Snorkeling is one of the best ways to see the amazing underwater world. It’s not as gear-heavy as full diving, and by comparison, it’s easy to learn, too.
But we live in the 21st century, a world of social media and memories captured forever.
Experiences are made more real, beyond the moment of their happening, by being able to take pictures of our experiences – we can share them with people who weren’t technically there with us under the surface of the water.
Connections happen – likes, shares, conversations, it all builds a cone of appreciation that heightens the moment of the experience.
But finding the best underwater cameras to take on a snorkeling expedition – that’s something of an exploration in itself.
All the big names in the camera world, some of them outplayed in the selfie game by smartphone makers, are keen to push themselves forward in this market, to show the value of true optics in an unusual environment.
And besides the big players, there’s a groundswell of smaller companies coming up and specializing in underwater cameras too.
So how do you choose the best underwater camera for your snorkeling trip?
Leave it with us – we’ve done a deep dive on the issue, and brought you up five jewels from the underwater photography world.
In a hurry? Here’s our top pick.
Table of Contents
- 1 Olympus Tough TG-6 Waterproof Camera
- 2 Yisense Underwater Camera FHD 2.7K 48 MP Waterproof Digital Camera
- 3 Insta360 One R Twin Edition Battery Kit – 4K Action Camera & 5.7K 360 Camera
- 4 Sony Alpha a7II E-Mount Interchangeable Lens Mirrorless Camera
- 5 Sony RX100 VII Premium Compact Camera
- 6 Buyer’s Guide
- 7 Frequently Asked Questions
Olympus is one of those masters of the photographic world. Unlike some other tech companies that do a whole range of things, Olympus is largely focused in the world of optics – cameras, binoculars, lenses, telescopes, etc.
So, point #1 – this is a camera made by a specialized camera-maker, so the lenses and the clarity of the image you get is going to be right up there at the top end.
Point #2 – this is marketed as both a tough camera and a waterproof one. It’s also claimed to be shockproof, crushproof and freezeproof – which sounds like a fun day of testing at Olympus HQ.
Bottom line, there’s little you should be able to do to this camera to render it inoperable, so even if you’re the most accident-prone of would-be sub-aqua photographers, you should be fine with this model.
Want to take a picture of that shark over there without getting too darn close for comfort? The 8x zoom on the Olympus has you covered.
There’s also a joyous delicacy to the quality of the images you can get with this Olympus camera.
It will happily take 4k images of even tiny details on what you see around you underwater, so your memories of the snorkeling trip will be available to you, possibly in higher definition than you actually remember.
Weighing in at just 2.1 ounces, it’s not going to encumber you underwater, and with five separate underwater shooting modes, getting the shots you want should be child’s play.
All of this makes the Olympus Tough TG-6 our top pick for an underwater camera for snorkeling.
Robust, resilient, with startling image quality and an extremely handy zoom, you’d have to go out of your way to damage the camera, and the result will light up not just your socials but your memories any time you check them out.
From a legendary optics-maker, you may be surprised that our second choice comes from a relative unknown, Yisense. Where the newcomer scores big is in condensing a lot of good technology into a handful for under $100.
It’s not quite on this level, but the Yisense camera is almost akin to those disposable cameras some people have on tables at weddings.
It’s cheap, it’s cheerful, it will absolutely do the job you want it to, but it’s budget-friendly enough that you never especially have to protect it from harm or use. It’s a handy utility, rather than an expensive investment.
Despite that, there are a couple of particularly cool features that make it stand out from the crowd. A 2.7-inch main screen feels generous on a camera this size (6.4 x 6 x 2.5 inches), and a ridiculously impressive 16x zoom is way more than you expect to find on a camera at this price.
Add in image stabilization, full HD at 1080P, and a depth rating of 10 feet, and this becomes the little camera that really, really could.
Is there a downside? Well, compared to the likes of the Olympus, you’ll feel the weight of the Yisense considerably more at 11 ounces – though it’s worth putting that in perspective, because it’s still less than a pound in weight for full HD and 16x zoom.
Also, call us shallow, but it also comes in a bunch of fabulous colors, so you can choose the one that matches your sub-aqua style – or your dry-world style, come to that, because obviously, you can use the Yisense in both environments.
For the price-point, you absolutely can’t go wrong with the Yisense camera – it does a lot more than you expect it to, and it does it with the reliability of a pro.
Another relatively new player in the field, Insta360 has only been around since 2014, but has made a name for itself relatively rapidly with 360-degree video cameras.
The One R takes that initial promise forward by using modular platforms, meaning you can switch seamlessly between camera types.
In the Twin Edition, you get two modules, a 360-degree module for the company’s trademark all-round effect, and a wide-angled module which will give you underwater panoramas in true 4K quality.
While it’s not rated for the kind of depths to which scuba divers would need to take it, you’re good to shoot for around 16.5 feet of depth with the Insta360, which will give you access to shots some other cameras can’t deliver without turning on their zooms.
Like some other cameras on our list, it comes with no fewer than 5 shooting modes, including a handy Night Shot option, so in a single set, you get a lot of options, meaning that the Insta360 One R Twin Edition should leave you with no room to botch a perfect shot that will light up your memories for years to come.
