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Buying guide: 2019 Underwater compact camera packages

March 11, 2019

Buying guide: 2019 Underwater compact camera packages

Are you unsure of which compact camera and housing package you should get as your first/next underwater camera? Then read on, as this article explains the pros and cons of six popular underwater camera packages for your spring and summer 2019 diving adventures.

 

Olympus TG-5
Olympus TG-5 Mike's Dive Cameras
The Olympus TG or tough range of cameras have been diver’s favourites for a while now. These sturdy cameras are waterproof on their own and the latest TG-5 version can be taken down to 15m without a housing. The TG-5 camera also has a unique macro mode (called microscopic mode) that allows the diver to capture extreme close-ups and use the zoom at the same time. This camera is really the only camera currently on the market that does not require an external close-up lens for underwater macro photography. The TG-5 model also adds a raw capture that is sure to please UW photo enthusiasts as it makes the photos editable to a high standard.

There are a few housings available currently for the TG-5 camera. The most obvious choice is the Olympus’ own 45m depth rated PT-058. This housing is sturdy polycarbonate case with well-marked button controls. The housing also comes with a 52mm port thread that allows the use of wet-interchangeable fisheye lenses like the Weefine WFL-02. If you require something sturdier a Nauticam aluminium housing is also available with a depth rating of 100m

Pros:

- Affordable package with the PT-058 housing
- The waterproof camera gives extra security
- An extremely good macro mode that works well in water
- Built-in underwater modes

Cons:

- Lack of real aperture means limitations with external underwater flashes
- Custom white balance does not work well underwater
- Smaller than average sensor (1/2.3”) means image quality not great in darker conditions

 

Canon PowerShot G9X MKII

The G9X MKII is the baby PowerShot with Sony’s well balanced 1” sensor. This sensor is found throughout the Canon’s and Sony’s compact camera range. The G9XII is probably the cheapest way to get to the 1” sensor level as almost all the cameras with the same sensor spec cost quite a bit more. The G9XII comes with all possible manual modes and makes a great base to start building your underwater compact set-up. Although it has slightly complex custom white balance set-up process, the G9XII (and the whole Canon range) gamut of possible colour correction is wider than with most other camera brands. The G9X MKII also records in RAW.

Unlike the other cameras in this article, the G9XII camera has a large touch screen and lacks the traditional 4-way rear control buttons. This means that once inside the housings some of the settings need to be accessed in a roundabout way.

The only housing available for the G9XII camera currently is the Polycarbonate Fantasea case depth rated to 60m. The clever housing design addresses the touch screen issue with additional capacitive buttons on the side of the camera screen, that allows access to important features. The placement of the touch screen “buttons” on the camera menu can be sorted so that the needed features will be reachable. The Fantasea housing port has an M67 thread and due to its short length all possible 67mm wide-angle and fisheye lenses will work well with this camera.

Pros:

- Best value 1” camera and housing package
- Full manual controls
- Short lens/port allows the use of almost all wide-angle lenses
- Fantasea housings come as standard with a moisture alarm

Cons:

- Touch screen UI can be difficult to use when inside the housing
- Complicated custom white balance set-up

 

Canon PowerShot G7X MKII
Canon G7X MKII Buying Guide

The G7XII is a powerhouse of a compact camera for the topside. It is slightly larger than the little brother G9XII and includes a 1” 20 MP sensor and a super powerful 24 - 100mm f1.8 – f2.8mm zoom lens. Unlike the G9Xs the G7Xs have a traditional user interface that makes them easy to use when inside the housing. The camera has a full suite of manual modes and superb battery life. On paper, this should be the perfect underwater camera. There is however an issue that limits its use in water. The physically large and wide lens has a “pump-action” movement that causes trouble when using external wet wide-angle lenses. None of the traditional wide-angle and fisheye lenses will work well when the camera is inside the cheaper end housings, like the Canon WP-DC55 or the Fantasea FG7XII. The lens of the camera sits too far from the housing port glass and causes optical issues like edge blurring and aberrations. Zooming will allow you to at least take a picture through the external lens but the image quality issues remain as the external lens still sits too far away.

Two companies have come up with a solution to these issues. Firstly, Inon brought out a special “zoomy” wide-angle lens called the UWL-S100 ZM80, which work best when used with the G7XII lens at around 80mm position. Unfortunately, the lens is a hassle to use and does not, in the end, provide very good results, especially with larger apertures (although, an additional dome port unit enhances the results somewhat). Nauticam’s answer is to offer a housing where you can exchange the port to a very short one. This means that the Camera’s zoom range is limited to about 50mm. This sacrifice is the only way to keep the camera lens close enough to the port glass and allow most wide-angle lenses to work well optically. The Nauticam NA-G7XII is a great housing but costs over £1000 with the special N50 short port. But this might be your only options as there is no affordable way to get this camera to do hi-quality wide-angle photography underwater.

