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.
You’ll notice that my kit is a bit different from many serious underwater photographers and that it’s not necessarily the top-of-the-line tricked out system. I don’t own the latest accessories. In fact, I don’t purchase accessories until they’re a necessity.
Value and versatility have shaped my kit through the last decade, and I’ve slowly upgraded my gear with money earned directly through photography.
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.
My Underwater Camera Gear 2020
My Underwater Camera Gear
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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.
Here’s my underwater camera gear:
Canon 5D Mk IV: My underwater camera workhorse. Photo, video, beautiful color tones, fast autofocus – I love it. Learn more about the 5DIV.
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 has technically been under a sheet of water twice (by breaking waves) and still going strong. It’s on a second LCD screen and plastics though!
SeaLife SportDiver iPhone Housing: I started testing this housing pre-launch and love it. The app is well-designed, tested, and intuitive, and paired with the iPhone camera, it’s a great combo. I use it diving and for ocean adventures like Stand Up Paddling to freedive sites.
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.
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 systems, but that’s a whole article in itself. I’ve had the lenses below for longer than the high optical quality wet lenses we’re seeing on the market the last few years, so it goes without saying that I’m committed to this system… at least unless something crazy happens.
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 less than ideal conditions. Granted, most of my diving is off the shore on the west coast, where 30ft visibility is considered really good.
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. The f/4 gets the same number of magazine covers and contest wins, so that’s good enough for me, even if it’s not for the pixel peepers! ;- )
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 just picked this up again after a couple years shooting only the 16-35mm f/4L above. I was heading to the Philippines and had some images in mind where the fisheye effect would be cool. It will be in my bag for my 2020 Philippines trip as well. The fisheye is a staple for tropical shooters. Learn more.
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 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 than the popular 24-70mm due to the lighter weight and extra zoom range. Canon has since released a Version II. 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: 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
Sea & Sea Dome Port 240: I acquired this dome port by borrowing it from a friend and scratching it by accident during a surf entry over slippery boulders. Upon confessing, he told me he was gifted it by a pro photographer who thought it was too scratched to keep using. I bought my friend a different port and have been using this for almost two years with no issue! One person’s trash is Brent’s treasure!
That said, I’m a huge fan of glass dome ports because of their scratch resilience and buoyancy characteristics underwater. Wish I had glass instead, but hey, at least I have a big dome! I use this dome with my 16-35mm f/4L.
Sea & Sea Optical Dome Port II 100: This 4″ dome (100mm) was my guilty gear purchase of 2019, along with 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. We’ll see if I pull this out much during 2020.
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.
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 gear.
RELATED VIDEO: Lighting vs. Strobes Underwater
MUST READ: 2020 Underwater Strobe Comparison
MUST READ: 2020 Video & Focus Light Comparison
Here’s what I’m using for 2020.
Retra PRO: These flashguns are a delight to use. 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, great light quality and even custom settings via the Retra app, these strobes are tough to beat.
The front bayonet mount makes it easy to switch between diffusers, LSD Snoot, and reflector ring while diving.
Retra Supercharger: Retra recently launched the Supercharger for the Retra flash guns, which adds 4 extra batteries for lighting-fast recycle times and battery life to keep you diving all day. I’m obviously stoked on these strobes! Learn more.
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. Learn more.
I-Torch V10 Focus Light: Small, powerful and affordable, with white and red beams. This is all you need as an underwater macro focus light. This model was discontinued (in 2016?), but there are a lot of other great 1,000 lumen focus lights out there.
Underwater Photo Accessories
I mentioned this in the intro, but I don’t purchase underwater photo accessories until they become a necessity. That said, here’s what I pack on every dive trip.
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.
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. Very excited to be using the LSD.
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.
Saga M67 Flip Adapter: After years of screwing my diopter in and out and always having to set it on the ground (e.g. on a wall when you have to swim 10m away or hold the diopter in your left hand with your muck stick while shooting it’s just not convenient), I splurged for the cheapest flip adapter in stock before my Philippines 2019 trip.
This accessory is just so worth it when you’re constantly adding and removing a macro diopter. It’s a necessity and not an accessory!
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.
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: 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.
Learn how I pack my camera gear for dive trips, including specific bag recommendations.
This video tutorial reviews all the questions you need to ask yourself before buying your first underwater camera and housing system.
Tips & tricks for o-ring care, avoiding floods, and keeping your housing working like new.