SeaLife Micro 3.0
Panasonic Lumix LX100 II
Sony Cyber-Shot RX100 VII
Isotta Housing for Canon G7 X III
For most people, a compact camera is their entrance to the world of underwater photography and video. While smaller and cheaper than DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, compacts can stand up to almost any underwater imaging challenge. Models range from very simple pocket-sized cameras for the complete beginner to advanced cameras with large sensors for more-seasoned shooters. The compact’s built-in zoom means that wet lenses—which attach to the underwater housing and not the camera—must be used for subjects that are either too large or too small to be captured by the fixed lens.
When purchasing underwater imaging equipment like the products mentioned in this guide, please support DPG by supporting our retail partner—Backscatter.
1. SeaLife Waterproof Cameras
SeaLife Micro 3.0 Sets
With the retirement of the flagship DC2000, the third iteration of SeaLife’s hugely successful Micro series is now the easiest way to start shooting underwater. Why? Because this is a ready-to-dive, fully sealed camera that minimizes maintenance (like lubing those pesky O-rings) and maximizes the fun factor. But despite its size, the Micro 3.0, introduced in 2000, is still a capable tool for recording your subsea adventures: As well as RAW capabilities and 10fps burst shooting, it can capture 4K/30p and 1080/120p video capture using the full sensor width. The camera is available on its own or bundled with a Sea Dragon 3000F photo-video LED light (Micro 3.0 Pro 3000 Set), Sea Dragon 3000SF Pro Dual Beam LED light (Micro 3.0 Pro Dual Beam Set), or two Sea Dragon 2500F lights (Micro 3.0 Pro Duo 5000 Set)—with tray and grip (or grips) included. $600 (Micro 3.0 only) | www.sealife-cameras.com | $1,000 (Micro 3.0 Pro 3000 Set) | www.sealife-cameras.com | $1,050 (Micro 3.0 Pro Dual Beam Set) | www.sealife-cameras.com | $1,400 (Micro 3.0 Pro Duo 5000 Set) | www.sealife-cameras.com
SeaLife ReefMaster RM-4K
If you’re after something truly tiny that will put the tiniest of dents in your wallet, or a pint-sized B-roll camera that you can mount to a bigger rig, look to SeaLife’s baby, the ReefMaster RM-4K. Waterproof to 130 feet out of the box, this miniature camera is ready to photograph and film your every encounter and share it on your social media channels with minimum fuss. As well as 4K/30p video, you get 14MP stills from the Panasonic sensor and a fisheye lens that’s compatible with various add-on wet macro lenses. All you need is a lovely SeaLife Sea Dragon photo/video light (or two) and you’re good to go. $350 (ReefMaster RM-4K) | www.sealife-cameras.com | $600 (ReefMaster RM-4K Pro 2000 Set) | www.sealife-cameras.com
2. Sony Compact Cameras
Sony RX100 VI and VII
When it comes to “premium” compacts (and why shouldn’t it?), Sony’s venerable line of cameras with built-in lenses is hard to beat for underwater imaging. The latest iterations, the RX100 VI and RX100 VII, feature Sony’s latest-gen BIONZ X image processor, a 1-inch-type 20MP stacked CMOS sensor, high-speed burst shooting, and 4K/30p and 1080/120p video. Compared to the Mark VI, the Mark VII uses more AF points, offers slightly faster AF acquisition, and borrows real-time tracking from the Alpha 9, but these are both top performing compacts. $1,300 | www.sony.com | www.backscatter.com | $1,200 | www.sony.com | www.backscatter.com
Who Should Buy It?
If money is no object, the Mark VII will get you Sony’s top tech. But there’s an argument for saving some cash and snapping up the Mark VA instead: That still-current model (below) features the more-underwater-friendly 24–70mm f/1.8–2.8 lens as opposed to the 24–200mm f/2.8–4.5 on the Mark VI and VII.
- Ikelite: The U.S. company has housings for the Mark I and II, for the Mark III–V, and for the Mark VI and VII, and they all share the same robust ABS-PC build, transparent back, oversized shutter lever, and ports for triggering strobes fiber-optically. Ikelite also has a six-inch dome port that allows you to shoot wide, macro and over-unders all on the same dive. $495 | www.ikelite.com | www.backscatter.com
- Fantasea: This black polycarbonate housing, which is compatible with both the Mark VI and Mark VII, boasts a double O-ring main seal, built-in moisture detector, and dual fiber-optic connectivity. The housing comes with a flat port featuring a 67mm thread, which allows you to shoot a variety of compositions on a single dive by using macro and wide-angle wet lenses, especially the extensive range produced by Fantasea and Fantasea-AOI. $360 | www.fantasea.com | www.backscatter.com
- Nauticam: Nauticam’s housing for the RX100 VI (but not the Mark VII) 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. $1,658 | www.nauticam.com | www.backscatter.com
Sony RX100 VA
With the fifth incarnation of their popular RX100 series, Sony upped the ante, adding phase detection to its hybrid AF system—something you normally see on DSLRs and top-tier mirrorless cameras—for superfast autofocus. Add to that an underwater-friendly 24–70mm f/1.8–2.8 lens, 20MP sensor, 4K recording at 100Mbps, and Full HD 120p high-speed video mode, and you can understand why this remains the compact against which others are measured. $1000 | www.sony.com | www.backscatter.com
Who Should Buy It?
