This is the quick and easy 2013 buying guide to the best snorkeling cameras currently available. I share your options from cheap and inexpensive to good to best, in a variety of types of cameras. The cameras below are our top choice snorkeling cameras of the different types, that I describe in much greater detail on their individual category pages. Click below each type to find more cameras in different price ranges.
It should help. Finding info on the best snorkeling cameras these days can be a pain because they keep coming out with new cameras almost every six months. So what people suggest in forums and on the web are often older models that are already gone, or their underwater housings are sold out (housings are now often made in short batches, since the companies don't plan on making the cameras for very long.)
If you are determined to spend as little as possible on a camera, this is going to be it. Image quality will be poor though.
Most people just buy disposable film cameras. But they are not the best snorkeling cameras, and only have 27 exposures. So you have to buy several of them for a trip. Get the camera below instead.
Snap Sights SS01 - Reloadable Film Camera
This is not your normal cheap disposable snorkeling camera.
Click here to read how to get the best results with this camera (throw away the film it comes with and use Kodak Sea Processing).
Remember that you pay for the camera, film and processing. If you plan on taking a lot of pictures and want to save money consider the next option.
This is the next step up in quality. These cameras will give you much better pictures, with better colors, and better controls. They are made waterproof from the start. These are generally not as durable as compact cameras with a separate housing, but they are good candidates for the best snorkeling cameras.
Olympus Stylus Tough TG-2 iHS
This is a follow-up on the very popular TG-1. This camera is leaps and bounds better than nearly all the other "tough" waterproof snorkel cameras available.
First, it has a F2.0 lens. That will make it easier to stop fish motion and get sharper pictures. The lens is 25mm at wide angle and zooms out to 100mm (35mm equiv.), a great range for snorkeling.
The TG-2 has improved focus speed over the TG-1, which is now super fast, a breakthrough in this type of camera. It also has great high ISO performance. It is waterproof down to 50 feet and is crush, drop and freeze resistant.
It has dual image stabilization, GPS, compass, manometer (water depth), and four different underwater white balance modes.
Plus it has a 3" OLED screen, and will shoot at 5fps at full resolution, or up to 60fps with it's 12mp CMOS sensor, as well as full 1080P HD movies.
Pentax just released this camera as competition for the Olympus above. It has a 16mp sensor, is waterproof to 45 feet, and has a 25-100mm zoom lens, with 1080p HD movies and a 3" screen.
Like the camera above this one now has a fast F2.0 aperture lens, plus it has a button on the back to quickly bring up the white balance settings.
From our experience, compact cameras with housings are the best snorkeling cameras. They are what we use, and give you an ideal blend of small size, reasonable cost, and good picture quality.
Canon S110 - with Canon WP-DC47 Housing
We use a slightly older version of this, the S90 (S95). The image quality of this is slightly lower in the corners, and the battery life is not as long, but it retains many of the nice features we love in our camera.
It has a fast lens at F2.0, with a useful zoom range of 24-120mm. There is a nice big 3" screen, image stabilization, and very good high ISO performance, as well as a RAW file option. It provides 1080P HD video.
The full manual controls really set this camera apart though. Besides a front and back control ring, you can set a button on back that allows you to adjust the white balance with one button push. We take a white balance setting for almost every shot, so this is wonderful.
Read my full review of the Canon S90/S95 for snorkeling here.
Olympus XZ-1 & Olympus PT-050 Housing
This is another of the best snorkeling cameras. It is similar in many ways to the Canon S110, with manual controls front and back, and an even faster lens at F1.8 to a surprising F2.5 the other end. It has a better 3" OLED screen. But in some areas it is not as good, like it's high ISO performance, and it's video is not as good. And setting white balance is not as easy.
If getting the highest technical image quality is most important to you, then you may want a mirrorless camera and housing. They are bulky though, and expensive.
Olympus E-PM1 & Olympus PT-EP06 Housing
For size, quality of image, and decent price, this is our pick for the best mirrorless snorkeling camera setup.
It gives you a 12.3mp sensor that is around four times bigger than a compact camera sensor. It will also autofocus much faster and shoots up to 5fps. It provides sensor-shift image stabilization, a 3" screen, and HD movies. It comes with a 28-43mm (35mm equiv.) lens. It is not a particularly fast lens at F3.4, but it has such good high ISO performance, up to an amazing 12800 ISO, that it just does not matter.
If you think that the best snorkeling cameras are small and lightweight, then you may want to consider a GoPro HD Hero3. This new version is twice as sharp as the old one, and it's new housing works great underwater. Having a very small camera when snorkeling can be very useful, both for packing in your luggage, and for just having less stuff to deal with in the water.