Best Underwater Camera for Snorkeling: 2024 Snorkeler’s Review 

by | Last updated Jun 8, 2024 | Snorkel Packing List

My husband and I are experienced snorkelers and have enjoyed numerous “snorkations” around the world. We have tested a lot of snorkeling gear from snorkel masks to the best waterproof bags. Sometimes I’ll put together a list of our top 5 favorites, but other times there’s just one standout winner. I’ve been snorkeling since 2007, and let me tell you, there is one product that is hands down the best underwater camera for snorkeling. Plus, it captures incredible videos. I am excited to share which one is my favorite.

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TL;DR Version

Small size of GoPro Hero 12

Fits in the palm of your hand

Here is the short and sweet version.

The GoPro Hero 12 is my favorite underwater camera for snorkeling!

Now, if you are like me, you always want to make sure you are making a smart purchase by doing a little research.

Read on to find out why I love the GoPro Hero 12 for all of my underwater adventures.

I’ve also included my personal snorkeling photos taken with the GoPro.

No stock photos here! This review comes from direct personal experience.

CURRENT OFFER:

I’m not sure if this is a Father’s Day special or how long it will last, but right now the GoPro Hero 12 is $100 off!

$299 (instead of $399)!

Underwater Camera Features to Love

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#1- VIVID PHOTOS

Snorkeling beside a turtle at Salt Pier

Photo I took of a turtle at Salt Pier in Bonaire … you can even see the wrinkly skin in the front flippers!

Now, the GoPro did not always produce high-quality photos.

I purchased my first GoPro (Hero 6) on August 12, 2014, according to my Amazon history. Although the photos and videos were good, I wouldn’t call them exceptional.

With the GoPro Hero 12, they are exceptional!

It has a 27-megapixel (MP) sensor, which noticeably increases the photo resolution from past GoPros.

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#2- INCREDIBLE 5.3K VIDEO

I realize this is a review of the best underwater camera, but having a product that delivers stunning photos PLUS amazing video footage is a win-win.

My husband keeps asking when I’m going to finally get all of my snorkeling videos posted, and I really hope to soon.

I have some wonderful footage of some blacktip reef sharks, octopuses (I always thought it was octopi, but nope, it’s octopuses), sting rays on the move, lots of turtle action, and plenty of brightly-colored fish in the Maldives!

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#3- INCREDIBLE FRAME GRABS

How to Grab a Frame on GoPro Hero

Demonstrating how to grab a frame on GoPro Hero (photo is of a stingray I saw at Le Meridien in the Maldives)

I am not a diver but an experienced snorkeler. Taking photos as a snorkeler is WAY different than a diver.

SNORKELER’S PROBLEM

You frequently have to dive down and expend a lot of energy to get close to your subject for a decent photo. Imagine you are trying to photograph an octopus that’s camouflaged in the coral. You were 2 seconds off because you had to come back up for air. When you pop back down, it’s gone!

SNORKELER’S SOLUTION

Frame grabs!

I haven’t seen anyone talk about this in other underwater camera posts, which is surprising.

Ok, so what are frame grabs?

Instead of snapping a photo at just the right moment that eel opens its mouth, I video it instead and then “grab” a high-resolution 24.7 MP photo from the video.

That way I always have fantastic video footage AND never miss an amazing photo because I just pick which frame I want.

Love, love, love this feature! How cool is that?

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#4- HYDROPHOBIC LENS

An interesting feature of the GoPro Hero 12 is the water-repelling lens cover. I haven’t used this feature too much because I normally put my GoPro in a protective housing, so I can use a snorkel filter.

But, if you don’t use the housing + filter, it really helps eliminate any water spots.

There was one time I forgot to bring the housing and the snorkel filter when we did a whale shark tour in the Maldives.

The video footage and photos still came out great. No weird water spots. This also helps too when you want to take photos as soon as you come out of the water.

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#5- WATERPROOF & DURABLE

Spotting an octopus on the sea floor during a deep snorkel at Salt Pier Bonaire

Octopus spotting at close to 20 foot depth at Salt Pier in Bonaire 

Diving down to see an octopus on the sea floor at Salt Pier in Bonaire

Close-up of octopus camouflaging in the coral after diving down to the sea floor  

The GoPro Hero 12 is waterproof up to 33 feet, but as a snorkeler, I rarely approach that depth. I prefer shallow snorkeling, but my husband will dive down to check things out.

For example, when we were at Salt Pier in Bonaire, he spotted an octopus on the move deep below the pier (demonstrated by the first photo).

He dove down to close to 20 feet to get a great photo of the octopus up close (demonstrated by the second photo).

The GoPro had no problem and worked perfectly at that depth.

This camera is super solid and well-constructed. There’s never been any leaking or damage to the internal compartments.

