Underwater Camera Gear

This page highlights the underwater photo gear I’m using to create photos and videos. I’ve spent many years and thousands of hours experimenting with different photo gear and learning what works for me.

Everyone will have different preferences when it comes to gear, which might be based on shooting preferences, diving and dive conditions, marine life, budget, propensity to travel and much more.

My camera gear is not necessarily the top-of-the-line tricked out system. Value and versatility have shaped my kit through the last decade, and generally I will only upgrade when there is a strong improvement to the final product I deliver to clients. I’ve also received support from various brands along the way.

My view is that creating great imagery is about how to use the gear to execute a creative vision and not necessarily the gear itself – to a reasonable extent of course.

The most important thing to know is that you can create great photos with any camera.

Understanding the basic principals of photography (the logic behind those basic underwater photo settings) and how to shoot your gear in conditions where it delivers the best results will make all the difference in creating great imagery. This is my emphasis during photo workshops, in the video tutorials on this site, and in my written underwater photo guides.

Want to learn more? Schedule a Virtual Photo Lesson.

FEATURED VIDEOS
My Underwater Camera Gear 2022
My Underwater Camera Gear 2020

My Underwater Camera Gear

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Gear VideoCamerasLenses

Housing & PortsLightingAccessories

My Save a Housing Kit (video)

housing arm and clamp system for strobes and video lights
Clipping my underwater camera rig to my BCD before a high-altitude lake dive.

Cameras

I’ve been fortunate to shoot many different camera systems and decided to stick with my Canon DSLRs when buying my latest underwater housing in mid-2017. I’ve been shooting Canon since the 5D II and 7D, years before taking a camera underwater, and can’t say enough good things about the brand.

Camera technology changes through the years, of course, but I’m still very happy with this system. Mirrorless is the future, and it’s been here for a while, so I would certainly take a strong look at mirrorless if building a new camera system from scratch.

LEARN: How to Choose an Underwater Camera

Here’s my underwater camera gear:

canon-5d-mk-4-underwater

Canon 5D Mk IV:  My underwater camera workhorse. Photo, video, beautiful color tones, fast autofocus – I love it. Learn more about the 5DIV. If I was investing in building an entire new system, I’d go for the R5, but I just can’t justify the upgrade when the final (still image) product from each of these cameras is virtually the same.

Canon R6 Mirrorless Camera Body

Canon R6: I recently picked up the R6 in order to film some video concepts topside while diving for fun and client assignments. When paired with the RF 35mm F/1.8L Macro lens, it’s a great combo for quick clips intended for social media. This camera keeps the video settings so that I can focus on stills with the 5D Mk III and quickly switch between cameras. I’m realizing now that I don’t think we ever sit down during shoot days on the dive boats…. there’s always more to capture!

I haven’t included a link – check out your local camera retailer who will probably match any price you find online.

canon-5d-mk3-underwater

Canon 5D Mk III:  I still shoot this camera for most seascapes so that the 5DIV doesn’t take as much abuse from the salt. This camera is always in my hand when the 5DIV is inside the housing, ensuring I never miss the topside action. It also fits in my 5DIV housing, serving as a backup body if the worst were to happen on a dive trip.

Fun fact: This camera body has technically been under water twice (by breaking waves) and still going strong. It’s on a second LCD screen and plastics though!

SeaLife SportDiver housing for iPhone

SeaLife SportDiver iPhone Housing: I started testing this housing pre-launch and love it. The SportDiver App is well-designed, tested, and intuitive, and paired with the my iPhone camera, it’s a great combo. I use it diving and for ocean adventures like stand up paddling to dive sites.

Retail $349 | Backscatter | Amazon Prime

GoPro HERO9 Black in Dive Housing

GoPro HERO9 Black: The HERO9 is a big step up from even the HERO8. I’m loving the image quality, Presets settings, and great image stabilization (enhanced from the Hero 8 through a higher resolution sensor). I explain this in the Best GoPro Underwater Video Settings. You can also check out my favorite GoPro Underwater Filters and Tray/Handle Combos.


Lenses

There is so much to discuss with underwater lenses. If you’re considering buying a camera system from scratch, your big decision is whether to go with the traditional lens and port system (like I have below), or to use new water contact optics that allow you to shoot both wide-angle and macro on a mid-length lens.

There are pros and cons to each of those gear configurations, but that’s a whole article in itself. I’ve had the lenses below for quite a while and don’t see any need for changes until I switch to mirrorless down the road.

canon-16-35mm-f4L-lens

Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Wide-Angle Lens:  I’m all about optimization. This lens handles everything wide-angle underwater, as well as landscapes and seascapes above the surface. I prefer this rectilinear wide-angle lens over a fisheye underwater since I find it easier to control backscatter in poor visibility. Rectilinear wide-angle lenses also have less barrel distortion than a fisheye, which helps create more realistic diver imagery.

