Updated on February 6, 2020

Are you ready to take your underwater photography to the next level? Adding lenses to your camera setup is the fastest and easiest way to improve your images, no matter what level you’re shooting on. This simple upgrade can help you explore new subjects like macro, add effects like fisheye, and capture stunning reefscapes. If you’re new to diving and snorkeling, you’ll need some guidance choosing the best lens for underwater photography. But don’t worry! The Adventure Junkies are here to help. 

Using lenses with different focal lengths, apertures, and angles of view can impact the quality and creativity of your underwater images. And, these high powered accessories are easy to add to your rig. Lenses for underwater photography attach to your camera’s housing via threads or a port. There, you can manually or automatically control them, adding depth and imagination to every shot.

For more of our top underwater photography gear recommendations, check out the Best Diving Cameras.

 

Quick Answer - The Best Lenses for Underwater Photography

  1. SeaLife 52mm
  2. Tokina 10-17mm
  3. Fantasea +12
  4. Canon 60mm
  5. Inon UWL-H100
  6. I-Das KRL-02
  7. Nikon 16mm
  8. Canon EF 8-15
  9. Sony Vario-Tessar 16-35mm
  10. Sony FE 90mm

 

Comparison Table - Best Lenses for Underwater Photography

PictureNameLensCameraSizePriceRating
SeaLife 52mmMacroCompactSmall$4.3
Tokina 10-17mmWide AngleDSLRMedium$4.0
Fantasea +12MacroCompactSmall$4.4
Canon 60mmMacroDSLRMedium$$4.6
Inon UWL-H100Wide AngleCompactSmall$$4.8
I-Das KRL-02Wide AngleCompactLarge$$4.7
Nikon 16mmWide AngleDSLRMedium$$4.2
Canon EF 8-15Wide AngleDSLRMedium$$$5.0
Sony Vario-Tessar 16-35mmWide AngleMirrorlessLarge$$$4.4
Sony FE 90mmMacroMirrorlessLarge$$$4.8
PictureNameLensCameraSizePriceRating
Want to learn more about a technical term? Check out our Features Explained section below.

Need buying advice? Take a look at these Things to Consider.

Reviews - Best Underwater Photography Lenses

SeaLife 52mm

Specs
  • Aperture: -
  • Camera: Compact
  • Dimensions: 2.3 x 0.5 x 0.5 Inches
  • Focal Length: -
  • Lens: Macro
  • Weight: 3.8 Ounces
  • Size: Small
Features
  • Compact And Lightweight Design Ideal For Dive Travel
  • Short Minimum Focus Distance Lets You Get Close To Your Subjects For The Clearest Images Possible
  • Easy To Remove And Exchange For Alternate Lenses Underwater
  • AR Lens Coating Reduces Reflections
  • Universal Threading Fits Nearly All Underwater Camera Housings

BEST FOR: SUPER MACRO

Once you’ve been shooting macro for a while, super macro is the next step. But, to pull off these challenging shots, you’ll need a powerful lens with a super short focus distance. The SeaLife 52mm is one of the best compact compatible macro lenses on the market, specially designed for photographing the smallest of subjects. This model is lightweight and travel-friendly, and it fits most compact camera housing. Plus, it’s easy to interchange underwater, making it perfect for a point and shoot bayonet system. This model’s coated lens reduces glare and reflections too, preventing interference from strobes and video lights.

Tokina 10-17mm

Specs
  • Aperture: f/3.5-4.5
  • Camera: DSLR
  • Dimensions: 2.8 x 2.8 x 2.8 Inches
  • Focal Length: 17mm
  • Lens: Wide Angle
  • Weight: 12.3 Ounces
  • Size: Medium
Features
  • Compact And Lightweight Design Ideal For Dive Travel
  • Short Minimum Focus Distance Lets You Get Close To Your Subjects For The Clearest Images Possible
  • Optimized For Canon Digital SLR Cameras
  • Circular Fisheye For Artistic 180 Degree Images
  • Fluorine Coating Reduces Smears And Fingerprints On The Lens

BEST FOR: TRAVEL WEIGHT WIDE ANGLE 

The Tokina 10-17mm is a lightweight and compact fisheye lens designed for use with Canon cameras. Unlike most wide angle options, this model features a very close focusing ability. This feature helps you capture as much detail as possible in your shots, even if you’re photographing small and medium sized subjects. The Tokina 10-17mm’s super sharp 180 degree field of view also works well for large animals and landscapes. And, unlike other similar lenses, it maintains image clarity up to the frame’s edge with no blurry vignette. If you prefer to take less “curvy” pictures, this model’s zoom capability reduces the fisheye look in photos for a more natural appearance.

