Underwater photography has risen in popularity since its first photo in 1893. Up to this day, we have kept renewing and developing the best lens for underwater photography. Our fascination for underwater experiences has kept us yearning for more. Our admiration for it led to our search for the best underwater photography lens.
Despite that, finding the perfect lens for your camera is a challenging task. The difference in lens type, focal lengths, and features makes it hard to choose from. Learn about the lens types and the best lens to use. Also, find out about focal lengths, crop factors, and maintaining your lens below.
Top 7 Best Lens for Underwater Photography Reviews:
1. Sony 16-35mm f/4 Vario-Tessar
Our list starts with The Vario-Tessar Sony 16-35mm. This wide-angle lens is built with a 72mm filter thread. It’s compatible with the e-series camera, and it boasts a focal length of 16-35mm. While weighing 1.14lbs.
First, the Sony 16-35mm excels in landscape photography. Despite its low focal length, it still manages to cut its distortions on the side. Compared to other zoom wide-angle lenses, the Sony 16-35mm performs well.
This is further enhanced by the design of its lens. The aspherical lens combines AA (advanced aspherical) and ED (extra-low dispersion) glasses. Resulting in clear, sharp, and undistorted edges in your image.
However, the Sony 16-35mm is bigger compared to its e-mount peers. The bigger bust results in a slight increase in weight. Sony manages to handle the size trade-off with Optical SteadyShot or OSS.
This feature gives an optical image stabilization to the lens. It has stabilization gyros that give stability and sharpness in your images. The feature also decreases motion blur when capturing photos.
Next up, the lenses are coated with the Zeiss T-star coating that protects the lens from flares. It makes the lens enable us to show off its power in highlighting the colors and light. Thus, minimizing the need for color correction and post-image editing.
The Sony 16-35mm is amazing to use for underwater photography. It has a sharp focus and is capable of highlighting the structural beauty of your images. Its 16-35mm gives you flexibility and a variety of depth of fields to choose from.
Underwater photography has less light penetration. Thus, it is crucial to find lenses with great performance in low-light settings. With the largest aperture of f/4, the Sony 16-35mm shows excellent low-light performance.
If you’re looking for a great landscape lens, this can be your best underwater camera lens. This lens is great at capturing close-up images. But ignore this lens if you intend to get extra close-up images. Macro lenses are better for that purpose.
To sum it up, the Sony 16-35mm is a great and reliable lens for underwater photography. It comes with excellent side features and specializes in shooting landscapes. For its current price tag, it is worth getting for with its superior quality.
2. Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L
The Canon EF 100mm proved its reliability since 2009. It is a staple and a partner for many photographers. Many people consider it the best micro lens for canon. And it's not for nothing. Its distinctive features combined with great performance results in an amazing lens.
For starters, it’s a beast for capturing close-up photos. It boasts a 67mm filter thread with a lens dimension of 4.84 x 3.07 x 3.07 inches. With a weight of 1.38lbs, this lens has a minimum focusing distance of 0.99 ft.
It’s also similar to the Sony 16-35mm. It equips an image stabilizer feature in its lens. The image stabilizer is a huge difference for macro-lenses. When you capture a close-up image with a 100mm length, a slight stutter can cause a huge difference. With the image stabilizer, you can take more handheld pictures, increasing your flexibility.
The Canon EF 100mm provides the option for a full-manual focus for your comfort. However, the manual focus is relatively hard to use. The focus range is too narrow, making it hard to achieve precision with manual focusing. This makes the feature less dependable and makes you rely more on the autofocus.
The lens works wonders for low-light conditions. Its f/2.8 aperture suits the needs of underwater photography. Added with its 100mm length, you can capture breathtaking close-up shots. If you’re thinking of taking photos of small marine lives, expect this lens to deliver. The features it has fulfilled the requirements of underwater photography.
However, with its amazing power and features, there is a certain setback in this lens. First, this lens is outdated. There are an awful lot of new macro lenses that can compete with the Canon EF 100mm.
