Just about every camera nowadays has both a video and photo function, which provides us with a ton of opportunities for creatively capturing the underwater world. With so many options though, it can be a bit overwhelming when a unique underwater moment presents itself to you completely out of the blue. What do I do!? Should I film it or photograph it? As someone who spends a lot of time switching between video and photo, I’d like to share a few quick tips that have helped me decide whether I’m going to capture the moment with the camera’s video mode or the photo mode.

 1.  What is your ultimate goal?

If you know how to use editing software and plan to make a little highlight reel from your snorkeling adventure, then filming would be the way forward. Similarly, if your intent is to have a collection of photos to share with friends or to hang on your wall, you’d want to stick with the photo mode. This is a really important thing to think about as I know a lot of people who just film everything they see because in a lot of ways filming is easier and can be more gratifying at the moment, but then they find they don’t know how to edit videos or just don’t have the time to and then they end up with hours of footage just sitting on their hard drive.

Snorkeler photographing schooling fish

2.  A bit of Both

A lot of the underwater encounters we have can last for a while, which means you can do a bit of filming as well as photography. Remember to prioritize which of the two mediums is more important to you at the end of the day and start with that one.

3.  Video for fleeting moments

I always keep my camera set to video mode when I don’t have anything in particular to point my camera at. The reason being is that should a manta or whale shark suddenly turn up and I have only a couple of moments to capture the encounter, video is the fastest and most efficient way to do so as you can essentially point and shoot.

Choosing a camera for snorkeling is a tricky thing, and one you don’t want to get wrong since this will be the instrument you’ll be recording your once in a lifetime moments on. With that in mind, I’ve put together a quick list of cameras I believe to be solid choices for snorkelers. 

Before we get into the cameras though, here are a few camera feature requirements I made sure every camera had in order to make the cut. 

  1.  1) Excellent Image quality in both video and photo modes
  2.  2) Must be simple to use but also offer the user the option of more advanced controls. 
  3.  3) Must be able to custom white balance or offer an adequate “Fish Mode” white balance to retain those natural colors even at depth. 
  4.  4) Housing must offer the option to attach macro or wide angle lenses. 
  5.  5) Must cost $1,200 or less for camera and housing. 


3. GoPro Hero 5-7- Cost: ~$450 for Camera and Housing 

go pro hero 7

Despite their diminutive stature, the GoPro cameras are a solid choice. All models of GoPro since the Hero 5 are now waterproof out of the box—to limited depths—which is a huge bonus just incase your housing floods. Where optics are concerned, they offer remarkable 4K video footage and 12 MP photos. The stock lens is already a super wide fish-eye which is great for underwater reef scenes and large animals, and should we want to make some additions like macro lenses, red filters, and dual handled trays, there is a seemingly never ending supply of aftermarket accessories. If you already have a GoPro and are struggling with it, check out this blog for some of the most common mistakes people make with a GoPro. 

2. Olympus Tough TG-5 Camera-Cost: $750 for Camera and Housing 

olympus tg5 on beach

The Olympus Tough line of cameras have become one of the best all around cameras for those wanting a more traditional compact camera, but want some high end specs. Like the GoPro cameras, the TG-6 is also waterproof in the nude for that added security against floods. It offers high end optics which include UHD 4K videos and 12 MP stills, not to mention a whole host of different modes for shooting underwater. Out of the box it’s ready to go, but should you want to make some additions to the camera down the line as your skills improve there are a number of options such as strobes and wide angle lenses.

1. Sony Cyber-Shot RX100 Mark III- Cost: $1,150

While it’s not the most recent model—the Mark IV is the most recent at the time of this blog—it still is a very advanced and versatile camera in a compact and affordable design. While the Olympus and GoPro are aimed at consumers who want something a bit more intuitive, the RX1000 Mark III is aimed at those who may be more serious about film and photo and want something comparable to their DLSR or mirrorless land camera while not having to shell out big bucks. It offers impressive 20.1 MP stills, however it does lack 4K video. That being said, unless your intending to produce sequences for the new Blue Planet, 4K is still more of a frill than a necessity. It’s HD video is still top notch and absolutely up to date.  While the RX1000 will function great in any of the auto modes, the big difference between this camera and the other two are the manual functions it offers to the user.