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Underwater Photo and Video Holiday Gift Guide 2018
By DPG Editorial Staff, November 23, 2018 @ 12:00 PM (EST)


As far as Fridays go, perhaps there is no more of a threat to our piggy banks than today, Black Friday. It is on this hallowed shopping holiday that we see some of the best deals on underwater photography gear. 

So, whether you’re looking to upgrade your entire camera and housing or just toying with the idea of getting a nifty, new accessory, we’ve put together a shopping guide for the holiday season with the latest and greatest underwater imaging gear. And if you’re having a hard time deciding what to get DPG for the holidays, then we will just take it all… 

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

 

1. Full-Frame DSLRs and Mirrorless

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Nikon Z7

Arguably, full-frame mirrorless didn’t “arrive” until the Big Two finally got their act together and joined Sony’s party. Nikon, keen to duplicate the success of their D850, seems to have borrowed much of what was great about that DSLR for the Z7—ultra-high resolution BSI-CMOS sensor (45.7MP), ultra-fast continuous shooting (9fps), a base ISO of 64, and 4K UHD/30p video with no crop factor—but in a much smaller and lighter package. To top it off, Nikon took a leaf out of Sony’s book and also introduced the ($1,400 cheaper) video-centric Z6: If you take your filmmaking seriously, this lower-resolution (24.5MP) version has full-pixel readout in 4K mode (as opposed to the line skipping method that the Z7 uses). Bonus: It’s physically identical, so housings will accommodate either camera. $3,400 | www.nikonusa.com | www.backscatter.com

Who Should Buy It?

Having a similar price tag to the D850, the Z7 is very much aimed at enthusiasts and pros who crave extreme resolution. For still photographers, especially underwater shooters, the deciding factor will be whether the Z7’s autofocus prowess can compare with the industry-leading AF performance of Nikon’s DSLRs.


Housing Options
 

  • Ikelite: The US-based company was first out of the gate with their Z7/Z6 housing, offering very similar features and functionality to their DSLR housings, including the same Dry Lock port system. The housing is designed to accommodate lenses using the new Z-mount as well as F-mount lenses via the FTZ adapter that launched with the Z-system. As you’d expect, you can also add a converter for TTL exposure with DS-series strobes. The best part: You can toggle between TTL and manual exposure with the press of a button. $1,695 | www.ikelite.com | www.backscatter.com

  • Nauticam: As well as accommodating both Z-mount and F-mount lenses, Nauticam’s Z7/Z6 housing boasts two lens release buttons, allowing you to switch lenses without removing camera from housing. As with Nauticam’s DSLR offerings, impressive attention has been paid to ergonomics, with dedicated levers for AF-ON, ISO, and Record. Both manual and TTL strobe triggering options are available. $3,450 | www.nauticam.com | www.backscatter.com

Canon EOS R

Like Nikon, Canon built its first full-frame mirrorless camera around the same sensor found in one of its DSLRs—in this case, the EOS 5D Mark IV’s 30.3MP Dual Pixel CMOS affair. And like their Japanese rival, they introduced a new lens mount for the series—the RF-mount—and an adapter to avoid all your precious EF-mount glass going to waste. High-speed shooting is a respectable 8fps shooting (5fps with continuous AF), but 4K video is captured with a 1.8x crop, essentially ruling out wide-angle underwater 4K footage. $2,300 | www.canon.com | www.backscatter.com

Who Should Buy It?

With Canon’s highly regarded Dual Pixel AF on board, autofocus performance should be comparable with that of the company’s DSLRs, making the EOS R an attractive option for still photographers who want a smaller, lighter full-frame system. Underwater videographers should look elsewhere.


