Are you ready to take the step into underwater photography? Are you excited at the prospect of capturing magnificent aquatic kingdoms but equally worried that you don’t know where to start?
Never fear anxious divers! To help you along, we have assembled a list of the best dive cameras for 2019 including insider tips to getting a proper underwater exposure and nailing the shot.
Also included is a broad overview of what you need to consider when buying the best diver camera e.g. size, weight, underwater housings, and more!
Dive photography can be an intimidating activity. Not many photographers like the idea of putting their expensive equipment in essentially a very well-sealed box and then submerging it underwater. Even fewer people know which equipment to buy in the first place!
We’re going to cover lots on the subject of dive photography. We’ll discuss issues like white balancing, autofocus, low light performance, the best underwater housings, and much more.
Each of the best dive cameras that we present in this article will also be talked about in regards to features and so you’ll learn lots about which camera does what best.
By the end of this article, you’ll have everything that you could need to buy a dive camera and start underwater photography.
So getting crackin’ and check out these awesome kits!
Best Action Camera for Scuba Diving – GoPro HERO 6
Best Budget Dive Camera for Beginners – Olympus Tough TG-5
Best Compact Dive Camera – Panasonic LX100
Best Midrange Dive Camera – Sony Alpha A6000
Best Underwater Video Camera – Panasonic Lumix GH5
Best Professional Underwater Camera – Sony A7R III
Jump to -> The List of 12 Best Dive Camera
Action cameras make for natural dive cameras because they are built to last and can survive, with or without an additional housing. Action cameras are also cheap, ubiquitous, and quite easy to use, making them among the best dive cameras for beginners as well.
GoPro currently makes the best action cameras in the business. The company simply produces some of the most tried, most reliable, and most effective action cameras today. Our favorite model is the GoPro HERO 6 as it produces excellent videos and costs little these days.
The GoPro HERO 6 improves upon the older HERO 5’s optical quality. Videos can be recorded in 4k at a stunning 60 fps, which looks absolutely superb. Colors are richer and dynamic range is slowly catching up to many larger cameras. Combined with electronic image stabilization and videos/image are sure to be extra crisp.
The GoPro HERO 6 is built up to the company’s usual rugged standard and can take quite a beating. It is waterproof up to 30 ft without a housing and up to 130 ft with a housing.
The GoPro HERO 6 benefits from an enhanced user interface but still lacks many manual controls that would make for optimal shooting. The auto white balance is improved and works well enough but you’ll probably want to consider buying a red filter to go with it.
If you wanted to buy something other than a GoPro, check this article here for a list of the best alternatives. See if the competition is more appropriate for you.
Without question, the Olympus Tough TG-5 is the best dive camera for beginners thanks to its good image quality, robust build, and excellent features that are very useful underwater. Not to settle though, Olympus doubled down and also made the Olympus TG-5 and extremely affordable camera – less than $500! For this reason, we have also named it the best budget dive camera.
First and foremost, the Olympus Tough TG-5 is built like a tank. This a rugged compact camera that is freezeproof, shockproof, and fully waterproof up to 50ft. For snorkelers or novice divers, who are going no deeper than 45 feet to start out with, this is the perfect depth rating to get started with. Those who want to go deeper can invest in a separate housing.
The Olympus Tough TG-5 has a smaller 1/2.3” sensor that takes pretty good photos in the right conditions. It will not handle dimly situations very well and images will degrade quickly as ISO increases.
The Olympus TG-5 Tough has a built-in 25-100 mm-equivalent f/2-4.9 lens that is fog resistant. Those who prefer wide-angle photography can mount a separate wet lens on the Olympus.
Those that prefer macro will be happy to hear that the TG-5 already has a very effective macro mode built-in. The Olympus TG-5 will have no problem getting those super up-close shots nor will it struggle to nail the focus.
