Most Popular Option, No Separate Housing Needed, Great Pictures and Videos, Affordable
Updated – January 2023
The vast majority of snorkelers use one of these neat little waterproof snorkel cameras that don’t need a separate underwater housing. They are small, affordable, and there is slightly less maintenance compared to cameras with separate housings. And better models can take some very good pictures and videos.
Just be aware that most of these types of waterproof snorkel cameras have a higher flooding and failure rate than cameras in a waterproof housing do. They have small delicate seals around the battery and memory card doors, compared to waterproof housings that have big o-rings. So it’s easy to understand why the seals could fail. Snorkeling is hard on cameras. Many people have no problem, but a number of people also have failures which are often not covered by warranty.
These cameras also have smaller sensors than most compact cameras, which means lower quality pictures.
There used to be many options available in these types of cameras, but over the last few years Olympus has destroyed the competition with their TG line. Now there are comparatively few competitive waterproof snorkel cameras.
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Options for Waterproof Snorkel Cameras
Olympus Waterproof Snorkel Cameras
Olympus has been a leader in waterproof snorkel cameras for many years, and have had 17 or more models. These “tough” cameras are designed to be waterproof, dust proof, freeze proof, and shock proof.
Olympus TG-6 (also available from Olympus.com here) – Give this camera careful consideration, because it is a crazy good little camera. We have owned one, and also tested the previous version. The TG-6 is by far and away the most popular snorkeling and diving camera. Everyone who uses it says that it makes them a good photographer, without being one.
It easily takes colorful sharp pictures, and really excels at macro closeups. And its compact size is a real joy if you choose not to buy a housing. Below is a picture we took with it in St. Lucia.
The TG-6 has a new higher resolution LCD screen, which is a welcome improvement. It also has a new anti-reflective coating around the sensor that helps a light flair problem that the TG-5 had.
The only other new things are all software and settings improvements. There is a new underwater white balance quick setting for different depths. If you shoot macro, and you are in Aperture Mode you can now use the quick menu to set to macro focus modes, without turning the dial to microscope mode. These cameras are better at macro pictures than anything else out there. And there is a way to control aperture that allows for more depth of field in macro mode.
Also you can set the camera to 4K and 1080P video with the quick menu, without needing to go to movie mode, even in macro mode. There is a new minimum shutter speed option.
It still has the 12MP sensor, capable of ISO 12,800. It shoots 20 frames per second 4K video. It retains the dual image stabilization (sharper pictures), GPS, compass, manometer (water depth), a 3″ LCD screen, and LED lights for macro shots.
It has a fast and sharp F2.0 lens paired with a slightly larger sensor than most of the waterproof snorkel cameras on this page. Basically that means this camera gets more light and you will get sharper pictures, and be able to stop fish movement easier. It is a very good thing. Most of the cameras on this page are F3.5 or higher, which means they take in half as much light or worse.
And this camera has fast focusing speeds and shooting speeds compared to almost any other waterproof camera. This is a very valuable feature for getting fish pictures.
The zoom lens starts at a wide angle of 25mm and goes out to 100mm (35mm equivalent), which is very desirable underwater. This lens provides nice sharp pictures.
We think getting the Olympus PT-059 (on Olympus.com here) waterproof housing is a good idea if your budget can swing it. Yes, the camera is rated to be waterproof to 50 feet. But people still experience flooding failures (as do all the cameras on this page), which can be a trip ruining bummer and an expensive loss.
But the housing makes it bombproof, and adds many useful features, like easier handling, big buttons, a lens cap, and sun shade. On the other hand, we know tons of snorkelers who use these waterproof snorkel cameras without housings, without failures. We have even thought that for not much more than the price of the housing you could instead buy a second TG-6 as a backup on a trip.
By the way, we share many snorkeling camera and photography tips in our free monthly snorkeling newsletter.
Ricoh/Pentax Waterproof Snorkel Cameras
Pentax was bought by Ricoh, and you will see that name on their compact cameras. Pentax has many years and models of waterproof snorkel cameras under their belt. The current cameras are very tough and shockproof and have a very solid feel to them.