There are more expensive f/2.8L versions of the 16-35, but they are significantly more expensive and heavier with negligible differences in image quality for professional work.

In addition, the Canon 16-35mm f/4 version uses 77mm filters (instead of 82mm like the f/2.8s), which I’ve long been invested in. Learn more.

Tokina 10-17mm Fisheye Lens: I bought this lens again after a couple years shooting only the 16-35mm f/4L above. I was heading to the Philippines in 2019 and had some images in mind where the fisheye effect would be cool. I highly recommend fisheye lenses as a first wide-angle lens for most shooters (unless using a wide-angle conversion lens configuration). I haven’t used it much in the years since and would sell it, except that it serves as a backup wide lens when traveling on client shoots. Backups are essential for any traveling pro. Learn more.

canon-100mm-f2.8L-macro-lens

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens:  The crispest in the business! This lens is tack sharp and used on all of my underwater macro video and photos, plus product shots, portraits and more. Another workhorse. Learn more.

canon-24-105mm-f4l-lens

Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens:  I don’t use this lens underwater, but it’s on my surface camera any time the 16-35mm isn’t. It’s a nice versatile zoom and I find it’s much better for travel and lifestyle photography on location than the popular 24-70mm due to the lighter weight and extra zoom range. Canon has since released a version II and an RF mirrorless version. Learn more.


Underwater Housing & Ports

This is the underwater housing gear that helps me spend many fun-filled hours under the sea making images.

sea & sea mdx-5dmkiv housing

Sea & Sea MDX-5DMkIV Housing:  This is the first Sea & Sea housing I’ve purchased, and it’s living up to the abuse I put on underwater photography gear. All housings have pros and cons compared to others in class, but I’m loving Sea & Sea’s ergonomics, control design and overall handling. As a bonus, this housing fits the 5DIV, 5DIII, and 5DS and 5DS R.

RELATED VIDEO: Underwater Housing Maintenance 101

Zen DP-230 Glass Dome Port: This is my primary housing port, since nearly all of my shooting is with the 16-35mm f/4L above. Rectilinear wide-angle lenses require large dome ports (230mm across). I prefer glass dome ports in general, but especially for domes this large since the glass is heavier than acrylic, helping reduce front float. Glass is also much more resistant to scratching, but when you do scratch it you cannot polish it out like you would on an acrylic dome.

Sea & Sea Optical Dome Port 100 II

Sea & Sea Optical Dome Port II 100: This 4″ dome (100mm) was my guilty gear purchase of 2019 to complement the Tokina Fisheye. While I love the glass and the buoyancy of this lens underwater, I almost exclusively shoot the 16-35mm f/4L in the larger dome, and will likely sell this along with the fisheye.

Sea & Sea DX Macro Port 87

Sea & Sea DX Macro Port 87: This is Sea & Sea’s macro port for the Canon 100mm f/2.8L macro lens. The front has 67mm threads to accommodate a wide range of accessories like macro diopters and flip adapters.


Lighting

I’m fortunate to be able to test and use some very cool lighting gear these days. Underwater strobes and video lights are constantly evolving, so my general advice is to get what works for your camera, intended photo subjects, and budget. Don’t stress about always having the newest lighting equipment.

RELATED VIDEO: Lighting vs. Strobes Underwater

MUST READ: 2022 Underwater Strobe Comparison

MUST READ: 2022 Video & Focus Light Comparison

Here’s what I’m using for 2022.

Retra Flash Pro strobe

Retra PRO:  These flashes are my primary strobes. Retra works with many top pros in designing products and it really shows. The ergonomics, intuitive controls, and sleek design are fantastic, and when paired with a fully circular flash tube, quick recycle time, great light quality and even custom settings via the Retra app, these strobes are tough to beat. Floats or float arms are essential for shooting heavy strobes like this.

The front bayonet mount makes it easy to switch between diffusers, LSD Snoot, and reflector ring while diving. Watch my Retra video below!

Retra Supercharger: The Retra Supercharger adds 4 extra batteries for lighting-fast recycle times and battery life to keep you diving all day. I use the superchargers for shooting fast action and divers during client shoots. Learn more.

Backscatter Mini Flash MF-1

Backscatter Mini Flash MF-1: I recently added this strobe to my camera bag and use it primarily for macro shooting. I highly recommend it as a flash for many divers building a first camera system or small camera system. The flash has great ergonomics, is compact, lightweight, and produces a powerful flash. I always carry the Backscatter Optical Snoot (see accessories section below), which is easy to attach and position using the powerful built-in focus light. Learn more.

Backscatter Macro Wide 4300

Backscatter Macro Wide 4300 Video Light: These are my primary underwater video lights. The powerful 4300 lumen 85-degree beam is perfect for wide-angle shooting while the macro mode is perfect for illuminating small subjects at high macro apertures. I often pair it with the Optical Snoot (see accessories below) for snooted macro – with and without black backgrounds. I’ve also been starting to use Backscatter’s colored filter sets, which allow me to light the subject or background with color for video or still images.