Moreover, the focus is considerably less silent than other mirrorless lenses. There is a noticeable focusing sound that is bad for shooting videos. Since the use of this lens will be underwater, it might be unnoticeable. In any case, take it for your information.
In the end, the Canon EF 100mm is a solid choice for a macro lens. It provides great potential in shooting close-ups. Despite its capabilities and features, it is still an outdated lens with setbacks. Given its price tag, it is still worth it if you’re looking for an affordable macro lens.
3. Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L
The first wide-angle fisheye lens on our list is the Canon EF 8-15mm! This fisheye lens possesses the shortest focal length of 8-15mm amongst in our list. With an f/4 aperture, the Canon EF 8-15mm is a great contender in the search of the best underwater camera lens.
This lens comes in a dimension of 3.27 x 3.11 x 3.11 inches. And is another compatible lens for the Canon EF series. It weighs about 1.19lbs, with a minimum focus distance of 6.2 inches.
With its 8mm, you can achieve a whopping 180° circular image with a full-frame camera. To add its flexibility, you can get the regular fisheye effects by zooming in the 15mm length. This exceptional feature makes the Canon EF 8-15mm exceptional. And perhaps the best lens for dslr filmmaking underwater.
For its durability, the Canon EF 8-15mm comes in with weather sealing. Making you free not to worry about damaging your lenses internals. It also comes with gel filter sections. Which provides you the flexibility to correct colors according to your desire.
The image quality produced from this lens is great. It provides sharp images in both 8mm and 15mm lengths. Yet, there are noticeable chromatic aberrations. There are distortions on the edges as well with an f/4 setting. It is common and tolerable for a fisheye lens. Try configuring the aperture to set off these effects.
However, a crucial setback from this lens is its compatibility. It can only highlight its 8mm specialty in a full-frame camera. APS-C and APS-H cameras will suffer cropping. They cannot enjoy the benefit of the 8mm depth of field.
Then, the hood and cover for the lens are mediocre at best. It leaves the structure a little fragile. The mediocrity exposes the lens to environmental hazards. In case you manage to get this lens, be sure to get extra protection for this gear.
Unlike the Canon EF 100mm, the USM autofocus on this lens is incredibly quick and silent. You can control the focus manually by configuring the focus ring. The short minimum focus distance also enhances your potential for close-up images.
Its features and specifications make the Canon EF 8-15mm a great lens. It is one of the best fisheye lenses for underwater photography. With its ultra-wide-angle, it has high potential in shooting films and making videos. If the price tag isn’t a problem for you, expect beautiful landscapes with the Canon EF 8-15mm by your side.
4. Sigma 15mm f/2.8
Another fisheye lens on our list is the Sigma 15mm. The Sigma 15mm can capture 180° circular images as the Canon EF 8-15mm. Its wide depth of field makes it a fantastic lens for underwater photography.
With a dimension of 2.56 x 2.91 x 2.91 inches, the Sigma 15mm comes with an f/2.8 maximum aperture and 15mm length. The lens is small and lightweight. Despite its size, the lens didn’t sacrifice durability as it is well built with durable materials.
Similar to the Canon EF 8-15mm, the Sigma 15mm has a dedicated rear slot for filters. You can slip a filter to adjust your color scheme in the back. And it comes with caps on both ends, a carrying case, and a front adapter ring.
The focus of the Sigma 15mm is sharp and well-made. It offers a 5.9-inch focus distance with a 1:3.8 magnification ratio. The capability of the focus allows you to capture eye-catching close-up photos. The bokeh of the focus is subtle as well, making it feel natural.
It offers a great manual focus configuration with wide spaces within its focus ring. Thus, it provides amazing precision for manual focus. Unfortunately, the autofocus of the Sigma 15mm is slow and noisier.
The small downside of the lens is its age. With the age of almost 2 decades, the Sigma 15mm is outdated. It misses plenty of features that newer lenses provide. Such as image stabilization features and it has inferior autofocus capabilities.
