Updated - January 2020
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 Hero8 Black, the Hero7 Black, and the Hero7 Silver. They also have a new 360 degree camera called the Max that can be ignored for snorkeling.
The new Hero8 Black, also available here at GoPro.com, is what we would get if you are not on a budget. It is different from all previous 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. And they will be releasing a series of new accessories that integrate with it, like audio microphones, screens, and lights. There are a couple new features that might make the Hero8 Black better for snorkelers than previous versions. 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.
The Hero7 Black, also available here at GoPro.com, is the model we recommend at its new reduced price if you are on a budget. The Hero7 Black has a number of worthwhile improvements over previous models like the Hero6 & Hero5. Most important is a much improved video vibration correction they call HyperSmooth, and it really is good at getting rid of jerky video. It also has improved color, saturation, contrast and sharpness over older models.
The Hero7 Silver does take good pictures and videos, and cost less, but is not compatible with the underwater housing, and it has a built-in battery, so you cannot swap out to a fresh battery during a day of snorkeling. That could be a big problem if you want to take a lot of pictures/videos in one day, and can't recharge between. It has a 10mp sensor vs. the 12mp of the Black, and does not have the new HyperSmooth video function, and is missing a few other features of the Black.
GoPro Hero8 Black & Hero7 Black Features
Both the GoPro Hero8 Black and Hero7 Black are waterproof enough for snorkeling, but buying an affordable a GoPro Super Suit Underwater housing is a good insurance policy for $50. It makes the camera bombproof. They don't use the same housing though. The Hero8 uses this housing, and the Hero7 uses this housing. 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. The Hero8 Black has a new mount on the bottom, that you can attach a variety of handles to. And the Hero7 Black comes with a case that wraps around the camera that provides the same mount.
A GoPro Hero8 Black or Hero7 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
The GoPro Hero8 Black & Hero7 Black 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.
Best Extending Pole for Use in Saltwater
Most snorkelers like to use an extending pole with a GoPro to get the camera down closer to fish and the reef when shooting video. The Quickpod Sport is fully salt-waterproof (most poles rust). The company designed it with diving in mind. The legs are made of anodized aluminum, not steel, all steel parts are stainless, and it comes with a number of useful accessories. It only weighs 7 oz.
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.
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. When I test one the PolarPro FiftyFifty looks interesting, because it does not have the trigger blocking issue, and it is made out of glass, so less likely to scratch, although more dangerous to travel.