Updated August, 2019
For over a decade we have both used compact snorkeling cameras with separate underwater housings, and have never had one flood. And in the last few years this type of camera has gotten much much better, adding professional features like fast, wide angle zoom lenses, fast shutter and focusing speeds, better high ISO performance, and big 1" sensors for highly detailed images. And with these improvements the prices have increased. But if you want a real photographic tool, we still think this is the best system to get, for its compact size, great image quality and controls.
Most importantly, these types of waterproof housings are very
durable and are far less likely to leak and fail than waterproof
cameras. Snorkeling is hard on cameras.
The other great benefit of these compact snorkeling cameras is how handy and useful they are out of the water, as a travel camera.
We share our most recommended cameras of this type on this
Note: Our suggestions come from hands-on experience. We hope you find them helpful. You can help us if you purchase from the links below. We may make a small commission, at no extra cost to you. Thank you.
Canon G9X II - with Fantasea FG9X Housing
We think for a snorkeler who prefers a small camera and is not looking to spend too much, this is a very good option.
There are a number of drawbacks. It does not have a lot of physical controls, and relies on a 3" touch screen
for many control changes; though the Fantasea FG9X
housing (also available here at B&H), allows you to
access many of the touch screen settings. And like the newer G7X II, it
has difficult to reach manual white balance settings. So if you dive down getting good color in deeper waters may be an issue. Finally, it has a
fast F2.0 lens at wide angle, but that slows to F4.9 on the zoomed end.
So in lower light, if you want to zoom, the chances of blurry fish are
It has a little shorter zoom range than its G7X II brother, at 28–84mm
(35mm equivalent). It does have optical image stabilization, and 1080p
HD video at 60 frames per second. The camera focuses quickly and can shoot 6 pictures per second in burst mode. Battery
life is slightly improved in this second version, but is still not
great, so get a second battery. The updated version has a new sensor
that offers lower noise, and much faster shooting in RAW.
The Fantasea FG9X
housing not only has buttons that allow you to control the touch
screen, it also has a built in moisture sensor that alerts you if there
is a leak in the housing.
Canon G7X II - with Fantasea FG7XII Housing
The Canon G7X II (also available here at B&H), is the newer, updated version of what we use for our compact snorkeling cameras, and we still love ours. It's a great camera, with excellent image quality, fast focusing, very good colors, and a fast lens. The second version improved some things on the camera, but it did lose the wonderful ability of the original G7X to program a button on the back for a one button push manual white balance setting.
Now, to be fair, we have found the underwater white balance to be better than any other camera we have used at shallow snorkeling depths, so the lack of easy manual white balance may not be a huge drawback for you. We now rarely use the manual white balance on our cameras because the underwater settings are really very good. But if you dive into deeper water to take pictures, this could be a drawback of the newer camera. The picture below came straight out of our G7X camera without any software editing, showing what amazing colors it captures.
There are seven different underwater housings available for this camera. We use the Canon housing, also here on B&H, with our original G7X, but for not much more money than the Canon we would be tempted to try the Fantasea FG7X II housing (here on B&H). B&H has a discounted kit price for the G7X II with the Fantasea housing here.
Besides geat colors, this camera also has a wonderful big 1" sensor that allows you to crop pictures heavily and retain detail. The sensor has amazing high ISO performance (low noise). It also has a very sharp 24 to 100mm lens that is very fast at F1.8 to only F2.8 when fully zoomed out. That makes it a much more usable zoom lens that can capture moving fish without blurring as much. It also has great image stabilization and very fast focusing, which all add up to sharp pictures of fish.
the faster and longer zoom lens, this camera is larger than the G9X II,
and has more physical button controls and dials, for more photographic
You can read our complete review of the original G7X here.