Like other fisheye lenses, the Sigma 15mm has noticeable chromatic aberration and vignettes. Furthermore, the details of the vignettes can appear more significant underwater. Playing with the aperture can help setback the effects.
Also, you need a full-frame camera to utilize the lens's full capability. In APS-C cameras, the lens cannot achieve a full circulatory image. Check the compatibility of your camera before buying this lens.
Considering its age and fairness, the Sigma 15mm is still a reliable lens. With decent features and a few setbacks, it offers great durability and performance. It can give you wonderful underwater performance, especially in the scenery.
With its current price tag, this is an affordable lens. Consider it as an option if you’re going for a smaller budget. Just don’t expect it to perform and deliver more than the newer lenses.
5. Tokina AF 10-17mm F/3.5-4.5
We can’t put other fisheye lenses on this list without mentioning the Tokina AF 10-17mm. This famous lens has been a partner for thousands of photographers. Its capability to shoot marvelous wide-angle pictures are respected and admired by many
Despite its powerful features, the Tokina 10-17mm carries a small dimension of 2.76 x 2.80 x 2.76 inches. Weighing a mere 0.77lbs, this lens has a maximum aperture of f/3.5, with a minimum focus distance of 5.5 inches.
The Tokina 10-17mm provides an amazing underwater experience. Tokina installed a water repellent optical coating for the front glass. The coating reduces the number of watermarks and fingerprint marks. Making them easier to clean.
The Tokina offers a sharp and beautiful image quality. It can capture almost 180° angle. With the distorted image, it delivers subtle-to-no corner shading and vignetting.
Tokina uses a high-refraction low-dispersion glass on its lens. It enables the lens to produce more refraction. While reducing the dispersion on the images. However, there are still significant chromatic aberrations in the edges of its photos.
A rare feature of the Tokina 10-17mm is its compatibility. It is originally made for APS-C cameras, delivering a 1:1 crop factor. It is also suitable for full-frame cameras. This provides excellent flexibility and compatibility for various situations.
Furthermore, the bokeh of the lens is amazingly built. It can separate backgrounds subtly and smoothly. Leaving it with a smooth and natural feel. You can control the focus in both automatic and manual ways. With a physical switch on the lens to change the settings.
For its focus itself, it's smooth and reliable. It has an internal focusing system to improve focus speed and handling. Despite its decent focus, the Tokina 10-17mm produces noticeable sounds when focusing.
The lens has great flare resistance and loss of contrast. It is a well-received feature for underwater photography. It enables you to get powerful scenery images without losing color. The close-up photos that the Tokina takes are crisp with little to no dispersions.
Considering its well-suited features for underwater use, the Tokina is a steady choice. It has an affordable price tag without sacrificing quality. The chromatic aberration drawback is also less noticeable in underwater photography.
6. Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8
The next contender is the Canon EF-S 60mm lens. Produced in 2003, this lens is the older brother of the Canon EF 100mm above. Despite its age, it still manages to produce quality images and compete with its newer peers.
With a dimension of 2.76 x 2.87 x 2.87 inches, the Canon EF-S 60mm is a compact lens. It weighs 0.73lbs with a filter size of 52mm. The lens has a minimum focusing distance of 0.65ft. With a maximum aperture of f/2.8.
In terms of durability, the lens is well made with solid materials. It has an all-metal mount, boosting the durability and longevity of the lens. It also secures itself to be taken underwater with its build and features
The Canon EF-S 60mm is compatible only for APS-C cameras. Thus, with a 60mm focal length, it would translate into a 96mm length in APS-C’s. The lens’ maximum aperture is f/2.8, giving it a decent ability to perform in low-light settings.
Speaking of focus, the lens’s focus is sharp and quick as expected. Moreover, the sound it produces is more subtle, unlike the Canon EF 100mm. However, in the Canon EF-s 60mm, the image stabilization feature is not included. Which can be demanding in underwater photography, as you can’t rely on tripods.