Housing Options
 

  • NiMAR: Hand-made in Italy, NiMAR’s EOS R housing uses a combination of aluminum alloy for its handles and brackets and acetal resin (high-strength plastic) for the body, and its mechanical controls give you full access to the camera’s main functions. Your euros also get you a built-in moisture alarm, vacuum port, and button labels that glow in the dark. Ports come as standard for optic-fiber strobe connections. €1,490 | www.nimar.it

  • Ikelite: You’d be hard pressed to see the difference between Ikelite’s EOS R housing and its DSLR varieties: It has the same durable, lightweight ABS-PC construction; the same Dry Lock port system; and the same strobe connectivity options, including TTL exposure with compatible DS-series strobes. The DL port system can accommodate EF lenses as well as the new RF lenses using the EF-EOS R Adapter. $1,695 | www.ikelite.com | www.backscatter.com


Sony α7R III

In considering Nikon’s and Canon’s first forays into mirrorless full-frame, it’s worth remembering that Sony has a five-year head start with their α7 series. The third-generation models include the resolution-focused α7R III, featuring a 42.4MP sensor, 10fps continuous shooting with AF, and 4K/30p video capture from the full width of the sensor—though 4K full-pixel readout is only in APS-C/Super35 mode, as with the Nikon Z7. With this number of megapixels at your disposal, potential shooters should remember the quality lenses you’ll need to pair with this camera to extract its full potential. $2,800 | www.sony.com | www.backscatter.com

Who Should Buy It?

Our reviewer, Joe Platko, deemed the α7R III “a phenomenal camera if you’re photographing big animals and fast action,” but suggested that the disappointing autofocus performance with macro lenses makes this a less-than-ideal tool for shooting the small stuff.


Housing Options
 

  • Aquatica: The Canadian company has put great emphasis on their α7R III housing’s ergonomic design. In particular, there’s a redesigned joystick that makes accessing the camera’s 425 AF points a breeze, and a carefully positioned control for back button AF. They’ve also made it easy to insert the camera into the housing, with self-centering, spring-loaded controls. $2,500 | www.aquatica.ca | www.backscatter.com

  • Sea&Sea: One bugbear concerning the α7 series—indeed, all mirrorless cameras—is their unimpressive battery life compared to DSLRs. Sea&Sea has addressed this by taking advantage of the camera’s small and lightweight body and adding a “Buoyancy Pocket” into the housing—an extra space that can accommodate an accessory such as a mobile charger to provide extra power. Compatible Sea&Sea strobes can be used in both TTL and manual modes. $3,495 | www.seaandsea.jp | www.backscatter.com


Nikon D850

The latest addition to Nikon’s D800 series is a reminder that while the mirrorless era has dawned, the curtain hasn’t gone down on the trusty DSLR quite yet. This beast not only shoots 46MP images at up to 7fps, but also captures excellent video at 4K/30p and 1080/120p, earning it near-universal praise as the ultimate all-around camera. Critically, for underwater shooters, it also performs superbly in low-light conditions, producing minimal noise at high ISOs. Our reviewer, Brandi Mueller, said: “Low-light performance and high dynamic range are on point for photographing deep, dark wrecks, while the super-fast autofocus and processing speed are killer when it comes to capturing crazy shark action.” $3,300 | www.nikonusa.com | www.backscatter.com

Who Should Buy It?

For APS-C DSLR users considering making the leap to full frame, award-winning shooter Keri Wilk said it best: “As a lifelong owner of cropped-sensor cameras, it would take a lot for me to switch to the full-frame game. However, the D850 may have singlehandedly convinced me: The combination of super-high resolution, massive dynamic range, and plenty of shooting speed is hard to beat.”


Housing Options
 

  • Isotta: If you’ve sunk all that cash into a D850, you’ll want everyone to notice, so Isotta’s gorgeous metallic red housing might be just the ticket. As well as two integrated adjustable handles, it boasts single-handed opening and closing, dual O-ring seals on all buttons, and a built-in moisture alarm. The housing even ships with TTL electronics for automatic exposure with compatible strobes. $2,990 | www.isotecnic.it | www.backscatter.com

  • Ikelite: When your camera tips the scales at over 2lbs, having a housing that doesn’t weigh a ton is a big bonus. Jetsetting reviewer Brandi Mueller certainly agreed: “The D850’s impressive performance is augmented when combined with Ikelite’s lightweight, streamlined housing and ports.” Your investment in Ikelite strobes will also introduce you to one of the best TTL solutions in the business. $1,695 | www.ikelite.com | www.backscatter.com

 

2. Cropped-Sensor DSLRs and Mirrorless

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Nikon D500

Roughly two years after being announced, the D500 remains one of the top options for a cropped-sensor DSLR camera. Sure, the 21MP might not be the sexiest spec—especially when held up against new full-frame mirrorless models. But it’s the performance of the D500 that will appeal to the lower-end DSLR owner looking to upgrade: 153 autofocus points, 10fps continuous shooting, and UHD 4K/30p video recording. For one thing, Keri Wilk proved that it’s pretty awesome for photographing sperm whales. $1,800 | www.nikonusa.com | www.backscatter.com

Who Should Buy It?

