Updated March, 2019
So, you want a budget snorkeling camera to grab some memories? You are not looking for a complex photographic tool, and likely won't use the camera that much, so spending a bunch does not make sense.
That all makes sense to me. While I normally recommend higher end cameras with better features, the options on this page certainly fit the needs of a lot of people. So long as you are aware of the trade offs in durability and the quality of pictures and videos they produce, then have at it. Honestly it will cost $700 to get a significantly more durable camera. So we know a few people who buy two of these types of cameras, and keep one as a backup on a trip in case of failure; a good idea. Also, it can be a fun challenge to coax the best pictures you can out of a budget snorkeling camera, by learning what it can and cannot do. Then when you are ready to upgrade you will know better what you want. That is what we did.
Action Camera vs. Waterproof Camera - What's the Best Option?
We think at this price point, for someone inexperienced in photography, the best choice for a budget snorkeling camera is going to be the action cams. They have fast non-zooming lenses, which gives you a better chance of getting fish pictures and videos that are not blurry. And if you choose one that has a separate waterproof housing, it will also be very durable.
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Action cams have very wide angle fisheye lenses that do not have a mechanical zoom. They are more optimized for video, but can take still pictures. You need to be close to your subject with these wide angle lenses for your subject to be big in the picture. But as mentioned above, they generally have fast lenses, which is good for not having blurry fish pictures.
I have spent more time than I care to
say researching a good GoPro alternative that is both affordable, but
will also give good results while snorkeling. There are a ton of budget snorkeling camera options
by different companies, and each company has many models. I narrowed things down to companies that have been around awhile and are generally respected, like AKASO, YI, SJCAM and the outright cheapest snorkeling camera, the popular Campark. Next I looked for features that are important underwater, namely a diving/underwater mode for better colors, image stabilization, and an included waterproof housing.
AKASO V50 Pro - $120 - Available from Amazon here. Judging from features, reviews, and example videos I will be testing the Akaso V50 Pro on our next trip, and providing a full review. Sign up for our newsletter to see that review. For the price, this budget snorkeling camera offers what appears to be excellent video quality. And since it has a diving mode, that adjusts for the blue color underwater, the colors in the sample videos I could find look very good, compared to lower budget options like the Campark. It also offers digital image stabilization that really improves jerky looking videos. Plus it comes with an underwater housing, that will make this camera very durable.
For the price you get the camera, a waterproof housing, two batteries and charger, a remote control for when you are out of the water, and a pile of other accessories for different mounting options. Also, if you want to vlog with this camera it has an external microphone plug, which is great.
Watch the video below to get a good sense for the capability of this affordable snorkeling camera. Near the end there are shallower conditions to show you what to expect in those depths.
Olympus TG Tracker - $199 - Available at Backscatter here and Amazon here.
Normally priced at $350, this budget snorkeling camera has recently been heavily
discounted. This is a pretty amazing little action camera, that is part
of the Tough series from Olympus. This is a really small camera at only
1.37" x 2.22" x 3.67", with a tiny 1.5" view screen that folds out 90
What makes it different than the AKASO above, is that it has an even wider lens with a 204 degree field of view that is a very fast F2.0. It is also waterproof without needing a housing, although I think the AKASO housing is going to be more durable long term.
It takes excellent 4K video at 30 frames per second, and 8MP still pictures. It also offers good colors underwater without a filter thanks to either a manual underwater mode, or the camera will automatically change to underwater mode once it detects that it is 1.5 feet underwater.
Here is the other major difference between this camera and almost anything
else on the market. It's called the Tracker because it has GPS, compass, altimeter, barometer, accelerometer, thermometer, and water sensor. And it logs all of the data from those tools while taking
pictures or videos. It also has wifi for connecting with your phone. Do
you need any of that to take good snorkeling pictures? Nope. But it's a
pretty cool toy. Although amazingly complex in its features.
It also has a video light built in, which can be handy for macro work, but is not very bright overall.
This budget snorkeling camera has a standard tripod mount, and it comes with an adapter plate for attaching a GoPro type floating handle, which you will probably want.
Watch this video of a snorkeler using the TG Tracker. Notice when they dive down at 1:14 in the video that the TG Tracker automatically detects the depth and changes its color settings.
GoPro Hero 7 White - $199 - Available at Backscatter here and Amazon here.
GoPro is the leader in small action cameras. The Hero 7 White is the
only current model by GoPro in the sub $200 budget snorkeling camera price range. I don't yet
know if this takes better pictures and videos than the AKASO above. But
it does have some things I don't like as much about it. Namely, the
battery is built in, meaning you can't swap out a freshly charged one
during a day out snorkeling. That is not so great. It is waterproof,
without a housing, but I still think the housing on the AKASO will make
it more durable. And the White it is not compatible with the GoPro Super Suit housing.
As a type, these waterproof cameras are better at still pictures than the action cameras above, and they can also take very good videos. They have mechanical zoom lenses, and at their widest angle settings they are not nearly as wide as the action cameras below. The pictures are also less distorted on the edges, vs. the fisheye-like appearance of the action cameras. Overall this type of camera is not nearly as durable as a camera with a waterproof housing. Flooding and failure is not that unusual.
Fujifilm Finepix XP130 or XP120 - $129 / $100 - XP130 available from Amazon here and B&H here, and the XP120 from Amazon here and B&H here. The only significant difference between the XP130 and the XP120 is that the XP130 adds Bluetooth wireless communication so that you can control your camera with your phone, which has no value for snorkeling. The XP120 was part of a recall for a faulty power charger, so you might want to check your serial number, and if buying new maybe avoid that possible issue by getting the XP130.
This is really the only budget snorkeling camera under $200 that we feel at all comfortable recommending. And one strong advantage this camera has to the action cameras above is that it has a bigger 3" high resolution screen.
We know a number of snorkelers who are pleased with this camera for how they use it. The lens on it is not super sharp, and when used snorkeling the durability is not super high. But you can get some decent pictures with reasonably good colors from it, and the price can't be beat.
The camera is very small, but feels solid in your hands, and it has a solidly locking door for the battery and memory card access. And the camera gives a warning if it is not sealed correctly. Flooding does still happen on these budget snorkel cameras.
Maybe the biggest drawback to this budget snorkeling camera is that it has a fairly slow lens. It starts at F3.9 at wide angle, and slows to an F8 at full zoom. Basically that means that in all but the brightest conditions you will not want to use the zoom, because you will get blurry fish pictures. And even at wide angle, in low light results will be mixed. On the other hand, that zoom lens is going to be very handy when you are using the camera above the water on your travels. This camera does have optical image stabilization, which is preferable over electronic image stabilization. That does not help stop fish motion though.
In SR Auto mode the camera can automatically detect when you are trying to focus on something at macro distance and switches to macro mode. It also has two underwater shooting modes, for better color, the standard and a macro option.
In Program AE mode, you do have a preset underwater white balance option, but no manual white balance option.
Note: Fujifilm is releasing the new XP140 this month, from Amazon here, and B&H here. It is waterproof to 85 feet, has a new sensor, 4K 15p video, new menu system, and customizable function buttons. We will be testing the XP140 against the XP120/130 in April. Sign up for our newsletter to read that review.