The following is a review of what I consider to be the best underwater camera for snorkeling right now: The Olympus Tough 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 Tough 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).
Keep in mind that all of the photos in this review have been converted to jpegs so because there are a lot of them and if the page was ever going to load, the file size needed to be smaller.
If you want to see better versions of these photos (as well as more of my wildlife photos), head over to my Instagram.
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.
I’ve provided my thoughts on the TG6, as well as some alternative options. These are:
I’ve also gone into a bunch of detail on how to use the TG6 to its fullest potential to take nice underwater photos:
As well as some tips and considerations for snorkelers when it comes to underwater photography:
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.
It is the best of the compact waterproof cameras (a top rated underwater camera by snorkelers and divers), it shoots high quality image of marine life and the underwater world, lets you capture video is 4K and has super slow motion video and high speed video mode.
If you are interested in macro photography and want a compact camera, the Olympus Tough TG 6 is a no-brainer snorkeling camera thanks to its brilliant macro mode.
That said, while I am confident that it is the ideal 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 Olympus Tough 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
- Macro mode
- 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 inexpensive 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 underwater shots without having to invest in pro equipment (i.e. cutting-edge mirrorless cameras) and crazy housings.
It is also the best camera in the price range if you are interested in taking next-level macro photos (often on par with what you would get from a more advanced digital camera in an underwater housing).
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.
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:
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.
If durability is a deciding factor for you, then the TG-6 really is the best 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.
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.
I’ve been really happy with the TG-6’s 4K/30fps video quality, but in reality, they are no better than any decent new smartphone and it is definitely not the best underwater video camera you can get in this price range.
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 crazy. 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.
If you are looking for the best equipment 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 favour the TG-6 the 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.
The TG-6 is the best underwater compact 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.
It’s not a mirrorless camera, and you are not going to get the same kind of high quality images that you could get from a new generation mirrorless with a housing, and it lacks the image stabilization capabilities, I still think it’s the best camera for the money and purpose.
Alternative Waterproof Cameras
While certainly not the best cheap underwater camera for snorkeling (there are other less expensive snorkeling cameras), 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.
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 video @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.
As with most GoPros, battery life is usually an issue.
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 optical zoom (10x), but I still think the microscope setting on the TG-6, the pre-set underwater features, the ability to shoot in RAW 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.
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. It’s a great rugged camera that shoots high quality images, with good battery life, decent optical zoom and the built-in settings make it good for shallow water diving.
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.
I’ve used the Nikon 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 Nikon CoolPix has the same size image 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. Still, the Nikon Coolpix is a nice cheap waterproof camera.
Macro Shooting With the TG-6
Despite the fact that there is no full manual mode on the TG6, there are a few settings that give you much more control over your final image.
Aperture priority mode on the TG-6
You can shoot macro and super macro on the TG6 in “Aperture Priority Mode.”
And then, select the super macro autofocus option. One of my favourite features of the TG& is that the super macro autofocus allows you to focus on anything that is “super” close to your lens without having to be in the microscope mode–which was the case with the TG5.
In aperture priority mode you set the aperture you want. A smaller depth of field (e.g., f4.9) will give you a blurry background. A higher depth of field (e.g., f18) will give you less blur and a slighter darker background.
After you do this the camera automatically adjusts the shutter speed.
Some other that help optimize the aperture priority mode are:
- An ISO of 100
- White Balance set to “Auto”
- RAW file format
- Use TTL (or “S-TTL,” depending on your strobe).
This is one of my favourite camera features on the TG6., basically, it allows you to adjust where the autofocus
You can turn this on by going to the main menu
Going to the custom menu
then to page A and selecting MF Assist
And then turn peaking ON:
Following this, head to page B of the customer menu:
Then, change the peaking colour from the default white to RED (that will be the easiest contrast to see underwater):
Focus peaking only works in manual focus mode, but it really does give you a lot more control over what you are focusing on when you’re taking macro shots.
You will often find that the autofocus chooses focus points that you don’t like or that fail to capture enough or the important part(s) of your subject.
The downside of using focus peaking can be that you give up the TG’s already very good autofocus.
There is a “best of both worlds” option, however. Focus Lock.
Focus lock is quite easy to use. You press and half-hold the shutter button to focus the same way you would focus on any subject
When the little green box appears, however, you press OK and it locks the focus area in place:
You got the control of manual focus but the ease-of-use of auto focus.
