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.

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 (and brand new housing) to my BCD before a high-altitude lake dive in Idaho (2017).

Cameras

I was fortunate to shoot many different camera systems during the early mirrorless days, including DSLR, compact, and mirrorless cameras from Canon, Nikon, Sony, and Olympus. If fact, that sentence is pretty outdated since I’ve started categorizing cameras as compact or interchangeable lens cameras for the last few years.

I’ve always gravitated to Canon for my personal cameras, although like all photographers, once I’m invested in the lenses I’m very prone to continue with the brand even if I see benefits in a new camera from another brand.

LEARN: How to Choose an Underwater Camera

Here’s my underwater camera gear:

Canon-R5-Mirrorless-Camera-Body

Canon R5: I have two Canon R5 bodies now! One stays in my housing while the other serves as my topside camera on shoots. Having two bodies also creates redundancy required on professional shoots. The R5’s 45MP image files provide great cropping options for clients (important for responsive web design, etc.) while not being overly large and slowing down my computer while editing. The video capabilities are excellent as well.

For surface use, I use the Canon 35mm Macro lens for shooting closeup video, the 16mm f/2.8 for hikes and vlog video, and the RF 24-105mm f/4L (see lenses) as my every day lens.

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

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

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 water contact optics that allow you to swap lenses underwater.

There are pros and cons to each of those gear configurations, but that’s a whole article in itself. Personally, I can’t justify the price of the high end water contact systems.

canon-rf-14-35mm-f/4L

Canon RF 14-35mm f/4 L IS USM Wide-Angle Lens:  I went through a phase exclusively shooting rectilinear wide-angle lenses underwater since I find it easier to control backscatter in poor visibility. There is also much less barrel distortion than in fisheye lenses commonly used underwater. These days I drift between several lens setups, using this lens for video, some regular underwater shooting (the ability to zoom creates a lot of versatility), and for shooting seascapes and landscapes on the surface. Learn more.

Canon 8-15mm Fisheye  Lens

Canon 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye Lens: I picked up this lens in 2022 to help create specific compositions while working with dive models. The fisheye perspective creates a very different image from my rectilinear wide-angle lens (14-35mm above). Paired with the Zen DP-230 dome, this has quickly become my default for shooting divers in the water. I’ve also started using this lens in my 4″ mini dome and the R5 set to 1.6 crop in order to do some fun close focus wide angle compositions. 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. Mine is cracked and not worth much, so I likely won’t sell it to get the RF version anytime soon. Learn more.

canon-rf-24-105mm-f4l-lens

Canon RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens:  This lens lives on my surface Canon R5 since the 8-15mm Fisheye or RF 14-35mm f/4L is usually on my primary R5 locked in the housing. I try not to open the housing unless I have to, so the topside camera and lens is essential. I considered (yet again) the 24-70mm but opted for this due to it’s smaller size, weight, and focal range versatility. The image quality differences are negligible for professional work. It also has 77mm thread mounts that work with all my filters for video shooting and landscapes. View on Amazon


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-R5 Housing:  I’m a big fan of Sea & Sea housings and was very happy to start using the R5 housing. At the end of the day, there are many preferences and general price point that drive decisions on housings. Upgrading to this housing from my MDX-5DMKIV was easy since I had compatible ports and extensions already.

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 14-35mm f/4L or 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye. Rectilinear wide-angle lenses require large dome ports (230mm across). The larger dome delivers better image quality near the edges with the fisheye lenses. 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.

View at: Backscatter | Mozaik

Sea & Sea Optical Dome Port 100 II

Sea & Sea Optical Dome Port II 100: There is a lot to be said for small dome ports. While I mostly gravitate to the DP-230 above, I use this dome with my R5 set to 1.6 crop for close focus wide-angle. It’s also small to pack when traveling to shoots and serves as a backup dome.

View at: Backscatter

Sea & Sea DX Macro Port 87

Sea & Sea DX Macro Port 87: This was Sea & Sea’s standard macro port for years. The front has 67mm threads to accommodate a wide range of accessories like macro diopters and flip adapters. It still works like new so I don’t plan to replace it with the updated version.

View at: Mozaik


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: 2024 Underwater Strobe Comparison

MUST READ: 2024 Video & Focus Light Comparison

Here’s what I’m currently using.

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 Strobe Video! The PRO model is discontinued and replaced with the PRO X.

View the updated Retra PRO X at: Backscatter

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.

View at: Backscatter

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.

View at: Backscatter | Mozaik

View the updated MF-2: Backscatter | Mozaik

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.

View at: Backscatter | Mozaik

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. View my 2023 Ultimate Guide to Video Lights.


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.

View Ultralight Clamps at: Backscatter

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.

View at: Backscatter

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.

View at: Backscatter

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.

View at: Backscatter

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 Underwater Diopters.

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 and macro diopters.

Retired DIY Gear that was a Lot of Fun

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 or vertical shooting. I made this when Instagram first launched stories and I’d do takeovers for PADI, BBC, Fathomless Life, and other big Instagram profiles… ignoring the heckles of “what is that vertical video nonsense.” Of course, we know social media now is almost all vertical!

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

VIDEO: My Retra PRO Flashes

Learn more about my new Retra UWT strobes and Superchargers in this video. Note that Retra and replaced these flashes with newer, improved models, including a new Booster that replaces the Supercharger I use. The system in my video below still works great for me though.

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.