The inclusion 4k is just the cherry on top. With 4k recording at 30 fps and 120 fps at 1080p, you can capture some pretty amazing videos. The Olympus does suffer from poor usability due in part to the confusing in-camera menus and limited ability to adjust the exposure. The TG-5 is not fully manual, which can be very frustrating to advanced photographers.
The SeaLife is another rugged compact and is a decent alternative to the Olympus Tough TG-5. This camera is tough, takes good photos, and is backed up by large accessory library of wet lenses and strobes. If you’re a dedicated diver and are looking for a camera that’s ready to go almost directly out of the box, the SeaLife DC2000 is worth considering.
Given that SeaLife is not a major photographic company, the DC2000 performs surprisingly well as is comparable to many other compacts in its class. Images are crisp and have a good resolution thanks to the 20 Mp 1” sensor. Noise is a problem at higher ISOs.
The DC2000 can be pretty aggressive when it comes to reducing noise and sharpening in-body. You can shoot RAW in order to apply your own edits in post-processing but shooting speed is considerably slower than shooting JPEG.
The built-in lens of the DC2000 is a fixed 31mm-equivalent with a generous f/1.8 aperture. This fast aperture helps with dimly-lit situations, which the DC2000, unfortunately, does not handle well most of the time.
Some shooters also complain about the lack of zoom but, like most primes, it’s more of a preference than a necessity. There are plenty of additional wet lenses that you can look into in order to widen or narrow the FOV.
The DC2000 has excellent build-quality – being waterproof up to 60 ft without a case and 200ft with one – but suffers most notably from frustrating controls.
The physical buttons are sometimes unresponsive and the in-camera menus are very confusing to navigate through. Those who have been using DSLRs for a while may find this camera to be somewhat backward and a bit ridiculous to use sometimes.
Though there are a lot of great point-and-shoot compact cameras on this list, the Panasonic LX100 is absolutely the best compact dive camera out of them all.
With an enormous Micro Four Thirds sensor that offers great image quality and low light performance as well as a handful of other impressive features, the Panasonic LX100 is a winner.
Considering its features and reasonable price, we might even be so bold to call it the best overall dive camera. It’s really amazing to see a Micro Four Thirds sensor, which is usually reserved for larger mirrorless cameras, in a point and shoot.
Doing so means that the Panasonic LX100 has some of the best low light performance and dynamic range of all compacts. The sensor has a limited amount of megapixels but this could be a reason for its excellence when the light is dim (since the pixels are larger).
The Panasonic LX100 has a fast and very sharp Leica lens that further helps in dim situations, not to mention renders great photos regardless. Wide angle and macro shots are particularly good, which are the two types that divers will probably be using most. At 24-75mm, the focal range is notably short compared to other compact cameras.
The controls of the Panasonic LX100 are great and allow for more manual customization than most other compacts in its class. Exposure is fully adjustable and the white balance metering is very accurate.
The Panasonic LX100 is a bit slow to start up but once it’s going it’s very fast. You can shoot 11 fps burst, 6 fps with autofocus, and a ridiculous 40 fps when the resolution is reduced. The autofocus keeps up very well regardless of the fps and even functions admirably in low light.
To top everything off, the Panasonic LX100 can shoot 4k video. Good shit.
Canon makes a strong case for the best compact dive camera with the Canon Powershot G7X II. With some of the best image quality among all compact cameras and very easy-to-use controls, the Canon Powershot G7X II makes for a tough competitor and very good choice as an underwater camera.
The Canon Powershot G7X II has a 1” sensor that performs very well. Low light situations, once the bane of a compact’s existence, are not a problem for the G7X II. Higher ISOs look good with the G7X though not as good as the LZ100 or larger camera for that matter.
The lens of the Canon Powershot G7X II is very good, offering excellent macro work and is relatively fast for when you need some bokeh. There is a bit of softness at the wider angles but not much. Macro photos are of a stunning quality for a compact but the lens may hunt at close range sometimes. Autofocus in the GX7 II is overall acceptable.