The most current model is the Ricoh WG-80. This is the 21st generation of their waterproof snorkel cameras, and nearly identical to the last model, the WG-70.The only update, other than a slightly different looking body, is that the macro LED lights around the lens are twice as bright, and adjustable in five steps.
Shared with the WG-70, the WG-80 has a digital microscope mode for close-ups and extreme cropping, and an advanced underwater shooting mode that has automatic underwater white balance adjustment.
It has a slow F3.5-5.5 lens, with a zoom range of 28-140mm. It has a 16MP CMOS sensor camera that is shockproof, dustproof, coldproof, and waterproof down to 45 feet. It also has 1080P HD movie mode and a 3″ screen with a dedicated video button.
A cool feature on this camera is that you can set the green button on the back to bring you quickly to the white balance settings. This can be very useful underwater.
Unfortunately, the image quality out of the last four versions of these cameras have been rather poor, and it suffers from low light problems because of the slow lens. For the price, we would skip it.
SeaLife Waterproof Snorkel Cameras
SeaLife has been making underwater cameras for a long time. We have tested a few, and not been thrilled.
But the new SeaLife Micro 3.0 has a number of good things about it, and a few downsides. It is designed to be super simple to use. It only has a couple of buttons and hardly any setting options. And it is a completely sealed unit, meaning the battery is built-in, the memory card is built-in, and there are no doors that can lead to floods. Just rinse it off after a snorkel and that is it.
You charge the battery by removing a waterproof plug that exposes the charging connection. You can also download your images from that cord, and the camera also has a WiFi connection for downloads. Compared to many compact cameras, it has a fixed very wide angle lens, at 19mm. It also has a 16mp sensor, and offers 4K video.
The camera does take nice images and videos. And it has some excellent automatic white balance ability, which means your colors are going to be great.
Unfortunately there are a few downsides to this camera as well. Many are bothered that there is no zoom lens. And unless you purchase a macro lens, the closest you can get to your subject is 15″, so no macro work, or even fish pictures that are very close. To turn the camera on and off you have to hold down the playback button for 2-3 seconds which feels a bit sluggish. The plug that covers the battery charge port is easy to lose, since it has no strap, and it tends to leak leading to corrosion issues on the charging port.
And for a camera that is supposed to be very easy to use there are a good number of folks who say that the charging cord connection is often problematic, dropping connection when downloading. And the WiFi also regularly drops when trying to connect to a device to download images.
SeaLife offers apps for Android and Apple, but they get bad reviews, mostly because of WiFi connection problems. The wrist strap is also oddly positioned on the left side of the camera, even though it is designed to be held in your right hand, which stretches the strap across the screen. You will want a longer strap.
The largest concern for us is the built-in battery. It is a decent size, at 2000 mAh, and is supposed to give three hours of use. But for us, after one or two snorkel sessions we would have to recharge it, which may mean missing some pictures that day. And with only a one year warranty, as the camera ages a bit and the battery goes bad, your camera becomes an expensive paperweight. We need to replace the batteries on our snorkel cameras about every three years.
At $600 it is a bit pricey, but there just are not many waterproof snorkel cameras anymore. If you like the idea of its simple use, and have had problems with waterproof cameras flooding on you, it may be a good fit. Personally we would spend up on an Olympus TG-6 with a housing. It costs more initially, but will last much longer because of the replaceable batteries. And it takes amazing closeup pictures.
Use a Lanyard or Get a Float Strap
Note that the cameras above are waterproof, but they don’t float. Lots of folks have watched them sink to the depths.
So one of the most popular accessories to buy with your camera is a float strap. We prefer a non-floating adjustable lanyard on our cameras that we can cinch tight, because a float strap is not tight around your wrist. If you let go of it, it can float away from you.
If you do get a float strap, make sure it can float your camera’s weight. For example, a Olympus TG-6 weighs 254 grams with a battery and SD card. Some smaller straps will not float that much.
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.