Fantasea +12

Specs
  • Aperture: -
  • Camera: Compact
  • Dimensions: 2.9 x 2.1 x 2.1 Inches
  • Focal Length: -
  • Lens: Macro
  • Weight: 12.9 Ounces
  • Size: Small
Features
  • Short Minimum Focus Distance Lets You Get Close To Your Subjects For The Clearest Images Possible
  • AR Lens Coating To Reduce Reflections
  • Easy To Remove And Exchange For Alternate Lenses Underwater
  • Allows Lens Stacking For Super Macro Shots
  • Universal Threading Fits Nearly All Underwater Camera Housings

BEST FOR: COMPACT COMPATIBLE MACRO

The Fantasea +12 seems bulky when compared to other compact-friendly macro lenses. But, it’s lighter than it looks and well worth the extra space in your gear bag. This model can be “stacked” with other lenses to create exciting special effects and capture super macro images. Plus, it offers a short focus distance, allowing you to fill each frame with the underwater world’s most minuscule details. Because the Fantasea +12 is easy to interchange underwater and fits nearly any housing, it’s an excellent value for new photographers building a collection of lenses. Plus, its AR coating prevents reflection and refraction from your setup’s strobes and lights.

Canon 60mm

Specs
  • Aperture: f/2.8-32
  • Camera: DSLR
  • Dimensions: 2.8 x 2.9 x 2.9 Inches
  • Focal Length: 60mm
  • Lens: Macro
  • Weight: 11.8 Ounces
  • Size: Medium
Features
  • Compact And Lightweight Design Ideal For Dive Travel
  • Short Minimum Focus Distance Lets You Get Close To Your Subjects For The Clearest Images Possible
  • Switch Between Manual And Auto-focus Via A Sliding Focus Ring
  • Focuses Silently And Won't Startle Shy Subjects
  • 1:1 Magnification Ratio

BEST FOR: TRAVEL-WEIGHT MACRO 

Most macro lenses are large and heavy, but not the Canon 60mm. This lens is lightweight and compact, making it ideal for dive travel, and shooting super macro. It features a short minimal focus distance, allowing you to come within inches of objects for the most detailed photos possible. Plus, it switches between manual and auto with the simple twist of a focus ring. The Canon 60mm’s focus is nearly silent, so it won’t scare off the wildlife you’re trying to take pictures of. And, best of all, this true macro lens offers up to a 1:1 magnification ratio, bringing even the smallest of species into focus.

Inon UWL-H100

Specs
  • Aperture: -
  • Camera: Compact
  • Dimensions: 3.6 x 3.6 x 1.8 Inches
  • Focal Length: -
  • Lens: Wide Angle
  • Weight: 16 Ounces
  • Size: Small
Features
  • Compact And Lightweight Design Ideal For Dive Travel
  • Dome Port Compatible For Ultra-Wide Angle Of View
  • Lens Coating To Reduce Reflections
  • Easy To Remove And Exchange For Alternate Lenses Underwater
  • Universal Threading Fits Nearly All Underwater Camera Housings

BEST FOR: COMPACT COMPATIBLE WIDE ANGLE

If you’re new to underwater photography, you’re probably using a compact camera. But don’t worry. These days, there are plenty of point and shoot options that rival professional-quality models. The Inon UWL-H100 is a lightweight and travel-friendly wide angle lens, meant to fit over a compact camera’s housing. It’s compatible with an additional dome port for the widest frame possible, and easy to interchange underwater. The UWL-H100’s rugged aluminum construction and anti-reflective coated lens are perfect for beginners. Not only will these features cut down on glare and other unwanted visual distortions, but they are also ideal for divers who are hard on their gear.

