2014 Compact Camera for Underwater Photo & Video Round Up

After the various Backscatter, Bluewater photo, and other shops compact cameras reviews I thought of putting my 10 pence in as well.

Most of those reviews you find are written by people who shoot DSLR and then occasionally go and take a compact in water to see how it goes. For what concerns underwater use I only shoot compact and I believe I know how to navigate into features and limitations of compact camera quite well so here is my view on the subject.

The first hint when you look at a high-end compact camera is to check if Nauticam makes a housing for it. If not maybe your camera is not as good after all. There are some exceptions of course.

Categories

I have ranked compacts according to the following shooting categories:

  1. Movie
  2. Ambient Light
  3. Macro
  4. Portraits
  5. Close Focus Wide Angle
  6. All purpose cameras

When possible there will be a top 3 in each category.

The Compacts

I have considered only the following cameras

  1. Canon G16
  2. Canon S120
  3. Olympus XZ-2
  4. Panasonic LX7
  5. Sony RX100II

The Fuji X20 is a potential addition but I have not found anyone that actually shoots it underwater so I abstain from judging here.

Best Cameras for Movie

In order to score in this category the cameras need to have full manual exposure control in movie mode and be able to shoot double frame rates for the system of choice PAL or NTSC.

This is my appraisal:

  1. Sony RX100II
  2. Panasonic LX7
  3. N/A

Canon cameras do not offer exposure control in movie mode, Olympus video is pathetic. Not possible to even consider a number 3 here.

Best Cameras for Ambient Light

1st Cave@Jackfish Alley

Here I consider shots without strobes with a view angle of 100º diagonal you need a wet wide-angle lens to take those shots.

Here are the rankings:

  1. Sony RX100II
  2. Panasonic LX7
  3. Canon S120

Olympus lags behind in image quality and the Canon G16 does not have any wet lens that allows to take those shots without strobes.

Best Cameras for Macro

P1000463-.jpg

I am looking here at shots are real 1:1 reproduction ratio and how easy is to take those shots in terms of autofocus and depth of field. In order to achieve this level of magnification a close up wet lens is necessary for all cameras. No compact camera achieves real macro with the bare port underwater.

Here are the results:

  1. Canon G16
  2. Canon S120
  3. Panasonic LX7

The Canon G16 in virtue of a 140mm focal length at telephoto end gives the highest magnification ratio, the Canon S120 follows closely same image quality less magnification. The Panasonic LX7 has only a 90mm equivalent lens however the autofocus is incredible so you can use +10 diopters very easily and it is the only camera to really offer Bokeh.

The Olympus XZ-2 lags in terms of image quality, the RX100II has great image quality but little magnification, you need a +10 diopter to give a 1:1 reproduction ratio and focus is difficult because of shallow depth of field due to the large sensor.

Best Cameras for Portraits

Look Right in

Here we are considering shots with the bare port at 35mm focal length using strobes. Here is the ranking:

  1. Sony RX100II
  2. Panasonic LX7
  3. Canon S120 & Canon G16

Whilst the RX100II has the best image quality it comes a bit as a surprise why the LX7 gives better images than the Canon. The reason is that Canon tend to have a very unbalanced color range with over saturated red. This does not go away with RAW images as it affects the whole spectrum. It is possible to correct this using blue diffusers for strobe but this is just a patch, the LX7 tend to give much better balanced images.

Best Cameras for CFWA

Side Shot

Close focus wide-angle is shot with a fisheye like lens, using strobes typically at small apertures here are the rankings:

  1. Sony RX100II
  2. Canon G16
  3. Canon S120

It is quite clear that the RX100II with the widest choice of fisheye lens and the highest dynamic range is the best camera for the job, but the addition of the Inon Zoom lens helps getting the G16 in this category, the S120 follows with similar results. The LX7 does not offer a fisheye options sadly and the XZ-2 lags behind in image quality compared to the two canons.

Best Versatile Still Cameras

Here I look at cameras that can shoot all type of shots from macro to ambient light.

  1. Sony RX100II
  2. Canon S120
  3. Olympus XZ-2

The lack of fisheye options cuts out the LX7 and the poor performance of zoom wide-angle lens at wide end kicks the G16 out.

Best Overall Camera Still and Movie

Taking the previous list and eliminating the cameras that do not offer exposure control in movie mode this is the result

  1. Sony RX100II
  2. NA
  3. NA

So the Sony RX100II is the only real all round camera and this explains why it beats the other in terms of sales.

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8 thoughts on “2014 Compact Camera for Underwater Photo & Video Round Up”

  1. How would you rank the RX-100 against these cameras since it is still available? In particular, where is it deficient compared to the RX100ii?

    1. Hi Tony. The housings for the mark I are now discontinued so no point covering it in my post. If you look into the archive I have covered the comparison mark I vs II some time last year

  2. Sony RX100 III has finally been announced. I look forward to hearing your two cents. Focal length on wide end is now 24mm… how do you think this would affect our usage of attachment lenses designed for 28mm compacts?

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