The zoom range of the Canon Powershot G7X II is about average. Note that the actual lens may extend further than the lens port on certain underwater housings thus requiring extra accessories. Be sure to check and see if the underwater housing you are investing in can accommodate the Canon PowerShot G7X II’s full zoom.
The Canon Powershot G7X II has a very intuitive interface and is quite easy to use. Manuel control is possible with the G7X II as is RAW shooting. As is the case with most Canons, the white balance, in particular, is spot on with the G7X II and really shines underwater. There is no EVF, which may or may not irritate divers.
When the first RX100 was released it was a groundbreaker thanks to its exceptional image quality, blazing fast frame rate, and pint-sized package. The RX100 V is the latest and greatest of the line and so offers the best of all these things.
It’s difficult to call the Sony RX100 V a runner-up to the best dive camera compact edition because it is such a good camera. It is arguably, the best premium compact camera available. At the end of the day, it is prohibitively expensive though and lacks certain features like optimal 4k and solid macro shooting that we have come to respect so much with the Panasonic LX100.
The Sony RX100 V has a full 1” 20.1 Mp sensor that renders gorgeous photos. The built-in 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 performs very well but is a little short focally. Macro photography is not the Sony RX100 forte either and it only creates decent photos up close. You’ll need to buy an additional wet lens for proper macro photography.
On that note, the autofocus is also very fast and snaps to in a blink of an eye. Effective image stabilization also limits hand shake. For those who like to capture sharks or other nimble sea critters, the Sony RX100 V maybe be the best compact camera for you.
The Sony RX100 V can shoot video in 4k but only up to 5 minutes long. Sony cameras also struggle with achieving a proper white balance while underwater and this very apparent during filming.
Few other camera systems can compete with the stellar combination of the Sony Alpha line’s size, performance, and accessibility. The Sony Alpha a6000 continues this trend and, for underwater photographers, is one of the best dive cameras available.
The Sony Alpha a6000 still blows photographers away with its amazing image quality. It uses an APS-C sized sensor, which, though not as powerful as full frame ones, is still impressive given how small the camera is. Images are super sharp and look great even at higher ISOs.
The Sony a6000 is about the size of a cell phone albeit thicker. Due to this, the a6000 lacks many physical controls that are normally present, which some photographers may or may not find convenient. You can change all of the usual settings via one of the many in-camera menus.
The Sony Alpha a6000 does struggle to capture accurate white balance readings, which is endemic to most Sony cameras. You’ll have to shoot stills in RAW and probably use a red filter with this camera.
Many photographers have reported that external strobes do not work well with Sony a6000. This is because the a6000’s internal flash must be set to TTL to be shot underwater, which leads to a slight lag when externals are connected.
A word from Diving Squad: normally, we’d like to mention that the Sony Alpha series is great too because the cameras are so affordable. (It is because of affordability that we enjoy the Sony a5100 so much.)
The thing about underwater photography though is that by the time your buying an underwater housing you’ve already spent well over $1000. For this reason, this little point in separating the a5100 from a6000 because the $100-$200 saved is insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
At the time of its release, the Nikon D7200 was a very respectable camera, offering excellent image quality, easy handling, and overall good performance. The years have been very good to the D7200, partly because the technology is still relevant but mostly because of the price cuts.
You can buy this camera second hand now for less than $600, making it a relatively cheap underwater camera and an awesome bang-for-your-buck.
The Nikon D7200 has a 24.2 Mp APS-C sensor that really outshines the rest in its class. Images are very sharp and dynamic range is impressive. Low light performance is also very good. The image quality of the Nikon D7200 is good enough, in fact, to compete with several other full frame cameras. Admittedly, it’s still not nearly as powerful as the Canon 5D or Sony A7R.
Autofocus in the Nikon D7200 is excellent and does a great job of snapping to and tracking targets. The autofocus does stutter a bit though during video especially so when the light is dim. Make sure to have sufficient artificial light if you decide to make videos underwater with this camera.