Like many other lenses, the Canon EF-S 60mm has both AF/MF switches. In the manual settings, the focus ring is long and smooth. They enhance your accuracy and precision. Furthermore, you can rotate the focus ring in auto-focus mode. Whereas in other lenses, doing so will damage its lens motor. It's a nice touch that gives a huge impact.
The quality of images that this lens provides is sharp and smooth. Of course, there are color vignetting and chromatic aberration found around the edges. With adjustments on the aperture, it is nothing the lens couldn't handle.
With a current price that’s ⅓ of the Canon EF 100mm, this camera is a steal. It provides the same value with even better focus. The only downside is its lack of image stabilization feature. The equivalent focal length of this lens is almost the same as the Canon EF 100mm as well.
So, if you’re looking for a great macro lens with a bang for the buck, look no further. If you’re okay with not having an image stabilization to use underwater, get this lens.
7. Nikon 16mm f/2.8D FX Fisheye-NIKKOR
It is unfair to put up a list of the best lenses without Nikon in it, and here we are. The Nikon 16mm is the final lens in our list. This ultra-wide lens can shoot up to 180° angle in one shot. With several extra features, many consider it as the best wide angle lens for Nikon.
Measuring a 2.24 x 2.48 x 2.48 inches in dimension, the Nikon 16mm is very compact. It is easy to carry around with its light 0.64lbs weight. It has a non-zoom 16mm length with an f/2.8 maximum aperture.
The Nikon 16mm produces especially sharp images with its CRC system. Close-range correction is a feature in NIKKOR lenses. It uses a floating element design in its lens. This design enhances performance in both close and long distances.
Furthermore, the lens is protected by Nikon’s SIC (super integrated coating). The SIC installs special multilayer lens coating. Hence reducing the flares and ghosts in your images. Moreover, the coating provides color balance and accuracy while reducing reflections. This enhances the image quality and sharpness.
Besides, the lens includes 4 filters. One of them is an L37 UV filter and 3 other color balancing filters. An important note to remember is that one filter must always be in place. These filters push the lens to be the best nikon lens for video.
For the build quality, it is made with a full-metal mount to increase its durability. Despite its durable materials, the lens is not weather-sealed. It forces you to bring extra protection to ensure its longevity. Especially if you are bringing it underwater.
With this lens, you can obtain a minimum focus distance of 0.85ft. Giving you great potential to secure wonderful close-up shots. The sensor manages to get amazing pictures with unnoticeable edge fades and softening.
This lens is perfect for capturing fast-moving sea creatures. Fish schools, big fishes, and sceneries are a great fit for the Nikon 16mm to capture. Especially in low-light conditions. The f/2.8 aperture creates a crisp image combined with the wide-angle it has.
Besides, the lens provides great image quality. The color vignetting and chromatic aberrations in this lens are light and subtle. With a change in the aperture, the vignettes and aberrations are severely reduced.
In other words, the Nikon 16mm is a solid choice as a fisheye lens. Its current price tag proves it as a great and affordable lens. This should go into your watchlist when you’re looking for a great lens on a budget.
Underwater Lens Buying Guide
To decide on the best underwater lens, it is important to consider several factors beforehand. There are plenty of considerations to make before buying an underwater lens. Some of them are:
Choosing the best lens can be challenging with its variety of lens types. Especially if you don't know what you're looking for. Thus, knowing and picking the optimal lens for your usage purpose will avoid you from trouble.
With the variety of lenses available, it is critical to get the one you need. As each type of lens has different purposes and uses. And each of them excels in their fields.
Minimum focusing distance
Relative to your usage, minimum focusing distance is always a critical factor. It affects your ability to capture images at different lengths. Again, it means that you must decide your focus distance preference before buying.
A shorter minimum focusing distance allows you to obtain close-focus images. While a longer minimum focusing distance disables your camera to focus closer. This can be burdensome when you want to focus on images up close.
Focal length can be perceived as a camera’s zoom range. Focal lengths are stated in millimeters. Focal length affects the depth of field and magnification of your view.
In each camera, the manufacturers will provide information on its focal lengths. For example, a “10-18mm” focal length means that a camera can focus from 10-18mm.
