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The Best Underwater Camera For Snorkeling is Hands Down The Olympus TG-6

an underwater camera for snorkeling adds a wonderful dimension to time under the waves

The following is a review of what I consider to be the best underwater camera for snorkeling in 2022: The Olympus TG-6.

Throughout my life, I have spent thousands of hours snorkeling, diving, photographing and videoing marine creatures and a coral reef teeming with life is where I’m happiest. I got my first drugstore underwater film camera when I was 12 years old (a Fujifilm) and since then have used a variety of different digital cameras.

That passion and experience is what I’ve poured into this review to help you make the best choice with your money and the verdict is: that best choice is the Olympus TG-6.

I love spending time in our planet’s (very lamentably) disappearing marine ecosystems, and the experience is made even richer when you have a camera in hand to film and photograph what you see (but which your children and grandchildren may not).

With that said, let’s get into the finer details so that you can choose the best underwater camera for snorkeling, diving or free diving. 


The Verdict Restated: The Olympus TG-6 is the Best Underwater Camera For Snorkeling

I have used this and other predecessor versions of the Olympus “Tough” series camera for years, as well as several other cameras from different manufacturers, but the TG-6 is by far my favourite. if you are interested in macro photography, the Olympus TG-6 is a no-brainer thanks to its brilliant microscope macro setting. If you are interested in shooting more wide-angle documentary-style footage, then a GoPro probably makes more sense (although the TG-6 shoots really nice 4K video as well). 

That said, while I am confident that it is the best underwater camera for snorkeling based on a range of features that I will go into, there are still several other options (at a variety of price points) that will shoot great video and photos for you. I explore those below.

The TG-6 is the latest iteration in the “Tough” series from Olympus, a versatile and rugged point and shoot that is a favourite among both snorkelers and divers (although you need to get a housing if you’re going to take it diving past 15m).

The TG-6 gives you: 

  • A 12MP, 1/2.3 BSI-CMOS sensor
  • RAW support
  • 1cm (0.4”) min focus distance (amazing for macro shots)
  • 25-100mm equivalent f2.0-4.9 stabilized lens
  • Waterproof to 15m (around 50 feet), shockproof to 2.1m (7ft) crushproof to 100kgf (great for packing), freezeproof to minus 10C and dustproof
  • Environmental sensors
  • 4K/30p video 
  • A built-in GPS, altimeter, compass, thermometer and accelerometer
  • Optional conversion lenses, flash add-ons and housings

Why It’s My Go-To

I’m going to go into all the features mentioned above but, in a nutshell, the TG-6 is the best underwater camera for snorkeling because it is designed for the outdoors and specifically underwater photography.

Its impressive range of settings, as well as customizability, make it a great compromise for snorkelers and divers looking for something that will produce stellar quality images and photos (within reason) without having to invest in pro equipment (i.e. cutting edge mirrorless cameras) and crazy housings. 

A 12MP, 1/2.3 BSI-CMOS Sensor

For anyone immediately wondering why they should opt for a 12MP sensor (as opposed to the 16 or 20MP found on the TG-6’s competitors), I have a couple of things to say. Not only can a lower pixel count actually be a benefit at higher ISOs (especially given the small chip size of the TG-6), but it allows the lens to reach that F2 aperture setting at the widest angle setting and let in twice as much light as its competitors. 

What’s more, 12MP is usually enough for most amateur photography purposes. Even in low-light settings (say you’re down 7+ metres), you can still get great shots with very nice color balance

RAW Support

The TG-6 is the only rugged point-and-shoot on the market that supports RAW, which means you can touch up photos for better brightness, and white balance, which is often necessary when shooting underwater. It also lets you enjoy higher resolution than you get with JPEGs, as the TG-6 comes with a lot of built-in “noise reduction” that can blur finer details, especially from a distance.

The only downside when it comes to the TG-6’s RAW capabilities is that, imo, Olympus hasn’t done a great job of automating it. They make you choose the shooting settings you want and then they are applied to the RAW file, as opposed to being able to adjust the settings image by image. 