Video, in general, is not really the Nikon D7200’s strong point. 4k is not possible and true 1080p is capped at 30 fps; 60 fps is possible but at a cropped 1.3X mode. Oddly, the aperture cannot be changed either in the middle of filming or in Live View mode.
The Nikon D7200 has excellent ergonomics with a robust body and very responsive controls.
Many people complain that the Nikon D7200 is too big for an APS-C camera and that the rear screen should have the ability to swivel. For divers though, these two criticisms are fairly moot. Most cameras become bulky when put in housing anyways and you won’t be able to move the screen for that matter either.
If you’re considering lenses for the D7200, be sure to check out The Broke Backpacker’s great article outlining the best Nikon lenses of 2018!
Olympus prides itself on producing cameras that are tough, functional, and not too expensive – the OM-D E-M5 Mk.II is a great example. The Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mk.II is a solid option for those who want a portable, rugged camera that can take great photos and stand up to the elements.
Those looking for a great dive camera best consider the Olympus OM-D E-M5 as it delivers consistently excellent images and is, at the end of the day, a very complete package.
The OM-D E-M5 Mk.II excels at still images thanks to its superb autofocus, shooting speed, and 5-axis image stabilization. The EM5 can shoot stills up 10 fps with full stabilization and neither the autofocus or buffer lag behind. Olympus also makes some of the finest and most impressive lenses in the business so you should have plenty of optical options.
The E-M5 II does use a smaller Micro Four-Thirds sensor so it still can’t compete with larger APS-C or full frame camera in dim situations. The sensor has 16 Mp, which isn’t as much as many other cameras, but still renders very attractive images.
The Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mk.II can record videos in 1080p at 60 fps. To be honest,1080p video recording isn’t exactly impressive technology these days and leaves a little to be desired.
Finally, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mk.II is one of the smallest and toughest mirrorless cameras available. Underwater photographers should worry less about breaking this camera nor should they worry about traveling with it.
At less than a $800, the OM-D E-M5 Mk.II is a great deal. Those who want more though – like a 20 Mp sensor, 4k video, and a blistering 60 fps shooting – should consider upgrading to the OM-D E-M1 Mk.II.
Panasonic’s GH series has been impressing photographers for years now thanks in part to their revolutionary video performance and portability. With the GH series, underwater photographers are able to capture stunning 4k videos and stills, which are comparable in quality to much more expensive full frame bodies.
With the release of the Panasonic GH5, things have only gotten better. Aside from a vastly improved 20 Mp image sensor, the GH5 is much better at performing underwater thanks to better metering, autofocusing, and image stabilization. Because of these improvements, we have no trouble saying that Panasonic Lumix GH5 is definitely the best underwater video camera and probably one of the best dives cameras, period.
The Panasonic Lumix GH5 captures some of the best videos in the game thanks to its full-sensor-width 4k shooting, which is possible up to a crazy 60 fps.
It is one of the very few mirrorless cameras that can do either of these things let alone both at the same time. Videos shot by the GH5 are extremely sharp and do not suffer at all from pixel dumping. 60 fps 4k means you can capture some flawless slow motion videos as well.
Still images produced by the GH5 are excellent thanks to the impressive 20Mp sensor. The sensor is a smaller Micro Four Thirds sized sensor, which means that the camera will show some noise and less color retention at higher ISOs.
The Panasonic GH5 is much better at functioning underwater thanks to improved white balance metering. Because of this, you will most likely not need an additional red filter. Autofocus is still zippy and works very well though it tends to search a bit with certain lenses.
Finally, the GH5 is constructed from very resistant magnesium alloy, which is great for resisting cold and moisture.
For those who have an unlimited budget, there is perhaps no finer full frame camera than the Sony Alpha A7R III. With a gargantuan 42.4 Mp sensor, image stabilization, durable construction, and a Bat Utility belt worth of shooting features, the Sony A7R III impresses in countless ways. Those looking for the best professional underwater camera should seriously consider the Sony Alpha A7R III.