Another factor to consider is your lens apertures. Underwater photography includes lights in its process as much as in air photography. Thus, it is important to get the optimal lens aperture for your pictures.
Aperture determines the amount of light that your lens receives. They are stated as “f”, followed by a number, such as f/1.4, f/2, and f/4. A bigger aperture minimizes the brightness by reducing the light your lens receives.
And smaller aperture increases the brightness by increasing the light your lens receives. Apertures also affect the distance and depth of field of your image. A larger aperture produces a higher depth of field and vice versa.
Often a forgotten factor, weight should be a consideration before buying your lens. There are numerous incompatibility issues from photographers due to weight. Having a lens with a comfortable weight should be a priority,
Having heavy equipment might encumber you underwater. Your mobility is already limited underwater. Adding those extra weights will throw you off and is uncomfortable to bear.
The last factor to consider is the price. A cliché factor indeed. Regardless, the price tag must be considered before buying. As you would need appropriate budgeting to buy the best lens.
Thus, we consider the value of price in our reviews. What features and bonuses it proposes besides the lens.
That's all for our considerations. If you pay attention to these factors, you can notice a similarity. All these factors are relative to everyone. Each option of these factors is suitable for their purposes. Thus, it is necessary to determine your needs and purposes before deciding,
Discover detailed information on several factors below.
Lens Types for Underwater Imaging
The best lens for underwater is macro, rectilinear, and fisheye lenses. Their purpose and specialty suits underwater photography well. Each of them is unique. So, pick the most suitable one for your needs with you.
For example, macro lenses are perfect for capturing close-up images. So, it works best with small marine life. Engage and capture small creatures and biomes with precision with macro lenses.
Macro lenses have a common focal length ranging from 45-105mm. With this length, you can highlight tiny creatures that would otherwise be hidden. A macro lens enables you to put otherwise ignored critters into the spotlight. Such as the sexy shrimps and the pygmy seahorses.
However, it is important to remember that the long focal length has its setbacks. The depth of field is limited to an extent with its close-up capability. Fortunately, it doesn’t refrain you from taking wide-angle shots. You can play with the aperture to assist you in getting more depth of field.
On the other hand, we’ve got fisheye lenses. These lenses can take exceptional wide-angle shots. It works best to capture the natural “unstructured” ocean, especially underwater. The fisheye lens gives a dreamy sense in the vast ocean. It enhances your image to look more unique and mysterious.
The wide-angle capability of fisheye also enables it to take great shots on big marine lives. For example, coral reefs, sharks, and manta rays are perfect for fisheye lenses. The distorted and curved features complement the structure of these lives perfectly.
Despite their capability, fisheye lenses have their weaknesses as well. This lens is not suitable for taking structured images. Such as bridges, wreckages, ports, and other man-made structures or objects. As it will curve and bend the original structure.
Then, dome ports are often required to complement fisheye lenses. Otherwise, it will be hard to achieve optimal wide-angle photos. This is due to the nature of water, where it magnifies the image that the lens sees. Thus, we need a dome port to minimize and cancel out the magnification.
Finally, we have rectilinear lenses. These lenses are specialized to shoot structural buildings and wonders. It provides straight lines in images that require them. Such as underwater arches. A fisheye lens will distort and curve the structure of the arch. While a rectilinear lens will capture them straight without a curve.
The disadvantages of rectilinear lenses are it cannot get the best close-up shots. They are still inferior compared to the fisheye lenses in close-up focus.
Fisheye Lens vs Rectilinear Lens
Leaving the macro lens to its specialty of close-ups. We are left with fisheye lenses and rectilinear lenses. Each of them can capture breathtaking wide-angle images and small creatures. But which is better? Let's compare them.
Fisheye lens excels in unstructured wide-angled panorama images. It enhances the image in a mysterious, eerie, and unique way. Meanwhile, rectilinear lenses shine their light in structural views. It doesn’t alter the original structure of an object, making them look more natural and realistic.
