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Dive Photo Guide


2016 Top Compact Cameras and Housings for Underwater Photography
By DPG Editorial Staff, May 21, 2016 @ 06:00 AM (EST)

A compact camera isn’t just a great choice if you’re just starting out in underwater photography and video: If you want a rig that isn’t going to hog your baggage allowance, a pocket-sized camera with a built-in lens is the best way to go.

The good news is that whichever camp you fall into, these days taking a compact underwater doesn’t mean sacrificing image quality, functionality, or versatility. And the limitations of a built-in lens can be easily mitigated with the addition of a suitable macro wet lens or wide-angle attachment.

With dozens of compact cameras to choose from—and just as many housing options—we’ve narrowed down the field to make your decision-making process easier. Our top picks don’t necessarily compete with one another, but each offers important pluses that outweigh the minuses, and all give the image-maker the tools to create amazing underwater photos and video.

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


Sony RX100 IV

Top ↑

Key Features

Price $950
Sensor 20.1MP 1-inch sensor (13.2x8.8mm)
Max image size 5472x3080 pixels
Lens f/1.8–2.8 24–70mm (35mm equivalent)
ISO range 80–25,600
Continuous shooting 16fps
RAW format Yes
Max video resolution (rate) 4K: 3840x2160 (30p)
Full HD: 1920x1080 (120p/60p)
LCD 3-inch 1.23M dot
Closest macro focus 2 inches (5cm)
Waterproof No


Now in its fourth incarnation, the Sony RX100 justifiably earns its “enthusiast compact” label, with a next-generation stacked 20.1-megapixel 1-inch Exmor RS CMOS sensor that doesn’t compromise on low-light performance. Video shooters will love its 4K video capabilities and the option to shoot Full HD video at 120fps, plus a special High Frame Rate (HFR) mode allows you to capture footage at up to 960fps (though with some caveats)—as our reviewer put it, “pop-off-the-screen slow-motion footage that can’t be achieved with most other cameras.” You also get an incredible 16fps burst rate, fantastic for fast action in natural light, such as near the surface with big animals. www.sony.com | www.backscatter.com

What We Like:   What We Don’t Like
  • 20MP resolution
  • Excellent low-light performance
  • 4K video and smooth Full HD video at a bit rate of up to 100Mbps
  • Amazing 16fps maximum burst rate
  • High Frame Rate mode limits quality as well as shooting times to just a few seconds
  • Not able to focus as close as some competing cameras
  • No macro mode

Top Housing Options

Nauticam NA-RX100IV Fantasea FRX100 IV


  • Nauticam NA-RX100IV: Machined from a solid block of aluminum, Nauticam’s housing for the RX100 IV places key controls at the user’s fingertips. As standard, you get a built-in vacuum check and leak detection system, as well as fiber-optic bulkheads, and there’s a 67mm threaded port mount for wide-angle and macro wet lenses. $995 | www.nauticam.com | www.backscatter.com
  • Fantasea FRX100 IV: Fantasea’s injection-molded polycarbonate housing offers excellent ergonomics and design at an affordable price point. Features include a built-in leak detector and double O-ring for extra peace of mind, plus a 55mm threaded port that’s compatible with a wide variety of filters and lenses (including 67mm options via an adapter). Check out our review of the housing. $500 | www.fantasea.com | www.backscatter.com


The Sony RX100 IV’s turbocharged burst mode made it possible to get a great shot of this fast-moving scalloped hammerhead


Canon PowerShot G7 X

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Key Features

Price $700
Sensor 20.1MP 1-inch sensor (13.2x8.8mm)
Max image size 5472x3080 pixels
Lens f/1.8–2.8 24–100mm (35mm equivalent)
ISO range 125–12,800
Continuous shooting 6.5fps
RAW format Yes
Max video resolution (rate) Full HD: 1920x1080 (60p)
LCD 3-inch 1.04M dot
Closest macro focus 2 inches (5cm)
Waterproof No