There’s very little to criticize the Sony Alpha A7R III in regards to image/video quality. Dynamic range and high ISO performance are spectacular in the A7R III. Videos can be recorded at 4k and are predictably gorgeous. Images created with this camera are just the best.
Autofocus – once a thorn in the side of the A7R series – is vastly improved and functions very well underwater. Amazingly, this autofocus works very well even when foreign lense e.g. Canon are mounted on the A7R III via an adapter. The ability to mount foreign lenses expands the lens library of the A7R III exponentially. Add in a very effective image stabilization system that works with most said lenses and you have a camera that can do almost anything.
Even though the Sony Alpha A7R III can be an intimidating camera, it is actually not that hard to use. The physical controls are all fairly easy to understand the in-cameras are effective. Once you figure the many modes and features that this camera has, like focusing peaking, your photography will instantly be taken to a new level.
The Sony Alpha A7R III does not provide optimal white balance readings, unfortunately. You can mitigate these shortcomings in post-processing though, which makes it very important to shoot in RAW.
It goes without saying as well that this camera is very expensive. Choosing this as the best dive camera means you’ll have to make a huge investment.
There’s a reason why professional photographers time and time again call upon Canon cameras – they’re reliable, have superior lenses, and rarely fail. Simply put: Canon cameras get shit done.
For divers, the Canon 5D Mark IV is one of the best underwater cameras that they can use. With a plethora of features, a great full frame sensor, and, of course, the weight of Canon’s superlative lens lineup behind it, the Canon 5D Mark IV delivers in every way that a professional dive photographer could want.
The Canon 5D Mark IV has an impressive 30.4 Mp full frame sensor that performs exceptionally well in dimly lit situations. Even in near darkness, the 5D captures more than excellent images. Autofocusing is fast and consistently accurate, which will pay off underwater where contrast and lighting are not usually optimal.
The Canon 5D Mark IV shoots stunning 4k video, which, in addition to all of the aforementioned features, makes it one of the best underwater video cameras for professionals as well.
The only real downside of the Canon 5D Mark IV is its heftiness. In the water, this may be less noticeable though because most cameras gain a considerable amount of bulk when placed in a housing. In the long run, the difference between a Canon 5D Mark IV and, say, a Panasonic GH5 may be negligible when both are in their respective housings.
If you wanted a cheaper alternative to the Canon 5D Mark IV, consider its predecessor the Mark III, which can cost up to half as much.
Below is a list of features that one needs to think about before choosing the best dive camera for themselves. Consider all of these points and then revisit over our choices one more time. With some research and enough time to brainstorming, the best diver camera for you will become clear.
Generally speaking, you can turn just about any camera into a dive camera so long as you have the proper housing for it. Good news is that the majority of digital cameras have their own special waterproof shells thanks to third-party manufacturers. This means that you have a lot of options when it comes to choosing the type of dive camera best for you.
Below is a list of camera types and why they are more or less appropriate for underwater photography.
Size and weight play an important part in both the transport of all of your gear and, to a lesser extent, how it interacts with you in the water.
You’ll want to keep the total weight of your equipment under 50 lbs because a) it sucks to carry around more and b) you’ll get hit with an excess baggage fee at the airport for anything more.
You’ll have to consider the size and weight of all of your gear and not just the camera when packing/hauling your bags. The mass or additional accessories like strobes, extra lenses, and monitors all add up, very quickly. They may not feel as heavy in the water but they will feel heavy when you try to leave the house.
You’ll definitely need a special bag or carrying case to protect your equipment. Depending on how much you have and how much you travel, you might need a hard case like the Pelican 1500. At that rate, you should always have some sort of insurance as well; disaster can strike at any time.
Buoyancy and maneuverability are somewhat influenced by the size and weight of a camera system though not by much. Most camera housings are already designed to be neutral in water so whether you like them to be more or less buoyant is really up to you. How hands-free you like to be or how easily you like to move around is a little more relevant.
