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Mastering Underwater Photography: Choosing the Perfect Lens

Imaging a world beneath the waves is a unique art, one that demands specialized knowledge and equipment for optimal results. The realm of underwater photography opens up a vast and magical world, unlike anything we see on land. Without the right lens, however, all the beauty, diversity, and resplendent colors underwater can remain hidden from your camera’s frame. This article is targeted towards amateur and hobbyist photographers, aiming to provide in-depth understanding about underwater photography, unravel the key features of underwater lenses, explore the varying types of lenses suitable for different underwater scenarios, review some of the top-rated underwater lenses currently available, and emphasize on the crucial steps of lens maintenance to ensure a lifetime of brilliant underwater captures.

Understanding Underwater Photography

Underwater photography is a specialized art that combines passion for photography with a love of the sea and marine life. It’s a skill that requires knowledge not just about photography but also about diving, the underwater environment, and marine subjects. In its essence, underwater photography is about capturing images of the aquatic life or features beneath the water surface. It involves taking pictures of marine life, submerged structures, divers, and even the effects of water on light and movement. The key difference between underwater photography and surface photography is the medium through which the light passes – water instead of air.

The Challenges of Underwater Photography

There are several challenges specific to underwater photography. The first is the diminished color and contrast due to the properties of water. Colors fade as you descend deeper, with red being the first to disappear followed by orange, yellow, and eventually blue at extreme depths. The second challenge is the increased difficulty in controlling the camera due to the weightlessness of being underwater and the limited visibility. There’s also the constant motion of both the photographer and the subject due to the water currents. All these factors together make capturing sharp, well-exposed images underwater a real challenge.

Why Specific Equipment is Essential

In order to overcome these challenges, appropriate equipment is vital. The first piece of gear is a good underwater camera housing to protect the camera from water pressure and damage. This includes a specialized case, controls, and lens ports. The next important piece is the lens itself. Lenses used in underwater photography are generally wider than those used on land to compensate for the loss of clarity and color in water. These lenses include wide-angle lenses for capturing wide scenes or large subjects and macro lenses for small creatures and detail work.

Best Lenses for Underwater Photography

Among the lenses available for underwater photography, wide-angle lenses and fish-eye lenses are favorites among photographers. Wide-angle lenses, such as a 16-35mm or 24-70mm, allow for close focus and less water between the camera and subject, thus retaining more color and detail.

Fish-eye lenses, on the other hand, offer a super-wide field of view, often up to 180 degrees. This can be especially useful for capturing large marine creatures or showcasing the vast underwater landscape. Examples include the Nikon 16mm f/2.8D AF Fisheye and the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM.

Macro lenses are another favorite among underwater photographers seeking to capture small or tiny subjects. Macro lenses, such as a 60mm or 100mm, allow the photographer to fill the frame with small creatures, showing exquisite detail and color not usually visible to the naked eye. Lastly, zoom lenses can be a versatile choice for underwater photography, as they offer a range of focal lengths allowing you to quickly switch between wide-angle and close-up shots.


To sum up, the choice of the best underwater photography lens largely hinges on what you aim to capture. It’s vital to comprehend the unique challenges that aquatic environments pose when you engage in underwater photography. The selection could range from wide-angle, fish-eye, macro, to zoom lenses, each offering unique benefits depending upon the type of shot you’re aiming for. It’s proper use that helps bring out the true splendor of the underwater world in your photography.

A diver under the water taking a photo of a big fish.

Key Features of Underwater Lenses

Diving into the depths of Underwater Photography Lenses

Moving from land to water with a camera, a photographer will inevitably confront a new set of challenges. One needs to adapt to elements such as water currents and wave patterns that can directly influence the stability of the shots. Also, the water medium itself can potentially modify the aesthetics of the resulting images. Therefore, it’s clear that the lens, in these circumstances, plays a crucial role. Let us now dive deep into exploring the crucial features of the finest lenses for underwater photography.

Focusing Range

The focusing range of a lens is one of its most important features for underwater photography. It refers to the minimum and maximum distance at which a subject can be in focus. Short focusing distances are vital in this arena as most underwater subjects are often very close. Much of underwater photography has a micro or macro emphasis, requiring equipment that can focus easily on small, closely positioned subjects. Therefore, lenses with a short focusing range are highly preferred.

Field of View

The term ‘Field of View’ represents the area visible through the lens. In underwater photography, wide-angle lenses are frequently selected because of their large field of view. Wide-angle lenses can cover big scenes or large subjects, such as shipwrecks, underwater landscapes, or large ocean creatures. Besides, they enable close focus which, in turn, reduces the amount of water between the subject and the camera, enhancing color, sharpness and contrast of the photo.


The aperture of a lens decides the amount of light that passes through. Due to the light-absorbing properties of water, the environment underwater is usually darker than it appears to the naked eye. Hence, a lens with a large aperture (low f-number) is valuable as it allows more light into the camera. This reduces the dependence on artificial lighting and consequently, preserves more natural colors.


