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Dive Photo Guide

DSLR Cameras

LATEST EQUIPMENT

Nikon D6
Subal Housing for Nikon D6
Canon EOS-1D X Mark III
Nauticam NA-1DXIII
Isotta Housing for Nikon D780

Although great images are created by the photographer and not the equipment, if you’re serious about underwater photography, you should be shooting with an interchangeable-lens camera rather than a compact. The mirror and prism system in a DSLR allows the photographer to see exactly what they’re shooting—and optical viewfinders remain the gold standard for brightness and sharpness. While they are gradually being supplanted by mirrorless cameras, DSLRs—with the right lenses—remain phenomenal picture-taking tools.
 

CONTENTS

  1. Nikon DSLRs
  2. Canon DSLRs
 

When purchasing underwater imaging equipment like the products mentioned in this guide, please support DPG by supporting our retail partner—Backscatter.

 

1. Nikon DSLRs

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Nikon D6

The flagship DSLR from Nikon, like its Canon counterpart, isn’t equipped with the company’s highest megapixel sensor (it’s a mere 21MP) nor is it capable of shooting video at off-the-charts resolutions and frame rates (it maxes out at just 4K/30p), but as with previous iterations, it is designed to be the best possible tool for capturing fast action. The D6’s Expeed 6 processor makes it possible to shoot 14fps bursts using the viewfinder and speed, accuracy, and low-light performance are all improved over the D5. $6,500 | www.nikonusa.com | www.backscatter.com

Who Should Buy It?

The D6 is a camera conceived for a specific job: producing pin-sharp images of fast-moving subjects, reliably, again and again and again. So, if you’re chasing the ocean’s speediest critters, this is the ultimate tool, but if you’re not, you might want to spend your money elsewhere.


Housing Options
 

  • Subal: A camera of the D6’s caliber requires an equally impressive housing, and Subal’s metal beast fits the bill nicely. As well as being built to last, the housing is supported by high-quality ports and viewfinders, and there are various ways to configure the housing for your choice of strobe triggering. $5,900 | www.subal.com | www.backscatter.com

  • Nauticam: Another formidable partner for the D6 comes in the shape of the NA-D6, the latest in a time-tested line of top-quality housings for Nikon’s top-end pro DSLR. The housing ships with a manual LED flash trigger, so users with optically triggered strobes can hit the water finning. The housing also features M28, M16 and M14 bulkheads for electrical strobe triggering, external monitor/recorders, vacuum systems, and Ethernet control. $7,842 | www.nauticam.com | www.backscatter.com

  • Seacam: If silver is your preferred color of bomb-proof building material, Seacam has your covered with their housing for the D6 (which is also compatible with the D5). All the usual Seacam trimmings are on offer, including premium materials throughout, ergonomic controls around integrated handles, and various strobe triggering options. $6,400 | www.seacam.com | 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.” $2,800 | 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
 

  • 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. $1,895 | www.ikelite.com | www.backscatter.com

  • 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. $3,050 | www.isotecnic.it | www.backscatter.com

  • 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. $3,200 | www.aquatica.ca | www.backscatter.com

  • Subal: The company says it has made this housing lighter than their previous housings, but you still get a hefty slab of aluminum for your money. With the optional Subal TTL V2 system, you can hook up all of the popular strobes by Ikelite, Sea&Sea, Inon, and more. Oh, and if the classic “Subal gray” doesn’t do it for you, there’s always the limited edition 100-year anniversary model—with bright yellow and black accents. $4,188 | www.subal.com | www.backscatter.com

  • Nauticam: Holding your breath for two minutes to photograph tiger sharks is a demanding task. Up for the challenge is the Nauticam housing for the D850, which reviewer Keri Wilk took freediving at Tiger Beach in the Bahamas. Among all the plus features, Keri lauded the ability to customize several of the controls to meet the needs of the on-the-go pro shooter. $5,159 | www.nauticam.com | www.backscatter.com

Nikon D780

For many serious shooters, the D750 has been their workhorse, taking on the toughest underwater conditions with aplomb and delivering consistency high-quality images. But Nikon’s midrange full-frame DSLR was in need of a refresh: The D780 delivers 12fps continuous burst when using the electronic shutter, promises improved autofocus accuracy in low-light situations, and offers much improved movie capabilities, including 4K/30p and 1080/120p with no crop, 10-bit video via HDMI, and video tools like zebra striping and focus peaking. $2,300 | www.nikonusa.com | www.backscatter.com

Who Should Buy It?

D750 users who solely shoot images may wish to stick with their trusty cameras, as the jump in quality and/or functionality on the stills side isn’t huge. For everyone else who’s ready for an upgrade—especially “hybrid” shooters who want to be able to capture high-quality video—the D780 is a no-brainer.


