How to Choose an Underwater Camera

Getting started as an underwater photographer is a daunting task, especially if you’re a new diver. The list of gear can seem endless, with surprise additions at each step of the way, forcing you to make decisions based on knowledge you don’t yet have.

But let’s change that! I’ll address these issues and present the best strategy to help get you the right gear at the right price.

Let’s learn how to choose an underwater camera and housing!


How to Choose an Underwater Camera

Below I’ve written a short summary of the video on choosing an underwater camera. Each of these questions should be thoroughly considered, ideally in this order, as you evaluate the best photo equipment for your needs.

Where is the best place to purchase underwater camera gear?

The best place to purchase camera gear is your local underwater camera retailer or dive shop. There’s simply no substitute for speaking with an expert who will not just help you choose the best gear, but also offer support as you start learning how to use it.

If you need some help, contact me and I’ll put you in touch with a great retailer in your region. Check out my personal underwater camera gear.

Questions to Consider when Choosing an Underwater Camera & Housing

Do you have Casual or Serious Intentions?

This is the starting point for choosing an underwater camera system. Casual shooters will likely want a more simple, affordable camera. The GoPro HERO12 Black is a great video option while the Olympus TG-6, SeaLife Micro 3.0, and smartphone housings are great still photo choices.

Be sure to watch my video SmartPhone Housings vs GoPro Underwater.

Divers who plan to become avid photographers will likely want higher-end systems to start.

Determine Your Budget

Like all gear purchases, your budget will determine which camera system you purchase, weighted by all the considerations below.

Will you Shoot Photo, Video, or Both?

Most cameras today are versatile hybrids capable of shooting fantastic video (think 4K at 30 frames per second) and outstanding still images. It’s easy to switch back and forth between photo and video modes, and even the settings for shooting manual with each.

There are, however, some exceptions that should be considered if you’re firmly in the photo or the video camp. You’ll also require different accessories depending on these goals.

What do you Plan to Shoot?

Underwater photography and video can be broken into two rough categories: Macro and Wide-Angle. Macro encompasses all the small marine life subjects, technically reproducing the subject in actual size on your camera sensor. Wide-Angle encompasses anything from fish portraits (mid-distance) to very wide scenes of reefs, divers, sharks and shipwrecks.

If you’re a new diver and don’t know what you want to shoot yet, no problem. You’ll want a camera with versatility.

If you have a strong desire to specifically shoot macro or wide-angle, you can now look at specific camera specs and even interchangeable lenses you’ll want to use for those specialties.

Here are some examples:

If you’re looking for a compact camera and want to shoot macro, you’ll want a camera with a lens that has a short minimum focus distance, like the Olympus TG-6.

If you’re a freediver and know you only want to shoot other friends freediving with a mirrorless camera, then you know you’ll only want a fisheye or wide-angle lens in a dome port and no other lighting accessories.

Pick Top 3 Cameras Using this Info

This is the point in our research where we narrow our choice to three cameras using the information we compiled in the questions above.

Underwater Housing Considerations

The 3 Main Housing Considerations

Price: Underwater camera housings sit at a few distinct price points depending on whether you’re looking at compact cameras, mirrorless or DSLRs. Do you want to pay more for increased ergonomics? Do you want the best value while keeping your investment as small as possible while still building a great system?

Ports: Port selection is very important when choosing your housing. It can also greatly affect the overall price of the system.

Ergonomics: Ergonomics are a very personal selection when deciding between housings at a specific price level.

Consider Lens & Port Strategy with Interchangeable Lens Cameras

The last two or so years have seen a shift in water-contact optics, presenting two different strategies for building your lens and port system with an interchangeable lens camera. Both have excellent image quality.

You can go with the traditional specialty lens and associated port system, or go for a versatile mid focal length lens and opt for different water contact optics for macro and wide-angle shooting.

Since these require very different gear you should make this decision before committing to any lenses and before committing to a particular housing brand.

General Underwater Camera Considerations

We’ve reviewed a lot of questions and decisions you’ll need to make in choosing an underwater camera and housing. But there’s one last consideration, and it will greatly affect your photos/videos and budget.

Consider Lighting & Accessories

Underwater lighting and accessories can make all the difference in creating great content underwater. Here are just some of the accessories and lighting options to explore with your system:

– Optical and TTL Converters (to fire strobes)

– Vacuum and leak detection system (many housings include this)

– Strobes (Learn: Underwater Strobe Positioning)

– Video Lights (Learn: Lights vs Strobes Underwater)

– Handle and Tray setup

– Arms and Clamps to hold strobes and/or lights

– Macro Focus Light mounted on top of housing (essential for macro)

– Fiber Optic Cables

– Camera Gear Bag (Read: How to Pack Underwater Camera Gear)

– Port Extensions (for mirrorless and DSLR)

– Wet Lenses (Learn: All About Wet Lenses & Macro Diopters)

KEEP LEARNING: Basic Underwater Camera Settings

I hope this guide on how to choose an underwater camera is helpful. Remember, speaking with you local underwater camera expert and/or dive center is the best way to get specialized advice.

There are many more tutorials for you to enjoy here on Brent Durand Underwater. Have fun exploring!

Brent Durand

Professional writer and underwater photo instructor. Brent is an avid diver and surfer, and has led many intensive photo workshops around the world.