Like the Sony RX100 IV, Canon’s PowerShot G7 X boasts a large 1-inch 20-megapixel sensor offering similarly impressive low-light performance. While there’s no 4K video on offer, the Full HD video is up to 60fps. A macro mode allows you to focus closer and achieve better macro results, and excellent custom white balance makes it possible to get accurate colors underwater without the need for filters. You can also get very handy one-touch white balance by assigning the function to a dedicated button. Our reviewer said: “If the G7 X is considered to be a strong player on land, it’s an even more powerful one underwater.” www.canon.com | www.backscatter.com

What We Like:   What We Don’t Like
  • 20MP sensor with good low-light performance
  • Usable macro mode
  • Excellent white balance control
  • 1080/60p video
  • No 4K video option
  • Unimpressive Full HD movie bit rate at 34Mbps
  • Continuous shooting in RAW mode is just 1.2fps

Note: The new G7 X Mark II improves continuous shooting from 6.5fps to 8fps, but doesn’t address any of the Mark I’s video limitations.

Top Housing Options

Fantasea FG7X Ikelite Action Housing for Canon PowerShot G7 X


  • Fantasea FG7X: With full access to all essential camera controls and functions with clearly marked buttons, Fantasea’s housing is functional as well as easy to use. Depth-rated to 200 feet (60 meters), it offers double O-ring protection, a removable double fiber-optic cable connection, and a cold-shoe mount for lighting accessories. For more details, see our review. $400 | www.fantasea.com | www.backscatter.com
  • Ikelite Action Housing for Canon PowerShot G7 X: While Ikelite offers a standard underwater housing for the G7 X, the company has also recently introduced a line of “action housings” designed for water sports and surfing in addition to freediving and scuba. They’re more lightweight and more affordable, but still robust and depth-rated to 200 feet (60 meters). $300 | www.ikelite.com | www.backscatter.com


Sharp and colorful images can be easily captured under various light conditions with the Canon PowerShot G7 X


Panasonic Lumix LX100

Top ↑

Key Features

Price $700
Sensor 12.8MP 4/3-inch sensor (17.3x13mm)
Max image size 4112x3088 pixels
Lens f/1.7–2.8 24–75mm (35mm equivalent)
ISO range 100–25,600
Continuous shooting 11fps
RAW format Yes
Max video resolution (rate) 4K: 3840x2160 (30p)
Full HD: 1920x1080 (60p)
LCD 3-inch 921K dot
Closest macro focus 1.8 inches (4.5cm)
Waterproof No


With the LX100, Panasonic has taken a different approach to Canon and Sony, producing a compact with a bigger sensor (1.5 times the effective area of a 1-inch sensor), lower resolution (12.8MP), and faster lens (f/1.7–2.8) than the competition. As a result, the LX100 has exceptional low-light performance and fast continuous shooting, which can be a plus for more demanding conditions underwater. It boasts a multi-aspect feature that allows you to choose ratios of 4:3, 3:2, and 16:9, and it can also shoot 4K video at a blazing 100Mbps. www.panasonic.com | www.backscatter.com

What We Like:   What We Don’t Like
  • Great low-light performance and fast autofocus
  • Smooth, high-quality 4K video
  • 11fps burst in RAW format
  • Comparatively low resolution (12.8MP)
  • Shorter front port needed to allow wide-angle wet lenses to be used
  • Bulkier than rivals

Top Housing Options

Ikelite Housing for Panasonic LX100 Nauticam NA-LX100


  • Ikelite Housing for Panasonic LX100: Ikelite’s housing supports Panasonic’s TTL flash protocol via a direct connection to the camera’s built-in flash hot shoe, providing accurate exposure when used with compatible Ikelite DS strobes. The port accepts various filters and wet lenses, and the housing also works with Ikelite’s WD-4 Wide Angle Dome for great wide-angle results. $750 | www.ikelite.com | www.backscatter.com
  • Nauticam NA-LX100: Nauticam’s aluminum housing for the LX100 features a leak alarm and vacuum monitoring system as standard, a dual fiber-optic bulkhead, and a cold shoe mount. An optional flip attachment allows the use of macro wet lenses, while an optional short port offers precise placement of wide wet lenses via a standard 67mm thread. $1200 | www.nauticam.com | www.backscatter.com