And I’m not done here. I mount a single MW-4300 on my housing as a primary night dive light and/or macro focus light. The light is small enough that I don’t mind it as a macro focus light when shooting stills, especially since I can switch to video at any point. Versatility! Finally, I have a couple sets of batteries, which allow me to keep shooting all day far from electricity. Learn more.

sola video pro le underwater light

Light & Motion Sola Video Pro LE:  Compact, light and packing 3800 lumens, these lights rock! They have smooth, even 100 degree beam diffused with a dome port optic. The mode switch is incredibly easy to operate with a single hand. They also charge fast using high quality components designed and manufactured in the USA. I have an older version but have linked to the newest. Learn more.


Underwater Photo Accessories

These are some of my favorite underwater photography accessories.

Ultralight Control Systems Arms, Clamps & Accessories: I’ve been using ULCS arms and clamps since day 1… and using the same arms and clamps since day one. These components are bombproof. The quality is second to none and will last a lifetime.

Ultralight Control Systems Video Tripod Tray

Ultralight Video Tripod Tray: Stability is key for underwater video, and I’ve started carrying this tripod on my video dives (unless I don’t plan to be shooting from the bottom). The tripod tray fits on most housings and can be configured with various ball mounts and accessories to suit personal preferences and gear configurations. Most of the time I will add floats to my strobe arms to offset the weight, unless I know I’ll be shooting in heavy surge and need a heavy system. Learn more.

Backscatter Optical Snoot OS-1

Backscatter Optical Snoot OS-1: This snoot is super easy to use with both the Backscatter Mini Flash and Macro-Wide 4300 (these products were all designed to be used together). I carry this snoot anytime I’m using the flash or lights. I highly recommend these gear pairings for anyone interested in shooting snoot photo and video. Learn more.

Retra LSD Snoot

Retra LSD Snoot: This snoot is so easy to use with the Retra flashes. The modeling light shines right through the snoot, showing you exactly where the flash will land so that you can quickly position it. Gone are the days of trial and error, frame by frame. I’m very excited to be using the LSD.

reefnet-subsee-diopter-for-macro

ReefNet SubSee +10 Diopter:  This magnifier opens up the world of supermacro photo and video. I’m not hardcore about shooting the really small stuff (if I was, I would use a crop sensor camera instead of full frame), but still consider this diopter essential on any macro dive. I purchased this when it was the easy choice. Since then, Nauticam, AOI, and Saga have also started making some great diopters. Read my comparison of the Best Diopters of 2021.

Saga Macro Flip Adapter

Saga M67 Flip Adapter: A flip adapter is essential for macro photographers who carry a diopter and Saga was the most affordable option this last time. Learn more about Flip Adapters.

Retired DIY Gear

DIY Macro Snoot: This snoot is made from a piece of PVC pipe from the hardware store glued to a weird plastic piece that my friend Edgar found underwater in Anilao, thinking it was the perfect size to fit inside the larger tube snoot. It fit perfectly. I sawed off the tip and have a great snoot that attached to the front of my strobe. It’s called the Edgar2000 and works really well. I used to use this on YS-D2 strobes.

DIY Fiber Optic Cables: Regular cables seem to break all the time for me, even when being super careful when moving strobes around. These are tough and don’t break, although I’m still playing with the design when time permits.

underwater-camera-tripod-for-video

DIY Underwater Video Tripod:  I made this myself. It’s a rotating collar that goes over the macro port, allowing me to easily pan up and down, plus rotate the collar for regular horizontal shooting or vertical shooting for Instagram story video.

Check out my video How to Build an Underwater Video Tripod to see how I made this one!

VIDEO: New Retra Flashes for 2021

Learn more about my new Retra strobes and Superchargers in this video. Huge thanks to Retra UWT for the support!

VIDEO: My Save A Housing Kit

This is the tool kit I bring on all dive trips, whether international workshops or road trips up and down the west coast. If you don’t yet have a Save a Housing Kit to complement your Save a Dive Kit, then this will help guide you in creating one.

Inside Look: My Camera Took Kit on YouTube

More Gear!

Packing Underwater Photo Gear

Learn how I pack my camera gear for dive trips, including specific bag recommendations.


How to Choose an Underwater Camera

This video tutorial reviews all the questions you need to ask yourself before buying your first underwater camera and housing system.


Underwater Housing Maintenance tutorial video promo

Underwater Housing Maintenance

Tips & tricks for o-ring care, avoiding floods, and keeping your housing working like new.


underwater camera gear maintenance
Charging batteries and servicing my underwater camera gear on assignment.
Papua New Guinea 2014.