Record all of your adventures with an underwater camera and capture the beautiful underwater world to reminisce at home
Before we have taken a look at wetsuits, kayaks, canoes, SUP boards and many other things. For all your adventures on the water you can of course use an action camera, but what if you want to record your adventures below the surface? An underwater camera is the perfect solution!
Of course I don’t mean a big piece of equipment that sea professionals drag along, but a compact underwater camera that’s about the same size as a normal digital camera. So only digital underwater cameras, no film rolls that you can take to the photo shop to print or underwater polaroids 😉.
First I will explain what you have to look for in an underwater camera, later on I will show you my favorite underwater cameras and explain why I picked these specific ones.
Compact underwater cameras are made to take the best underwater pictures. They are easy to use, light and easy to take with you when travelling and underwater and are certainly not as expensive as professional SLR cameras.
However, there are many different underwater cameras, making it difficult to choose the right one. For this purchase guide, I am focusing on underwater cameras for beginners, not for experts and experienced photographers. After all, I’m not even an expert or photographer, but a water sports enthusiast.
As a water sports enthusiast I have different requirements for a camera than a professional photographer and have set $500 as the maximum price that an underwater camera should cost. An underwater camera should be affordable for everyone and cameras that cost thousands of dollars are not used by normal water sportsmen or divers.
If you want to use it for your job or when are a professional, the cameras below may not be for you at all, but are you someone who wants to take photos and videos underwater for recreation to relive your adventures at home or even stream online? Then you’re sure to find what you’re looking for in the cameras below!
Categories of Underwater Cameras
Of course, not every camera is equally good at everything, which is why we divide it into a number of categories. Where one camera can take great photos, the other camera is better for recording videos. Also, one camera can take photos quickly, but it takes longer to focus. That is why I will discuss the advantages of the different underwater cameras in this guide.
What do I use to select underwater cameras
If you’re going to spend a lot of money on an underwater camera, you also want to know exactly what to pay attention to, that’s why I’m going to explain this now. Which specifications are important to look at, what do they mean and which values are good and which values are not? Below I will elaborate on these specifications per part.
Is the camera intended for a beginner or advanced user? How easy is it to take sharp photos quickly and how many settings are there? This is something you should always pay attention to, I will indicate this for each camera.
Resolution of the camera
This will be new for almost nobody, cameras are expressed in megapixels, to indicate how beautiful and sharp the pictures can be taken. The higher this number, the more detailed the pictures are. A new iPhone (currently the iPhone 11) already has a resolution of 12 mpx, this is about what you should take as a minimum in an underwater camera these days.
Not every camera is suitable for every depth. As you may know, the pressure is increasing as you go deeper underwater. Depending on the camera, it is suitable for deep diving, or just to take pictures a bit below the surface.
Because we are talking about underwater cameras here, I definitely take this factor with me and also look for cameras that can go pretty deep.
Unfortunately you can’t just charge under water, so it’s important that the camera’s battery has a good capacity, so you can use it as long as possible before it is empty. This is expressed in mAh, the higher this value, the longer the battery will last.
Can you zoom in with the underwater camera and which zoom option do you have? There are two options, digital zoom and optical zoom. Almost every digital camera has a digital zoom, you can zoom in, but the image becomes less sharp. With optical zoom, the image quality is maintained while zooming in.
For an optical zoom, you do need a top-up lens or a retractable lens that is built in, for a compact underwater camera this is not included. For cameras where you need a hard protective case to use it underwater, this is also not possible, as you will see later.
As said before, one underwater camera is better at taking pictures and the other is more suitable for video. For this you look at aspects like the film resolution (almost every camera nowadays is at 4K, as you may know from the TV’s) and the frame rate of the video.
White balance option
Because you are under water it is good to get the white balance of the picture right. If the camera is able to estimate which area is white, the other colors can also be displayed better. Adjusting the white balance manually can help to make videos look natural and bring back colors that are normally filtered by the water.
When filming in a natural environment, this is an even more important factor than the resolution and frame rate, because it doesn’t help to film something very sharp if the colors aren’t right at all. I will mention this extra if a camera has options for this, or other options to neutralize the white balance.
The Best Underwater Cameras
Let me continue with the best underwater cameras, taking the above factors into account. However, I will also look at whether the camera in question offers other special options for shooting better images underwater, what accessories you might need and of course the price of the underwater camera.
Best Video: GoPro Hero 8
A relatively inexpensive option for taking underwater photos and videos is the GoPro Hero 8. Everyone knows the GoPro by now, it has a very good reputation and can be used in really all circumstances. This is not only my favorite because the camera performs well underwater, but also because when paddle boarding, kayaking or when performing a different water sport this action camera can be used.
The great thing about the GoPro is that it is very suitable for filming, because of the Hypersmooth 2.0 the image can be stabilized even better. With the Boost setting you can make nice smooth images at 60 frames per second in 4K, or 240 frames per second in full-HD.
The GoPro Hero 8 also offers a livestream option so you can stream live in 1080p on your social media (though it depends on the connection you have underwater – Probably better for snorkeling than diving 😉). The 1220mAh rechargeable battery lasts up to 3 hours, so you can shoot quite a bit.
Weighing just 128 grams and measuring 66.3 x 48.6 x 28.4 mm, this is a very light and compact action camera that is easy to carry anywhere. To turn it into an underwater camera you need the GoPro Protective Housing for the model in question, which usually costs $50.