The D500 is a solid upgrade for any diver currently using an entry-level DSLR. As well, if you’re a compact user looking to take things to the next level, then the D500 will be future-proof for many years.


Housing Options

  • Subal: Subal’s housing for the D500 comes with all of the bells and whistles you’d expect from the high-end gear manufacturer as well as weighing in as the company’s lightest DSLR housing to date. If you want to step it up a notch, we suggest taking a look at their special “Navy Edition” of the D500 housing. $3,950 | www.subal.com | www.backscatter.com

  • Hugyfot: Hugyfot might not be a brand familiar to the North American underwater photographer, but their housing for the D500 is pretty solid—literally. Machined out of a solid block of AIMgSi1 high strength aluminum, the housing features the HugyCheck pre-dive vacuum check system and a large back window for LCD viewing. €2,895 | www.hugyfot.com


Panasonic Lumix GH5s

The Lumic GH5s was one of the hottest mirrorless cameras of 2018—and with good reason. The GH5s distances itself from the pack with specs aimed at attracting the budding videographer: ISO expandable up to 51,200, C4K: 60p50p 8-bit, and V-LogL preinstalled. It’s such a popular camera that the GH5s is currently back-ordered on the Panasonic website! Fear not, Backscatter can hook you up. $2,300 | www.panasonic.com | www.backscatter.com

Who Should Buy It?

With its incredible low-light performance and video-centric features, the GH5s is a high-end tool for the videographer. It also has a fairly high price tag and a low megapixel count, so if you’re hoping to do double duty between stills and video, then we’d recommend sticking with the traditional GH5. 


Housing Options
 

  • Nauticam: Nauticam’s housing for the GH5s (and the traditional GH5) has the videographer in mind. A new Nauticam internal HDMI cable supports the full-size HDMI “Type A,” which gives users the option to add on an external monitor. It also has integrated tripod mounting ball attachments for shooting super-macro or underwater time-lapses. $2,650 | www.nauticam.com | www.backscatter.com

  • Ikelite: Surf and water-sport videographers will want to take a close look at Ikelite’s housing for the GH5s. Lightweight and compact, the housing features Ikelite’s Dry Lock port system, an oversized zoom knob for creative videography, and an included vacuum sealing system. $1,695 | www.ikelite.com | www.backscatter.com

Sony α6500

With all the love seemingly directed at their full-frame models, Sony has slipped in another winner in the mid-level mirrorless market. The α6500 is a versatile cropped-sensor mirrorless camera in a compact form. For still photographers, it boasts a 24.2MP CMOS sensor, an incredible 425 phase-detect AF points, and rapid-fire shooting. Video aficionados will appreciate access to S-Gamut/S-Log shooting. $1100 | www.sony.com | www.backscatter.com

Who Should Buy It?

If you’re one of those advanced photographers who has been considering dabbling in video—and there are a lot of you out there—the C6500 is one of your best bets in this buyer’s guide. It’s also priced affordably so that you can add it on as a second system rather than having to sell your current stills setup.


Housing Options
 

  • Fantasea: Complement the affordability and slim form factor of the α6500 with Fantasea’s FA6500 housing. The housing doesn’t skimp on features that appeal to demanding shooters: It includes a system of FML interchangeable ports for maximum lens support and an M16 bulkhead that can be used for an HDMI connection. The housing also accommodates the earlier α6300 using an adapter kit which comes with the housing. $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).
 