Housing Options
 

  • Isotta: Your beautiful new DSLR deserves an equally pretty housing! Look at this shiny red thing! Anodized aluminum shell, camera controls crouched around integrated adjustable handles, double O-ring seals on all buttons, built-in moisture alarm, included TTL converter—what’s not to love? Plus, you can trigger your strobes via fiber-optic or electrical connections. $2,990 | www.isotecnic.it | www.backscatter.com

  • Ikelite: The greatest selling point when it comes to Ikelite is their tried-and-true automatic TTL exposure with compatible Ikelite DS-series strobes. The TTL converter that you’ll need to add here gives you on-the-fly switching between TTL and manual modes, allowing you to get as creative as you want. $1,895 | www.ikelite.com | www.backscatter.com

Nikon D500

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. $1,600 | 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
 

  • Ikelite: Versatility is the name of the game here, with not one but two different housing versions. You can go with Ikelite’s standard “200DL” model (meaning depth-rated to 200 feet) aimed at scuba divers, or you can opt for the “50DL” model, which is great for just about any activity around water, from snorkeling to surfing to pool work. $1,895 (200DL) | www.ikelite.com | www.backscatter.com | $1,695 (50DL) | www.ikelite.com | www.backscatter.com

  • Aquatica: The AD500 housing features a magnesium alloy and carbon-fiber composite construction. Aquatica has placed particular emphasis on ergonomics with attention to key controls like ISO, AF-ON, Info, Live View, and the custom function buttons. Four versions of the housing are available to suit different strobe types, including a version designed to work with Ikelite strobes. $3,200 | www.aquatica.ca | www.backscatter.com

  • 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 being very lightweight compared to some metal housings. If you want to step it up a notch, we suggest taking a look at their special “Navy Edition” of the D500 housing. $4,188 | www.subal.com | www.backscatter.com

  • Nauticam: The NA-D500 housing is ergonomically designed to meet the expectations of serious underwater photographers. Depth-rated to 330 feet, the housing features an autofocus mode lever that's hard to beat. The new feature allows users to alternate between Auto Area AF, 3D Tracking, and Single Area modes. $5,610 | www.nauticam.com | www.backscatter.com

  • Isotta: This handsome, signature red housing is depth-rated to 330 feet like the Nauticam housing and features engraved control symbols similar to the Ikelite. With two O-rings on every control, you can rest assured with proper care you’ll have a watertight seal every time. $2,890 | www.isotecnic.it | 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

 

2. Canon DSLRs

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Canon EOS-1D X Mark III

In the final battle of the DSLRs against the armies of the mirrorless, it’s the flagship pro sports cameras like the 1D X Mark III that are leading the charge. Canon’s top-of-the-range full-framer is a formidable opponent, boasting a new 191-point AF system with a DIGIC 8 processor dedicated to autofocus and metering, continuous RAW+JPEG shooting up to 16fps (20fps in live view) for more than 1,000 shots, and 4K/60p uncropped video with 10-bit 4:2:2 color. This is every inch the professional tool for a very specific kind of job. $6,500 | www.canon.com | www.backscatter.com

Who Should Buy It?

If you’re wondering whether you “need” a 1D X Mark III, this is almost certainly not the camera for you. With its modest 20 megapixels, it’s also not the camera for producing poster-sized prints. In short, unless you’re at the very top of your game chasing the fastest subjects in the toughest conditions—Amos Nachoum, basically!—then there might be alternative options out there.


Housing Options
 

  • Nauticam: A class-leading camera requires an equally high-end housing, and Nauticam rise to the challenge admirably with their housing for the 1D X Mark III. As well as being graced with the expected phenomenal ergonomics, Nauticam’s housing is also well-endowed in the video department, with a large-bore M28 bulkhead for hooking up monitors/recorders via HDMI 2.0. $7,636 | www.nauticam.com | www.backscatter.com

  • Seacam: Aimed at well-heeled pros, Seacam’s Silver housing for Canon’s top-of-the-line DSLR (and also compatible with the Mark II) is built to the Austrian company’s characteristically exceptional standards. The housing can be ordered with either S6 or N5 sockets for electrical strobe triggering, and there are various bulkhead options for attaching an HDMI monitor/recorder, vacuum valve, etc. $6,400 | www.seacam.com | www.backscatter.com

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

Despite being introduced in 2016, the 5D Mark IV continues to be the go-to full-frame DSLR for many Canon shooters—and for good reason. The autofocus system is still one of the best in the business: 61 AF points (41 cross type) cover over 24 percent more vertical territory of the frame than the camera’s predecessor. The novel Dual Pixel RAW mode is a nice touch, allowing users to make “micro adjustments” in focus during post-processing. $2,700 | www.canon.com | www.backscatter.com

Who Should Buy It?

There’s not really much in the way of rumors of a new 5D Mark V around the corner. With that said, we’ve seen a slight price decrease in the 5D Mark IV, which will further entice first time full-frame buyers or those who currently own the model and are looking for a backup body.