Let’s go back to the big boys for a minute. Sony makes high-quality electrical products across the board.
While not as specialized as Olympus, it has a strong reputation for intuitive, reliable products, and the Alpha a711 is not about to buck that trend.
We hate phrases like this, and probably so you do, but there’s a sense in which the Alpha a711 is a photographic one-stop shop.
If you’re looking at simple stills, Sony brings you a 24.3 megapixel camera. That’s got to be good enough to capture the underwater world in all its technicolor magnificence.
You want extras? How about the world’s first five-axis image stabilization design? What does that mean?
It means even if you and the camera are swaying in the current, your shots should look as perfect as if you’d posed each individual fish personally and kept them stone-still for the shot.
You want to go video? No problem – the stabilization still works, and now you have superb quality moving footage of your snorkeling trip.
Now, it’s true that even with its mirrorless design, this is a heavier camera than many others on our list – but that just means it’s slightly over a pound in weight.
If you really want something to nit-pick about, your bigger pause for thought should probably be the fact that it comes with only a 3x zoom. In itself that’s not bad, but compared to the likes of an 8x or a 16x, it begins to look bad.
Bottom line, this is a superb option if you’re going for arresting, vivid still photography, because the stabilization system is pretty much state of the art in snorkel-friendly cameras.
There are better options for other things, but for those pin-sharp, vividly clear stills, Sony carves itself an unforgettable niche in the market here.
OK, so much for the five-axis stabilization of the Alpha a117. Let’s stick with Sony for our last offering, the RX100 VII Premium Compact Camera.
There’s a lot to unpack in that name, but number #1, compact means it’s a smaller offering than many – 4 x 1.7 x 2.4 inches, and weighing in at under 10 ounces.
That means it’s easy to carry with you as you snorkel, and easy to whip out to snap the suddenly changing, fish-strewn unpredictability of the underwater world.
On top of that, you get full 4K HD, so your video footage should be crisp and vivid, no matter what you shoot. While not quite up to the Alpha’s pixel-count, a 20.1 megapixel camera for stills is not by any means shabby, especially in the world of snorkel-friendly lenses.
A 0.02 AF speed feels like it’s at home underwater, and the 1.0 type stacked CMOS sensor turning photons into electrons for photo processing is a secret little bonus to this camera. It also comes with a Zeiss Vario Sonnar, and an 8x zoom lens.
An external microphone jack means you can easily make movies on dry land too, so the Sony Compact is a beast for both environments.
With real-time tracking thrown in too, it performs above and beyond what you’d normally expect of a compact. Then again, it is a Sony compact.
The only thing to say about that is that Sony knows its reputation and its worth, and you might cry slightly when you find out the price.
Still, once you’ve paid it, you can take a dip in the sea, where no-one will be able to see your tears. Although with the 4K precision video, you might just be able to make them out as they join the ocean!
When you’re buying a camera to take snorkeling with you, it’s worth keeping a handful of things in mind.
This feels like a straightforward thing to say, but snorkeling-ready cameras are not scuba-ready cameras. They will each have the depth to which they’re certified to safely go, either stamped on their body or marked in their user manuals.
This is not rocket science – if you take the camera below its depth certification tolerance, it will in all likelihood stop working, and you may well get water in your camera housing.
This is not good, and you may find yourself paying either a hefty repair fee, or more likely spending money on a new camera.
Make sure you get a camera certified for the sort of depth at which you snorkel. If you don’t know how deep you snorkel, get a camera with the deepest certification you can afford, just to keep your property as safe as possible.
One of the big differences about taking pictures or video underwater to taking them on land is the effect of the environment. On land, the environment is air, and you have to have quite a significant volume of moving air to affect the quality of the shots you take.
Underwater, you’re rarely anchored to anything, so the full effect of the environment works against the stability of your shots – currents, waves, movements of underwater animals, they can all buffet you about more than you might realize. You will realize it though when you see your pictures are blurred and meaningless.
Image stabilization is a technology that can counteract this effect and restore your images to the pristine, pin-sharp, crystal clear views you yourself can see.
Never be afraid to pay extra for better image stabilization, because taking underwater photography is a case of you versus the ocean. Image stabilization is what you use to fight back and establish clarity.
How much are you invested in your snorkeling photography? There are cameras that are cheap and cheerful but which give you above-average results, and there are cameras for which you’ll pay through the nose, but which give spectacular pictures.
Ideally of course, try and pick up a camera that gives you great results but doesn’t leave you wincing at the cost. Your wince point may vary.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Important Is Image Stabilization In Snorkeling Photography?
Pretty important, because you’re likely to be untethered in the ocean, at the mercy of the sea’s current. Trying to get a crisp, clear picture under those circumstances is extremely difficult, and image stabilization is an enormous help in getting better shots.
How Light Should My Underwater Camera For Snorkeling Be?
As light as possible. Remember, you’re using it underwater, which means there’s more resistance when you try to point and click, so the lighter your camera, the easier it is to get the shot you want – especially of fast-moving colorful fish.
Is Depth Certification A Strict Rule?
Pretty much. At the very least, it’s worth treating it as a strict rule. While some cameras may be safe at greater depth than they lay claim to – why take unnecessary risks and potentially ruin your camera?