I-Das KRL-02

Specs
  • Aperture: -
  • Camera: Compact
  • Dimensions: 6.8 x 6.6 x 4.3 Inches
  • Focal Length: -
  • Lens: Wide Angle
  • Weight: 16 Ounces
  • Size: Large
Features
  • Gas Injected Dome Reduces Fogging Due To Temperature Changes Underwater
  • BBAR Lens Coating To Reduce Reflections
  • Circular Fisheye For Artistic 180 Degree Images
  • Extra Wide Angle Is Ideal For Landscape Photography
  • Universal Threading Fits Nearly All Underwater Camera Housings

BEST FOR: COMPACT COMPATIBLE DOME PORT

The I-Das KRL-02 fits over a compact camera’s built-in lens, converting it into a wide angle fisheye. This model is compatible with most underwater housings using an internal threading system. And, when combined with a simple adapter, it becomes nearly universal. The KRL-02’s ultra-wide field of vision and vignette-free images are thanks to its oversized dome port. Unlike similar models, this lens’s dome is gas-filled to reduce fogging due to temperature changes. Plus, it’s coated to prevent reflections and reduce image distortion. While this is hardly a small-sized accessory, its lightweight aluminum construction makes it travel-friendly when compared to competing designs.

Nikon 16mm

Specs
  • Aperture: f/2.8-22
  • Camera: DSLR
  • Dimensions: 2.2 x 2.5 x 2.5 Inches
  • Focal Length: 16mm
  • Lens: Wide Angle
  • Weight: 10.2 Ounces
  • Size: Medium
Features
  • Close-Range Correction Provides High Performance At Close And Far Focusing Distances
  • Nikon Super Integrated Lens Coating Reduces Reflections
  • Circular Fisheye For Artistic 180 Degree Images
  • Super-Fast Speed For Natural Looking Images Even In Low Light
  • Extra Wide Angle Non-Zooming Lens

BEST FOR: FISHEYE WITHOUT ZOOM 

Fisheye photography is an artistic and creative way to capture the “big picture” underwater. Though its corner sharpness is poor, the Nikon 16mm is perfect for taking dynamic 180 degree fisheye photos with no zoom. Its close-range correction system performs well at close and far focusing distances. So, it’s easy to snap the most precise images possible, even of large subjects and landscapes. This model features an anti-reflective lens coating to cut down on light interference, so it works well in the shallows, unlike some wide angle lenses. Plus, its super-fast  speed allows it to function with little to no light, too.

Canon EF 8-15

Specs
  • Aperture: f/4 – 22
  • Camera: DSLR
  • Dimensions: 3.3 x 3.1 x 3.1 Inches
  • Focal Length: 15mm
  • Lens: Wide Angle
  • Weight: 19.04 Ounces
  • Size: Medium
Features
  • Switch Between Manual And Auto-focus Via A Sliding Focus Ring
  • Fluorine Coating To Reduce Smears And Fingerprints On The Lens
  • Circular Fisheye For Artistic 180 Degree Images
  • UD Glass Offers The Clearest Colors Possible Underwater
  • Super Fast Speed For Natural-Looking Images Even In Low Light

BEST FOR: FISHEYE AND ZOOM COMBO

The Canon EF 8-15 is one of the most versatile wide angle lenses on the market. And, while it’s one of the more expensive options in its class, it’s well worth the extra investment. This model works with full frame and cropped sensor cameras, capturing 180 degree circular fisheye images between 8 and 15mm. Its fast shutter captures clear and natural-looking photos, even in low lighting conditions. UD glass shows the most accurate colors possible at depth, even around the frame’s edges. Plus, a fluorine coating on the EF 8-15’s glass prevents smears and fingerprints, a common complaint with fisheye lenses.

