Updated January, 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
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Panasonic Lumix LX10
If we were going to purchase a camera today, it would be the Panasonic Lumix LX10. It is the best compact snorkeling camera if you want the maximum photographic control over your images in a compact 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.
But what makes the LX10 stand out as better than 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. So for great photographic controls, and excellent pictures and videos, it is the best option right now.
There are a couple of housing options. The Ikelite LX10 Housing in white above is the more
affordable, but it's a little bulky. There is a Nauticam option, but it's nearly twice the price.
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.
Canon G9X II - with Fantasea FG9X Housing
The Canon G9X II has the same 1" sensor as its big brother below, the G7X, but in a smaller body size.
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 has less physical controls, and relies on a 3" touch screen
for many control changes; though the Fantasea FG9X
housing 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 is the newer, updated version of what we use for our compact snorkeling cameras. It's a good camera, with excellent image quality, fast focusing, and a fast lens. But with the second version it lost 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 auto white balance to be very good at shallow snorkeling depths, so the lack of easy white balance may not be a huge drawback for you. But if you dive into deeper water to take pictures, this could be a big drawback.
There are seven different underwater housings available for this camera. We use the Canon housing with our original G7X, but we would be tempted to try the Fantasea FG7X II housing at the same price as the Canon.
What is great about this camera is its 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.
Sony RX100 & Sony Housing
The Sony RX100 has been out for awhile, and is still an amazing snorkel camera at a bargain price when paired with the MPK-URX100A Sony housing. It has the same 1" sensor as the G7X. 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? If you want to spend less than the excellent Panasonic LX10 above, then the earlier models are the choice. Otherwise we recommend the Panasonic.
SeaLife DC2000 HD
The SeaLife DC2000 HD is made specifically for diving. It has an inner camera you can remove and use outside the housing. It is actually waterproof to 60 feet itself. 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.
We talked with SeaLife about testing this camera at a trade show. But they did not follow through. So based on the few reviews we have seen of it, it is hard to recommend, compared to the other compact snorkeling cameras on this page. Focusing and shooting speeds may not be great, and image quality and colors do not seem to be as good as they should be for the sensor size.
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.