My GoPro has even accidentally gotten thrown around from time to time, and it does not break even when my less-than-delicate husband operates it.

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#6- VERTICAL CAPTURE

This is another big feature that previous reviews on underwater cameras don’t mention as a selling point.

If you want to share your magical session snorkeling with an eagle ray at Angel City on Instagram, you can now capture it in a 9:16 aspect ratio. Genius!

No more weird black lines or having to zoom in the image/video to make it fill that aspect ratio.

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#7- ENDURO BATTERIES

On my old GoPro Hero 6 and 10, I was running through batteries like crazy. I always brought two batteries if I was doing multiple snorkeling sites like in St. John.

The worst feeling in the world is when you see that dreaded low battery light, and you just jumped in the water.

The new Enduro battery on the GoPro Hero 12 lasts for hours depending on the activity and if you are taking photos or filming.

According to the GoPro website, it delivers 70 minutes at 5.3K recording, 1.5 hours at 5.3K30, and over 2.5 hours at 1080p30.

Although I have not tested those exact times to see if it’s true, I can vouch they last a long time. I still bring an extra battery just in case, but the battery life is noticeably longer than in past models.

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#8- TAKE SELFIES UNDERWATER

Want to take a photo with all those beautiful fish in the background to make your friends jealous?

The GoPro Hero 12 has dual LCD screens, so just flip the GoPro to the front screen to still see your face and snap the photo.

Underwater Camera Features Not to Love

The snorkeling gear I put in the Stahlsac BVI Mesh Backpack

Seen in Center: GoPro + accessories (protective housing + filter + extension pole)

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LOTS OF CAMERA ACCESSORIES NEEDED

To make the GoPro into a ready-to-go underwater camera, there are several accessories needed.

I found this out the hard way. When I upgraded to the GoPro Hero 12, I just assumed all of my previous accessories and snorkel filters would fit.

Nope. Shame on me for not checking before heading off to snorkel in Aruba.

I find it annoying to have to re-purchase some accessories to accommodate the newest GoPro model, but such is life.

Since we are on this topic, we’ll discuss what underwater camera accessories you may want to have in the next section.

Underwater Camera Accessories

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#1- FILTER KIT

PolarPro DiveMaster Filter Kit

PolarPro DiveMaster Filter Kit

If you want to get more vibrant colors in your photos, snap on a filter to your underwater camera lens.

As noted on the GoPro website, use the red filter for blue water, magenta for green water, and snorkel for shallow water. I always use a filter.

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#2- PROTECTIVE HOUSING

GoPro Hero Protective Housing for Snorkeling

GoPro Hero Protective Housing

If you want to add the filter, you need to purchase the protective housing.

The housing is a little cumbersome to open and close, but it’s solid. I’m always worried I’m going to lose all of my fingernails as I take it on and off.

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#3- FLOATING GRIP HANDLE OR EXTENSION POLE

Do not just hold that little camera and try to take photos. You will end up dropping it.

Attach the camera to a floating handle to avoid losing all that amazing footage.

I use two different handles depending on the situation.

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01- The Handler

GoPro Floating Handle

GoPro floating grip handle 

For snorkeling tours where I am jumping in and out of a boat, I use the shorter GoPro stick called The Handler.

On a recent trip to Moorea, we went on a snorkeling tour using a sea scooter for the first time (So much fun! It was kinda like an E-bike for the water). I wanted to capture video footage using my GoPro, but I needed two hands to operate the sea scooter.

Luckily, I had brought the GoPro Handler, so our guide was able to attach the camera to the sea scooter using the wrist strap lanyard on the floating Handler. You can see the setup in the photo below.

Snorkeling with a sea scooter and GoPro in Moorea

Snorkeling with a sea scooter and GoPro with The Handler

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02- The Extension Pole

GoPro extension pole

GoPro extension pole

I also use an extension pole

This accessory comes in handy when you are trying to stretch a little farther to photograph and video sea critters up close, like that cool little batwing coral crab at Wayaka 2 in Bonaire.

My husband calls it my “Moses stick,” lol. I only use it when shore snorkeling because it is rather long and would be a pain to manage getting on and off a boat. 

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#4- EXTRA BATTERIES AND CHARGER

GoPro Enduro batteries plus dual charger

GoPro Enduro batteries plus dual charger

When we were recently in the Maldives at Le Meridien, we did a long snorkel on their house reef which ate up a lot of battery time. I recorded a lot of footage, probably the most I’ve ever done. 

Afterward, we decided to check out one more section that was supposed to have good snorkeling.

As soon as we jumped in the water, we saw an octopus and then another! This was my first octopus sighting ever!

And then my battery died.

I was devastated.

Luckily, when we went on the second day, the octopuses (yes, plural!) were still there. I have lots of octopus photos if you read my Le Meridien Maldives House Reef Review.

Lesson learned.