Easy enough for a beginner to use, but with advanced features to satisfy the accomplished shooter, the RX100 VA is an amazing little picture-taking or filmmaking tool. As with any compact, the built-in lens has its limitations for underwater shooting, so investing in high-quality macro and wide-angle wet lenses is a must.
- Ikelite: While you can get the full underwater housing for the RX100 V, Ikelite offer another option—its “Action Housing”—which will save you 200 bucks. Like all such housings, it’s aimed at water sports enthusiasts (though it’s still depth-rated to 200 feet): The controls are simplified and you can’t trigger strobes. However, it can still be used with a dome, wide-angle wet lens, or macro attachment. $300 | www.ikelite.com | www.backscatter.com
- Nauticam: The aluminum NA-RX100V features an integrated leak detector and vacuum monitoring circuit, fiber-optic bulkheads, and a 67mm threaded port mount for wet lenses. Videographers will appreciate the provision of a bulkhead port for optionally adding a monitor or recorder. $1,435 | www.nauticam.com | www.backscatter.com
- Isotta: The signature red Isotta RX100 V housing is hard to miss. Constructed from aluminum, the housing is depth-rated to 330 feet and features dual O-ring seals for ultimate flood protection. $960 | www.isotecnic.it | www.backscatter.com
3. Canon Compact Cameras
Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III
Canon blurs the line between compact and DSLR with the PowerShot G1 X Mark III, which includes an APS-C sensor. You’d expect no less from this flagship compact camera, which is built around that 24.3MP sensor and includes the Dual Pixel autofocus seen in Canon DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. $1,000 | www.canon.com | www.backscatter.com
Who Should Buy It?
If you want one of the best compact cameras (none of that switching lenses nonsense) with pro specs and features, then the G1 X III is a solid choice. Unfortunately, after Ikelite discontinued its underwater housing, the only way you can take this camera underwater is with Canon’s own waterproof case—which doesn’t allow you to trigger strobes.
- Canon: Canon makes their own waterproof case for the G1 X Mark III, which is a breeze to use and depth-rated to 130 feet. It’s a decent option if you just want to take this powerful compact on a trip to the beach or photograph water sports without a strobe. $500 | www.canon.com | www.backscatter.com
Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III
Like Sony’s popular RX100 line, Canon’s G7 X series is getting better and better with each iteration. And the latest G7 X has something else in common with Sony’s cameras: a stacked CMOS sensor—in short, tech that facilitates high-speed, high-resolution imaging. The G7 X III also competes with the best in terms of video, too, offering both 1080/120p and 4K/30p recording using the full sensor width. Thankfully, Canon has resisted the temptation to change the lens to a slower one with more reach: It’s still the same fast 24–100mm (equiv.) f/1.8–f/2.8 lens that works so well for underwater imaging—in combination with a couple of good wet lenses. $750 | www.canon.com | www.backscatter.com
Who Should Buy It?
The G7 X Mark III is a fantastic place to start your underwater imaging journey. Sensibly priced, easy to use, but with advanced functionality that gives the newbie room to grow, this is a little camera that can produce big results.
- Fantasea: This rugged, full-featured housing let’s you get the most out of Canon’s powerful compact. The housing offers an M16 port, which allows you to install Fantasea’s integrated pre-dive vacuum check and moisture detector—the Fantasea Hybrid Vacuum Safety System. The camera’s pop-up flash can be used to trigger one or two strobes via fiber-optic cables. $360 | www.canondive.com | www.backscatter.com
- Ikelite: With Ikelite’s housing, you get the company’s signature ABS-PC blend body and clear, removable back; access to all important camera controls; and twin ports for connecting strobes via fiber-optic cords. Want to connect Ikelite’s own DS-series strobe? A no-fuss converter is available to do the job. You can also easily attach macro wet lenses via the standard 67mm thread on the port, or Ikelite’s own WD-3 Wide Angle Dome. $550 | www.ikelite.com | www.backscatter.com
- Isotta: If you like your housings made of metal, then Isotta’s aluminum offering—adorned with the company’s signature red paint—is the way to go. For your money, you get Isotta’s single-handed open/close mechanism, double O-rings on buttons and dials, and a built-in moisture detector. $990 | www.isotecnic.it | www.backscatter.com
- Nauticam: Milled from a block of aluminum and hard anodized, this housing is an excellent platform to build your full-featured Nauticam rig, including tray and handles, flip adapter, and wet optics like the WWL-1 and CMC-1 for wide angle and macro, respectively. The housing features a dual fiber-optic bulkhead for triggering strobes, an integrated vacuum monitor, and an M16 port for adding a monitor/recorder via HDMI. $1,473 | www.nauticam.com | www.backscatter.com
Canon PowerShot G9 X Mark II
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.canon.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. Strobes can be triggered via the twin fiber-optic ports. $360 | www.fantasea.com | www.backscatter.com
- Ikelite: Ikelite’s tradition of affordable, lightweight compact camera housings continues with this one for the G9 X and 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
4. Olympus Compact Cameras
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).
