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.
My Underwater Camera Gear 2022
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 images Canon produces.
Camera technology changes through the years, of course, but I’m still very happy with this system. If buying from scratch, I would certainly invest in mirrorless options like the Canon R5 (my topside camera) or R7 since you’re pretty committed to your camera and housing brand upon purchase.
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. 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 R5: This year took the plunge and purchased the R5 as my new topside camera. The 45MP image files provide a lot more cropping options for clients (important for responsive web design, etc.) while the video capabilities are far better than my 5D Mk III. I picked up the Canon 35mm Macro lens for shooting closeup 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.
Canon 5D Mk III: This particular camera has seen some action. Now that I’m using the Canon R5 as a primary topside camera, the 5D Mk III is basically a backup body for my housing during big dive trips. Wish I could sell it but need the redundancy during shoots. Fun fact: This camera body has technically been under water twice (by breaking waves) and is still going strong. I replaced the LCD and plastics in 2016 or so.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 (16-35mm above). Paired with the Zen DP-230 dome, this has quickly become my default for shooting divers in the water. Learn more.
Tokina 10-17mm Fisheye Lens: I bought this lens again after a couple years shooting only the 16-35mm f/4L. 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. Redundancy is essential for any traveling pro. 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 RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens: This lens lives on my Canon R5 since the EF 16-35mm f/4L or the 8-15mm Fisheye is usually on my 5D Mk IV and 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. I even got a new UV filter since my standard one has some calcification and a few nicks near the edges. Yea, fancy, I know.
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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
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 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.
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, the image quality of the Tokina fisheye with this mini-dome doesn’t compare with that of the Canon 8-15mm fisheye with the DP-230. The value is that this dome is easy to pack in my carry-on case (whereas the DP-230 must be checked), so it serves as a backup should my checked bag get lost prior to a shoot.
View at: Backscatter
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 lighting equipment.
RELATED VIDEO: Lighting vs. Strobes Underwater
MUST READ: 2023 Underwater Strobe Comparison
MUST READ: 2023 Video & Focus Light Comparison
Here’s what I’m using for 2023.
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: 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.
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.
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 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: 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: 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 +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 2023.
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.
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: New Retra PRO Flashes
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.
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.