Updated – October 2023
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.
What GoPro Model Is Best for Snorkeling?
Hero12 Black – GoPro for Snorkeling
GoPro currently produces only two models that we consider suitable for snorkeling. The brand new Hero 12 Black, and the Hero 11 Black. They also have a Hero 11 mini, Hero 10, and a 360 degree camera that all can be ignored for snorkeling.
The Hero 12 is very similar to the Hero 11. It adds a little bit longer battery life, an HDR video mode, and a 1/4″ tripod mount to the bottom. It also has a bunch of other new features that are valuable to professionals who use it out of the water, like log recording, and Bluetooth earbud connections. But nothing that really matters to a snorkeler.
In all other ways that matter for a snorkeler the Hero 12 and Hero 11 are very similar.
They both offer 5.3K video, and a 27MP sensor for pictures, and 10 bit color. And they are both waterproof down to 33 feet. And you can buy a waterproof housing to take them deeper.
Both cameras have horizon lock, which allows you to spin the camera head over heels, and the horizon won’t move.
The Hero 12 has a new version of GoPro’s vibration reduction, Hypersmooth 6.0. But it is only slightly better than the last version, which was already incredibly good.
The Hero 12 retains the same rear touch screen, and it has a front screen that has no touch controls.
The Hero 12 still has a slightly sluggish touch screen, and has the same tendency to overheat, particularly when video is left on for a long time, without any airflow around the camera to help cool it.
The camera retains the 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.
Important GoPro for Snorkeling Features by Model
GoPro Hero 11 & 12 Features
- Waterproof to 33 feet
- Live preview screen
- 27.6MP sensor (23MP stills)
- 5K video at 60fps, and 4K video at 120fps
- 19mp video still captures
- Fast F2.8 lens
- Touch screen (although not underwater)
- HyperSmooth video stabilization
- RAW picture format
- Lens coating that reduces water drops
- Downloads via cable
What’s New With the GoPro Hero12 Black?
- Better Battery Life
- 1/4″ tripod mount
- HyperSmooth video stabilization 6.0
- HDR Video Mode
- Log recording and Bluetooth earbud connection
- Still has overheating problems and a sluggish screen
Which Would We Get?
The Hero 12 costs more than the 11. But if it were between the two, we would likely buy the Hero 12 for the longer battery life and the HDR video mode. Actually, we would buy the camera below instead.
Best GoPro Alternative?
We would buy a DJI Osmo Action 4 instead of a GoPro Hero 12. By all accounts it is now a better camera in many ways than the GoPro.
This new Action 4 has a new larger sensor, and now offers much better video quality in low light situations than the GoPro Hero 12. And although it is only 4k, compared to 5.3k, video quality is equivalent. Of particular note to us, is that the video quality when shooting in 1080P looks much better on the DJI compared to the GoPro. We mostly shoot in 1080P because we have little need for 4K.
Compared to the GoPro Hero 12, the DJI Osmo Action 4 has no overheating problems and a larger battery, with a new super fast battery charging system. You can get an 80% charge in just 18 minutes. The screens are bigger, and work better, and the front screen also has the full set of touch controls. Something useful to snorkelers is that those touch screens work better when a little wet than the GoPro. The menus are easier to navigate. Its magnetic clip mounting system is better than GoPro’s. It is just an easier camera to use all around, and has a robust build quality.
Here are some more useful features. It has a quick settings button on the side to rapidly switch between your favorite settings. It is waterproof to nearly twice the depth, at 59 feet (18m). It runs with 10-bit color. A waterproof housing is available.
Finally, the DJI has a dedicated white balance sensor on the front, that provides probably the most accurate and consistent white balance colors of any action camera.
Still pictures are 12MP, vs. GoPro’s 27MP. But honestly having fewer megapixels in a tiny sensor camera gives you better low light performance, which the DJI does. And really, you can print any size picture you want from 12MP, and it will look great from a natural viewing distance.
NOTE: We will be testing the DJI Osmo Action 4 on a snorkeling trip in Indonesia in October 2023, and will share our review in our free monthly snorkeling newsletter.
Housing Options – GoPro for Snorkeling
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.
The Hero10, Hero11, and Hero 12 use this housing. We have heard folks say that the housing can make the overheating problem worse, so keep that in mind.
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.
Pros of a GoPro for Snorkeling
A GoPro camera 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 people use their GoPro for snorkeling 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.
Cons of a GoPro for Snorkeling?
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 and 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.
Essential Accessories to Use a GoPro for Snorkeling
Besides the underwater housing above, here are some accessories you will find useful with your GoPro for snorkeling.
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 to your GoPro for snorkeling. 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, or they also make a foam case that wraps around camera called the Floaty.
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.
Many folks prefer to use an extending selfie stick to take videos with their GoPro for 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 six inch 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 pictures or video. 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.