The G7XII is, however, a great camera for underwater close-up and macro photography. The long fast lens offers plenty of opportunities for the critter enthusiasts.

Pros:

- 20MP 1” sensor for great image quality
- A powerful lens suited for underwater macro photography
- Various housings available at different price points
- Easy to use UI even when inside a housing

Cons:

- Normal housings can’t accommodate a standard size wide-angle lenses
- Skyrocketing costs if high-quality wide-angle photos are required   

 

Sony RX100 MKIII
Sony RX100 MKIII Buying Guide

The famous RX100 series hardly needs an introduction anymore but here’s a quick recap for the uninitiated. The RX100 cameras have been on the market for years now and there are at least 4 versions still available to purchase today. Externally they have changed very little and looking at them it is hard to tell which is which. For this reason, one housing can be used with multiple models. The aluminium bodied MKIII version, like all of the siblings, have the 20mp 1” sensor. It also has a nice and fast a 24 – 70 mm lens which works well underwater.

The RX100 range is also famous for its video functionality. A great number of professional features from focus peaking to high bit rates are available. This has meant that the Sony RX100 has become a pocket-friendly secondary camera for many videographers.

Almost every known housing manufacturer has made a case for this camera. There are too many to mention really but here are a few: The Sony’s own URX-100A housing is an affordable polycarbonate housing that can accommodate the RX100 models from MK1 to MK5. Clever inserts and buttons can be configured for each model. The sturdy Fantasea FRX100V can take the models from MKIII upwards. This housing adds a moisture alarm and controls for all camera functions. The diminutive port also allows the use of almost all underwater wet wide-angle and fisheye lenses. Also, still available is the aluminium Nauticam NA-RX100III housing. This is arguably the best housing ever made for the RX100 MKIII camera. The only downside is that it can’t be used with the later camera models.

Pros:

- High-quality aluminium body
- A high-quality zoom lens that allows the use of most wide-angle lenses
- Video functionality features
- A wide range of housings available 

Cons:

- UI not as clear as with Canon cameras (Not everybody agrees though)
- Close focusing not great; needs a powerful wet close-up lens
- Custom white balance function not as good as with Canons

 

Sony RX100 MKV (A)
Sony RX100 V Buying Guide

For the general features of this camera, I recommend you read the previous chapter. This camera is identical to the MKIII apart from two features: Firstly, it comes with a new slightly improved focusing. Secondly, you can now record UDH 4K (30fps) movies with it. The 4K capability and the huge amount of professional frame rates and up to 1000 Mbps bit rates make this camera an amazing compact video camera. The Sony RX100 V (The current V model is now the second-generation version often indicated with the letter A) is one of the most popular serious compact underwater cameras in the world.

Both Sony and Fantasea offer a housing as mentioned above. The Nauticam NA-RX100V housing is also available. Additionally, Nauticam now offers a brilliant MKV Pro package accessory kit that includes the vacuum leak check valve, double tray and a handy shutter extension trigger. This is a must for anybody considering this housing.

Pros:

- High-quality aluminium body
- A high-quality zoom lens that allows the use of most wide-angle lenses
- Superb 4K video functionality features
- A wide range of housings available

Cons:

- UI not as clear as with Canon cameras (Not everybody agrees though)
- Close focusing not great; needs a powerful wet close-up lens
- Custom white balance function not as good as with Canons

 

Panasonic LX10/15
Panasonic LX15 Buying Guide - Mike's Dive Cameras

The Panasonic LX10 (or LX15 in the UK) is an interesting camera for a photographer who wants maximum quality but does not want to pay the Sony prices. This camera is hundreds of pounds cheaper than the newest Sony RX100 camera and seemingly come with very similar specification. On top of this, the LX15 camera comes with a market leading dual image stabilisation that can be used even with the 4K video. The camera also focuses extremely fast compared to some of its competition. It also pips the Sonys in the game of custom white balance.

This could be your perfect affordable underwater camera but due to its complicated design, especially around the lens, there is only really one recommended housing available. Nauticam has managed to design a housing that allows the use of all the functionality. Just one look inside the housing makes one appreciate the fact that this was no easy thing to do. The fact that the Nauticam NA-LX10 housing is the only usable option pushes the package price up. This housing is also available as the Pro Kit that includes the vacuum leak check valve, double tray and a handy shutter extension trigger. The Longish port of the NA-LX10 means that smaller wide-angle lenses can’t be used.

Pros:

- DSLR type back focus control
- Superb UI customisation
- Very good custom white balance

Cons:

- Not usable with all wide-angle lenses due to the slightly too long lens/port combo
- No cheap housing options

 

You can find all of these packages from Mike’s Dive Cameras camera package pages


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