If you get a chance to go on holiday this summer, you might be tempted to try some underwater photography. You might not be willing to spend thousands on the very best underwater camera, but there are plenty of options for you, whatever your budget.
We asked Saeed Rashid, editorial consultant for Diver magazine, for his ultimate underwater photography kit bag, but if you can’t commit to a full waterproof camera setup, an action camera and a sense of adventure are all you need.
How to choose an underwater camera
What is it about underwater photography that makes it special?
Every time you jump into the water, you don’t know what you’re going to see, and that makes every single dive really exciting. With land photography, you’ll likely set out with an idea of what you want to capture and the kit you’ll need, and nine times out of 10 you’ll get it.
When you dive, you don’t have that guarantee. You have to try and prepare for every situation and take each dive as it comes.
But there is just something so special about being underwater and seeing what so few people get to see. Being able to capture those things in pictures and share them with others – there is no other feeling like it.
See some stunning examples of underwater photography:
What are the biggest challenges to underwater photography?
We don’t have the luxury of tripods like land photographers do, so when capturing macro shots that require a steady hand, you’re often just using one finger to stabilise yourself on a bit of rock, and that’s it.
We also don’t have long down there – the average time is an hour per dive. If the weather and visibility are good, we might be able to get down four times in a day, but conditions can change quickly so it’s never a given.
Plus there’s the difficulty of light. We work with the Sun as much as possible, but as you get deeper you need strobes to lighten up your subject. It’s like taking a mini photo studio down with you!
How has your kit bag changed over the years?
The first one I used was a really cheap underwater camera that I bought in duty-free on my way to Australia in the late 1990s. It could take 36 pictures at a time on film, and you would go through rolls and rolls of film just to get a few shots you liked.
Now, I shoot on a Canon 7D Mark II (see below) and generally use one of three lenses – a Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens for wide angle, and either a Canon 60mm or a Sigma 105mm for macro shots. On top of that, you need the waterproof housing – mine is from Nauticam – and strobes for lighting.
It’s not cheap. A top-end system can cost the best part of £10,000, but even a decent entry-level underwater camera setup is going to cost you upwards of £2,000.
So how can people get started?
It depends on how seriously you want to take it. A good action camera is a best place to start, and you can get pretty decent shots for hundreds of pounds, rather than thousands.
Then, if you get the bug, you can start building an underwater compact camera setup from there – I always recommend people buy second-hand to start with as you’ll always find someone upgrading their kit and selling their old setup at a decent discount.
Do you need to be handy with Photoshop?
Absolutely. Like with all photography, you can get it right in camera but it’s less likely, and much more difficult when you’re in the water. Even on the best day for visibility, it can still look like there’s a snowstorm in your shot.
Being able to remove all that sediment – or what we call backscatter – in an edit is essential to getting the most from your shot, as is being able to replace some of the colours you’ve lost with lack of light.
Read more from Troubleshoot:
Where is best for underwater photography?
You don’t have to travel. Seals and blue sharks are among my favourite things to photograph, and you can find them both in waters around the UK. Just five hours away, Egypt is a diver’s playground and further afield, the reefs of Indonesia are breathtaking.
But for all the beauty we have, I am also really aware of what we are losing. I feel I have a duty as an underwater photographer to share as many pictures as possible, of the good and the bad, so people know how amazing it is down there, but also see what we are doing to it, too.
What are the best underwater cameras to buy?
Here’s Saeed’s pick of the best underwater cameras and gadgets to get started on your aquatic adventure.
Canon 7D Mark II
A universally loved pro-level camera, the Canon 7D Mark II is a fantastic underwater companion, with a 20.2-megapixel sensor that ensures you won’t lose an ounce of detail.
It offers sharp autofocus and Canon’s proprietary AF tech, which constantly tracks moving objects to keep them defined. It can shoot bursts of images at up to 10fps – handy when there’s a school of fast-swimming fish.
£1,429.99 (Body only), canon.co.uk,
Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II
Once upon a time, camera companies used to make specialist underwater cameras for divers to use. Now, it’s just a standard land camera you’ll need, with a special housing to keep it dry.
The Canon G7X Mark II is a great compact option to start with, and although at over £500 it’s not exactly a budget underwater camera, it doesn’t require the outlay of extra lenses, keeping things nice and simple. It offers 20MP resolution with a bright f/1.8-2.8 lens.
£529.99, canon.co.uk, buy now from Amazon UK, Currys and John Lewis
Canon WP-DC55 Waterproof Case
So here’s the bit that will turn your regular snapper into a waterproof camera. There are generally two types of housing – this type, which is acrylic and a lot cheaper, or the aluminium versions which are sturdier but more expensive.
You might find that you aren’t able to use all the buttons and features on the camera through this housing, but the important things will all be accessible.
£279.99, canon.co.uk, buy now from Amazon UK and WEX Photographic
INON Z-330 Ultra Wide Strobe
A strobe light – the name for an underwater flash – is essential for capturing anything beyond a depth of around nine metres. You can use a torch instead, but a strobe will give better results.
This one can be used on a compact camera but will futureproof you, should you decide to upgrade to DSLR at any point. Start with one, but be aware most underwater photographers move up to two eventually.
Need more gadgets?
This is just a selection of the best underwater cameras and should give you a guide as to what to look for, whatever camera budget you might have. If underwater photography isn’t for you, why not check out our other gadget guides – we have everything from cool gadgets to camping gadgets ready for you to scratch your itch for new tech.