The 360 Innovator
- Insta360 ONE R Twin Edition
Cream Of The Crop
- Olympus Tough TG-6
Ready To Swim
- Nikon COOLPIX W300
The world of photography has a huge range of options available from cheap cameras to multi-thousand dollar setups. The underwater world offers its own challenges for cameras, not least water and pressure resistance. If you take the time to learn how to take great underwater photos, you’re likely to want to make sure you have some great gear too. Of course, while the body of a camera is important, it’s also important to ensure that you’ve got good lenses, and have a reliable method of lighting your photos.
There are other things to consider with underwater photography as well. Battery life is important, you don’t want your camera to run out of juice halfway through your dive. Weight and size are also important, as heavier and bulkier cameras are more awkward to move with. Focusing can also be difficult underwater, so having a camera that is fast to focus, even underwater is useful. Manual focus can also be particularly useful as an override, though many waterproof housings make it difficult to manually focus the camera underwater. Wet lenses give you the ability to change out your lens underwater to get the perfect shot, though this comes at the cost of having to carry around more equipment.
The final result of what is best for you, is, of course, a personal decision but to help you get a good starting point, we’ve drawn up a list of the best mid-market underwater cameras in 2021.
- Modular camera
- IPX8 rating
- Invisible selfie stick mode
- Resolution: 4K/60fps, 5.7K/30fps(360) video resolution and 12.1MP or 18.33MP(360) photos
- Maximum Depth: 5m (can be extended with cases)
- Battery life: 70 minutes
The Insta360 ONE R is a GoPro format action cam that is waterproof to five metres by default. The camera is modular in design, meaning you can swap out the battery, and the lens really easily. The twin edition comes with a 4K wide-angle lens and with a 5.7K 360-degree lens. A 5.3K lens is available that features a 1-inch sensor. One of the issues that this modularity incurs is that each lens is a different shape, meaning that you need to get a different dive case for each lens you want to use underwater. To make this worse, they’re not cheap, and confusingly, the dive case for the 360 version only provides 30 metres of waterproof rating rather than the 60 metres that the other dive cases offer.
The 360 module offers the ability to take full 360-degree video in such a way that the selfie stick on which the camera can be mounted is essentially invisible. This allows you to achieve a 3rd person camera effect, that looks cool on land and offers unique perspectives underwater. Annoyingly, once you’ve bought the camera, you can’t just use it, you need to register it through the smartphone app. Additionally, once you’ve recorded video it needs to be processed through the app on a smartphone or computer. This app can edit the footage well, and doesn’t require a stitching process for 360 videos, but may not be an ideal extra export step for users that prefer using another photo or video editing app.
- Dive cases extend depth down to 60m
- Can swap out lenses, batteries, and core
- Full 360 video
- Dive cases are pricy, don’t fit other lenses, and have different depth ratings
- Requires you to use the smartphone app to register the device
- Need to export footage via the app
- 1-inch stacked CMOS sensor
- 2x optical zoom
- Resolution: 4K/30fps and 1080P/120FPS video resolution and 20.1MP photos
- Maximum Depth: Requires a dive housing for waterproofing
- Battery life: 235 photos (CIPA), 320 photos in ECO mode
The Canon G7X Mark III isn’t ideal for underwater photography by default due to its lack of waterproofing. When combined with a dive housing, however, not only can it be submerged but its one-inch stacked sensor handles the low light levels well. While shaking shouldn’t be too much of an issue underwater, the Optical Image Stabilisation or OIS should also help you to achieve crisp photos.
4K30, video offers high resolution for the clearest underwater videos. 1080p120 offers slow-motion support for catching unseen details of fast-moving critters. It’s even possible to take 20 photos a second in burst mode for when you want as many chances as possible at the perfect photo. A range of default white balances are selectable for different lighting conditions. You can even specify a custom white balance if none of the standard ones work for you.
- A range of default white balances and the ability to specify a custom white balance
- Large sensor helps it to perform in suboptimal lighting conditions
- Reasonably priced cases offer waterproofing to 60m
- No native waterproofing
- Lots of reports of overheating when recording in high resolution or framerates
- 5x optical zoom
- Onboard GPS, eCompass, Altimeter, and Depth Gauge
- Electronic vibration reduction
- Resolution: 4K/30fps and 1080P/60FPS video resolution and 16MP photos
- Maximum Depth: 30m
- Battery life: 280 shots (CIPA), 1 hour at 1080p30
The Nikon COOLPIX W300 offers 30m of waterproofing without requiring any sort of dive case. This helps it to maintain its compact form factor when in use underwater. It can record video in 4K30 and 1080p60 and take 16MP photos. The 5x optical zoom is complemented by a vibration reduction feature to keep pictures and videos sharp.
The camera isn’t just waterproof, it is also shockproof, dustproof, and freezeproof, so it can take pretty much anything that’s thrown at it. A potentially useful and unique feature is the ability to take still photos while also recording a video. This allows you to get your full-resolution photo without having to pause your recording. Despite the default waterproofing, it’s probably a good idea to get a dive housing, this adds a second layer of protection. This decreases your chance of being one of the unlucky ones for whom the waterproofing fails.
- 29 different UI languages
- Dustproof, shockproof, and freezeproof
- Can shoot stills while recording video
- Relatively weak battery life, especially for video
- Many user reports of waterproofing failing
- 4x optical zoom, up to 8x zoom
- Official underwater housing offers a 45m depth rating
- Resolution: 4K/30FPS, 1080P/120FPS video resolution and 12MP photos
- Maximum Depth: 15m
- Battery life: 340 images (CIPA), 50 minutes (JEITA), up to 110 minutes of video recording with no other features enabled
The Olympus Tough TG-6 is an excellent ultracompact format camera. It’s primarily aimed at performing macro photography but can also perform wide-angle photography. By default, it has a waterproof rating of 15 metres, but this can be extended to 45 metres with the official underwater housing. It weighs 255 grams and has a battery life of 340 photos, or 50 minutes of video recording.
It offers a dustproof rating, is shockproof from 2.1 metres, and is freezeproof down to 14°F -10°C. It’s likely a good idea to purchase a lens cover as the TG-6 doesn’t come with one. While this TG model still doesn’t include full manual shutter control, it does allow much finer control over shutter timings than the previous model.
- Shockproof 2.1m
- Freezeproof 14°F -10°C
- Doesn’t come with a lens cover
- Lack of new features over the previous version
- No manual shutter control
That was our round-up of the best mid-market underwater cameras in 2021. Have you recently bought a mid-market underwater camera? What sold you on it and how’s your experience with it been? Let us know down below.
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