Housing Options
 

  • Sea & Sea: This housing for the 5D Mark IV is a jack of all trades, as it accommodates not only that model but the 5D Mark III, 5DS and 5DS R as well. Fine-fingered photographers will note the attention afforded to the shutter trigger. You can adjust the tension on the lever as well as the distance needed to half-press the shutter. $3,900 | www.seaandsea.jp | www.backscatter.com

  • Isotta: Designed by underwater photographers for underwater photographers, the Isotta housing for the Canon 5D Mark IV features noticeable features that demanding shooters will dig: long-lasting buttons with laser-engraved labels, adjustable handles for thick gloves, and a one-hand open/close. $2,990 | www.isotecnic.it | www.backscatter.com

  • Ikelite: Ikelite’s 5D Mark IV housing incorporates their popular Dry Lock system and has the option to include built-in TTL. Depth-rated to 200 feet, the housing is the culmination of Ikelite’s housing technology developments, which includes the option to switch in a lighter back plate (giving the housing a 50-feet depth rating) for more maneuverability when freediving, snorkeling or using for pool fashion shoots. $1,895 | www.ikelite.com | www.backscatter.com

  • Aquatica: As the 5D Mark IV is similar to the camera bodies that came before it—the 5D Mark III and the 5DS/R—only a few small changes were required for the A5DIV housing. Aquatica has included the AF Area button, which allows users to select any combination of the 60 AF points on offer. The SET button has also been moved a bit closer to the the right side of the housing for easier reach with the right thumb. As is typical for Aquatica, the housing is depth-rated to 300 feet as standard with an upgrade available to 425 feet. $3,200 | www.aquatica.ca | www.backscatter.com

  • Subal: The ergonomically designed, seawater-resistant, aluminum alloy CD5 MIV housing is depth-rated to 230 feet and is offered in a variety of colors—white, yellow, red, blue, and black. Subal’s 4mm O-ring and Quick Lock closure system ensures accidental crushing of the O-ring won't happen. The housing is compatible with various user-interchangeable viewfinders. $4,019 | www.subal.com | www.backscatter.com

  • Nauticam: With its usual emphasis on optimizing ergonomics, Nauticam has produced another solid housing that has all the controls you use most often at your fingertips. You get automatic TTL flash exposure with Sea&Sea DS-TTL and Inon S-TTL strobes by fitting an optional hotshoe-mounted trigger. $5,159 | www.nauticam.com | www.backscatter.com

Canon EOS 6D Mark II

Canon’s “entry-level” full-frame DSLR is getting on a bit, but it still holds up well against the newer competition. The camera is built around a new 26.2-megapixel sensor and comes with a bunch of pro specs in a slightly more compact body. The Mark II has a top ISO of 40,000; a 45-point, all-cross-type AF system; and 4K internal video recording. $1,400 | www.canon.com | www.backscatter.com

Who Should Buy It?

Canon’s 6D Mark II is a compact, full-frame model that delivers in low-light capability and excellent image quality. If you’re looking to save a bit of cash for some lenses or accessories, the 6D Mark II is a solid alternative to the 5D Mark IV.  


Housing Options
 

  • Ikelite: Ikelite’s housing for the 6D Mark II features the company’s easy-to-use Dry Lock port system, which can accommodate larger lenses. Demanding shooters in tough conditions will appreciate the vacuum valve, laser-engraved control symbols, and the option to add in TTL circuitry. $1,895 | www.ikelite.com | www.backscatter.com

Canon EOS 7D Mark II

The top-of-the-line 7D Mark II isn’t a new camera, but for serious underwater stills shooters who have a range of capable lenses for the cropped-sensor format, it’s still an excellent choice. The camera boasts a 20MP sensor supported by dual DIGIC 6 processors, impressive autofocus with 65 cross-type points, speedy 10fps continuous shooting, and an excellent viewfinder with 100% coverage. Video recording is only up to 1080/60p, but smooth, high-quality footage is easy to capture. $1,800 | www.canon.com | www.backscatter.com

Who Should Buy It?

Canon’s answer to the D500 is just as deserving as the Nikon for the title of flagship APS-C DSLR. Testament to that is the number of manufacturers that have supported it with high-quality underwater housings. As a stills camera, it’s a no-brainer for intermediate to advanced Canon users, and it holds its own in the video department, even if there’s no 4K.


Housing Options
 

  • Ikelite: This housing for the 7D Mark II features ABS-PC blend construction and Ikelite’s Dry Lock port system, which allows shooters to accommodate large-diameter pro lenses such as the Canon EF 16–35mm f/2.8L. For flexibility, the housing supports optional TTL electronics, so you can tailor to your needs, but Ikelite’s own DS-series strobes are hard to beat. $1,895 | www.ikelite.com | www.backscatter.com

  • Subal: Built to withstand the rough treatment that comes with pro use, Subal’s housing for Canon’s venerable DSLR is all about ergonomics, with all important controls accessible without letting go of the integrated handles. The camera is mounted on a special sled, allowing users to mount the camera easily and securely. Strobes can be triggered electrically and fiber-optically, and there is a range of top-quality viewfinders available. $3,588 | 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 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 novice. $750 | 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

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When purchasing underwater imaging equipment like the products mentioned in this guide, please support DPG by supporting our retail partner—Backscatter.com.
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