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2016 Top Mirrorless Cameras and Housings for Underwater Photography
By DPG Editorial Staff, September 4, 2016 @ 06:00 AM (EST)


In 2010, there was a major turn in the mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera market when Sony announced their first mirrorless models—the NEX-5 and NEX-7. At the time, DPG Publisher Matt Weiss noted, “Sony has never been a major player in the underwater photography game, and the Micro Four-Thirds format is taking a while to catch on in the industry.”

Ah, how times have changed. Mirrorless cameras have come a long way in underwater photography over the last five years. No longer are they the great underwater photography experiment. Modern mirrorless models have features that rival many DSLRs and continue to push video capabilities in still cameras.

While five years ago there were only a handful of mirrorless cameras, housings and lenses to choose from, today there are dozens and dozens of possible combinations. These can range from modest setups that fit in your carry-on cases for under $1,000 to professional video rigs that can cost upwards of $5,000. The choice is desirable for a diverse group of underwater image-makers, but it can also be dizzying. Here’s your guide to the top mirrorless cameras of 2016.

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Sony a7R II

Top ↑

BEST IMAGE QUALITY

Key Features

Price $3200 (body)
Sensor (size) 42.4 megapixels (full frame)
Max image size 7952x5304 pixels
ISO range 100–25,600
Continuous shooting 5fps
RAW format Yes
Max video resolution (rate) 4K: 3840x2160 (30p)
Full HD: 1920x1080 (60p)
LCD 3-inch 1.23M dot
Max strobe sync speed 1/250s

 

Sony’s trio of a7 II cameras dominated much of the mirrorless headlines in 2016. Each provides unique benefits (and drawbacks), but if you’re looking for the best overall image quality on the market then the a7R II is the mirrorless for you. With the highest resolution of the series, the a7R II’s 42.4-megapixel back-illuminated structured CMOS sensor limits the amount of noise when working at higher ISOs. It also features top-level autofocus for a mirrorless, with 399 phase detect (25 contrast detect) autofocus points. Oh, and having the ability to record 4K-resolution video doesn’t hurt either. DPG Review www.sony.net | www.backscatter.com
 

What We Like:   What We Don’t Like
  • Impressive low-light RAW
  • Solid dynamic range even at high ISOs
  • Impressive overall image quality
  • Top-notch autofocus for a mirrorless camera
  • Super 35 mode
 
  • Significantly limited battery life
  • Some buttons are rather small for above-water use
  • Reportedly slow buffer when taking lots of images


Top Housing Options

Aquatica A7R II Seacam Compact for Sony a7R/S II

 

  • Aquatica A7R II: The Aquatica housing actually accommodates all models in the a7 II series—perfect for an indecisive photographer (or maybe some days a videographer). Amongst the new ergonomics, our reviewer found the lever design of the set button particularly useful, writing, “Aquatica has made sure that the controls are as easy to reach and adjust as can be, so that you spend less time trying to look at which buttons to press and more time focusing on your subjects.” DPG Review $2500 | www.aquatica.ca | www.backscatter.com
  • Seacam Compact for Sony a7R/S II: Seacam’s s first housing for Sony mirrorless cameras comes standard with electronic strobe connections, along with the possibility of adding an optical trigger. A bonus for existing Seacam users looking to downsize: The housing is compatible with the company’s existing ports. $3950 | www.seacam.com

 

When it comes to overall image quality, the a7R II reigns supreme, producing pictures with resolution and dynamic range that rival flagship DSLRs

 

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4

Top ↑

BEST FOR VIDEO

Key Features

Price $1500 (body)
Sensor (size) 16.1 megapixels (4/3")
Max image size 4608x3456 pixels
ISO range 200–25,600
Continuous shooting 12fps
RAW format Yes
Max video resolution (rate) 4K: 4096x2160 (30p)
Full HD: 1920x1080 (60p)
LCD 3-inch 1.04M dot
Max strobe sync speed 1/250s

 

All 4K recording isn’t created equal. The Panasonic GH4 (and subsequent upgraded GH4R) is capable of true Cinema 4K (4096x2160) with a maximum bit rate of 200Mbps for the best quality 4K video. By comparison, the top GoPro records 4K video (UHD 4K) at just 60Mbps. There’s also lots to like for still imagery—16 megapixels on a Four-Thirds CMOS sensor—but this is really a camera meant to empower those looking to take broadcast quality video. www.panasonic.com | www.backscatter.com
 