**When you aren’t shooting in the pre-determined underwater settings, or for on-land shots, it’s a good idea to shoot in ‘P’ mode as much as you can because the auto setting’s ‘i-Enhance’ smart colour correction is overkill. For underwater shooting, however, you should still try to use the three underwater settings. These, along with several other features I will discuss below, are what make the TG-6 the best underwater camera for snorkeling. 

1cm (0.4”) Min Focus Distance (Amazing for Macro Shots)

When it comes to diving and snorkeling, I love all marine life, but at heart, I’m a macro nut. I love gobies, crustaceans, nudibranchs, eels and small cryptic fish like scorpion fish, frog fish, stone fish and seahorses. These animals are typically stationary crevice, coral and hole-dwellers or they rely on camouflage or aposematism (signalling their poisonous or venomous properties) to ward off predators, so they can make great photography subjects.  

The TG-6s 0.4” minimum focus allows you not only to capture subjects from just 0.4” (1cm away), but the digital microscope function allows you to move in up to 4 times more. Some of my favourite photos I’ve ever taken were with the TG-6’s microscope setting:

I’m aware moths don’t live underwater but I’ve taken some nice insect shots with the microscope setting throughout the years as well

One of the truisms of photography is that you rarely (if ever) get the shot you’re looking for on that first blink of the shutter. Underwater this is even more true. But, with a steady hand and some patience, the TG-6 will almost always provide you with something you are proud to show friends, family and fellow aficionados. 

Durability

If durability is a deciding factor for you, then the TG-6 really is the best underwater camera for snorkeling and general outdoor use. It’s waterproof to 15m (50ft), shockproof to 2.1m (7ft) crushproof to 100kg (great for packing and traveling), freezeproof to minus 10C and dustproof.

I really appreciate the lengths Olympus has gone to protect the internal workings of the camera. Each compartment (both the battery and charger housing) comes with two safety locks and the camera even warns you before you submerge it if one or more of these locks are open. 

I also appreciate the depth warning that you get when you approach the 15m/50ft limit. More than a couple of times I’ve been almost at, and once even a few feet below the max depth and the warning message has saved me. I’ve never taken it diving, but I assume you would likely get the same warning even with a housing on the camera. 

Environmental Sensors

Another reason I think the TG-6 is not only the best underwater camera for snorkeling, but the best durable point-and-shoot on the market, is that it is unmatched when it comes to its environmental sensors and the data they pull

With every shot you take, the camera gives you GPS coordinates, the height above/below sea level, how deep underwater you are, compass direction, acceleration and external temperature. I really like these features for land photos as well, especially the temp, elevation and GPS data, because it makes it much easier to log specimens in places like iNaturalist or for uploading to photography groups. 

4K/30p Video 

I’ve been really happy with the TG-6’s 4K/30fps video capabilities, but in reality, they are no better than any decent new smartphone. The movie IS provides nice stabilization (although it does crop things a little too much for my taste), the audio levels are adjustable and the wind filter is nice (though kind of a moot point when filming underwater). 

The TG-6 shoots (silent) full HD video at 120fps, and you get even faster frame rates if you reduce the resolution. I tend to shoot at 1080p because I don’t like transferring massive files to my Google Drive on the just-ok internet connections I’m using much of the time.

One of my biggest issues with the camera, however, (and it’s a common feature of all cameras) is that shooting video drains your battery like a MF. If you plan on shooting a lot of video, I would suggest also picking up a few spare LI-92B rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. You can get generic ones on Amazon or eBay for quite cheap.

Still really nice videos, though. This video was shot in Dahab, Egypt, one of my top snorkeling destinations for digital nomads.

If you are looking for the best underwater camera for snorkeling from a pure video perspective, then the TG-6 is beaten out by GoPro.

Optional Conversion Lenses, Lighting and Housing

I would also award the TG-6 the “best underwater camera for snorkeling” prize because of how many Olympus accessories you can mix and match it with. These include wide-angle and fish-eye conversion lenses, light guides, flash diffusers, underwater housings etc. You can check out a more comprehensive list of Olympus add-ons here if you’re interested.

In Summation

The TG-6 is the best underwater camera for snorkeling thanks to its ruggedness, wide range of features, surprisingly good image quality for a point and shoot, comprehensive environmental sensors and data, and its macro and underwater settings. And its RAW capabilities allow you to touch up a lot of the overcorrection that you tend to get with point and shoots, which is great for both underwater and above water.