Sony Vario-Tessar 16-35mm

Specs
  • Aperture: f/4-f22
  • Camera: Mirrorless
  • Dimensions: 3.9 x 3.1 x 3.1 Inches
  • Focal Length: 35mm
  • Lens: Wide Angle
  • Weight: 18.24 Ounces
  • Size: Large
Features
  • Short Minimum Focus Distance Lets You Get Close To Your Subjects For The Clearest Images Possible
  • Image Stabilization For Blur-Free Handheld Shooting
  • UD Glass Offers The Clearest Colors Possible Underwater
  • Super-Fast Speed For Natural-Looking Images Even In Low Light
  • Extra Wide Angle Is Ideal For Landscape Photography

BEST FOR: MIRRORLESS WIDE ANGLE  

Even if you’re shooting in wide angle, you’ll need to get up close and personal with your subjects. This allows you to capture clear and highly detailed images despite turbidity and underwater interference. The Sony Vario-Tessar has a short minimum focus distance so that you can take beautiful landscape and action shots from as close as one foot away. This lens also offers image stabilization, super-fast speed, and UD glass. This combination of features makes it easy for even the newest of newbies to take breathtaking pictures underwater. While this lens is both heavy and expensive, the high-quality images it captures make it a longtime photographer’s favorite.

Sony FE 90mm

Specs
  • Aperture: f/2.8-22
  • Camera: Mirrorless
  • Dimensions: 5.2 x 3.1 x 3.1 Inches
  • Focal Length: 90mm
  • Lens: Macro
  • Weight: 21.28 Ounces
  • Size: Large
Features
  • Nano AR Lens Coating Reduces Reflections
  • Image Stabilization For Blur-Free Handheld Shooting
  • Switch Between Manual And Auto-focus Via A Sliding Focus Ring
  • Focuses Silently And Won't Startle Shy Subjects
  • Focus Hold Button Locks The Focusing Distance For Multiple Shots

BEST FOR: MIRRORLESS MACRO   

If you’re shooting super small subjects with a mirrorless camera, the Sony FE 90mm is the best lens you can buy. While this model comes across as a bit of a clunker, it’s well worth the extra weight. This lens features 1:1 magnification, perfect for photographing minuscule wildlife. Its DDSSM silent focus won’t startle small subjects or create audio distortion in your videos. And, it offers outstanding image stabilization, so it’s easy to use without a tripod. The FE 90mm’s Nano AR lens coating reduces reflections and refractions, even if you’re shooting in the shallows. Plus, a locking focus hold lets you take multiple shots without adjusting or refocusing.

 

THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN BUYING A LENS FOR UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY

 

CAMERA TYPE

Cameras used for underwater photography come in three main types; compact, mirrorless, and DSLR. All three work with different lenses. So, you’ll need to double-check for compatibility before making a purchase. 

Compact, or point and shoot cameras are the most basic models available. These are the most affordable options, and the easiest to use, perfect for less experienced photographers. While these entry-level cameras offer less creative control over your images, they remain popular thanks to their preset modes for use underwater. All compact cameras have fixed internal lenses. But, you can easily add more with an adapter ring or coupling that connects to the housing. 

Unlike their compact counterparts, DSLR and mirrorless cameras use external lenses only. These mount to the camera’s exterior via a bayonet system or similar attachment point. Mirrorless cameras are typically smaller and more lightweight than DSLR options because they lack a bulky mirror box and prism. A mirrorless design also reduces “slap” and other noise interference caused by internal moving parts. This feature prevents disturbing shy wildlife and reduces audio disturbances in underwater video. 

DSLR cameras are the most common choice for highly experienced underwater photographers. While they are the heaviest, largest, and loudest options on the market, they still offer benefits not found in compact or mirrorless models. DSLR cameras feature continuous autofocus and subject tracking. This helps capture the clearest images possible, even when shooting a moving subject. A mirrored design also cuts down on specific types of visual interference associated with light, like “red dot patterns.” Other perks include longer battery life, sharper images in the viewfinder, and less lag than other camera types. 

 

LENS TYPE 

Photographers use different lenses to capture varying types of images underwater. Macro lenses are best for focusing on small organisms at a close distance. On the other hand, wide angle lenses perform better for landscape photography and larger subjects.