What We Like:   What We Don’t Like
  • Broadcast quality 4K video with 100Mbps bit rate
  • Solid still image quality
  • Lots of video tools (focus peaking, zebra, etc.)
  • Good battery life
 
  • Limited lens selection
  • Focus tracking and peaking performance
  • Lacking Auto ISO for manual video


Top Housing Options

Ikelite Housing for Panasonic GH4 Subal GH4

 

  • Ikelite Housing for Panasonic GH4: As the GH4 is really a bargain for those looking to shoot cinema 4K, Ikelite complements this affordability with their housing. That doesn’t mean you miss out on any important features. Quite the contrary: The Ikelite housing for the GH4 features access to true TTL, exposure adjustment and ergonomic considerations like oversized knobs. $1600 | www.ikelite.com | www.backscatter.com
  • Subal GH4: Subal’s housing for the Panasonic GH4 incorporates many of the specs seen in the company’s top-of-the-line DSLR housings. It starts off with the hard-coat anodized aluminum construction. Then, you also have standard features that are impressive for a mirrorless housing such as Subal’s “Quick Lock” closure system and a leak alarm. $2280 | www.subal.com | www.backscatter.com

 

Sony a6300

Top ↑

BEST FOR BEGINNERS

Key Features

Price $1000 (body)
Sensor 24.2 megapixels
Max image size 6000x4000 pixels
ISO range 100–25,600
Continuous shooting 11fps
RAW format Yes
Max video resolution (rate) 4K: 3840x2160 (30p)
Full HD: 1920x1080 (120p/60p)
LCD 3-inch 0.92M dot
Max strobe sync speed 1/160s

 

Arguably the most anticipated mirrorless camera of the year, Sony’s a6300 returns to the prosumer roots of the NEX series as the a7 II series appeals to more advanced shooters. But don’t think the lower price point and impressively compact size means a sacrifice in specs and features. The camera boasts a 24-megapixel APS-C cropped sensor with a maximum continuous shooting rate of 11fps. We also see several improvements over previous models that really stand out and elevate this camera: Hybrid AF (with 425 phase detect AF points), 2.36M-dot OLED electronic viewfinder, and an impressive battery life of 400 images. DPG Review www.sony.net | www.backscatter.com
 

What We Like:   What We Don’t Like
  • DSLR-like experience with autofocus and live feed during continuous shooting
  • Advanced 4K shooting features
  • Pop-up flash (fiber-optic strobe connection)
  • Flexible RAW files (dynamic range/white balance)
 
  • Expensive for prosumer mirrorless camera
  • Lack of hot shoe
  • No touchscreen
  • Long, complicated menus


Top Housing Options

Ikelite Housing for Sony a6300 Nauticam NA-6300

 

  • Ikelite Housing for Sony a6300: As one of the first models rolled out with Ikelite’s new light gray ABS-PC material, the a6300 housing keeps cooler in the sun, provides more contrast when viewing the LCD, and is still extremely durable. The housing also comes standard with Ikelite’s true TTL and supports of a large variety of lenses that are often too wide to fit in other housings. DPG Review $975 | www.ikelite.com | www.backscatter.com
  • Nauticam NA-6300: Nauticam’s housing for the a6300 offers impressive ergonomics—from the oversized dials that control aperture/shutter speed to the option of adding a shutter release extension when wearing thick gloves in cold water. Then there is the ability to customize your setup: Nauticam offers a range of magnifying viewfinders, super-macro and wide-angle (WWL-1) wet lenses to help encourage newer underwater photographers to experiment with niche imaging, be it wide angle or super-macro. $1650 | www.nauticam.com | www.backscatter.com

 

With solid 4K video and excellent still image quality in a slim package, the Sony a6300 is a great first mirrorless camera for underwater photography

 

Olympus OM-D E-M10 II

Top ↑

BEST VALUE

Key Features

Price $650 (body)
Sensor (size) 16.1 megapixels (4/3")
Max image size 4608x3456 pixels
ISO range 200–25,600
Continuous shooting 8.5fps
RAW format Yes
Max video resolution (rate) Full HD: 1920x1080 (60p)
LCD 3-inch 1.04M dot
Max strobe sync speed 1/250s

 

