Updated - January 2022
Are you considering getting a GoPro for snorkeling? Do you want a really small camera? Do you take mostly videos and don't mind a fish-eye like perspective? Do you want the camera to be almost fully automatic? If you answered yes, then a GoPro can be great for snorkeling. But it does have a number of limitations compared to other cameras you should be aware of.
On this page you can learn what model we recommend, the pros and cons of using a GoPro for snorkeling and what accessories you will need.
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. Thank you.
GoPro currently produces three models. The new Hero10 Black, Hero9 Black and the Hero8 Black. They also have a 360 degree camera called the Max that can be ignored for snorkeling.
The new GoPro Hero10 Black looks just like the Hero9 Black, with a front facing screen, but it has a new sensor that solves most of the problems that the GoPro Hero9 had that made us not recommend buying it.
GoPro pretty much copied the front screen from the popular DJI Osmo Action camera, but did it better, with bigger, easier to see screens on both sides.
The Hero9 had lots of problems, like a terrible touch screen, color and low light video quality problems, and it would often lock up, losing your footage.
The new sensor on the Hero10 fixes many of those problems, and gives the camera higher resolution still pictures, at 23mp, higher frames per second video, at 60fps when shooting 5.3K video, and 100 fps in 4K video. And the camera can provide 19mp still pictures pulled directly from the 5.3K video. Of course you will need a high power computer to process that video.
Another great new feature on the Hero10 for snorkelers is a new hydrophobic coating on the lens, that appears to work well at keeping water drops from clinging to it. So when you pop your camera out of the water to take a picture above the water, you should have less water drops on your screen.
Another really nice feature of the Hero10 is the ability to download video and pictures to your computer or phone using a cable, instead of only by WIFI or SD card removal.
It also has incremental improvements in its HyperSmooth vibration technology, and its horizon straightener.
The camera is waterproof down to 33 feet without a housing, and retains the flaps that fold down on the bottom for attaching handles and sticks, so you don't need a separate housing to attach things. But the housing for the Hero9 should work on the Hero10 for more depth and physical protection (read more below).
Still, initial reviews of the Hero10 indicate that the camera tends to overheat when shooting long videos. We are not sure if that would also be true underwater. Time will tell as snorkelers start to use this camera.
The Hero8 Black is still a very good option, and we would pick it over the Hero9, or maybe even the Hero10 if you shoot long videos, because of the overheating problems. It is different from earlier GoPro cameras because it has a built-in mount attachment feature, so you don't have to wrap the camera in another case to attach a handle. There is a series of accessories that integrate with it, like audio microphones, screens, and lights. They have upgraded the Hypersmooth stabilization to version 2.0, and there is a new LiveBurst mode, which captures 90 still images in 1.5 seconds, so you can grab the perfect picture of a moving fish. There is also a new way to select different digital "lenses" that essentially just crop the image into different formats, slightly mimicking different focal length lenses. There is also an improved HDR mode, for more vivid, sharp images. The unit is also waterproof down to 33 feet without a separate housing.
GoPro Hero10 Black Important Features
GoPro Hero9 Black Features
GoPro Hero8 Black Features
Which Would We Get?
If we wanted the front facing screen, we would get the Hero10. We would not buy a Hero9. For the price the Hero8 is now a bargain. It does not have the overheating issues of the other two cameras when shooting long videos, and the battery lasts much longer. It is a great option.
All of the GoPro cameras on this page are waterproof enough for snorkeling, without a housing. But they all have housings available for $50 or less that make them waterproof down to diving depths, and add protection to your camera from damage. It's a good insurance policy. Another benefit of using the camera with a housing is that it gives you bigger buttons for easier use underwater and it allows filter mounting options for improved underwater color in deeper waters.
These cameras are so small that some sort of handle is nearly essential. They don't have a standard tripod mount hole. They all now have mounts on the bottom that you can attach a variety of handles to.
A GoPro Hero10 Black, Hero9 Black or Hero8 Black with housing, an extra battery and some type of handle will cost you much less than any other good snorkeling camera with a housing. GoPro and many aftermarket companies also offer tons of accessories for the camera at very good prices.
In the water many snorkelers use a GoPro on a extended pole, where its small size makes it easy to handle this way. And the small size is also great for packing in your luggage.
The GoPro is really optimized for taking selfie video of action sports, like surfing, snowboarding, and mountain biking. It does a good job of that, including underwater while snorkeling.
Simple to Use
It's a very simple camera to use, since most all functions are automatic. You can make some menu setting changes, but for the most part you just push a button and let it figure everything out.
The View Screen Is Tiny
All of the GoPro cameras have touch screens, but they are tiny (and the touch screen does not work underwater, or if your finger is wet).
The Lens Is a Fisheye with No Zoom
These cameras are designed as sports selfie cameras, so they are super wide angle, which can be fine underwater, but it means you need to get very close to your subject to see any details. Also, the perspective of the lens is a fisheye, not linear, meaning vertical lines wrap into curves, particularly on the edges. The 170 degree field of view on the GoPro is equivalent to a 14mm fisheye lens (35mm equivalent). And it is a fixed lens with no zoom. There are perspective setting change options that mimic a zoom, but those are done digitally, which crop the image and reduce overall image size/detail.
Not Great Still Pictures, Poor Low Light Performance
These cameras have tiny sensors, which yield still pictures that cannot compare to compact cameras with bigger sensors. Image details, tonal range, sharpness, and low light performance all suffer by comparison to a good compact camera.
Auto Everything - Less Control
The camera also sacrifices controls for size. Almost everything is automatic. If you like more creative control of your pictures this is not the best camera.
Battery Life Is Limited
These cameras are so small that their battery life is fairly low compared to other cameras. We would buy extras.
Note: The remote control available for these cameras is cool, but it does not work underwater.
Besides the underwater housing above, these items are useful accessories to have for snorkeling with a GoPro.
Floating Handle or Strap
GoPros are small and they sink, so you really need a floating handle or strap for them. One diving friend has now found 50 of them on the ocean floor. So either get a floating handle, or make sure you have a wrist strap always attached. The GoPro handler has an official GoPro mount, and it floats and has a wrist strap. If you don't want to use a handle for your GoPro for snorkeling, make sure and get a floating wrist strap.
Get a Spare Battery or Two
GoPro is not renowned for long battery life. It's best to have a spare battery or two and swap out between snorkeling spots. For the reasonable price of an OEM GoPro battery we would avoid aftermarket batteries and their associated problems. Note that the Hero9 uses a different battery than the other models.
Many folks prefer to use an extending selfie stick to take videos with a GoPro while snorkeling. It allows you to place the camera down closer to the fish and corals. But it is not easy to find a selfie stick that holds up well in salt water. Most have parts that start to immediately rust and cause problems. But lots of folks have left good reviews about using the GoPro El Grande stick in salt water, while diving and snorkeling. It does extend longer, and is waterproof, so the tubes don't fill with water.
Get Anti-Fog Inserts
GoPro cameras can get hot shooting video, which can create moisture and fogging problems. Make sure and put an anti-fog insert in your housing before you snorkel to help prevent this.
Want to Shoot Cool Over/Under Pictures?
This is not an essential accessory, but a pretty cool and affordable one. These 6" domes make it possible to take those cool split above and below water pictures. It also increases your underwater field of view by 33%. I have not used one of these yet, but looking into the options the Telesin seems the most popular. It has a trigger for taking picture/videos. What I don't understand about it is that the trigger appears to block your view of the camera screen? Most of these have a plastic dome, which is safer to travel, but also very easy to scratch.