How to choose the right underwater camera

Romina Bayer

When it comes to choosing the right underwater camera for you, there are many different factors you need to consider. There is not one perfect camera for everyone, it depends on what you want to achieve with your underwater photography.

The first thing is deciding whether you want a point-and-shoot or interchangeable lens camera. Each type has its own pros and cons, but both can take great pictures in the right circumstances. 

After that, there’s a range of other factors that will help narrow down which model works best for your needs: sensor size and megapixels; low light performance; autofocus speed; budget; availability of underwater housings; set-up size and weight. 

Things to consider when choosing an underwater camera

Before you buy, it’s important to consider what kind of camera will be best for your needs.

 

If you’re planning on just getting started with underwater photography, a simple point-and-shoot model may be enough; however, if you want something more versatile and durable then look into investing in a mirrorless or DSLR camera. 

Underwater Photography versus Videography- or both?

Do you primarily want to take pictures underwater or videos? Or both?

 

One is not better than the other: Your decision to focus on photography or videography will depend on your personal preference. 

 

Photography is more about capturing the moment, while videography is more about capturing the experience. 

 

Depending on which discipline you choose, you will want to look at different camera specifics (e.g. video resolution for videography). 

Can’t decide? Look at it that way: if you want to do it all at the same time, you can: there are plenty of camera models that will perform great at both- underwater photography and videography.

 

However, you need to be aware that the characteristics will always outperform one of the two disciplines. If you want to take both videos and photos on the same dive, probably neither will turn out amazing. 

 

If you focus on one thing at a time (either photos or videos), you can make sure to create the best possible results. Even if you like both, choose one to focus on. 

 

If you tend more towards photography but you don’t want to miss out on unique moments like whalesharks swimming by, you can always mount a small GoPro camera on top of your camera housing and bring it as a backup. 

underwater cameras on a table
Underwater cameras come in all different sizes and options

Point-and-shoot versus interchangeable lens cameras

The first thing you need to know about underwater cameras is that there are two types of underwater cameras: point-and-shoot and interchangeable lenses.
Point-and-shoot cameras are cheaper, but not as versatile.


Interchangeable lens cameras are more expensive but have more features and give you more flexibility.


Both camera types offer great-quality images in most situations, but they differ greatly in their ease of use, image quality, and size.

Point-and-shoot cameras

Point-and-shoot cameras, such as compact cameras, are smaller and lighter than interchangeable lens cameras, so they’re easier to carry around.


They’re also cheaper, making them a great option if you are just getting started with underwater photography and are not sure how much you are willing to invest in your new hobby.


Point-and-shoot cameras have a fixed lens that cannot be changed out for other lenses. This can be good or bad depending on your needs.


For example, if all you want is a basic camera to capture images underwater and share them online with friends and family, then having a fixed lens might not matter much to you.
On the other hand, if you want more control over how your photographs look (for example by being able to change lenses for different dive environments or using manual mode to control your settings), then point-and-shoot isn’t going to cut it for all of your needs as an underwater photographer.


Nowadays, there are many great quality compact cameras available for underwater photography, and the Olympus TG 6 is just one of them.

Underwater photography assignments

Interchangeable lens cameras

Interchangeable lens cameras, such as mirrorless and DSLR cameras, use larger sensors, which means they have more megapixels and can achieve better photo quality. They also have lenses that are interchangeable and can be changed out to meet your needs as an underwater photographer.

 

For example, if you want to take macro photos of tiny creatures in the water, then you would need a macro lens on your camera.

 

If you are diving on a coral reef on the other hand, and want to focus on larger animals such as turtles or sharks, you will want to use a wide-angle lens.

 

Having the option of changing your lenses gives you lots of options and flexibility.

 

The downside of interchangeable lens cameras is that the size and weight of your set-up can be extensively larger, which might play a big role when traveling.

 

Interchangeable lens cameras come with a wide range of features that can make it easier for you to capture the perfect shot every time—but only if you know what those features do!

If you’re looking for a camera that will grow with you as an underwater photographer, then an interchangeable lens camera is the best option for you.

underwater camera

Availability of compatible lenses

If you decide to go with an interchangeable lens camera, the availability of lenses for your camera model are another factor to consider.

 

Lenses are available for every type of interchangeable lens camera and build. When choosing a camera, you’ll want to make sure that you’re compatible with all of the lenses you want to use, as well as any new lenses that may be released in the future.


Typically, you might want to get a macro lens and a wide-angle lens, to cover different types of subjects. If travel size and weight are a concern for you, a zoom lens could be a good alternative to several prime (non-zoom) lenses.
Some types of lenses are interchangeable between camera brands and models, but others aren’t. Before deciding on a specific camera model, make sure you check available lenses for your camera.


