Best compact cameras for scuba diving in 2021

How to determine what the best underwater camera is.

Features to look for:

A compact camera has a fixed lens that cannot be changed. To select the best compact underwater camera, it is essential to choose a camera that can be manually controlled, take pictures in RAW (a digital format that is uncompressed and therefore heavier but retains more image detail), high-definition video and accepts wet macro and wide-angle lenses.

It is also essential to look at the camera housings and the different options, such as access to all buttons, connecting an external flash, or changing the lens port.

Nowadays, many cameras and housing meet all these criteria thanks to technological developments. We will help you find the right camera for you.

Improvements in compact cameras:

There have been many improvements over the years. Compact cameras are better than ever and are, for some, on par with hybrid cameras in terms of image quality, ergonomics, autofocus speed and manual mode.

Larger sensors, more button controls, and better focus have led to this selection of compacts that offer good functionality. Various lenses and accessories that complement your underwater photography experience must be considered.

Sony and Canon both have mounted a 1-inch sensor and fast focus. Olympus adds options to their cameras while keeping the price and size right.

Here is a selection of the best underwater cameras.

Best overall quality

Sony RX100 VA and Sony RX100 VII

The RX100 VA and RX100 VII are the latest models in the Sony RX100 series. They are packed with new options for underwater photography. They are the most high-end cameras of the moment. The focus is extremely fast for both cameras, which is convenient for photographing fast-moving animals like sharks or dolphins. Both models have a 1-inch sensor with a 20 MP resolution. They have fabulous image quality, fast focus, and useful video modes like slow motion and full manual controls. The biggest upgrade to the RX100 VII is the new 24-200mm f/2.8-4.5 zoom lens. The RX100 VA features 24fps sequential shooting, improved frame buffer and customizable menus. The RX100 VII has some minor improvements over the VI, including faster autofocus with better autofocus tracking, blackout-free burst modes, and quicker processing. The RX100 VII has a higher price tag. Still, it’s an excellent option for people who want to take advantage of its autofocus tracking system – especially for video, which can now be captured for unlimited time.

Three things make the RX100s among the best underwater cameras. First, the 1-inch sensor is larger than most compacts except for the Canon G7X Mark II and III. Because of its size, the sensor takes better-quality images. It performs better in low light because of the larger pixels. Second, the focus is faster than other compacts. Lastly, the 4K video features are among the best compacts.

You can take beautiful wide-angle or macro or even super macro photos thanks to the available wet diopters.

Why choose the RX100 VA or the RX100 VII?

The RX100 VA is an upgrade to the RX100 V with increased buffer memory, burst shooting up to 24fps, and customizable menus. It is excellent for shooting aquatic animals that need a burst mode and more processing power. The RX100 VA retains all the advantages of the RX100 V, including the 315-point phase-detection autofocus system and the 20 MP/1-inch Exmor RS BSI CMOS sensor. The main advantage of the RX100 VA over the VI and VII is that it can shoot with both macro and wide-angle wet diopters during the same dive. The lens is shorter and has a lower zoom than the RX100 VII. You no longer need additional ports/adapters for dedicated wide-angle and macro configurations.

The highlight of the RX100 VII over the RX100 VA is its unprecedented macro capability. The 24-200mm f/2.8-4.5 zoom lens is the strongest in the compact class. The detail captured with this lens is remarkable. When combined with a wet macro diopter, the realm of the super macro has become accessible. The most specific details of the tiniest subjects can be captured with this configuration. Sony has made minor improvements to the RX100 VII over the RX100 VI. However, the Sony RX100 VII has the best autofocus system of any compact camera. It’s not as fast as the RX100 VII’s hybrids, such as the A6100 or A7R IV, but it’s still excellent and a huge advantage for photographers who like to capture fast-moving animals. The RX100 VII is a massive plus for videographers because it can take video with autofocus speed and autofocus tracking upgrades. Also, there is no limit to how long you can shoot 4K videos with the RX100 VII.

