Top 5 Underwater Cameras for Christmas 2012

Our top 5 underwater camera recommendations that would make excellent Christmas gifts
By Travis Ball

Top 5 Underwater Cameras for Christmas 2012

By Travis Ball


Sony RX100



2012 was an amazing year for underwater photography.  With seemingly every major manufacturer putting out new or updated cameras over the course of this year, the decision of what to get can be a difficult one.  From the more inexpensive compact cameras to the high-end DSLRs, here are our top 5 camera picks for the underwater photography enthusiast in your family.


#1 – Sony RX-100


Sony Rx100 Front

RX100 Back

With a tiny size, a sensor three times the size of other compacts, three housing choices, and great wet lens capability, the RX-100 is a powerhouse that sets a new standard for compact cameras.  See our full review of the RX100.


  • Huge sensor for a compact camera
  • Great wet lens options with all housings
  • TTL in manual mode
  • Faster auto-focus than other compacts, but not quite up to the speed of new mirrorless cameras
  • Tiny size, small housings

Example Images:


Banded Coral Shrimp by Kevin Stokell


Octopus by Kevin Stokell


#2 - Olympus OM-D E-M5

Olympus OMD E-M5 Camera

Olympus OM-D EM5 Back

The king of mirrorless cameras, this 16 megapixel newcomer shoots DSLR quality images, a wide range of lenses, an extremely fast auto-focus, and a much improved image stabilization system.  Check out our in-depth review of the Olympus OM-D E-M5.

  • DSLR quality images
  • Great lens selection - fisheye lens, wide-angle zooms, and 45 and 60mm macro lenses
  • A high-quality Nauticam housing to go with it
  • Fast auto-focus
  • Great high ISO images, even at ISO 3200
  • Amazing image stabilization (hot link to E-pl5 image stabilization tests again OM-D)
  • Great controls
  • Electronic viewfinder

Example Images:

Short Nose Bat Fish

Short Nose Bat Fish by Mel Moncrieff

Diver in Florida Waters

Diver in Florida Waters by Mel Moncrieff

Blenny Reindeer?

Blenny Raindeer? by Mel Moncrieff


#3 - Olympus E-PL5

Olympus EP-L

The "little brother" of the OM-D, the E-PL5 is a little smaller than the OM-D but has the same sensor and so shoots the same great quality images.  With the same fast auto-focus of the OM-D, the only things you're missing are the Electronic Viewfinder, the 5-axis image stabilization and two control dials.


  • Same sensor as the OM-D E-M5
  • Fast auto-focus 
  • Smaller than the OM-D
  • great price, and the Olympus E-Pl5 housing is a great value (coming mid-December 2012)

Example Images:


A photo of a mural using the 14-42mm kit lens, at 42mm, F7, 1/320th, ISO 200


In this 100% crop of the mural, we see stunning detail.  Nice EPL-5!


#4 - Nikon D800

Niken D800

If you're a Nikon fan, you couldn't be happier with the D800.  Focusing on Pixels over ultra-high ISO performance, this is the competitor to the Canon 5D Mark III.  What sets this camera above the rest on this list is the stunning auto-focus system.  For a look at how the D800 competes with similar cameras, read our D800 comparison.  Recommended housings are made by NauticamIkeliteSea & Sea and Aquatica.


  • 36 megapixels, amazing resolution for landscape and macro; best on the market for outdoor, nature, large prints
  • best auto-focus system on our camera list
  • pop-up flash for firing strobes via fiber optical
  • excellent performance and resolution with a range of Nikon lenses (but beware of  N.A.S.

Note: the D7000 is our top-rated crop sensor camera and factory refurbished D7000s are a steal at $789, which includes a 1-year warranty.

Example Images:


Chestnut Cowry

Felimare Californienses

#5 - Canon 5D Mark III 

Canon 5D Mark III

While not the flagship of the Canon cameras, the 5D Mark III is argueably the most used of the high end Canon DSLRs, especially when it comes to underwater photography.  With unsurpassed color, high ISO performance (up to ISO 102,000), and an incredible dynamic range, this camera is a top choice for professionals.  Best on the market for sports and action,  this camera is capable of taking some unique wide-angel shots with the Canon 8-15mm circular fisheye. Take a look at our comparison of the Mark III with the Nikon D800 and the 5D Mark II.  Recommended housings are made by Nauticam, Ikelite, Sea & Sea and Aquatica.


  • Remarkable color
  • Fast shooting speed
  • Best video on the market, including video bit rate
  • High ISO Performance
  • Incredible dynamic range
  • Upgraded auto-focus system from the 5D Mark II

Example Images:


Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF 8-15mm Fisheye @15mm 1/320sec @ f/11

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF 8-15mm Fisheye @8mm 1/200sec @ f/8, Ikelite 160s


Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF 8-15mm Fisheye @15mm 1/125sec @ f/9, Ikelite 160s


Further Reading


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