There’s an entire underwater world that most of us will never see. But if you’re looking to explore it with a camera, there’s no need to haul an already bulky DSLR around in an even more awkward housing just to grab some fun subaquatic snapshots on vacation. Instead, the latest waterproof cameras look more like traditional compact point-and-shoot cameras than they do pro photo gear. Many are also shock-proof, crush-proof and freeze-proof, so they’re ready to shoot in pretty much any environment, whether above water or below. No matter where you’re headed or what you’re shooting, I’ve rounded up the best underwater cameras.
Best All-Around Underwater Camera – Olympus Tough TG-5
The Olympus Tough TG-5 can easily hold its own from the tide pool to your backyard pool and everywhere in between. It’s plenty wide at f/2.0 to f/4.9, and it zooms from 4.5mm – 18mm (25mm – 100mm equivalent), and its lens features dual-pane anti-fog glass up front, and the body can capture photos at a depth up to 49 feet. That combination alone should stand out to underwater photographers, especially since the lens’ wider aperture allows for more light (a luxury underwater) at low ISO settings. It also packs in 4K video recording, WiFi, and GPS for photo location tagging too.
Best Ultra Compact Underwater Camera – GoPro Hero7 Black
It’s hard not to like the Hero7 Black from GoPro. There’s its cute, compact size, of course, but it’s also relatively cheap considering its capabilities, which include 4K/60 video, time-lapse shooting, voice control, and waterproof construction up to 33 feet. Even though it’s primarily a video camera, GoPro saw fit to upgrade the 12MP sensor’s still photo capabilities with RAW capture and SuperPhoto mode to capture more detail. Powerful electronic image stabilization called HyperSmooth plays into the Hero7’s other headlining feature: built-in streaming direct to Facebook. After all, is it really that sick of a trick if no one saw you pull it off?
Best Underwater Camera if Money Is No Object – Leica X-U Typ 113
With deep enough pockets, you can overcome just about any obstacle, especially when it comes to photography. Case in point: high-quality underwater shooting and the Leica X-U. While the megapixel count won’t bowl anyone over, the fact that the 16.5MP APS-C sensor is capable of RAW shooting and works at depths up to 49 feet absolutely should. Add in a sharp, 35mm equivalent (23mm f/1.7) prime lens and the package becomes even more attractive. What’s especially nice is that at a glance this model doesn’t look all that different from Leica’s dry-land models. All of this power comes at a hefty price, though.
Best GoPro Alternative Underwater Camera – Sony CyberShot RX0
Want a tiny camera for your next adventure, but want a bigger sensor than what GoPro offers? Look no further than the RX0 from Sony. The electronics giant crammed a 15MP stacked, 1-inch BSI-CMOS sensor into tiny waterproof and shockproof body that can shoot down to 32 feet depths (328 feet with an available housing). A 24mm (35mm equivalent) f/4 Zeiss lens captures sharp stills and you can daisy-chain units together for capturing VR footage, if you’re adventurous.
Best Underwater Camera for Deep-Water Photos – Nikon CoolPix W300
If your escape from the winter doldrums includes a scuba trip, I can’t recommend the Nikon CoolPix W300 enough. Unlike so many other waterproof cameras, this shooter has a 3x optical zoom. Of course, there’s 4K video recording, GPS, and a bright LCD display on board as well.
That’s in addition to it being waterproof down to 328 feet without any additional accessories. Nikon intends for you to dive deep, too, as the camera features a built-in barometer in addition to its 24 – 120mm equivalent f/2.8 – 4.9 lens and 16MP backlit CMOS sensor.