Getting the best underwater action camera is pretty tricky these days, simply because of how many there are to choose from.
A quick google search will reveal there’s dozens of options available – but what takes much longer to find out, is how these different action cams vary in terms of capabilities, price and specs.
Not all underwater action cams are equal – some offer better picture or video quality than others – some can go deeper underwater… and one has even been made especially for scuba diving.
On this page, we’ve reviewed the top 6 underwater action cameras available in 2021 – we’ve discussed the pros and cons of each as well as what we think each model is best suited for.
Currently, the GoPro Hero 9 Black is the only action camera that can record in 5K video resolution!
It features GoPro’s latest video stabilisation technology: “hypersmooth blast” which handles lens shake extremely well, resulting in exceptionally smooth footage.
Although excellent video quality is where the Hero 9 shines the most, it can also take detailed 20mp photos, with it’s huge 23.6 MP sensor.
Features include 8 x slow motion, white balancing, WiFi integration and a digital zoom.
But our favourite feature of the Hero 9, is the 4 digital lenses that users can switch between – superview, linear, narrow or wide angle.
Within the setup menu, users can also combine different settings – for example, you can select video quality with slow motion or screen size.
Highly compact, rugged and durable, the Hero 9 may be a tad more expensive than other underwater action cameras, but the enhanced quality of the Hero 9 does outweigh it’s extra cost.
Also, it’s battery life is huge! When shooting video, depending on the resolution you can get anywhere from 1 to 2 hours on a single battery!
Straight out the box, it is waterproof to 10m / 30 ft. However, it can be taken all the way down to 60m / 200ft when placed within it’s separately purchased (but incredibly cheap!) underwater housing.
Akaso are an extremely popular manufacturer of affordable yet high performing action cameras that include underwater housing in their main price.
The Akaso V50 Elite shoots full HD 4K video at up to an impressive 60 frame rates and has three view angles as well as integrated video stabilization technology to counter shaky hands.
It can take crisp 20mp photos and also features an 8 x digital zoom as well as WiFI integration, making it extremely easy to share photos and videos on social media with.
Burst photo, loop recording and time lapse modes are all available.
The battery life is pretty decent at around 60 – 90 minutes (depending on video resolution), although not as long as that of the Hero 9.
A big plus of the V50 Elite is that it’s underwater housing is included in the already very reasonable price and with this it can go to 131 ft / 40m underwater – which is the depth limit for recreational diving.
Rugged and compact, the Akaso V50 Elite is more than just an action camera for underwater. It’s voice control feature, remote control, wrist strap and helmet accessories make it superb for recording land missions to!
Despite being under a hundred bucks, the Apeman A87 action cam still manages to keep pace with some of the more expensive options out there.
It can record 4K video at 60 frame rates per second as well snapping adequate photos with a 20mp sensor and has decent gyroscope stabilization tech.
With burst photo, slow motion and loop recording as well as an 8 x digital zoom and time lapse modes, there are plenty of options to play around with.
This is also a great option for beginners – the user interface and settings are so simple and easy to use that a monkey could use the Apeman! Also, the large 2 inch lcd display screen makes framing each shot a breeze.
By installing the “Apeman” smartphone app and using the integrated wi fi, one can easily download and share videos and photos on social media.
Battery life is pretty decent, being around 60 – 90 minutes when shooting video, depending on what resolution you’re at.
This action cam’s waterproof housing is included and with it, it can be taken to 40m / 133 feet deep. It also includes a remote control, helmet attachment kits and a carrying bag for the cam and various accessories.
(We also have an entire page about Cheap Underwater Cameras).
The Paralenz Vaquita has been made especially for scuba divers and it’s really quite different to all of the other options we’ve described on this page.
For starters, it both looks and handles more like a dive torch than one of the traditional, cuboid action cams.
This dive camera doesn’t need to be placed in any underwater housing. Straight out of the box, it’s waterproof to a jaw dropping 350m / 1150 ft!
Paralenz keep things simple with just one button and an intuitive user interface, meaning the Vaquita takes all of about five minutes to get used to.
It records full HD 4K video at 60fps with EIS anti-shake stabilization and also tells the depth, geographic location and temperature and dive profile of each dive, which is displayed on the large colour OLED screen.
It can take 12mp or 10mp wide angle photos.
Perhaps best of all, the Vaquita has a patented, automatic color correction system which detects depth and adjusts white balance accordingly for vivid and realistic colours.
It’s battery life is unmatched by any other camera – it can record 4K video for 3 hours straight on a single battery!
Admittedly, this is the most expensive underwater action cam going, however it does include an underwater torch and lighting tray.
