Best Picture Quality and Durability
Updated – April 2023
For over a decade and half we have both used compact snorkeling cameras with separate underwater housings. One of the best features of waterproof housings, is that they are very durable and are far less likely to leak and fail than waterproof cameras. Snorkeling is hard on cameras. We spend long hours in the water on trips, and take thousands of pictures and videos. They get banged around a lot, and we have never had a housing leak, or a camera failure.
The market for these cameras has changed in the last number of years. Cell phone cameras decimated compact camera sales. The only real market now for compact cameras are photographic enthusiasts. That means there are far fewer compact cameras available, and most now have more professional features, like manual controls, fast lenses, fast focusing, RAW format options, and big 1″ sensors for highly detailed images and better high ISO performance. Prices are also much higher than they used to be for a good compact snorkeling camera. They also make very good travel cameras on land.
Still, if you want a real photographic tool, with lots of manual controls, compact snorkeling cameras are the best system to get, for size, great image quality, and durability. If you would prefer a more automatic camera, then we think most snorkelers will be happier with, and get better results from, an Olympus TG-6 in a housing.
We share our most recommended compact cameras with separate housings on this page.
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, from Amazon or other companies, at no extra cost to you.
Suggested Compact Snorkeling Cameras and Waterproof Housings
Canon G7X II or III With a Housing
The Canon G7X III (also available here at B&H) is the newest version available of the camera we use. But you should also consider the Canon G7X II (also available here at B&H), because it has a feature the G7X III lost, and a more affordable housing option.
We both use the first version of this camera, the Canon G7X, which you can read a full review about here. We love our cameras.
All of the G7X series of cameras have a big 1″ sensor, which provides much improved image quality over smaller sensors found in many compact cameras and all waterproof cameras. That big sensor allows you to crop pictures and still retain detail. The sensor also has very good high ISO performance (low noise).
All versions of this camera also have a very sharp 24-100mm 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. They all also have great image stabilization. The Mark II and Mark III versions have faster focusing than our first version.
Both the Mark II and Mark III no longer have the ability to set a custom white balance with one button push, which our first version cameras do. Creating a custom white balance with the Mark II and III takes more button pushing. This only matters if you want to get good colors using a JPG file format, and don’t shoot in RAW.
The Mark II retains an automatic underwater scene mode option that the our camera has. And within that mode you can quickly change to a quick focus setting, which is good for capturing fast moving fish, prioritizing higher shutter speeds. And you can also select a macro mode, for closer focusing. This automatic mode does a great job getting good colors underwater, in most situations at snorkeling depths. The picture below was taken with that mode on our cameras without any editing. We use that mode a lot on our cameras, and rarely set a custom white balance. That means we are getting good colors and using JPG file formats. Again, this features does not matter if you shoot RAW.
The Mark III no longer offers an automatic underwater scene mode. That, combined with the fact that setting a custom white balance is more challenging, means that you probably will want to shoot in RAW format with this camera, and post process your colors, instead of taking JPG pictures that have the colors set at capture.
Canon also stopped offering their own inexpensive underwater housing for the Mark III. Canon’s website says the housing for the G7X II is compatible with the Mark III, but multiple photography diving websites say it is not compatible.
So why would you buy a Mark III vs. a Mark II? The big improvement of the Mark III is that it offers 4K video at 30 frames per second, or 1080p videos at 120 FPS. Both our cameras and the Mark II only offer 1080p, not 4K. If like us, you don’t care about 4K video, and 1080p is good enough, then we would get the Mark II. If super high quality video is very important to you, then the Mark III would be the better option. You will likely have to shoot pictures in RAW though for the best colors.
But, if 4K video is important, then also consider the Panasonic LX10 below, because it has 4K video but also has easier manual white balance options.
Housing Options for the Canon G7X II and III
Unfortunately the housing options have gotten more expensive. For the Canon G7X III the only fairly affordable option is the Ikelite Canon G7X III Action underwater housing, which we would skip, since it does not provide full control of all functions of the camera. The next two options are similarly priced at around $500, the Fantasea FG7X III S, and the next step up is the full featured Ikelite G7X III housing at about $600. We would probably get the Fantasea.
For the Canon G7X II, we would get the affordable Canon WP-DC55 housing. There are also many other housings available by different companies.
You will also find a much cheaper housing options by Sea Frogs and other companies on Amazon that we definitely don’t recommend. We had one and returned it. It has a number of quality and usage problems, the biggest being that you can’t see the screen on the back with your arms extended and the camera tilted a bit, which is a common way to take pictures.
Panasonic Lumix LX10 With Ikelite Housing
The Panasonic Lumix LX10, (also available here on B&H) has a lot of potential to be one of the best compact snorkeling cameras, but the housing options are very limited. It is a very good for snorkeling 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. That does not matter a lot underwater, but may limit the camera when used out of the water for travel pictures.
Where the LX10 stands out compared to the Canon G7X III 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.
The camera can shoot in a burst mode of 10 frames per second, which could be very helpful for catching some fish action.
It also has 4K video at 30 frames per second, and 1080p video at 120 frames per second. But it is important to note that it does not use the full sensor size when shooting 4K videos, and effectively crops the video down to a 36mm perspective. You also can’t play back a video when in the housing because that is a touch screen function.
One cool feature is the 4K image mode, where you basically take video, and can pull out 8 megapixel still images from the video.
Another interesting feature is a post-focus mode, that takes multiple pictures at different focus points, and combines them to get a sharp image. This could be handy in calm bright conditions, on hard to focus on macro subjects.
The most affordable housing for this camera, the Ikelite LX10 housing, is a little bulky. There are other housings available, but they start at a $1000 and go up from there.
Sony RX100 VA With Sony Housing
Sony has been making the RX100 series of cameras for a long time now. There are so many versions of them, with different features, that it is confusing. They all use a big 1″ sensor, for great image details. They all offer lots of professional features, and manual controls. And they are all fairly compact cameras, with excellent image quality. Sony’s custom white balance colors are not noted to be as good as Canon, which is reason enough for us to stick with Canon compact snorkeling cameras. If you shoot RAW this does not matter.
We would choose this camera over the RX100 VII, because the VII has a longer zoom lens, that is slower. That longer zoom lens is not necessary for snorkeling, and it requires a much more expensive and bulky underwater housing. The camera itself also costs a lot more.
The RX100 VA has an identical body and buttons to the previous RX100 V. So all of the same underwater housings are compatible.
Looking for a More Affordable Option?
If you want to spend less than the compact snorkeling 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.
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If you felt like the technical camera features mentioned above were a bit of a mystery to you, you can learn what they all mean on this page.