- Olympus: The PT-058 “underwater case” from Olympus (sorry, OM System) is the most obvious first step towards more serious underwater imaging with the TG-6. Fiber-optic ports will accept one or two strobes (including Olympus’s own UFL-3), and the 52mm thread can be stepped up to a standard 67mm thread, if needed, to allow the attachment of wet optics. $300 | www.backscatter.com
- Kraken Sports: The coolest feature of this housing isn’t its rugged aluminum construction. It isn’t the laser engraving that shows you what the buttons do. Heck, it isn’t even the fact that it has a snazzy blue port. Nope, the honor belongs to the built-in vacuum pump: Just hit a button and the housing pulls its own vacuum, with a green LED lighting up when the housing is sealed and ready to rock! Why oh why don’t more housings do this?! $745 | www.krakensports.ca | www.backscatter.com
- Isotta: Go red with Isotta’s housing for the TG-6 (or 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
- Nauticam: If you want to go a bit fancy, this milled aluminum housing for the TG-6 (and TG-5) 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 or WWL-C wide-angle lens specially designed for compact camera systems. $1,063 | www.nauticam.com | www.backscatter.com
- Ikelite: With its wallet-friendly price and easy-to-use operation, Ikelite’s housing is an excellent companion for the TG-6—as well as the TG-5. You get Ikelite’s signature ABS-PC blend housing material, robust and reliable controls, and twin ports for triggering strobes via fiber-optic cords. But you also get different ways to make your TG rig even better: Add the RC1 TTL receiver and DS strobe and you can have Ikelite’s reliable and accurate automatic strobe exposure. Add the Olympus FCON-T02 fisheye lens with Ikelite’s dedicated dome port, and you can start shooting the biggest animals and the widest-angle seascapes. $300 | www.ikelite.com | www.backscatter.com
5. Panasonic Compact Cameras
Panasonic Lumix LX100 II
While comparisons with the RX100 series are perhaps inevitable, given the hefty price tag, the Panasonic LX100 II is capable of higher-quality results than the Sony: Its Micro Four Thirds sensor is significantly larger than the Sony’s 1-inch affair, and this translates into highly detailed images with better dynamic range as well as lower noise at higher ISOs. The LX100 II also offers impressive manual exposure control via physical dials and customizable buttons, making this a real purist’s camera for underwater photography. $1,000 | www.panasonic.com | www.backscatter.com
Who Should Buy It?
For underwater photography, the LX100 II is the top contender for the best fixed-lens camera on the market, rivaling interchangeable-lens cameras double the size. If you want a tiny package but don’t want to compromise on image quality and full manual control, this is the camera for you.
- Nauticam: Perhaps surprisingly, LX100 II users have just one (expensive) choice in underwater housing: Nauticam. But it’s a doozy. As well as being built like a tank, this aluminum housing mirrors the camera’s dedicated dials, makes the customizable buttons fully accessible, and pairs effortlessly with Nauticam’s CMC-1, CMC-2 and WWL-1 underwater optics. $1,651 | www.nauticam.com | www.backscatter.com
Panasonic Lumix LX10
Considering its compact dimensions, the LX10 sounds impressive on paper: Equipped with a 20-megapixel 1"-type CMOS sensor and a fast 24–72mm equivalent f/1.4–2.8 zoom lens, it achieves 7fps continuous shooting with AF, and shoots both 4K/30p and 1080/60p video. But it was only when we took this tiny marvel underwater that we could appreciate just how amazing an imaging tool the LX10 is. So DSLR-like were the results that we concluded: “It’s hard to imagine that a compact camera was the tool used.” $600 | www.panasonic.com | www.backscatter.com
Who Should Buy It?
Even when housed, the LX10 seems tiny, making this little compact not just a very capable performer but also a travel companion that takes up the very minimum of space. Considerably cheaper than rivals such as the Sony RX100 series, it’s an excellent option for beginners who want a camera that will grow with their abilities.
- Ikelite: With its transparent back, Ikelite’s affordable housing for the LX10 allows you to see the O-ring create a reliable watertight seal. Buttons are designed to reduce weight and salt build-up, and labels are laser engraved so won’t fade or rub off. You can hook up dual strobes via fiber-optic cables connected to the two ports. $595 | www.ikelite.com | www.backscatter.com
- Nauticam: We tested the LX10 in Nauticam’s solid aluminum housing and were impressed with the “top-notch ergonomics that make adjusting settings on the fly as pain-free as possible.” Attaching Nauticam’s CMC-1 macro or WWL-1 wide-angle wet lens easily expands the camera’s ability to capture sharp, high-quality images. $2,171 (package) | www.nauticam.com | www.backscatter.com