Underwater housings for the RX100 VA and RX100 VII:

Several brands are offering camera housing for these models. Here is a non-exhaustive list:

  • Nauticam housing: high-quality aluminium, excellent ergonomics, vacuum control included, and it uses a unique port system allowing you to change the front port for a wider angle or dedicated macro shooting setup.
  • Isotta housing: High-quality aluminium housing.
  • Ikelite Housing: Affordable housing with outstanding ergonomics and uses high-quality polycarbonate material.
  • Fantasea Housing: High-quality polycarbonate housing with a leak detector, double O-ring seal, and full camera controls.
  • Seafrogs housing: Same configuration as the Fantasea at a lower price.

Best video quality

Panasonic LX100 ii

the best price here

For underwater video, we recommend the Panasonic LX100. Its 4K video offers a high-quality video experience, which allows for a much higher level of detail. The camera also has 4K photo modes.

Like many competitors, the Panasonic LX10 is also equipped with a 20 MP/1 inch sensor, giving it excellent image quality. The LX 10 features a 24-72mm f/1.4-2.8 zoom lens that delivers beautiful bokeh, 5-axis image stabilization, continuous shooting at 7fps, and stacked focus modes.

The F1.4-F2.8 lens is the brightest of all the cameras we considered for video in the compact category, giving it an advantage in low-light situations when set to the F1.4 aperture.

Best for macro

Sony RX100 VII

Best price here

The Sony RX100 VII is our choice for the best underwater camera for macro. This camera features a 24-200mm lens that can produce incredible magnification for the tiniest subjects. This new lens’s zoom and optical quality can produce outstanding, detailed macro and super-macro images, especially when paired with a wet diopter. It is essential to mention that the lens’s long focal length creates a long minimum focusing distance. For a compact camera, the RX100 VII’s autofocus is incredible. The RX100 VII has the same autofocus and autofocus tracking system as the Sony A9. While not as good as its hybrid cousins, a photographer would be hard-pressed to find a better autofocus system in a compact camera. This is the camera for small macro creatures on the move.

Best value for money

Canon G7X III

Best price here

The Canon G7X III is a small camera with a large 1-inch, 20 MP sensor that is a direct competitor to Sony’s RX100 series cameras. It is an excellent camera with fast focus, excellent image quality, and dedicated macro focus. The camera also features 4K, slow motion, a larger buffer, a new stacked sensor, a better image processor, and faster burst shooting on the G7X II.

We chose the Canon G7X III as the best value, with all these features at an affordable price. The Canon G7X Mark III has advantages over recent RX100 series cameras like the RX100 VII. You can shoot wide-angle and macro on the same dive! The Canon G7X Mark III has advantages over the Olympus TG-6 camera. You can have complete manual control on the G7X Mark III.

Best low-cost option

Olympus TG-6: click on the image to get the best price.
olympus tg5 underwater housing

The best price here

The Olympus TG-6 is the same size as the TG-5 and has minor improvements. The TG-6 will work in the slots of the TG-5. So if you are paying attention to price, look at the TG-5. This section applies to both the TG-5 and the TG-6. TG-6 is the best waterproof camera without the housing on the market.

Although we call it a low-cost camera, the TG-6 is a perfect underwater camera. It is a good option for snorkelling because it is waterproof without housing up to 15 meters. It is the only camera mentioned in this waterproof guide.

The TG-6 has a 12 MP high-speed sensor for excellent low-light performance and noise reduction. It records 4k video and RAW photos and has built-in WIFI, making it easy to transfer images on the go. It’s important to mention that this camera has no complete manual control like the Canon G7X and Sony RX100 series. This should be fine for amateur photographers who don’t want to consider camera settings. But if you want more control, you’ll be happier with one of the other cameras we mentioned above.

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Thanks a lot, and have a happy photo-diving day:-)