Equipment: Your first underwater camera

Not a GoPro. They’re handy, and they have lovely wide angle lenses, but they will frustrate you, and everyone around you.

For a real camera to get started, to take travel-diving with you, that’s not a DSLR, the list isn’t a huge one.

  • Olympus TG-5
  • Canon G9x mark II
  • Canon G7x mark II
  • Sony RX100 mark V

Firstly, I’m only mentioning current, latest model cameras. For example, the Olympus TG-4 is a lovely camera, and I’d recommend it as much as the TG-5, but the TG-5 is the latest one.

Here they are side by side in my favourite camera review site, DPReview.com.

Olympus TG-5

Cost: $450USD
Pros:

  • Small & thin, even when in use. Can fit in a BCD pocket, with the housing!
  • The camera itself is waterproof, perfect against small leaks due to an imperfect seal (common with new divers with new cameras).
  • Reasonable underwater mode
  • Best macro mode of any compact camera.
  • Reasonable lens

Cons:

  • Minimal customisation and control.

Important Specs:

  • 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor
  • f/2.0 – f/4.9
  • Angle equiv: 25mm – 100mm
  • Minimal focal distance: 1cm
  • 12MP (4000 x 3000 px)
  • Video:
    • 4k (3840 x 2160) @ 30fps
    • FullHD (1920 x 1080) @ 60fps

Canon G9x mark II

Cost: $500USD
Pros:

  • Great lens

Cons:

  • Minimal focal distance isn’t fantastic for macro

Important Specs:

  • 1 inch CMOS sensor
  • f/2.0 – f/4.9
  • Angle equiv: 28mm – 84mm
  • Minimal focal distance: 5cm
  • 20MP (5472 x 3648 px)
  • Video:
    • FullHD (1920 x 1080) @ 60fps

This is the latest iteration of the Canon Powershot S-series cameras. Started with the S90, S95, S100, S100 and the last was the S120. When they changed the sensor from 1/1.7″ to a full 1″, they changed the model.

Small, portable and very capable. This was Canon’s first attempt to take the 1″ compact mantle from Sony.

Don’t let people talk you out of the official Canon marine housing. It’s fine, and at a great price.

Canon G7x mark II

*EDITOR’S CHOICE*

Cost: $700USD
Pros:

  • Great lens

Cons:

  • Minimal focal distance isn’t fantastic for macro

Important Specs:

  • 1 inch CMOS sensor
  • f/1.8 – f/2.8
  • Angle equiv: 24mm – 100mm
  • Minimal focal distance: 5cm
  • 20MP (5472 x 3648 px)
  • Video:
    • FullHD (1920 x 1080) @ 60fps

The G7x is the reboot of Canon’s G-series compact cameras, which finished with the much loved Canon G16. Like with the G9x, when they upgraded the sensor, they changed the name.

As before, don’t let people talk you out of the official Canon marine housing. It’s fine, and at a great price.

Sony RX100 mark V

Cost: $1000USD
Pros:

  • Highest resolution LCD screen of the four cameras here (1.2MP)
  • Brightest flash of the four here.
  • up to 24fps still shooting.
  • 120fps FullHD video

Cons:

  • Minimal focal distance isn’t fantastic for macro

Important Specs:

  • 1 inch CMOS sensor
  • f/1.8 – f/2.8
  • Angle equiv: 24mm – 70mm
  • Minimal focal distance: 5cm
  • 20MP (5472 x 3648 px)
  • Video:
    • 4k (3840 x 2160) @ 30fps
    • FullHD (1920 x 1080) @ 120fps

If this camera looks a lot like the Canon G7x, you can thank Canon’s engineers. This is Sony’s fifth version of this camera, and they kept adding stuff that underwater photographers don’t care about. Pop up viewfinder? More articulate screen? Useless to us.

But then they added 120fps FullHD video, and all was right in the world. I can’t say it’s worth the $1000USD price tag, though.

In fact, I’m still very happy with my aging Sony RX100 mark 2, which can be bought for a steal these days (any second hand, or not-latest model RX100 would be a great buy). Only the mark 1 I would pass on, due to sensor improvements with the mark 2 and above. The mark 3, 4 and 5 all have the exact same body shape, and so use the same underwater housing – this may affect your purchase choice as well.

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