratingly fleeting battery life. Enter Hugyfot’s “Vision Xs” housing, featuring an integrated five-inch HDMI monitor and two lithium-ion battery packs to beef up run time to around three hours. Problem solved. €1,100 (approx. $1,235) | www.hugyfot.com

  • Isotta: If GoPro’s plasticky Super Suit doesn’t instill confidence, Isotta has you covered with their machined anodized aluminum housing, complete with dual O-ring seals and splashed with the company’s signature red paint. Just as importantly, the housing is compatible with Backscatter’s essential FLIP7 system, allowing you to record accurate colors at a given depth and get up close and personal with the weeniest critters. $410 | www.isotecnic.it | www.backscatter.com

 

4. Lighting

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SeaLife Sea Dragon 5000F Auto

While SeaLife has made a name for itself producing awesome underwater-ready compact cameras—from the Micro 2.0 to the DC2000—the company has also been building an impressive catalog of continuous lights for underwater photographers and videographers, from beginners to pros. Their current top-of-the-range model is the new 5000F Auto, which features 5,000 lumens of power, an impressively high color rendering index of 96, and two 220-lumen red LEDs for assisting your camera’s autofocus. $800 (head only) | www.sealife-cameras.com

Retra Flash Pro/Prime

After the original Retra Flash was scrapped due to production issues, Retra has been working hard to reassure its customers that the company will meet preorders of its new-and-improved strobes. According to a recent “final update,” it seems the new models—Flash Prime and Flash PRO—are indeed about to start rolling off the production line. Sharing similar features and functionality, the new strobes differ mainly in terms of power: the Prime packs 100Ws while the PRO has a 150Ws output. Power can be adjusted in 13 steps, and fiber-optic triggering comes as standard, with electrical triggering possible via an optional converter. $925 (PRO) | www.retra-uwt.com | www.backscatter.com | $740 (Prime) | www.backscatter.com


 

5. Accessories

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Inon Snoot Set for Z-330/D-200

The ability to shape the light from your strobe is a crucial aspect of more-creative macro photography, and Inon has given shooters plenty of options with the company’s new “snoot set” for its Z-330 and D-200 strobes. The modular approach gives you six different beam coverages, from controlling a diffused wide-angle beam to creating a narrow spotlight. Check out our recent video review to see how the snoot set works and the kind of results you can achieve with it. $220 | www.inon.jp | www.backscatter.com


Backscatter M52 Wide-Angle Wet Lens for Olympus TG-6

Armed with its brilliant Microscope Mode, the TG-6 is a fantastic tool for capturing macro and super-macro, but when it comes to wide-angle subjects, the camera’s maximum 60-degree field of view isn’t going to cut it. With Backscatter’s M52 Wide-Angle Wet Lens, specially designed for the TG-5 (and therefore also the TG-6), you can bump that up to 120 degrees and squeeze all kinds of cool stuff in the frame, including  blue sharksschooling fish, reef scenes, and close-focus wide-angle subjects. The 52mm threaded port means you can mount the wet lens directly to various housings for the TG-6 (and other similar compacts). $400 | www.backscatter.com

Fantasea-AOI UWL-09F Wide-Angle and UCL-06LF Macro Wet Lenses

In recent years, Fantasea and AOI have joined forces to create an impressive lineup of quality wet attachments, and two great examples are the UWL-09F wide-angle lens and the UCL-06LF +12 diopter macro lens. Barrels are made from hard-anodized aluminum and have a black hard coating, glass elements have anti-reflective multilayer coatings, and threaded mounts are the standard 67mm, so they’re ready to attach to just about any compact, mirrorless and DSLR housing. $700 (UWL-09F) | www.fantasea.com | $220 (UCL-06LF) | www.fantasea.com

UWL-09F UCL-06LF

 

Aquatica 5HD Monitor

Known for their meticulously engineered underwater housings, Aquatica has come up with a surprise offering: the 5HD Monitor, the first of a planned series of such devices. Forget that pokey viewfinder or feeble LCD: Now you can really see what you’re doing with this bright 5.7” Full HD display. There are also focus peaking and false colour functions on-board to assist in focusing and exposure. The monitor is compatible with any housing that features an HDMI bulkhead with M16 thread. $2,195 | www.aquatica.ca | www.backscatter.com

 

Ikelite DL3 DS Link TTL Converter for Panasonic and Olympus

Ikelite has made it a breeze to enable TTL flash exposure with your camera of choice: All you need to do is add the relevant TTL converter to your housing (Ikelite or non-Ikelite). Each converter supports various cameras and housings (in this case, the Panasonic GH5, G9 and the new S1/S1R in Ikelite 200DL housing), don’t require batteries (it’s powered by Ikelite’s strobe), supports rear curtain sync and flash exposure compensation set in camera, and crucially, allows you to toggle between TTL and manual modes on the fly at the press of a button. $375 | 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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