This underwater camera is very shockproof and can zoom in up to 3 times (with a lower resolution as mentioned above). The photo resolution of 12 MPx is not special, but you can still take very nice pictures with it. For videos, the GoPro Hero 8 is really great and you will use it again and again when snorkeling or diving.
With the mentioned housing you can go up to 60 meters deep for filming, which will be enough for almost everyone. Finally, the light balance, you can test the various options in the screen to see what gives the best results.
Options for the white balance setting are: Auto (Standard), 2300K, 2800K, 3200K, 4000K, 4500K, 5000K, 5500K, 6000K, 6500K and Native (Natural). The lower the value you set here, the warmer the color tones. If you choose the default “auto” option, the GoPro will set the optimal value for you, with “natural” the color will be minimally corrected, this setting is used if you want to edit the files at home with for example Photoshop.
The whole manual for the GoPro Hero8 can be found here, should you be looking for specific settings or options for this model.
Because of the wide applicability of the GoPro Hero8, the very compact format and the very good video resolution, this is the underwater camera to film your adventures with. The relatively low price compared to the other major brands of underwater cameras is also definitely an advantage, which makes this GoPro the number 1 underwater video camera for me.
Best Photo: Kodak Astro Zoom AZ901
I know, there are literally thousands of cameras I could choose from with bizarrely good technical features, but my choice fell on the Kodak Astro Zoom AZ901. Of course you can expect good quality from Kodak and all their experience and I certainly see that in this model.
There are also cameras of thousands of euros that deliver even more, but for the relatively low price of this camera you get a lot in return. As said before, I also take the price factor into account, so these cameras remain reasonably accessible for a large audience.
That said: this beautiful Kodak camera has a photo resolution of 21.14 megapixels, so you can shoot extremely sharp pictures under water. The extendable lens offers an optical zoom (without loss of resolution) of no less than 90 x.
This allows you to photograph the most beautiful fish and corals from very close up and down to the smallest detail, without having to get too close to them. The battery life is displayed as approximately 400 photos, in terms of video this is not indicated. If you want to film with this camera you can do so in full-HD and 30 frames per second, this camera is not suitable for 4K video like the GoPro.
Weighing 777 grams and measuring 138.7 x 103.5 x 118.5 mm, it’s a bit more to carry with you than the GoPro, but you need to have something left for the ideal photo. As with the GoPro, you do need to buy a separate housing for underwater use, which currently costs $60.
Please note that this housing is only suitable for a depth of up to 10 meters, not suitable to go very deep. In white balance mode, the color temperature of this camera can be set between 1900K and 10000K, a very wide range to choose from. You can read more about settings here in the complete manual.
The great 90x optical zoom with the retractable lens, the very high resolution and the relatively low price make me choose this camera as the best camera for underwater photography. If you especially want to take pictures and not go too deep underwater, then I absolutely recommend this underwater camera!
Budget Underwater Camera: Polaroid iE090
The Polaroid iE090 is my advice if you don’t have a very large budget, this underwater camera will cost you less than $100. At the moment it’s for sale for $37, which is very advantageous for this camera of a large brand and a photo resolution of 18 megapixels.
Another fine advantage of this underwater camera is that it can also go up to 10 meters under water, but you don’t need a special housing for that. So this camera can go standard in the sea or other water, without extras.
With a digital zoom of 4X and 2.8x optical zoom, it is certainly fine for just taking photos, however, there is no image stabilization, so you will have to hold the camera still at the moment of taking the photo.
Weighing 345 grams and measuring 173 x 150.1 x 75 mm, it is also great to take with you on holiday. Please note, this camera does not have a video option, so it is only suitable for taking photos.
Please note that this camera runs on batteries and not a battery, so it will be discharged faster. My tip: use good rechargeable batteries!
For a camera of less than $100 you can’t expect too much, so you have to do your best to get good pictures due to the lack of image stabilization. However, for this money it is definitely worth it to take nice pictures on vacation or if you want your kids to practice with a camera that can get wet.
Conclusion Best Underwater Cameras of 2021
Let’s face it: I’m a water sports enthusiast, not a camera expert, so maybe some photographers read this and would have preferred to look at very different specifications. So this guide to the best underwater cameras is not meant for these experts, but for beginners who are looking to buy an underwater camera.
That’s why I didn’t include cameras above €500 in this guide, the real professional photographers know exactly what they are looking for and won’t be looking for the tips of a crazy water sports enthusiast. The above options are of course my personal opinion and not fixed facts.
However, the fact that the GoPro is one of the best cameras for recording action videos, above or under water, is already widely accepted. The brand has been making these products for so long and is constantly improving their quality. Because it can also be used on a SUP-board or kayak/canoe it will not surprise you that I personally prefer this one out of all the cameras.
As far as the Kodak is concerned, I think it performs well for the low price, but I don’t rule out alternatives like a Nikon Coolpix P900. The availability of the Kodak is really better and the purchase price is a bit lower, so I prefer an affordable underwater camera to shoot beautiful photos with.
If you know a lot about it and have a completely different opinion, please let me know in the comments below. Maybe you already have an underwater camera that you use a lot and you like it a lot. Maybe you have specific elements that I haven’t paid attention to at all in my experiences. Let me know, I am very curious how you think about this and other underwater cameras!