Lenses can be expensive—they cost anywhere from several hundred dollars to thousands or even tens of thousands.


They can also be heavy and fragile. When traveling or storing them at home, take extra care.

Quality of images: Sensor size and megapixels

The main advantage of a larger sensor in a camera is that it allows for better image quality, with less noise and better dynamic range. This can help you create sharper and less noisy images at higher ISOs (the less light you have available for an image, the higher the ISO number you need). A full-frame mirrorless camera e.g. has a larger sensor than a micro four-thirds camera.

 

A larger sensor also allows for a shallow depth of field, which is great for creating a more artistic, blurred background in your photos. Additionally, larger sensors allow for a larger range of ISO settings, giving you more control over the exposure of your photos.

Low-light performance

Low-light performance is especially important for underwater photography. Water absorbs and reflects light differently than air. The deeper we dive, the less light we have available.


Especially when shooting with natural light only (without the use of strobes), a good low-light performance will allow you more flexibility in your photography.


In some cameras, you might start to notice noise in your pictures starting at ISO values as low as 400. In others, you might be able to take pictures with high ISO values such as 1200, and still, get decent results with little noticeable noise.

Autofocus speed

A camera’s autofocus speed is another thing to consider when buying an underwater camera. If you’re going to be taking pictures of fast-moving subjects like fish, dolphins, or sharks, then the autofocus speed should be able to keep up with the subject.


Similarly, if you enjoy macro photography (a style of shooting that involves focusing on small objects), then it’s important to have a camera that can quickly lock in on your subject and take great photos without blurriness or distortion.
Some cameras have better autofocus than others so make sure you read reviews online for feedback about how well a specific model works compared to others before making a purchase decision.

underwater photography accesoires

Underwater camera set-up size and weight

The size and weight of your underwater camera set-up are some of the most important factors in determining which model you’ll choose.


Divers who want to travel with their diving equipment need to consider how much space they have for carrying their equipment and how much weight they can carry. Generally speaking: the larger your camera body and sensor, the larger and heavier your underwater photo set-up will turn out to be.


If travel size and weight are a constraint for you, choosing a smaller camera such as a compact camera might be the better option.


If you don’t mind having to carry more equipment on your travels, choosing a more advanced camera set-up such as a mirrorless or even DSLR set-up might be the better choice for you.

Budget

Your budget is an important aspect of selecting a camera.


While you may want to get the best and most expensive product available, it’s more important that you make sure that what you are purchasing will fit into your budget and will also suit your needs.


Cameras can range from $400-$1,000+ depending on their features, lens options, and accessories.

You can get started in underwater photography with a simple set-up of a small point-and-shoot camera and an underwater housing for less than 1000$.


When choosing an underwater camera, take into consideration that the camera body is more often than not the least expensive item for underwater photography. Lenses, underwater housing, and accessories may amount to much more than your camera itself.


Every photographer has different priorities when choosing a camera system; some people prefer compactness and ease of use over image quality while others are willing to sacrifice portability for better image quality.


The best way to determine which product is right for you is by doing some research about each type of underwater housing available (as well as any other accessories that come along with it), reading reviews online from credible sources like photographers who have used these products themselves before making any purchases yourself!

Unterwasserfotografin mit Kamera

Availability of underwater housings

Another aspect to consider when choosing the right underwater camera for you is the availability of underwater housings.

 

Even if your camera is already waterproof by itself (like e.g. the Olympus TG 6), I recommend using an underwater housing to protect your camera.

 

Not all cameras are compatible with all underwater housings. Some manufacturers make more models than others, so it’s important to check if your specific model is supported by the manufacturer you choose.

 

The quality of an underwater housing varies depending on what brand you buy and which materials it consists of. The materials used in making the housing will affect its durability and effectiveness at sealing out water. 

You will not regret spending extra money if it helps you get better pictures.

It may be tempting to buy the cheapest camera model, but it will come with its limitations. If an expensive model has features that would benefit your photography (like better image quality and manual mode) and can grow with you (like interchangeable lenses), then go ahead and spend some extra money! But it does not have to be the most expensive set-up either.

 

If you want to take amazing pictures and don’t mind spending more money on your underwater camera set-up, then I encourage you to do so! However, keep in mind that ultimately it is not your camera that is creating the images, but you.

 

In the end, how good your underwater pictures turn out is not so much up to the camera you choose, but to the person taking the pictures. You can create incredible underwater images with a small point-and-shoot, and awful ones with the most expensive DSLR set-up. What makes the difference is how well you know how to use your camera.

 

If you want to learn how to create beautiful pictures on your dives with your camera, sign up for my online course “The Secrets of Underwater Photography”.

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