Water and pressure are destructive elements that can impair the functionality of a camera lens. Therefore, the durability of the lens is a crucial factor in underwater photography. Top quality lenses are sturdy enough to withstand the pressure of deep-water dives without compromising on its performance. Lenses for underwater use are generally built with robust materials like metal rather than plastic, and feature weather-sealed design.

Zoom Capabilities

A versatile feature to look for in underwater lenses is zoom capability. It is wisest to select a lens that allows for variable focal lengths. This way, one can modify the frame without having to move closer or farther from the subject, which is especially useful when photographing moving sea creatures or if limited by underwater currents.


Cracking the code of successful underwater photography comes down to more than just venturing with a waterproof camera housing. Pivotal to capturing the captivating wide array of marine life or the mesmerizing underwater landscapes in crisp detail and vivacity is the selection of a compatible lens. Brush up on lenses with a broad field of view, impressive focusing range, extensive zoom capabilities, large aperture, and rugged durability. These lens features are a one-way ticket to stunning, high-quality results that command the attention and admiration of viewers.

A person with a scuba tank diving underwater with a camera in hand taking a photo of a school of fish.

Types of Lenses for Underwater Photography

In contrast to terrestrial photography modes, underwater photography mounts a whole different set of demands. It elevates the stakes significantly in terms of equipment, lighting, and composition, with an emphasized emphasis on the lens type. Want to stand out? Get attuned to the distinct features and functionality of different lenses such as fisheye, wide-angle, macro, and zoom lenses, designed with underwater photography in mind. Our comprehensive dive into these lenses in the following sections provides a roadmap to zero in on the best lens for your underwater photography needs.

Fisheye Lenses

In the world of underwater photography, fisheye lenses are highly favored. These lenses offer a 180-degree perspective, allowing photographers to capture expansive underwater scenes due to its ultra-wide field of view, great depth of field, and its unique ability to provide close focus that pays off when capturing broad and impactful shots. The downside of fisheye lenses, however, is the distortion towards the perimeter of the shot. This is particularly pronounced when shooting large creatures or subjects with straight lines. However, with careful framing and composition, you can use this effect creatively.

Wide-Angle Lenses

Wide-angle lenses are another common choice for underwater photographers. They have a lesser range than fisheye lenses, typically between 24mm to 35mm, but still offer a wide field of view. This makes them suitable for shooting large scenes or big subjects. More importantly, wide-angle lenses tend to have less distortion than fisheye lenses, making them excellent for capturing marine life or shooting dive buddies without heavily distorting their faces. On the downside, shooting small subjects with a wide-angle lens could be challenging due to its poor close-up macro capabilities.

Macro Lenses

Macro lenses are perfect for capturing the intricate details of small aquatic life. They have a narrow field of view, which helps achieve greater detail in close-up shots. These lenses usually have a focal length of 60mm or 100mm and can capture small subjects within an extra sharp focus across a flat plane. This is great for shooting critters, fish portraits, and other tiny marine life. However, with macro lenses, it is difficult to capture fast or distant subjects, as well as wide reef scenes, limiting its versatility.

Zoom Lenses

Zoom lenses offer an impressive focal length range that can be adjusted to capture both wide scenes and close-up shots. This variability makes zoom lenses a versatile choice for underwater photographers as you’re not restricted to one perspective. They can be incredibly helpful when the shooting conditions are unpredictable or when you can’t physically move closer to or farther from your subject. The downside is that they are typically not as sharp as the prime (fixed focal length) lenses. Also, the largest possible aperture tends to decrease as you zoom in, potentially limiting low light performance.

Mastering the art of underwater photography requires a keen understanding of how different lenses perform under the sea. Each lens holds its own unique strengths and shortcomings and knowing how to align your lens choice with underwater conditions is the secret to capturing breathtaking images beneath the waves. Just as a fisheye lens can offer broad, stunning shots, a wide-angle lens can help mitigate distortion, a macro lens can yield intricate close-up shots, and a zoom lens can provide versatility. Understanding the capabilities and constraints of each lens can significantly elevate the quality of your underwater photography.

An underwater photograph of a school of fish swimming in the deep blue ocean

Top Rated Underwater Lenses

Whether you are newly venturing into underwater photography or hold the experience of a seasoned professional, your lens selection can make or break the outcome of your underwater imagery. This guide serves to dive deeper into some of the most highly recommended underwater lenses currently available, offering detailed reviews and comparisons to aid your decision-making process. Do bear in mind that the ideal lens choice is not one-size-fits-all, but is rather determined by the specific parameters of your camera, your chosen subject, and your individual shooting style.
Wide-Angle Lenses for Underwater Photography

Wide-angle lenses are the most effective solution for capturing underwater landscapes, wrecks, and large marine life. They offer a wide field of view, typically ranging from 80 to 130 degrees, making them excellent for capturing an extensive scene without needing to shift away from your subject.