Alternatives

The reasons why I think the TG-6 is the best underwater camera for snorkeling, while shared by many snorkelers I’ve spoken to over the years, are subjective in certain respects. Just because I put a lot of stock in the macro settings or environmental data doesn’t mean everyone will.

Because of that, it’s worth your while to consider some of the other, admittedly, very good underwater cameras for snorkeling, particularly if video is what you are most interested in.


GoPro Hero 7

If it seems kind of odd that I’ve chosen a GoPro that is now three generations out of date (as of writing this article we’re on the 10), I’ve done so for a reason.

From what I’ve seen–and a lot of reviewers concur–the newer gen models like the 9 or 10 tend to overheat and randomly shut off a lot. You can peruse the reviews and make your own mind up, but the last time I borrowed a GoPro from a friend (the 9), it did exactly that.

Besides, I’m fine with 4K HD @60fps instead of 5K. The 12MP photo quality is definitely a step-down, but most people aren’t looking for a photo camera when they buy a GoPro.

Put it this way. This video of Raja Ampat (one of my favourite places in the world) was shot with the GoPro Hero 7 and it looks fantastic.


Fujifilm FinePix XP140

The Fujifilm FinePix was a camera that I used for a few years before I decided to make the move to the TG series.

It’s a cheaper underwater camera, but it’s a great simple introductory camera for travelers and snorkelers who don’t want to shell out double the price for something with more features. It also shoots in 4k.

To its credit, it’s actually got a bigger sensor than the TG-6 (16.4MP compare to 12) and has a better depth rating (82 feet compared to 55). It also has a longer zoom (10x), but I still think the microscope setting on the TG-6, the pre-set underwater features and the environmental data take the cake.

That being said, I’ve shot some really nice photos and videos with my Fujifilm. Nothing that’s going to make it into a BBC documentary, but still shots and videos that I feel good showing people.


Olympus TG-5

Depending on who you ask, the Olympus TG-5 (and even the TG-4), the 6’s predecessor camera, is just as good as the TG-6. While there is no denying they are highly similar (and the TG-6 is more expensive), there are still a few reasons I would choose the 6 over the 5–higher resolution screen, weighs less, and I love the microscope mode.

When it’s all said and done, however, the TG-5 is a very good runner-up for best underwater camera for snorkeling and probably the closest alternative to its big brother the TG-6. The 4 is also good, but it doesn’t shoot 4K.

If you can get over the clown royalty-free music this channel owner has chosen, this video is a pretty good demonstration of what you can expect from the TG-5.


Nikon CoolPix W300

I’ve used the CoolPix on dive trips and while I don’t think it’s the best underwater camera for snorkeling for a few reasons, I really like that it is depth rated to 30m which means, unless you are doing some more serious diving, you don’t need to worry about buying an expensive housing. 

Here’s the kind of video you can expect to shoot diving with the Nikon CoolPix W300. The person in the video is clearly diving (not snorkeling) and based on the sunlight getting through and the coral cover/species, I’d say they’re down between 10-15m and are still capturing great color quality:

With all of the other cameras mentioned above (save for the Fujifilm), you would need to invest in a housing that could cost almost as much as the camera if you wanted to take them down past 15-or-so metres (50 feet). 

The CoolPix has the same size sensor (1/2.3”) as the TG-6, but it’s 16 megapixels instead of 12. It’s also shockproof, freezeproof and shoots 4K video. It costs around the same as the TG-6, but you don’t get the host of great underwater photo settings or environmental data you get with the Olympus camera.


I Love My TG-6

I’ve been using the TG-6 now for a few years, and while I will definitely get the 7 when it becomes available, it is the best underwater camera for snorkeling on the market. In my travels around the world, I have seen more snorkelers and even divers with this camera (with and without the housing) than any other.

I wish I had been using the Tough series back in 2015 when I invested in my first digital underwater camera, but I still had a great time with my simpler (and cheaper Fujifilms). With that said, I hope the above review and breakdown, combined with the photo and video evidence, help you buy the best underwater camera for snorkeling for your needs/requirements—one that will provide you with hours of entertainment and endless underwater memories for years to come. 

Check out and buy the Olympus TG-6 here.

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