This is the quick and easy 2016 buying guide to the best snorkeling cameras currently available. I share your options from best to good to cheap and inexpensive, 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.)
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 S120 - with Canon WP-DC51 Housing
For many years we used an older version of this, the S90. Both cameras have useful features for snorkelers, making the S120 our top pick.
It has a lens with a useful zoom range of 24-120mm that is fast F1.8 at wide angle and F5.7 zoomed out. There is a nice big 3" touch screen, image stabilization, and very good high ISO performance with it's 12mp sensor, as well as a RAW file option. It provides 1080p HD video, now on a dedicated button. And this camera has Wi-Fi.
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 often take a white balance setting, so this is wonderful.
This camera is even better than previous models for capturing moving fish because it has faster focusing speeds and a continuous shooting rate of 12 shots per second.
Canon G7X - with Canon WP-DC54 Housing
The G7X is another of the best snorkeling cameras (it's what we currently use), and is basically the big brother of the camera above. It has a sensor that is 3 times the size of the S120, which lets you crop into a picture and still retain details.
This camera has a fast F1.8-F2.8 lens, 24mm-100mm, 1080p/60fps HD video, image stabilization, full manual controls on front and rear control rings, and RAW capability.
It is physically larger than the S120, costs a bit more and creates big image files.
These cameras are second best. 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-4
The version before the TG-4, the TG-3, was so popular that it sold out of production, because these are the best of the waterproof cameras. The TG-4 is identical, with some added features, like a RAW file capture, underwater HDR mode, and new scene modes.
It has a fast F2.0 lens, 25-100mm, a great range for snorkeling. It also has fast focusing speeds. Both make it easier to stop fish motion and get sharper pictures. The TG-4 also has a burst shooting mode up to 5 frames per second at full resolution and full 1080p HD video.
It is waterproof down to 50 feet and is crush, drop and freeze resistant. The TG-4 has good high ISO performance with its 16mp sensor, dual image stabilization, GPS, compass, manometer (water depth), and four different underwater white balance modes. Plus it has a 3" LED screen.
Ricoh took over Pentax and they are continuing the Pentax WG line with Ricoh WG-4 camera. It has a 16mp CMOS sensor, is waterproof to 45 feet, has a fast F2.0 25-100mm zoom lens, a 3" screen and 1080p HD video with a dedicated button.
A nice feature of this camera is that it has a button on the back to quickly bring up the white balance settings.
If you think that the best snorkeling cameras are small and lightweight, then you may want to consider a GoPro Hero4 Silver. This version and the one before, the Hero3+, have sharper lenses, better sensors and a better port on the housing that 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.