  • Sea&Sea: Sea & Sea doesn’t often venture outside of producing DSLR housings. So, when they announced a model for the mirrorless α6500, we knew it would offer up some unique features for the discerning shooter. The housing features two bulkheads in addition to a fiber-optic strobe connection and is compatible with the company’s LCD Monitor Hood with Lens—a critical accessory for reducing reflections for macro photography or videography. $1,800 | www.seaandsea.jp | www.backscatter.com

 

3. Compacts and Action Cameras

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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 VI

Sony’s RX100 line has dominated the high-end compact camera market for underwater photography. The latest iteration—the RX100 Mark VI—is mainly differentiated by its longer focal length zoom lens. However, its high image quality and advanced performance specs make the RX100 VI a strong contender for compact camera of the year for underwater imagery. $1,200 | www.sony.com | www.backscatter.com

Who Should Buy It?

If you want one of the best compact cameras out there to save some packing space, then the RX100 VI is a solid option. However, the increased zoom in the lens isn’t useful for underwater purposes. So, if you’re already invested in an RX100 system (generation III or newer) then it’s probably not worth the upgrade.


Housing Options
 

  • Fantasea: Because of the change in lens, Fantasea has produced a brand new Limited Edition housing for the RX100 VI. This housing employs a modified flat port with a 67mm threaded front to allow the use of a wide array of wet optics offered by Fantasea (and lens partner AOI). As well, it’s shock resistant and durable at an affordable price. $400 (approx.) | www.sonydive.com

  • Nauticam: Nauticam’s new housing for the RX100 VI places emphasis on ergonomics and one-handed operation. Specifically, you can reach all essential controls when gripping with the right hand—ideal for those using the system without a tray and lights for freediving or video. As well, you can forgo Nauticam’s FlexTray and use the housing’s cold shoe and M10 threaded mount to add accessories.  $1,100 | www.nauticam.com | www.backscatter.com

Olympus Tough TG-5

The TG-5—as DPG’s Editor can attest—is one tough and capable little camera. Sure, there are the rugged specs that accompany this model, but the TG-5 is also one of the best valued compact cameras on the market by offering RAW imaging, excellent white balance, and the ability to shoot in “Aperture Priority” for a price tag of under $500. $450 | www.getolympus.com | www.backscatter.com

Who Should Buy It?

The TG-5 has a wide-ranging potential buyer base. It’s a great starter camera that can be built into a comprehensive system along the way with strobes, video lights, a tray, and wet lenses. As well, the TG-5’s rugged specs make it a solid backup camera in the field that can be quickly taken out of the housing for topside photography without fear of getting it wet or damaged.


Housing Options
 

  • Isotta: Go red with Isotta’s housing for the TG-5. It’s all about the little things with this housing. This starts with the simple-yet-effective rotary latch to secure the housing and extends to optional ergonomic accessories such as the shutter trigger extender—a must for anyone wanting to use this system with a tray. $720 | www.isotecnic.it | www.backscatter.com

  • Ikelite: Ready to go “all in” on a TG-5 system? Ikelite is offering a “Deluxe Kit” that gives you everything you need to get in the water and get shooting: TG-5 camera, Ikelite housing, Action Tray II with Quick Release Handle, arm system, and a DS51 strobe with RC1 TTL receiver. While you’re at it, we recommend adding on a wide-angle wet lens to unleash this camera’s full potential. $1,495 | www.ikelite.com

SeaLife DC2000 Pro Duo

SeaLife’s DC2000 Pro Duo is one sweet setup. It’s centered around the DC2000 compact underwater camera, which features a 20MP 1” Sony sensor and is waterproof out of the box. In the lighting department, you are equipped for both stills and video thanks to the combination of the Sea Dragon Flash and the new Sea Dragon 3000F Light. $1,400 (Pro Duo) | www.sealife-cameras.com

GoPro HERO7

The game-changing feature in the GoPro HERO7 Black is “HyperSmooth”—a highly praised in-camera image stabilization feature. Much of the specs remain the same from the previous model, including 4K at 60fps and 12MP still photos. But if you want the best action camera on the market for B-roll footage or to mount on the top of your camera, then the HERO7 Black is the way to go. Oh, and if you want to max out the latest HERO as a video system, then make sure to pair it with Backscatter’s FLIP system $400 | www.gopro.com | www.backscatter.com

 

4. Lighting

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Inon D-200

With the release of the Z-330, Inon finally introduced a worthy replacement for the venerable Z-240, and with the new mid-range D-200, the Japanese company has done the same thing for the now-discontinued D-2000. Here, the strobe output hasn’t changed—the guide number of 20 stays the same—but the recycle time has reduced to 1.3 seconds (from 1.8s). The D-200 also packs a more powerful integrated focus light: 220 lumens instead of 180 lumens. $500 | www.inon.jp | www.backscatter.com