SeaLife Micro 2.0

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Key Features

Price $500/$550 (32GB/64GB)
Sensor 16MP 1/2.3-inch sensor (6.17x4.55mm)
Max image size 4608x3456 pixels
Lens f/2.8 20mm (35mm equivalent)
ISO range 100–800
Continuous shooting 11fps
RAW format No
Max video resolution (rate) Full HD: 1920x1080 (60p/30p)
LCD 2.4-inch
Closest focus 12 inches (30cm)
Waterproof Yes


With the Micro HD, SeaLife introduced what was essentially a new camera class: the first permanently-sealed underwater camera. When we reviewed the Micro HD, we found it was ideal for “aspiring photographers and videographers who don’t want to worry about maintenance or manuals, but are simply ready to get in the water, in almost any conditions, and start shooting.” The Micro 2.0 takes that experience to the next level, with a new 16-megapixel Sony CMOS sensor and Full HD video recording at up to 60fps. The fixed 20mm lens (35mm equivalent) is designed for awesome wide angle, so you’ll need an optional attachment to shoot macro. www.sealife-cameras.com

What We Like:   What We Don’t Like
  • 16MP resolution
  • Excellent wide-angle performance
  • Ready to shoot out of the box and depth-rated to 200 feet (60 meters)
  • No RAW shooting
  • On-board storage maxes out at 64GB
  • Smaller LCD than competing compacts


The SeaLife Micro’s built-in 130-degree lens is perfect for capturing wide-angle scenes like this one


Olympus Tough TG-4

Top ↑

Key Features

Price $330
Sensor 16MP 1/2.3-inch sensor (6.17x4.55mm)
Max image size 3968x2976 pixels
Lens f/2.0–5.9 25–100mm (35mm equivalent)
ISO range 100–6,400
Continuous shooting 5fps
RAW format Yes
Max video resolution (rate) Full HD: 1920x1080 (30p)
LCD 3-inch 406K dot
Closest macro focus 0.39 inches (1cm)
Waterproof Yes


The flagship of the Olympus Tough line of compacts, the TG-4 isn’t just a great camera for the outdoorsman or casual snorkeler: With RAW capability and a 50-feet depth rating, it’s a viable option for scuba divers who want to capture their first underwater images. But it’s the camera’s “Microscope” mode that really separates it from the pack, giving the TG-4 astonishing super-macro capabilities for the kind of close-ups that other cameras simply can’t achieve without a diopter. According to our reviewer, “The Microscope mode works wonders on small subjects that don’t mind you getting right up in their face, like blennies, gobies, and shrimp.” www.getolympus.com | www.backscatter.com

What We Like:   What We Don’t Like
  • Microscope mode for mind-blowing super-macro shots
  • RAW capability
  • Great results with a single video light or strobe
  • No housing necessary down to 50 feet!
  • No manual exposure
  • Noisy images at higher ISOs
  • Camcorder-like continuous focus results in occasional focus-hunting

Top Housing Options

Ikelite Housing for Olympus Tough TG-4 Olympus PT-056


  • Ikelite Housing for Olympus Tough TG-4: If you want to go deeper than 50 feet, you’ll have to employ the services of a dedicated housing, like this one from Ikelite, which has you covered down to 200 feet (and also fits the TG-3). The housing allows you to hook up two strobes via fiber-optic cords, and sports a 67mm threaded port, essential for adding a much-needed wet lens for wide-angle work. $325 (not including lens port) | www.ikelite.com | www.backscatter.com
  • Olympus PT-056: Our reviewer said, “The PT-056 is lightweight, sleek and truly complements the compact, rugged feel of the Tough TG-4.” Olympus’ housing gives you full access to all the essential camera controls and there’s a base-mounting bracket for adding accessories such as a tripod or tray. The housing extends the depth rating to 150 feet (45 meters). $300 | www.olympus.com | www.backscatter.com


A red clingfish, shot using the amazing Microscope mode on the Olympus Tough TG-4

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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