The Sony A7S II has been a go-to mirrorless camera for underwater video since its release in September of 2015. For the Sony loyalists looking for top-of-the-line image quality in a small and compact form, the A7S II is for you. It embodies a 12.2MP full frame CMOS sensor and can shoot true cinema 4K video at 24fps, as well as UHD 4K at 30fps and smooth slow-motion video at HD 1080p video up to 120fps. Paired with an impressive 5-axis in-camera image stabilization you can get ultra-sharp, steady footage even when shooting hand-held.
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Here, we have outlined the best cameras for underwater video in order from best to last-best. Yes -- indeed the last camera mentioned has been classified as ‘last-best’ since if it were not an excellent choice for underwater video, we would not put it on this list! Here we will walk you through some of the key points that make each camera great for underwater video and hopefully make the process of choosing which underwater video camera is best for you, a little bit easier.
If the DC2000 is SeaLife's serious camera, the Micro 2.0 WiFi is its fun one. With a fish-eye lens, a 200-foot depth rating, and big buttons that are easy to press, even when wearing gloves, it's a point-and-shoot for deep sea exploration. Add-on lights are available, also rated for extreme depths, to shed some light on subjects obscured by murky waters.
Another highly sought-after, and relatively exclusive, feature within the video camera realm is the ability to record in RAW or ProRes. These are uncompressed formats that maximize the information gathered by the sensor and provide you with extended flexibility when it comes to color grading and post-processing. As mentioned, this feature is quite an exclusive one and only available in a select few cameras on the market with good processors (again, excluding high-end cinema systems). Some select cameras can record in ProRes Raw with an Atomos Ninja V external recorder. Nauticam offers a housing for the Ninja V for use with your underwater system.
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Canon is consistently a leading manufacturer of cameras and lenses in the video realm and the 1DX MkII is their flagship camera. The color science that is characteristic of Canon systems is highly sought-after and the sharpness of their lenses is not to be understated. If you are looking for a top-of-the-line DSLR that functions not only as an amazing stills camera but also as a professional-grade video camera, the Canon 1DX MkII is for you. The downside, is that the underwater housings are somewhat larger than the other housings listed in this guide.
The Sony A6500 and A6400 are Sony’s top-of-the-line cropped sensor mirrorless cameras. They feature a 24MP APS-C CMOS sensor and records UHD 4K up to 30fps. The Sony A6500 offers many of the same pro-level features characteristic of Sony’s a7 series cameras, such as 5-axis image stabilization and S-Log picture profiles. The Sony A6400 offers the capability of shooting with hybrid log gamma, and an improved color science from the A6300 and A6500. Thanks to the smaller sensor, however, both cameras come at a much lower price point than the full frame a7 series.
The RX100 VA introduced an increased image buffer, burst shooting up to 24fps, and customizable menus. This is excellent for photographers seeking to capture quick pelagic animals that need good burst speed and more processing power. The RX100 VA still carries all of the advantages of the RX100 V including the 315 point phase detection autofocus system and the 20 MP/1" Exmor RS BSI CMOS sensor. The main advantage of the RX100 VA over the VI is that the RX100 VA is able to shoot with both macro and wide-angle wet lenses on the same dive. This is because the lens is shorter and has less zoom capability than the RX100 VI. You also don't need to purchase additional ports/adapters for dedicated wide angle and macro set ups.
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When we say "waterproof camera" we can mean a number of things, so it's important to define our terms. There are two main popular types of waterproof camera: waterproof compacts and action cameras. Waterproof compacts tend to resemble an ordinary compact camera, with the main difference being that they're, well, waterproof. They tend to be marked out by distinctive bright colouring (useful if you drop them underwater), and the main edge they have over action cameras is the option of an optical zoom lens, allowing you to get closer to your subjects without suffering loss of picture quality.
Before you start digging into the reviews, a few notes on choosing a cam that's right for you. You'll definitely want to consider frame rate, expressed as frames per second (fps). Some action cameras offer up to 240fps recording, while others only go to 30fps. For standard playback, 30fps is perfectly fine. It's when you want to slow footage down in editing to create dramatic scenes that frame rate matters. Footage captured at 240fps can be slowed down and played back smoothly at one-quarter speed. You may also want to go for a cinematic look, in which case you'll want one that has a 24fps capture option, the same speed used by most Hollywood productions.
“As the Directors of Photography for Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch” we have the responsibility to bring home high quality professional images that will be viewed by tens of millions of people worldwide. This is an awesome responsibility considering the incredibly harsh environment that we work in. All of our photographic systems are challenged by salt water, freezing spray, and violent collisions with hydraulic cranes and swinging crab pots – not to mention the times that we loose our footing and fall or get washed across the deck by waves. In this crazy environment our most reliable tool has always been the SplashCam” …more>
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You'll also want to keep your specific needs in mind. Not all cameras are suitable for every sport, and certain form factors lend themselves better to certain activities. On top of that, different shapes allow for different mounting accessories and possibilities. If you want to catch a unique perspective, like an under-skateboard shot, you'll want to pay close attention to size.
The next most immediate specification to consider would be the frame rate that your video camera allows you to record in. Top-of-the-line video cameras record at 4K resolution and 60 frames per second (fps), giving your footage that smooth, slow-motion cinema look that everybody loves. This is a highly sought-after capability and only a select few cameras on the market (excluding high-end cinema systems) provide this feature.
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There are some cameras that were made specifically for being used underwater for example the SeaLife DC1400. But, just from reading the mixed bag of customer reviews on Amazon, it’s clear that it’s not the best underwater camera for scuba diving. The buttons stick, the flash doesn’t work, the shutter delay is insanely slow… just a few of the problems you can run into.
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Lead camera analyst for the PCMag consumer electronics reviews team, Jim Fisher is a graduate of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he concentrated on documentary video production. Jim's interest in photography really took off when he borrowed his father's Hasselblad 500C and light meter in 2007. He honed his writing skills at retailer B&H... See Full Bio