Best Picture Quality and Durability
Updated – January 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.
Still, if you want a real photographic tool, compact snorkeling cameras are the best system to get, for size, great image quality, controls, and durability.
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 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 III With Fantasea FG7X III Housing
The Canon G7X III (also available here at B&H) is a great camera. We both use the first version of this camera, the Canon G7X, which you can read a full review about here. We love this camera. The Mark III version is different, and better than our earlier version in many ways, except for one very important feature, the ability to set a custom white balance with one button push, that was lost both in the Mark II and Mark III. Read more about that below.
The G7X series of cameras all 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 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. The Mark III initially had an issue with focus problems during video, but that has apparently been fixed with updated firmware. The Mark III has much improved video, offering 4K at 30 frames per second, or Full HD video at 120 FPS.
The big downside to both the Mark II and Mark III compared to our original camera is that our camera allowed you to program a button to set a custom white balance, with a quick single button push. It takes about ten button pushes to accomplish the same task with the later versions. Note that all of these cameras can shoot in RAW format, which may mean you don’t care about setting a white balance for still pictures.
The good news is that the auto underwater white balance available in the G7X series is excellent, better than any other camera we have used, particularly at most common shallow snorkeling depths. It is so good that we rarely use the custom white balance feature anymore.
The picture below came straight out of our G7X camera without any software editing, showing what amazing colors it captures.
But, if you freedive, and you don’t shoot in RAW format which allows you to set your white balance colors in post processing, being able to set a custom white balance may be very important, and a big drawback to the Mark II and III. It may also be important for setting a custom white balance in videos, when freediving. In those situations, we would definitely recommend the Panasonic LX10 camera below, which does allow easy custom white balance settings.
For some reason Canon did not make an underwater housing for the G7X III. On Canon’s website, they say the housing for the G7X II is compatible with the Mark III, but multiple photography diving websites say it is not compatible.
Unfortunately the housing options have gotten more expensive. 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.
There are much more expensive aluminum housings for the G7X available too. You will also find a much cheaper option by Sea Frogs 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. It also has 4K video.
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.
The only version of the SONY RX100 line we would consider for snorkeling, is the RX100 VA (here at B&H). This camera has a 20MP 1″ sensor, and a fast 24-70mm Zeiss zoom lens, at F1.8 to F2.8.
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.
The housing available for this camera is the Sony MPK-URX100A housing (B&H here).
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.