A macro lens can focus from a very close distance allowing you to fill your camera’s frame, capturing more detail. True macro lenses offer a magnification ratio of at least 1:1. This means that when you’re shooting from your camera’s closest focusing distance, your subject will be displayed in its actual size. 

Wide angle lenses use a short focal length and a wide angular field to capture a broader image. This type of lens can focus from a greater distance, fitting entire reefscapes into its frame. 

A specialized wide angle lens, known as a “fisheye” can be used to capture spherical images. This distortion allows images to curve outward, filling your frame. Fisheyes work well underwater because they let you get closer to your subjects, improving the sharpness of your photographs. 

 

SIZE 

If you’re getting into underwater photography, you can expect to add a few pounds to your gear bag. But, when it comes to lenses, bigger isn’t always better. Frequent travelers should consider a mirrorless or compact camera and travel-friendly, lightweight lenses.

 

APERTURE 

Your camera’s lens works just like the human eye, with the aperture functioning as the pupil. This opening in the lens grows and shrinks as it is exposed to varying light levels. So, adjusting your camera’s aperture can add dimension and change a photo’s depth of field. 

Simply put, the more open your aperture, the brighter and less focused an image you’ll capture. A more open aperture can also create a “shallow focus” effect with a very clear and sharp subject and blurred background. This method is especially popular for macro photography. On the contrary, a more closed aperture produces images that are clear and sharp at multiple depths. This technique is used for landscape photography and environments with low lighting.

Aperture is measured and represented in “f-stops” like f/2, f/3.5, or f/8. This system can be confusing to new photographers because a low f-stop number actually represents a large aperture. Because the underwater world has less light, you’ll want to select a model with a low maximum f-stop to create the brightest images possible. This consideration is especially important if you’re shooting in wide angle.  

 

FOCAL LENGTH 

A lens’s focal length measures the distance between its optical center and sensor. This number is represented in millimeters and is often displayed in the lens’s name. The most important thing to remember about focal length is that it describes a lens’s angle of view. This is where the term “wide angle” comes from. 

The angle of view describes how much of a scene your lens can capture. And, it determines the size of subjects in the frame. So, the shorter your lens’s focal length (represented by a smaller number of millimeters), the larger images will appear, and the more of your frame they’ll fill. 

 

 

FEATURES EXPLAINED

 

GAS INJECTED DOME

Some dome lenses are injected with an inert gas to help maintain a constant internal temperature. This prevents fogging and condensation when your camera enters the water or experiences a sudden shift from cold to warm. Even if your lens is gas injected, you shouldn’t assemble your camera rig in an air-conditioned room.

 

COATED LENS

Camera lenses are coated with a variety of specialized substances designed to protect them from the elements. This coating prevents glare and reflections from external light sources like the sun and your strobes. It also reduces the transfer of smears and fingerprints on the lens during setup and breakdown.

 

IMAGE STABILIZATION 

If you’re using a lens with a long focal length or a camera with a slow shutter speed to shoot moving subjects, there’s a chance your images will be blurry. Image stabilization built into your lens can help with this, especially if your camera doesn’t offer this feature. Image stabilization is especially helpful in low light environments and for recording underwater videos.

 

SLIDING FOCUS RING

A sliding focus ring allows you to switch between manual and automatic focusing by ring forward and backward on the lens barrel. 

 

LOCKING FOCUS

Locking focus allows you to set a focal point for multiple shots. Once you’ve locked in on the most important part of your scene, you can hold the button, maintaining your focus while you recompose the shot. This feature allows you to attempt the same photograph again and again without losing focus.

 

UD GLASS

UD (Ultra-low Dispersion) glass performs better than standard optical glass. It reduces refraction and light dispersion, and bears a slight tint for natural color correction in photography. 

 

FAST SPEED 

Fast lenses work with your camera’s shutter to create crystal clear images, even in low light. An easy way to understand lens speed is to keep in mind that the larger a lens’s aperture, the faster it is. The reason this is referred to as “fast” is that more light passing through your lens allows you to use a faster shutter speed to capture razor-sharp images, even with very minimal natural lighting. 

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