We love the Paralenz smartphone app where users can share videos and in doing so provide data to the many marine research organizations partnered with Paralenz.
(We have a main page on dedicated scuba diving cameras).
DJI are well known for making superb drones and gimble devices, but in more recent times they’ve branched out to include action cameras in their repertoire.
Straight off the bat, the DJI Osmo is the only action camera we’ve reviewed that features three buttons as a posse to just one or two. This makes controls that little bit faster to scroll through.
The custom mode let’s you store, list and select frequently used shooting modes and settings for ease of use. There is also a quick switch button for rapidly swapping between modes and settings.
Combine this with an intuitive user interface – as well as two large lcd display screens (one which is front facing, for selfie framing and the other at the back) and the DJI Osmo is a great action cam for beginners.
It’s capable of shooting 4K video at up to 60fps and has a 12 MP sensor for snapping crisp, clear photos.
Other features include super slow mo, “RockSteady” EIS anti-shake technology and three aspherical layers of the lens, which effectively reduce lens glare and distortion to deliver crystal clear images.
Battery life is fairly decent at around 60 minutes when shooting 4K video and longer at lower video resolutions.
The DJI Osmo Action camera is waterproof to 36ft / 11m straight out of the box and when placed in the separately purchased but cheap, Sruim underwater housing, it can go to 200 ft / 61m.
This is an excellent underwater action camera for first time diving photographers and videographers – it maintains high quality whilst being the most straightforward action camera to use.
The VanTop Moment 6S is jam packed with extra accessories – this action camera comes with it’s underwater housing, 2 rechargeable batteries, a USB cable and a slot based charger.
Additional accessories that are also included, but which only be used out of the water, are an external microphone, wrist watch style digital remote control and a helmet mounting kit.
So straight off the bat the VanTop Moment 6S’s wide selection of extra accessories makes it a great action camera if you’re looking for an good all-rounder – something to use on land as well as beneath the waves.
However, if your soul purpose for an action camera is to record underwater adventures, the VanTop Moment 6S doesn’t actually have any more extra underwater accessories, than other action cams.
Also, it’s underwater housing is only waterproof to 30m / 98ft which is at least 10m / 33ft less than any other action camera we’ve reviewed on this page can go.
It does record 4K video at up to 60fps and features adequate EIS anti-shake technology as well as 8 x slow mo, time lapse and an 8 x zoom. With just a 12mp sensor, image detail could be a little better!
Sure there’s more extra accessories, but most won’t come in handy unless you you’re using it on land.
An action cam is a digital camera that’s been designed especially to record action whilst being immersed in it. What counts as action? It’s usually sports and adventure activities such as surfing, biking, skiing – and scuba diving!
Action cams are typically worn or mounted in a way that they can shoot from the point of view of the shooter. They tend to be durable, rugged and waterproof at surface level.
They’re usually low to mid price as a posse to more expensive cams and a lot easier to travel with due to their small size.
Common features include being able to record in 4k video, video stabilization, burst and time lapse modes, slow mo and the use of CMOS image sensors.
Generally speaking action cameras are best used for shooting video – they produce better footage than photos due to having fairly small image sensors, although can still snap some decent stills!
Whereas most action cameras tend to be waterproof to around 10 m / 33ft, they can be taken much deeper underwater if placed in underwater housing – just be sure to purchase the right uw casing for the right cam!
Underwater housing is either included in the main price of an action cam or has to be purchased separately but usually costs less than twenty bucks.
So when we’re talking about underwater action cameras, we’re describing regular action cams for which underwater housing is available, that allows them to be taken at least as deep as recreational diving limits.
Within their waterproof casing they make excellent cheap dive cams, but can still be used for all the land based activities you’d expect of a regular action cam.
Although many action cams primary source of control is via the touchscreen display, when placed in their waterproof casing, they can only be operated via buttons.
This refers to the number of pixels displayed on the screen. More pixels means a higher image resolution which results in more detailed image quality.
Levels of video resolution are usually described according to the width of how many pixels can be fit within each dimension. For example, with 1080p video resolution, there are 1080 pixels in the width of the dimension. 1080p is a higher resolution (more pixels) and therefore provides better video than 780p. However, it’s not as high as 4K!
Recording in higher video resolution produces better video footage but uses more battery.
4K video refers to a video resolution that has 4000 worth of pixel width within the image. It results in much clearer, more detailed video footage than the next video resolution down: 1080p. These days, all decent cams are expected to have 4K capabilities.
If a camera can’t shoot 4K video, don’t bother with it – it’ll be terribly outdated compared to newer models! You’ll be relieved to know that because we only review the best gear, all the action cams on this page can shoot in 4K video.