Underwater wide angle photos with the TG6
I love the TG6’s designated advanced underwater mode (3 depth specifications) for both macro and wide angle shooting. They work well and you can take fantastic photos with them, but there are some other advanced settings that are also worth checking out.
These advanced settings are great for capturing larger underwater subjects like turtles, wrecks, large morays and sharks, but they are also fantastic for getting great reef scenes and nice atmospheric shots.
It’s also worth noting that if you want to get the best wide-angle shots possible on the TG6, you should probably consider adding a few things to your camera–like an underwater strobe and a wide angle lens (aka a “wide-angle conversion lens”).
If you have a good feel for ambient lighting, and even just with the underwater presets, it is still quite easy to get great underwater macro photos with a video light or your camera’s internal flash.
Once you start dealing with wide angle shots, however, is when your accessories start to matter more. A strobe (and ideally two) allows you to light up your subject much better and provides much better color and contrast (especially the deeper you go).
Wide-angle wet lens
A wide-angle conversion lens is a great wide angle lens for expanding your field of view and letting you shoot bigger subjects and more expansive scenes from closer up.
In underwater photography, you ideally want to be as close as possible to your subject because of light diffusion in water.
A wide-angle wet lens on the TG-6 allows you to expand your field of view to 120 degrees, meaning you can capture larger scenes and subjects while still being quite close to them.
Anyway, regardless of whether you add these accessories to your setup or not, there are still some wide angle settings you should choose manually on the TG6.
The Best Features for Wide Angle Photography While Using Strobes
These are the underwater camera settings you should use by default when shooting with strobes.
You should be shooting in “RAW” or “RAW+jpg” so that you have more options when it comes to editing your photos.
Unfortunately, the TG6 doesn’t have a manual mode, and the closest thing to it is the aforementioned Aperture Priority Mode (A) as it gives you the most control over ISO, aperture and shutter speed.
For wide angle shots, select “A” and I typically set my aperture to f8.
If you’re using an external light source (i.e., a strobe) while shooting underwater, you should always have your White Balance set to “Auto White Balance.”
Auto White Balance (AWB) is fine for most shooting environments.
Set focus to “Auto Focus.” The TG6 has a 25-point autofocus system that works well, both above and below water and it can detect faces (although your subject usually need to be looking directly at the sensor).
Live View Boost
Live View Boost is great for helping you with low-light shooting because it brightens up your display screen and gives you a better idea of what you’re actually looking at/photographing.
Underwater wide angle settings you should adjust based on the shooting conditions
ISO and exposure compensation are two things you probably want to tweak based on the conditions. I always start with a low ISO (ISO100) and then increase as needed.
When it comes to exposure compensation, I always start at about -1 Stop.
How to shoot faster with your strobe
If you’re shooting with strobes, they are triggered by the TG6s internal flash, which isn’t that fast, and if you’re shooting a fast moving subejct, the recyle time of the built-in flash does come into play.
The TG-6, however, has a really nice feature that lets you adjust the internal flash (to a minimum output of 1/64 total power). This reduces your recycling time and lets you shoot your strobes faster after every shot.
Underwater photography tips and considerations for snorkelers and free divers
Shooting great underwater images and video while snorkeling requires some different skills that it does for scuba diving.
There are, of course, some composition trips and tricks that apply to all underwater photographers–things like getting low (eye-level) and as close to your subject as possible, filling the frame, keeping the light behind you when shooting with natural light.
But there are a few things to keep in mind.
Shoot more with underwater cameras while snorkeling
Some professional photographers advise you to spend more time with your subject and shoot less to get a higher proportion of more interesting, high resolution photos.
When you are snorkeling, however, you don’t have the same buoyancy control as you do when you’re diving. Even with a weight belt (which I often wear), a lot of the time you are moving your legs to keep yourself buoyant while snorkeling, which means you get a lot of blurry images on your underwater adventures.
To compensate, you simply have to shoot more. I probably shot 15 images of this Dwarf Hawkfish and I came out with one I was happy with:
The autofocus and image stabilization of the Olympus Tough TG 6 (the best underwater digital camera on the market, with the best optical image stabilization), let alone other waterproof cameras, are not what what you would expect with a modner mirorrless camera.