Also, fisheye lenses generally have an advantage in close-up focus than rectilinear lenses. This is due to their shorter focal lengths and minimum focusing distance. Enabling fisheye to capture close-up images better.
While both lenses show great capabilities and potential. Rectilinear lenses show more versatility. If you're a versatile photographer, go for a rectilinear lens. Its flexible focal length and the non-distorted lens are good for various scenes. Otherwise, get fisheye lenses for the best close-up images and panoramic captures.
Focal Lengths and The Crop Factor: A Detailed Guide
Focal lengths and crop factors are complex topics that can confuse many. It plays an important part in a lens’ quality and compatibility. Thus, it is important to understand what they are.
Focal lengths determine the distance of the lens and object in focus. It involves the angle of view magnification in your photos. For example, A shorter focal length will result in a wider angle of view and lower magnification. Vice versa, a longer focal length narrows the angle of view to provide magnification.
As mentioned earlier, a 20-80mm focal length lens produces the widest picture in 20mm. And it can magnify itself to its maximum at 80mm focal length. Focal lengths can be adjusted and mixed to your preference. You can adapt it to enhance both portrait and landscape images.
For crop factor, it speaks about sensor sizes. In simple terms, as there are more sensor sizes, it is important to find an “anchor” to benchmark them. Thus, crop factors refer to a 35mm camera sensor size.
Since each lens’ focal length refers to a full frame/35mm camera that uses the 135 films. It will adjust itself when it's used on another camera besides the full-frame camera. This adjustment is called the crop factor.
Crop factors tell us the depth of field difference in our camera compared to a full-frame camera. The crop factor is expressed in ratios (e.g. 1.6x, 1.3x, etc.). There are ways to find out the adjusted focal length of your lens. You multiply the crop factor of your camera to your lens. The result will be the adjusted focal length.
Maintaining Your Underwater Lens
Now you’ve bought your lens, it's time to make it live to its fullest. It is an unspoken rule that everything must be maintained properly to make them last. And your underwater lens is subject to that.
The most underrated and obvious tip would be to handle your equipment with care. Handling your camera violently and aggressively increases the chances of it broken.
Next, be sure to dry out all your equipment after going underwater! Never neglect your equipment after submerging. The moisture can cause marks and spots. In worse cases, you attract fungus.
Then, be sure to maintain it by routinely cleaning your lens. To save time, it might be best for you to get a lens cleaning kit. They come in handy as you won’t need to buy separate cleansers. Clean your lens by doing the following:
Release the lens from your camera, be sure to delicately unlock the lens from its latch.
Blow dust or visible dirt using the blower. Preferably from the ones in a lens cleaning kit.
Apply the lens fluid cleanser to the tissue or cloth.
Wipe the surface of the lens with the tissue/cloth. Wait for it to dry out.
Reattach the lens to your camera.
If you are constantly exposed to water hazards, get yourself a dry box. Dry boxes or “digital cabinets” provide a safe space for your camera. It eliminates the risk of moisture, fungus, and dust from your equipment.
Besides these maintenance guides, there are optional choices to maintain your lens. For further guidance, consult your instruction manual for maintenance guides.
The Best Lens for Underwater Photography: Our Verdict
Our award for the best lens for dslr filmmaking underwater will fall to the Sony 16-35mm. We praised it for its exceptional features and versatility. The 16-35mm length allows the lens to capture photos in different depths of field.
Furthermore, we admire the durability of the lens. With an all-metal exterior and weather-sealed design, it provides maximum durability. This is important as it guarantees the longevity of your lens. Especially when we are taking it underwater.
In terms of performance, the Sony 16-35mm excels in various situations. It shines the most on landscape and structure photos with its rectilinear lens. Despite that, it still performs amazingly in shooting portraits and close-up photos.
Considering the hefty price tag, the Sony 16-35mm is an elite lens. The value and performance it provides compensate for its hefty price tag. If you have the budget, investing in a high quality lens is recommended.
The key point is to choose the best lens according to your needs. So, be clear with your goal before buying a lens. Happy shooting!