5K is going to be the next big thing in terms of video resolution as it provides even more detail than 4K. But currently, only the GoPro Hero 9 offers 5K video resolution!
(We’ve written an entire article specifically on underwater video cams!).
FPS stands for frames per second or frame rates and it refers to how many video frames a camera can capture per second. The higher the fp the higher the quality of video footage. So if a camera’s max video capability is 4K at 60fps, this is better than 4K at 30fps – simple as!
This refers to gyro, EIS, algorithm or other technology installed in a camera, which is able to counter for and correct shaky video footage.
Not all video stabilzation is equal – the GoPro Hero 9 has some of the best video stabilization we’ve seen yet. That said, even the best video stabilisation is not a magic bullet for terrible camera skills.
If, for example, you were to manically wave your camera about in every direction as though it were some sort of mallet – stopping only to use it to smash in to a rock or the face of a passing fish, your video footage would still come out horrendously shaky and unwatchable, vid stabilisation tech or not. You might also get fish blood on the lens.
However, if say, you were filming a drift dive and the current had been knocking you about this way and that; so long as you’re putting in some effort to keep the cam steady, the video stabilization tech will do the other half of the job for you and you can get some footage that looks extremely smooth even if it felt anything but, at the time you were shooting it!
We’ve only reviewed action cam options that have some form of video stabilization.
A megapixel (mp) is a million pixels – the term not only used for the number of pixels in an image but also for the number of image sensor elements.
The more megapixels a camera has in it’s mp sensor, the more detail it can capture in an image. So a 16 mp sensor can take a more detailed photo than a 12 mp one.
However, whilst a high mp sensor does mean better photo quality, it can actually detract from video recording quality due to making footage more noisy.
Therefore, an underwater camera that is good for both photos and videos, should have a decent number of – but not too many megapixels. A 16 to 20 mp image sensor will be ideal.
The action cameras with the biggest mp sensors are the GoPro Hero 9, the Akaso Elite V50 and the Apeman A87. All have a mp sensor of at least 20mp, whereas the other 3 action cams we’ve reviewed only have mp sensors of 12!
Refers to the overall feel and simplicity of navigating through a cameras menu when selecting modes, settings and viewing photos and videos.
Also known as dive housing, it’s the protective outer casing that cameras must be placed in to make them waterproof. Without a case, most action cams can go to 33ft / 10m; but when placed inside underwater casing they can go much, much deeper.
Underwater housing is sometimes included with an action cam but other times it has to be purchased separately but it’s always very cheap.
One thing to bare in mind that most action cams are designed to be operated via a touch screen. However, within their underwater casing they can only be controlled via buttons – which can slow up controls a little, but not too much!
Not all action cams have a zoom, but when they do it’s always a digital zoom. This can be a handy feature, but don’t go expecting any extra detail when you zoom in on things, because you won’t get it. Digital zoom is simply a glorified crop – unlike optical zoom which does provide more detail, but is not featured on action cams.
A video recording mode that captures video at an extremely low frame rate – roughly one or two frame rates per second. When played back, time-lapse video is like the opposite of slow motion.
For example, imagine a video clip of the sun rapidly rising in the sky as the clouds roll past as fast as cars. In the clip, it takes just twenty seconds for the sun to track from east to west before it dips back below the horizon and the sky darkens to night again.
Obviously the scene has been sped up (with time lapse mode) but none of the footage appears shaky or rushed to indicate this. Instead, it looks like everything is happening in real time and that the sun naturally moves that quickly across the sky. This is the effect that time lapse mode gives.
Admittedly, time lapses are less useful for divers as you have a limited amount of time underwater and most time lapse mode effects require you to film the exact same thing for a long time. But it’s still a handy feature to have! You never know when you might want to use time lapse mode on a lobster shedding it’s skin or a hatching shark pup.
Also known as continuous shooting mode, this is where several photos are captured in rapid succession – something that is particularly good for a subject that is in successive motion. You can then select the best image of the group.
Allows you to record a video and play it up slower than normal. 4 x slow mo, means you play a recorded piece of video four times slower than normal – 8 x slow means eight times slow – and super slow mo means you can play back the footage 32 times slower than normal.
If you’re new to the exciting world of underwater videography/photography, check out our main page on “Underwater Photography Tips for Beginners”. There’s a few simple rules that if you follow, will help you instantly up your underwater recording game.
Boom! Article done. We truly hope you’ve found this to be a useful read and that you’re feeling ready to get out there and purchase your dream underwater action camera.
You can rest assured that we constantly scour the markets for new models of camera and stay up to date with all scuba gear updates. We’re always updating and improving our content, so the camera makes that you’ve read about today truly are the best action cameras out there right now.
Diving Squad Out.
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