Therefore, underwater photographers need to be more liberal with their shooting while snorkeling.
Know your shot/subject before descending
When you’re scuba diving, not only can you breathe normally while shooting, but if you’re a good diver, it’s much easier to remain stable and buoyant–which means it’s easier to take underwater photos.
When you’re snorkeling or free diving, depending on how long you can hold your breath and the quality of your fins, you might only have a minute (or less to find and line up a shot).
I like to descend, look for a subject, identify it and then ascend so that I can regroup, catch my breath and beeline straight for what I’m targeting on my next descent.
If your subject is 10m below, you burn quite a lot of oxygen getting down that deep if you just have a normal pair of dive fins.
My best underwater images are almost all ones where I knew what I was targeting before descending.
Use the Proper Fins
Believe it or not your fins play a big role in the image quality (and video quality) of your underwater photos.
This is because you are both shooting and maintaining your balance/buoyancy while snorkeling and if you are using stubby snorkeling fins, you are going to be moving your legs a lot more than you would with longer, more powerful fins.
Check out my review of the best snorkel fins for serious snorkelers. These are hybrid fins that work well for both snorkeling and scuba diving and make descending, ascending, general propulsion and batting currents much easier.
Be conscious of your dives
What I mean to say is, if you are someone who likes to spend hours snorkeling and you are able to dive down 10+ metres on each descent, pay attention to how your body is responding.
I saw this because underwater photography while snorkeling, especially if you are an ok freediver, does put you at risk for decompression sickness.
If you are constantly diving down to capture the perfect underwater photos, you might find that you either start to feel funny or feel funny not long after exiting the water.
More than a few times I’ve come back to shore and within 10-15 minutes I start to feel dizzy and nauseous. The risk of decompression sickness is still quite low for breath-hold divers and underwater photographers, but if you start to feel bad, exit the water.
Shorts with zipper pockets
The TG6 is not a cheap underwater camera and on more than a few occasions, I’ve been snorkeling with my girlfriend or my brother, only to have them point to my camera slowing sinking to the bottom.
This is because I’ve had the camera in a velcro rear pocket or in what I thought was a deep-enough non-zippered side pocket to stay with me.
Whether you use compression shorts, wetsuit pants, board shorts or anything else, zippered pockets are a convenient way to store a compact camera while you’re not using it.
Selfie stick for recording video
Even the very best underwater cameras don’t have amazing image stabilization and, as I already touched on, when you activate the video stabilization features it crops things too much for my liking.
The best way to maximize your FOV without sacrificing video quality on an underwater camera is to get yourself a selfie stick.
Shooting videos one-handed with a compact camera while trying to remain stable as you propel yourself through the water is not that easy.
One-handed shooting with a waterproof camera
Another big consideration when using waterproof cameras for underwater photographer while snorkeling is that you will often have to shoot one-handed.
Even with decent image stabilization on the Olympus Tough TG 6, if you have to move your legs and free hand around to stay neutrally buoyant, you will find it hard to get the image quality you want.
One thing that I try to do while snorkeling is find rocks that I can anchor myself to with my free hand.
There are a couple of caveats to keep in mind here.
The first is that you should never touch coral or live rock while snorkeling in the tropics. If I’m going to grab onto anything, it’s going to be a rock that is free of sponges and other delicate critters or a big piece of dead coral.
Rockier habitats are better for this.
Another reason I like doing this is because I conserve my oxygen longer. If I dive down and grab hold of a rock, fish get used to me quicker and I get to observe a wider range of behaviours and reef animals going about their business–which makes for more interesting underwater images.
I Love My TG-6
The tough camera line has been my go-to underwater digital camera for a while now, and the Olympus Tough TG 6, which I’ve been using for a few years, is by far my favourite.
A smart device with built in wifi and wireless image transfer, good battery life, decent optical zoom, the ability to shoot RAW high resolution photos, 4K full HD video and 1080p high speed movie mode, fantastic macro mode, improved low light performance, and the ability to take it down 15m without the need for an underwater housing make this an ideal tough camera for shallow water diving.
and while I will definitely get the 7 when it becomes available, it is the best entry-level snorkeling camera on the market and definitely my favourite waterproof action camera.
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.
It’s a great rugged camera and smart device that shoots great underwater photos with surprisingly good image quality for the price if you know what you’re doing, with nice video quality to boot.
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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