Panasonic Lumix LX10
The Panasonic Lumix LX10, (also available here on B&H) has a lot of potential to be a great snorkeling camera, but the housing options are very limited. It is a very good compact snorkeling camera if you want the maximum photographic control over your images in a small camera. It uses a 1" sensor for excellent image detail, has a very sharp Leica lens with a 24-72mm zoom, and it is super fast with a F1.4-2.8 f-stop range. The maximum zoom range is pretty short compared to other cameras on this page.
Where the LX10 stands out compared to the Canon G7X II or the Sony RX100 line is that you can relatively easily make manual white balance settings and even store four different manual settings. It also provides nearly DSLR-like control options that you can adjust to your needs, and includes the ability to program a focus button on the back, instead of having to do a half push of the shutter button for auto focus. Additionally it offers 4K video.
The most affordable housing for this camera, the Ikelite LX10 housing, is a little bulky.
If there is one drawback to this camera it may be the short zoom range, which limits it slightly when used out of the water.
Sony RX100 & Sony Housing
The Sony RX100 (also here on B&H), has been out for awhile, and is still a good snorkel camera at a decent price when paired with the Sony MPK-URX100A housing (B&H here). It has the same 1" sensor as the G7X II. But its 28 to 100mm zoom lens is not as fast on the long end at F1.8 to F4.9, nor does it have as wide a zoom range. It does have much better battery performance than the Canon cameras. Note below that later versions of the RX100 have a different lens that is faster.
It provides RAW, and full manual controls, with a front and rear control ring like the Canon G9X II and G7X II.
Another drawback of the Sony is that there is no easy way to do manual white balance. It requires a number of button pushes through menus.
Currently there many companies that make housings for the Sony RX100 line of cameras, although third party brands can be very expensive. The Sony MPK-URX100A housing works with all models of the RX100, except the RX100 VI. Also, some buttons and dials do not work with different models.
Sony RX100 II, III, IV, V, VI
There are now six versions of this camera available, each more expensive. It's dang confusing. The RX100 II adds a tilted LCD screen, WiFi, hot shoe and a higher ISO range. The RX100 III adds a pop-up electronic viewfinder and the lens zoom range changes to 24-70mm and is faster at F1.8-2.8. The RX100 IV changes to a stacked CMOS sensor that allows for very high speed shooting at 16 frames per second, but keeps the same lens. The RX100 V adds phase detection auto focus and even faster continuous shooting speeds at 24 fps. The RX100 VI has a new longer zoom lens from 24 to 200mm, at F2.8 to 4.5. It also has a touch screen that tilts. The longer zoom lens on the RX100VI may prove an issue with underwater housings.
Battery life is best with the first three versions, but declines heavily with the last three.
Which version should you choose? It just depends on what features you want, and your budget.
SeaLife DC2000 HD
The SeaLife DC2000 HD is made specifically for diving, and we have tested it out for snorkeling. It has an inner camera you can remove and use outside the housing, that itself is waterproof to 60 feet. And its waterproof housing has big buttons for easy underwater use. It also uses a 1" sensor, so image quality should be good. But unlike all the other cameras on this page it uses a fixed focal length lens, with no physical zoom option. But it is a very fast lens, at F1.8.
So what did we think of the camera when we tested it? Unfortunately we were not very impressed. The camera has a hard time getting anywhere near as good of colors underwater as our Canon G7X, that uses the same 1" sensor. The images did not seem particularly sharp or detailed, again compared to our Canon. Getting good pictures is challenging with this camera. And the fixed focal length lens we found to not be wide enough. And when you add on the optional wide angle lens, the entire camera becomes much heavier and bulkier (and expensive). Finally, when snorkeling it is common to hold a camera with one hand, at arms length, and the camera tilted back. Doing that was not easy, because there was no good place for your thumb, with the big buttons placed high up on the back.
Cell phones with cameras have wiped out the market for affordable compact cameras. So camera manufacturers have all shifted to more expensive, higher end cameras with 1" sensors.
If you want to spend less than the cameras above, really your only option now is to get a "tough" camera that is waterproof without a housing. Read our review of those here.