The OM-D E-M10 II should be viewed less as an improvement over its predecessor and more of a mimic of its more expensive, larger big brother—the OM-D E-M5. There is an impressive amount of pro-level features on a camera that’s priced more for amateurs: 5-axis image stabilization, 2.36M-dot OLED electronic viewfinder, and 1080/60p video are just some of the finer features. Another big change is the switch from a mechanical shutter to an electronic one, which means the main image sensor is always exposed to light—improving the autofocus performance in less-than-ideal-light conditions (aka underwater). www.getolympus.com | www.backscatter.com
 

What We Like:   What We Don’t Like
  • Great still image quality
  • Improved OLED viewfinder
  • Electronic shutter
  • Excellent price point
 
  • Mediocre video capabilities
  • No 4K video
  • Autofocus has trouble tracking moving subjects


Top Housing Options

Nauticam NA-EM10II Ikelite Housing for Olympus OM-D E-M10 II

 

  • Nauticam NA-EM10II: Taking note of the pro features that come with a so-called mid-level mirrorless camera, Nauticam included some nice extra features in their housing for the OM-D E-M10 II. Such bonus features include a locking camera mount tray, compatibility with Nauticam’s vacuum seal system, and an extended shutter arm that can be triggered from the handles for convenience. $1450 | www.nauticam.com | www.backscatter.com
  • Ikelite Housing for Olympus OM-D E-M10 II: Speaking of pro features, Ikelite’s housing offers the reliability of electronically connected strobes. An electrical flash hot shoe and strobe bulkhead comes standard with Ikelite’s housing, along with the ability to take advantage of Olympus’ true TTL. $1050 | www.ikelite.com | www.backscatter.com

 

Olympus OM-D E-M5 II

Top ↑

GREAT ALL-ROUNDER

Key Features

Price $1100 (body)
Sensor (size) 16.1 megapixels (4/3")
Max image size 4608x3456 pixels
ISO range 200–25,600
Continuous shooting 10fps
RAW format Yes
Max video resolution (rate) Full HD: 1920x1080 (60p)
LCD 3-inch 1.04M dot
Max strobe sync speed 1/250s

 

The biggest change headlining the announcement of Olympus’ OM-D E-M5 II isn’t necessarily useful for underwater photography: the 40-megapixel multi-exposure mode. This is where the camera combines eight images to form one massive, high-resolution photo—not exactly practice in an underwater setting. But with the OM-D E-M5 II, it’s the small tweaks, adjustments, and improvements that really stand out for the underwater shooter. For stills, take note of the improved continuous shooting (up to 10fps), 2.36M-dot electronic viewfinder, and faster maximum shutter speed of 1/8000s for some sweet sunballs. Video gets some significant improvement with the ability to shoot 1080/60p at a bit rate of 77Mbps (compared to the original E-M5’s 1080/30p at just 17Mbps). DPG Review www.getolympus.com | www.backscatter.com
 

What We Like:   What We Don’t Like
  • Impressive dynamic range
  • Improved continuous shooting
  • Image stabilization
  • Good focus tracking
  • Improved video (1080/60p at 77mbps)
 
  • Limited image resolution (no change from previous model)
  • Average image quality for mirrorless camera
  • Compatibility with new Olympus 8mm lens


Top Housing Options

Sea & Sea MDX-EM5 MkII Olympus PT-EP13

 

  • Sea & Sea MDX-EM5 MkII: Sea & Sea’s housing for the E-M5 II is unique in that it accommodates the addition of the Olympus FL-LM3 hot shoe flash, offering the ability to turn it on/off underwater. Not only does this provide the flexibility and ease-of-use of a fiber-optic connection, but it also means you can switch between using strobes via fiber-optic cables and shooting higher shutter speeds in natural light. $1675 | www.seaandsea.jp | www.backscatter.com
  • Olympus PT-EP13: The proprietary Olympus housing for the OM-D E-M5 II integrates a lot of the simplicity of the camera itself, with our reviewer writing, “This slim housing can be managed with one hand, with key housing dials (aperture and shutter) placed to mimic the naked camera.” If you’re looking for an affordable, lightweight housing to throw in your backpack or carry-on luggage, the Olympus PT-EP13 is a solid bet. DPG Review $1000 | www.getolympus.com | www.backscatter.com


Minor improvements in video recording and shooting features have made the OM-D E-M5 II a great choice for photographers who also want to dabble in video
 



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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Gerard Leveille
Sep 4, 2016 2:12 PM
Gerard Leveille wrote:
Les nouveaux appareils ont l'air terrible !!
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