 


SeaLife Sea Dragon 3000F and 2000F

The two big reveals at SeaLife’s DEMA booth were the company’s latest photo/video lights: the Sea Dragon 3000F and the Sea Dragon 2000F. The “F” stands for “flood”—each has a 90-degree beam underwater—and unsurprisingly the numbers denote lumens, but there are a couple of goodies included with the more-powerful light: a special automatic mode that adjusts brightness depending on subject distance, and two 180-lumen red LEDs to help your camera’s autofocus in low light. $500 (Sea Dragon 3000F, tray, grip) | $300 (Sea Dragon 2000F, mini-tray, grip) | www.sealife-cameras.com

Sea Dragon 3000F Sea Dragon 2000F

 

Light & Motion Sola Video Pro 3800

The new video light from Light & Motion packs 3,800 lumens into a characteristically sleek and compact form. The light comes with a handy dome port optic that gives you not only a wide beam angle of 110 degrees but also a soft light fall-off at the beam edges. And those little lights on the side? A nifty power level and battery status indicator that’s designed to be easy to view when the light’s mounted. $700 | www.lightandmotion.com

 

5. Accessories

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

Backscatter’s motto is “We dive, shoot, and service everything we sell” so no wonder they’ve become quite the fans of the Olympus TG-5—so much so that they’ve developed a wet attachment specially for the tough compact that increases its field of view from 60 to 120 degrees. As we discovered when testing the lens, the TG-5 can now photograph everything from blue sharks to schooling fish, reef scenes, and close-focus wide-angle subjects. The 52mm threaded port means it works with the TG-5 in the Olympus or Isotta housing, and will also complement other compacts in housings with similar ports. $400 | www.backscatter.com

Nauticam Macro to Wide-Angle Lens 1 (MWL-1)

Arguably, Nauticam have become just as well respected for their high-end wet optics as they are for their intricate housings. Their new MWL-1 is a particularly intriguing prospect: It turns a 60mm macro lens into an ultra-wide lens with a 150-degree field of view. Why? By just flipping the MWL-1 in and out, mirrorless and DSLR users can do what they normally can’t do without switching lenses: shoot both macro and wide-angle on the same dive. Genius. $1,850 | www.nauticam.com | www.backscatter.com

Fantasea-AOI UWL-400F and UWL-04F Wide-Angle Wet Lenses

Known for their selection of quality but affordable housings for compacts and mirrorless cameras, Fantasea has also joined forces with glass gurus AOI to produce a great lineup of wet lenses. Two of their latest attachments, the UWL-400F and the UWL-04F, are designed to give wide-angle superpowers to compacts with built-in lenses that are 24mm and 28mm (equivalent) at their widest, respectively. The former gives you a field of view of 120 degrees, while the latter gives you an even wider field of view of 160 degrees. There are two versions of the UWL-400: The UWL400F has the standard 67mm thread mount only, 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

UWL-400F/UWL-400Q UWL-04F

 

Fantasea-AOI UCL-900F Super Macro Wet Lens

The newest offspring of the Fantasea-AOI union is the UCL-900F, a super-macro wet lens that isn’t just designed for compacts, but for mirrorless and DSLR systems, too. The +15 diopter lens aims to allow you to capture the tiniest details on the ocean’s tiniest critters. Like other lenses in the Fantasea-AOI catalogue, the body is hard-anodized aluminum and glass elements have anti-reflection coatings. Here, you get the standard 67mm thread on the back and front, allowing stacking as well as filter attachment. $320 | www.fantasea.com

SeaLife 0.5x Wide Angle Dome Lens for DC2000

With its new 20MP sensor and Full HD video capabilities, SeaLife’s DC2000 waterproof camera has proved a hit, but as with all compact cameras, wet lenses are a must. With their own 0.5x Wide Angle Dome, SeaLife has given their top-of-the-line camera a lens with a 100-degree field of view. Now, you’ve got no excuse not to shoot some awesome reefscapes, big animals, and schools of fish. $500 | www.sealife-cameras.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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