  • The Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm F2.8 Pro is one of the most popular wide-angle lenses. It offers superb optical performance and is compatible with Micro Four Thirds system cameras. Its wide zoom range and fast aperture make it ideal for underwater photography.
  • For Nikon FX-format (full-frame) DSLR users, the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED is highly recommended. This lens is not only perfect for wide-angle shots, but it also provides sharp, high-contrast images even at its widest aperture.
Macro Lenses for Underwater Photography

For photographers looking to capture small creatures or intricate details of the underwater world, a macro lens is the best bet. These lenses allow you to get closer to your subjects, producing stunningly detailed close-up images.

  • The Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens stands out in this category. It delivers outstanding image quality and features Image Stabilization technology to reduce camera shake. Furthermore, its fast autofocus makes it easier to capture crisp, clear photos of fast-moving underwater subjects.
  • For mirrorless camera users, the Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS lens is a fantastic choice. It features a bright f/2.8 maximum aperture perfect for low light conditions, and Optical SteadyShot image stabilization that helps to minimize the appearance of camera shake.
Fisheye Lenses for Underwater Photography

Fisheye lenses are another category worth mentioning, especially for those who want to capture unique, all-encompassing underwater perspectives. These lenses produce extreme wide-angle images with a distinctive distorted effect.

  • The Nikon AF DX Fisheye-NIKKOR 10.5mm f/2.8G ED stands among the best options due to its exceptionally wide field of view and high-quality optics. It’s also compact and lightweight, making it a great lens for underwater shoots.
  • On the other hand, the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM offers a unique versatility by being a fisheye zoom lens. With this lens, you can adjust your view from a full circular image to a full-frame image, making it quite versatile for creative effects underwater.
In Summary

The ideal lens for your underwater photography hinges on a variety of factors, such as your camera model, the subjects you intend to photograph, and your artistic direction. Making an investment in a high-quality lens as discussed above can dramatically enhance your underwater shots by improving the colour, clarity, and overall appeal of your images. Becoming acquainted with your chosen lens and practicing using it will aid in refining your underwater photography over time. Always keep in mind that the most effective lens for underwater photography is one that enables you to seize the enchanting and enigmatic aspects of the underwater realm as you perceive it.

A photo of a camera lens partially submerged in water that represents underwater photography.

Maintaining and Caring for Your Underwater Lens

The Challenges of Underwater Photography

Photography beneath the waves poses an entirely unique set of obstacles than terrestrial photography. It isn’t solely about owning a state-of-the-art camera; the lens you utilise is just as vital. Yet, even the most exceptional lens for underwater photography won’t be sufficient if it’s not appropriately maintained and looked after. In this guide, we will share some invaluable tips and techniques on maintaining and caring for your underwater lens, thus extending its longevity and ensuring it functions effectively.

Understanding the Importance of Lens Maintenance

Firstly, it’s essential to understand why you should pay serious attention to maintaining your underwater lens. The lens is the primary means through which your camera interprets the underwater environment, so its cleanliness and net clarity goes a long way in determining the quality of your images. Moreover, these lenses can be expensive, so proper care prevents any unnecessary expenses for repairs or replacement.

Cleaning Your Underwater Lens

Regularly cleaning your lens is an integral part of maintenance. After every dive, rinse the lens with fresh water to remove any sand, salt, chlorine, or other particles that might have come in contact with it underwater. Avoid using abrasive or harsh cleaning solutions that might damage the lens coating. Use a lens cleaner or a solution of distilled water and a mild dish soap. Wipe gently with a lens cleaning cloth or a microfiber cloth – holding the lens glass downward to let gravity assist you by pulling any liquid away from the lens body.

Storing Your Underwater Lens

Proper storage is another significant factor in lens maintenance. Always store the lens in a safe, dry place away from direct sunlight when it’s not in use. Use a lens cap to cover the front and rear elements of the lens, protecting it from dust, scratches, and other damages. Store the lens in a padded bag or case which provides the necessary cushioning and protection against accidental falls or bumps.

Servicing Your Underwater Lens

Every once in a while, it’s advisable to give your lens a professional check-up. This involves having it inspected by a qualified technician who can thoroughly examine and clean the lens elements, adjust or tighten any loose parts and confirm if the lens is still in the best working condition.

Proper Care and Maintenance

For an underwater lens are more than just necessities; they are crucial aspects of underwater photography. The lens is arguably the most valuable part of your camera setup and thus requires the utmost attention. Cleaning, storing, and servicing your lens, therefore, ensures that the performance and life of your lens are not compromised. In doing so, you can continue to capture the beauty of the underwater world in all its glory for many dives to come.

A photo of a person taking a picture underwater with a scuba diving gear

The vast underwater world resonates with a distinctive allure that calls out to be captured in immortal images. As the final note of our detailed study, remember that your choice of lens is as vital as your understanding of the undersea realm, its challenges and its mesmerizing charm. As you embark on your journey through the winding paths of underwater photography, keep these guidelines in mind and you’ll be well-equipped to navigate the fascinating underwater vistas. Your ideal lens is a significant step closer, urging you not only to perceive this extraordinary world, but also to regale others with your unique vision of life beneath the waves.

Originally posted 2023-06-18 02:31:30.

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