Always have an extra battery on hand to avoid that panic feeling when you see a low battery light.

I have also since purchased the dual battery charger (which includes 2 additional Enduro batteries!) to charge everything up faster.

Having a few extra batteries on hand helps too when you forget to charge one. You are always ready. 

Standard vs Enduro GoPro battery

Standard vs Enduro GoPro battery

A quick note on the battery types: Standard vs. Enduro battery.

I own three GoPro Heros (6, 10, and now 12). When I snorkeled all day with the GoPro Hero 6 and 10, I had to switch out the standard batteries halfway through.

The one Enduro battery that is included with the GoPro Hero 12 (and 11) has noticeably lengthened my recording time.

For example, my husband and I did two all-day tours in French Polynesia (Blue Lagoon in Rangiroa and the Coral Gardens in Taha’a). I did a fair amount of video capture, and by the end of the tours, I still had about 30% battery life. Quite impressive!

The old standard battery would have definitely died by then.

The Enduro battery is also supposed to perform well in cold temperatures, but I haven’t tested that feature. I much prefer warm weather activities like snorkeling!

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#5- MEMORY CARD

SanDisk Extreme 256 GB memory card

SanDisk Extreme 256 GB memory card

This is an easy one to overlook, but don’t forget a good memory card.

GoPro recommends the SanDisk Extreme, so that is the one I use.

Options for storage include 32 GB, 64 GB, 128 GB, 256 GB, 512 GB, and 1 TB. I use the 256 GB, but I take a lot of footage.

My husband and I just got back from a 2-week vacation to French Polynesia. We were in the water every day snorkeling and capturing video.

To give you a sense of the storage capacity, I used 124.22 GB out of 256 GB on a brand new SanDisk Extreme 256 GB memory card.

SanDisk Extreme 256 GB in GoPro Hero 12

Storage used on the SanDisk memory card on a recent snorkeling trip to French Polynesia

My GoPro Underwater Photos

Now, on to the fun stuff!

Here are some of my personal snorkeling photos to show why you care about selecting a good underwater camera!

A sleeping nurse shark under the sunset jetty at Outrigger Maldives Maafushivaru Resort

A sleeping nurse shark at Outrigger Maldives Maafushivaru Resort

Parrotfish at Wayaka 2 in Bonaire

Parrotfish at Wayaka 2 in Bonaire

Close up of a French angelfish at Red Beryl in Bonaire

Close up of a French angelfish at Red Beryl in Bonaire

Turtle at Salt Pier in Bonaire

Turtle at Salt Pier in Bonaire

Batwing coral crab at Wayaka 2 in Bonaire

Batwing coral crab at Wayaka 2 in Bonaire

A gorgeous octopus at Le Meridien in the Maldives

A gorgeous octopus at the Le Merdien house reef in the Maldives

Porcupine ray at Le Meridien in the Maldives

Porcupine ray at Le Meridien in the Maldives

Turtle at Outrigger in the Maldives

Turtle at Outrigger in the Maldives

Redtail butterflyfish at Le Meridien Maldives House Reef

Redtail butterflyfish at Le Meridien Maldives 

A juvenile blacktip reef shark swimming under the sunset jetty at Outrigger Maldives Maafushivaru Resort

Blacktip reef shark at the Outrigger in the Maldives

If you want to see MORE photos taken with the GoPro Hero 12, check out my Maldives Fish Chart which includes 42 species of fish! These are my personal snorkeling photos. No stock photos!

4 Snorkeling Photo Tips

→   #1- GOOD LIGHTING

You need good light for great underwater photos and videos.

Snorkel on a sunny day.

When the sunlight enters the water, you will instantly see the difference in your footage.

→   #2- GET CLOSE TO YOUR SUBJECT

Obviously, safety first. Don’t aggressively swim towards a shark or aggravate a territorial eel.

Within reason and using common sense, closer footage is going to produce better footage.

→   #3- ADJUST COLORS 

You can enhance the colors or fix the color cast with minor modifications in editing software like Photoshop.

→   #4- FRAME UP YOUR SEA LIFE

This happens to me a lot. I think I take a great photo, and then I look at it later and the fish blends right into the background.

Try to take a photo of your sea creature with a contrasting background to make it pop. You may have to move around to a different angle to accomplish this.

Final Thoughts

You may be tempted to just buy a waterproof pouch for your phone to take photos underwater. Horrible idea. Trust me, I have tried that too.

It does not compare to a high-quality underwater camera meant for your snorkeling adventures!

After snorkeling multiple snorkeling sites around the world since 2007 (and capturing footage since 2014), my favorite underwater camera for snorkeling by far is the GoPro Hero 12!

It’s small but mighty and packed with great features that just keep getting better and better.

If you like this type of personal product review, then don’t miss my posts on the 13 best snorkeling gear items for your next snorkation!

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