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There have been many improvements in the compact camera lines over the past few years. Larger sensors, faster focusing, and more controls have all led to a selection of cameras that work smoothly, keep size tiny and are functional with a variety of lenses and accessories to round out your underwater photography experience. Sony and Canon have both given their compact cameras one inch sensors, and greatly improved focus speeds over the cameras of a few years ago. Olympus continued to add features to their cameras while keeping both price and size down.
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The rest of the camera's highlights include Wi-Fi for smartphone connectivity (via an app), GPS, a built-in eCompass, and a temperature sensor. You can embed data from the sensors in your images when you edit them, thanks to a dedicated app by Olympus. And the 3-inch LCD display means navigating through all the camera's features is easy. The screen is considerably sharper than one found in the device's predecessor.
The A7 III, with its compact and ergonomic design, has been a very popular camera for video recording. The battery life is drastically improved compared to the previous A7 Series cameras, which was a primary complaint of Sony Alpha users and is particularly beneficial for underwater video, as it allows you to shoot for much longer without the need to open the housing. The A7 III also has dual SD card slots, which play an additional role in the maximum allotted time you can record underwater without having to open the housing. The auto-focus during video works very well.
What is the best camera for underwater photography? As you may know from reading the Underwater Photography Guide, it is important to select a compact camera that offers full manual controls, the ability to shoot in RAW, HD video, and the ability to accept wide-angle and macro wet lenses. We need to look at not only the camera features, but the quality of available underwater housings.
The Panasonic Lumix GH5s has been the go-to mirrorless camera for video use over the last two years and even with the advent of newer full frame mirrorless cameras (as listed above) the GH5s still holds its own as a professional video system. There are various underwater housings available for the GH5s and with Nauticam’s newest version of the NA-GH5 you have the option of including an M28 bulkhead for use with HDMI 2.0 and the Atomos Ninja V recorder.
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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The Canon G7X III is a tiny camera with a large 1-inch, 20 MP sensor, a direct competitor to the Sony RX100 series cameras. It is an excellent, fast-focusing camera with great image quality and has dedicated macro focus. The camera also boasts 4K video, slow motion video, a bigger image buffer, a new stacked sensor, a better image processor, and quicker burst shooting over the G7X II.
When combined with a wet macro lens (diopter), super macro photography is within reach. The tiniest details of the smallest subjects can be captured with this set up (once you get a little practice in of course). With the RX100 VI we recommend using the Bluewater +7 if you are just getting the hang of macro and super macro photography. The Nauticam Compact Macro Converters (CMC-1 & CMC-2) are top of the line wet lenses with amazing lens sharpness but have a lot of magnification and can be a little more difficult to use.
The Sony RX 100 III is one of the most popular options for underwater photographers looking for the balance between image quality, price, size and ease of use. It’s a step up from the RX 100 II. This model has a better video bit-rate and adds an electric viewfinder. The RX 100 focuses faster that most other compact cameras. It’s a great option for pro photos without the weight and bulk of a dSLR camera.
The design of the Fujifilm FinePix XP140 is fun and kid-friendly, making it a solid choice for family holidays, but this doesn't mean it skimps on imaging tech. While it's not going to challenge something like the Olympus Tough TG-6, it's a capable little camera in its own right, able to shoot 4K video (albeit at a disappointing 15p) and equipped with an impressive 5x optical zoom lens with an equivalent focal range of 28-140mm, and all this comes at an extremely friendly sub-£200 price tag. A new scene recognition mode helps the XP140 assess for what it's photographing (which goes some of the way towards compensating for a lack of manual controls), and the controls are well laid-out and easy to use, even when in murky underwater conditions. For the price, this is a really solid buy.
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