Do you mind swimming around with a kit that’s the size of a large steering wheel? Then a DSLR with a housing is possible for you. Do you want both of your hands-free and feel less encumbered? Then a rugged compact, which can fit in a pocket, is probably for you.
When choosing the best dive camera, it is very important to make sure that the controls are understandable and accessible. On that note, it is also crucial to have the right controls that will allow you to change settings manually and really nail a photo. The best dive camera for you will strike the right balance between usability and customizability.
Controlling a camera underwater is a similar experience to controlling one on land. You’ll still have to change settings like exposure, white balance, and shooting modes via a series of physical and in-menu controls. Being able to access and understand these is very important. Consider buying a camera with good manual controls and, if you struggle with these, learn how to use them.
Underwater camera housings are designed to work specifically with certain cameras and are usually pretty responsive. Not every button may be available though when a housing is installed and those present may not be perfectly tuned. Some underwater housing controls may be finicky or tedious to use.
Those who prefer to shoot in automatic modes will probably be frustrated underwater because cameras often struggle to get a proper reading when submerged. Strange lighting conditions tend to cause autofocusing systems to search and exposures to be thrown off. Unless a camera is specifically designed to be used underwater, most will have greater difficulty with metering while diving.
In particular, some cameras really struggle with white balancing when underwater and may not even be capable of registering the temperature of the scene. If your camera cannot get a proper WB reading, you may need to invest in a red filter to compensate for the extra blue castes. Thankfully, more and more cameras these days have broad enough temperature scales to get a proper WB reading while underwater.
Finding the best underwater camera housing is equally as important as choosing the best camera for underwater photography. The housing provides crucial protection against water, trauma as well as pressure. Hell, underwater photography is often impossible without a housing in the first place.
Not all underwater housings are created equal and divers should be very particular about the quality of a potential housing. All sorts of features should be taken into consideration like maximum depth, building materials, accessory ports, and internal components.
Each dive housing will be rated to go up to a maximum depth before compromisation becomes a risk. Depths range from 150 to 300+ feet. Take note of how deep you usually dive and which rating is best for you. If you should spring a leak, some housings come with a leakage alarm, which is pretty useful.
The internal components of an underwater camera housing can be physical or electronic. Electronic components may be faster and more responsive but can fail more easily. Physical components can sometimes be tedious to use but work for the most part at least. You must also consider if a housing can accommodate additional accessories, including lights, floats, and lens ports.
Build-wise, underwater housings are usually made of either high-grade plastic (polycarbonate) or aluminum. Polycarbonate is lighter and cheaper but is more prone to breaking as well as internal fogging. Aluminum is the strongest, most reliable material and can last for years but costs an arm and a leg. Aluminum housings generally offer smoother operation as well thanks to higher-quality design work.
We made the Ikelite our go-to dive camera housing because they’re relatively (big emphasis on relatively) affordable and effective. Being made primarily of polycarbonate though, Ikelites are not the most durable camera housings currently available.
If you want something supremely hardy, that can go deeper and take more of a beating, then we suggest going with Nauticam brand dive housings. Made from stronger aluminum materials, Nauticam housings are among the best underwater camera housings currently available. They are (no surprise) extremely expensive.
If you just want to snap a few photos while diving and don’t care about having the best camera for underwater photography, then stick with an easy and inexpensive dive camera. These cameras are very easy to use and provide images that are good enough. You may not have to worry about buying extra lenses or lighting accessories either.
If you wanted to take the best images possible, there are many things to consider. Several factors play a role in image quality and you’ll need to think about each. Most importantly you need to be aware of the sensor, lens selection, and lighting.
Camera sensors play a huge part in how images turn out. Larger sensors generally have greater dynamic range and function better in low light situations, the latter of which is near constant underwater. Lots of mirrorless cameras and DSLRs have full frame sensors but know that they will be heavier and more expensive.
