Waterproofing is important to consider if you'll be recording footage underwater or even around water. Some waterproof cameras can go deeper than others, and some have built-in waterproofing so that you don't need to think about extra housing. And if you're already invested in a system, like GoPro, which uses a proprietary mount, then sticking with what you've got can help save money on extra accessories.
Belonging to a previous generation of GoPro, the HERO5 Black is still a hugely impressive camera, one that can now be picked up for a reduced price with the advent of the HERO7. Like that model it shoots 4K video, albeit at a lower frame rate than the HERO6 or HERO7, and still has the useful 2in touchscreen on its rear. Full HD video can be shot at 120fps for super-slow-motion output, and it’s possible to shoot stills in Raw format, which gives you greater flexibility to tweak them in post-production. This was also the point at which GoPro HERO cameras received dual microphones, improving audio capture. If the HERO7 Black is too dear for you, this waterproof digital camera should more than satisfy your needs.
The Sony RX100 VA, VI & VII cameras are the latest additions to the Sony RX100 series and are packed with lots of awesome features for underwater photography. They are the top of line compact cameras to date. Autofocus is lightning quick in both cameras, which is very beneficial for underwater application. Both feature a large 1" sensor with 20 MP resolution, which provides excellent image quality, fast autofocus, useful video modes (like slow motion) and full manual controls. The RX100 VI's key upgrade is its enhanced zoom using a 24-200 mm f/2.8 – 4.5 lens. The RX100 VA's key upgrade is 24fps sequential shooting, enhanced image buffer, and a customizable menu system. The RX100 VII has some minor improvments over the VI.
So what makes a good underwater camera? In addition to image and video quality, there are several other important factors to consider, like the overall quality of the camera's optics, including zoom range and maximum aperture. The latter is crucial for low-light photography, as larger aperture typically results in better photos since it allows more light in. It also minimizes motion blur, making larger apertures perfect for action shots. (Note: The smaller the number, the larger the aperture.)
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.
Action cameras have replaced traditional point-and-shoots and camcorders for many types of underwater and outdoor work. Their small, go-anywhere designs and ultra-wide lenses make them ideal for mounting—whether it be to a surfboard or dive helmet—and they are built tough. While many of these cameras still require an external case to be waterproof, the GoPro Hero8 Black can go down to 33 feet without one, and offers class-leading video stabilization, making it our top pick.