In the past, underwater photography was quite an expensive hobby. You either had to invest in an underwater camera like the Nikonos or buy a waterproof housing for your existing camera. Either option was pricey. But times have changed. While underwater housings for top-of-the-line DSLRs can still set you back over $1000 for the case alone, not to mention the strobe lights you’ll need to get good underwater photos. There are much cheaper alternatives on the market for those who are just exploring underwater photography for the first time and can’t afford to invest thousands of dollars in equipment.
Here are five affordable digital cameras for diving. All of these underwater cameras, along with the necessary underwater lights, can be purchased for under $1000.
GoPro HD Hero2
Waterproof to 197 feet
The 11 MP GoPro HD HERO2 is a very popular and well-rated 11 MP waterproof camera that also shoots HD video. Over 300 reviewers on Amazon have rated it 4 out of 5 stars. Many of these reviewers aren’t scuba divers – the camera is popular with all types of outdoor enthusiasts because it comes with a variety of accessories that allow you to wear it or mount it on your sports gear. That’s why the basic camera comes in three editions: Outdoor Edition, Motorsports Edition and Surf Edition. Each edition comes with a different set of mounts and straps. Its rugged design and depth rating make it great for scuba divers. With a waterproof depth rating of 197 feet and a full 170º wide angle field of view, the GoPro Hero2 is well-suited for either Open Water or technical diving. This underwater camera shoots both video and still frames, and has the ability to shoot photos automatically every .5 seconds in TimeLapse mode or to shoot a burst of 10 photos in a second.
SeaLife DC1400 Pro
Digital camera for diving to 200 feet
If you’re looking for high-quality underwater cameras made for scuba divers, SeaLife manufactures some of the most popular cameras on the market. Last year, Sport Diver magazine chose the SeaLife DC1200 Elite as their Editor’s Pick for “Underwater Cameras for New Photographers.” The SeaLife DC1400 Pro, the successor to the DC1200, builds on an already great product. The new model can capture beautiful still images and HD video with a 14 megapixel CCD, 6 underwater modes and 4 built-in digital color correction filters. Most importantly, the camera can be paired with one or one two off-the-camera strobes for great underwater color. The SeaLife DC1400 was designed with deep diving in mind – it has 5 “piano key” controls that make it easy to operate, even with wetsuit gloves on. It also has a “spy mode” that will automatically shoot photos at set intervals. If you want creative control and high-quality images, but can’t afford a DSLR with underwater housing, this is a great digital camera for diving.
Liquid Image Wide Angle Scuba Series HD Camera Mask
Hands-free camera mask also takes video to 130 Feet
An innovative option for hands-free underwater photography is the Liquid Image Wide Angle Scuba Series mask. This new addition to Liquid Image’s line of camera masks has a 136-degree wide-angle lens that offers a greater field of vision than the previous models and allows you to capture 720p HD video or 5 MP still images down to 130 feet. An LED inside the mask indicates whether you are in still image or video mode, and lever-style buttons make it easy to use while wearing gloves. It’s available in two sizes. The mask doesn’t come with filters or a flash, but you can purchase these separately. Liquid Image makes both a 4.7-watt and 5.5-watt light that can attach to the camera mask, so you won’t need to carry it in your hands. For hands-free underwater photography, the Liquid Image scuba mask is a good choice.
Intova CP9 Digital Camera for Diving
An inexpensive scuba diving camera to 130 feet
If you’re really on a budget, the Intova CP9 for diving may be the model for you. The MSRP on this underwater camera is $139.95, which is a pretty low price for an underwater camera anyway, but you can get it for about half that price on Amazon. The CP9 can shoot 9 MP still photos and VGA resolution (640 x 480) video down to 130 feet. It comes with a number of scene modes, including Sports, Night, Portrait, Landscape, and Backlight, plus Program AE. You can choose between three quality options for stills (fine, standard, and economy) and two options for video (fine and standard). The one thing it’s lacking is a light source, but with the money you’ll be saving on the camera itself, you should be able to get a decent handheld light source to illuminate your photos.
A waterproof camera for shallow diving to 40 feet
This waterproof Lumix camera from Panasonic isn’t particularly suited for scuba diving except in shallow waters, as it’s only waterproof to 40 feet. But if you want a top-rated camera for everyday use that is also waterproof, shockproof, dustproof and freezeproof, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3 is all of those things. It’s been the most popular camera in Amazon’s underwater camera department for months. In addition to offering a 12.1 MP Hi-Speed CCD Sensor and 1920x1080p HD video in AVCHD and MP4 format, the DMC-TS3 has fun features like GPS and 3D photo mode. If you only want one camera that can go just about anywhere and do just about anything, this is a good choice. And if you really like it, both Panasonic and Ikelite make underwater housings that will allow you to take this camera to deeper depths.
Any of these waterproof cameras can get you started in underwater photography for less than $1000.