Lenses also influence image quality and directly affect aspects like sharpness, contrast, DOF, and distortion. Choosing the right lens really depends on which camera company you invested in and what’s available from them. The Broke Backpacker has already written guides on the best Canon lenses and Nikon lenses but know that Olympus, Panasonic, and Sony all make excellent lenses as well.
Lighting is very important in underwater photography. Because water absorbs so much light, aquatic scenes are almost always dim and lacking color. To really capture the vibrancy of an underwater subject, you’ll need extra lighting equipment. Extra equipment adds extra weight and costs, of course.
Artificial lights or strobes come in varying outputs and sizes for varying scenes. For macro, you may just need one decent strobe. For wide angle shots, you’ll definitely need two. Underwater videography requires special video lights.
You’re going to need a good dive camera that can keep up with you while diving. Depending on what kind of shooter and how demanding you are will determine which dive camera is best for your needs.
Many of the features that are most important to terrestrial photography, like autofocus, burst rate, and battery life, are just as crucial if not more so in underwater photography. Each camera does one of these better or worse and offers its own unique set of performance-related benefits.
The best dive cameras will have very good autofocusing systems. Visibility and contrast will be limited in water, especially when it’s cold and murky, so you’ll need all the help you can get.
Camera speed can be crucial when shooting very fast moving subjects. To capture those elusive sea critters, you’ll need a camera with high burst rates and buffering speeds, just like on dry land.
Battery life is also very important to consider when looking for the best dive camera. If your camera battery dies, you’ll have to take it out of the housing and insert a new one, which can be a tedious process especially if you’re mid-dive and have to resurface.
Your strobes will also need their own batteries, which usually come in the form of AA or AAAs. Depending on how long you’re submerged this may not be a problem but for a full days’ diving expect to change batteries at least once.
Aquatic videographers who need the best underwater camera for video may also find 4k shooting indispensable. As the current industry standard for professional video, 4k is an absolute must for many. Thankfully, many recent cameras come equipped with this tech; it’s just a matter of which ones use it best.
Lenses play an enormous role in image quality and greatly influence the nature of your photos. Depending on what kind of underwater photos you want to take and what kind of underwater housing you’re willing to invest in, you’ll have to take lenses largely into consideration.
If you’ve chosen a cheap underwater camera like a compact or point-and-shoot, then lenses play a lesser role. Since compacts come with a built-in lens already, their respective underwater housings should be designed to accommodate them (there are rare exceptions).
Compact cameras offer inferior image quality and sometimes unacceptable FOVs (fields of view) when compared to interchangeable systems. Wide angle photography and macro photography is really the way to go while diving and most compacts only do one or neither of these things well. You can invest in wet lenses, which essentially act as adapters, that add a little extra macro or wide angle capability but these are often underwhelming.
To really have full photographic control, you’ll need a camera that can change lenses. The best dive cameras have excellent wide angle or macro lens options.
Note that when using different lenses with a underwater housing, you’ll need the appropriate lens port. A lens port is, essentially, a separate housing for your lens that varies in size and shape. Since no lens is the same neither physically or optically, each lens port will be unique. Check to see if the port comes with a focus and zoom ring and if you even need these.
Wide angles lens will need a dome-shaped port to avoid vignetting and maintain proper FOV. Macro lenses generally use flat ports. Some larger lenses may need additional extensions as well.
Lens ports are made with glass or acrylic. Glass is more durable but is heavier and more expensive. Acrylic is cheap and light but is prone to scratching.
Underwater photography is not a cheap hobby. Between the camera, lenses, and underwater housing, you could easily spend more than $1000, which is not an insignificant amount.
At the end of the day, finding the best dive camera really comes down to how much you’re willing to spend. If you’re a novice or casual hobbyist, you may find that an inexpensive underwater camera is the best thing for you. On that note, you may not even need a strong (and expensive) dive housing as you will not probably not be going anywhere near the limits of say 150 or 200 ft.
If you’re a professional with a more flexible budget, then the sky’s the limit when it comes finding the best underwater camera for photography.