Photography from a Sea Kayak

Hi all,

I’m a fairly serious amateur photographer and also getting seriously into sea kayaking (though I am still fairly new at the kayaking). I cannot imagine taking my good camera and lenses out on the water. For one thing, I never go out on the water without practicing self-rescues, so anything on or in the boat is bound to get dunked sooner or later. Train as you fight, right?

Waterproof housings for my gear are prohibitively expensive, so I’ve been looking at the Olympus TG-6, which seems to be about the best of the “affordable” waterproof cameras. But comments like this kept popping up in reviews I read of this camera: “the image quality is good, maybe not as good as your cell phone camera, but the whole point is it’s waterproof and your cell phone is not”. So it occurred to me… why not get a waterproof housing for my phone instead?

This led me to the SeaLife SportDiver housing. It’s not cheap but it does cost about $150 less than the Olympus. It works via Bluetooth, using a dedicated app to control the phone’s camera. This may not come with the bells and whistles of the TG-6 but I wasn’t interested in those anyway: I just want to be able to take good-quality images from the boat and not have to worry about destroying my gear.

So, my question is this: has anyone got either of these products, and if so, what do you think of them? Are there any other options you might be able to recommend?

At this point I am leaning towards the SportDiver but would be very interested to learn others’ thoughts. Thank you in advance, and sorry for the long post!

I have the older version of the camera, the TG-3. It works well for what it is, a waterproof, rugged camera that takes good snapshots. It has no viewfinder, so to compose you have to look at the back screen, which can be problematic in strong light. But I can take pictures under water, knock it around, and it is fine. I keep it around my neck typically.

It was frustrating for longer, wildlife shots, so I also got the Panasonic Lumix FZ300. It has a viewfinder, and the lens is about as long as I can hand hold reliably. But it is only splash proof. I typically keep it in my day hatch, but when there is good subject matter, I keep it around my neck too, and it survives splashing and wet hands well. In fact, at the end of the day I often rinse it off.

I do not bring my Nikon D7500 out kayaking. It is not worth the risk to me, the other two suffice. I take my cell phone, but it is kept in a dry bag as back up if needed. I also prefer not to risk it, as I have come to rely on it for too many things, smile.

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I have a cheap phone and can’t imagine how the tiny lens on a phone camera could compare with a decent digital camera. In my case, my ancient Pentax WS80 waterproof camera does a lot better than my cheap TCL A3 phone ever could.

Are the cameras on “good” phones really that good?

Some of the higher end phones by Samsung, Apple and Sony have amazing cameras, at least to me. They’re not DSLRs by any stretch, but amazing nonetheless … way better than most compact point and shoot cameras from only a few years ago.

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Yes they are! Newer mobile phones have very good cameras.

Modern cell phones have surprisingly good cameras. I would say as good as an SLR that is in the beginner model category, perhaps even better than some. When I compare side by side, and zoom way in, I think for most people’s purposes then are very comparable.

What they do not have is the control (ISO, aperture, shutter, and white balance) and flexibility of focal length and lense choice that a decent digital camera has. No viewfinder is another limitation in some conditions, though composing is easy as their back screen is a true view of the composition, and much easier to use that then back screen of the TG-3. And low light capability is pretty impressive.

I consider my phone one of the cameras in my kit at this point, just as good (within its limitations) as my other 4 cameras. And its gigantic advantage is I always have my camera with me, except when kayaking, when it is tucked away in a dry bag below deck.

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I have had good success with my Nikon 200 cool pix I bought in 2013. I keep it in my PFD and it is always with me on the water. It is 16 megapixel and 5X. The great thing about it is it is rugged and always ready to take a shot. I think if I was to get another, I would opt for the Nikon 300 cool pix, but the Olympus TG-6 would be a close second. I also have the Lumix FZ300. It has even gone under water once with water inside the body, but I was able to use a hot pad to dry it out and it survived. I have an Apple 13 in a case, and it takes good photos too. I prefer the Nikon over it and my phone. It is easy and fast to get to and has been underwater quite a few times. I have post lots of photos on this site taken primarily with this camera.

As you can see it has a few small dents and lots of wear. It also sometimes tends to overexpose as the sensor has aged, but that is an easy fix by setting the exposure down. I don’t want to put my phone through the same kind of abuse.

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Agreed, my phone (iPhone 13 Pro) is definitely part of my kit. As the saying goes, the best camera is the one you’ve got with you, and I’m certainly not taking my Canon 5D Mark IV out on the water! I might consider doing so in a fishing kayak, under certain conditions, because I do a lot of (terrestrial) bird photography and neither of the solutions I mentioned in my original post offers a workable telephoto arrangement. (The Olympus does actually offer a teleconverter as an accessory, but the reviews are not encouraging.) But a sea kayak is another matter (and even the most stable fishing kayak can still capsize, of course.)

I guess if I had an absolutely bombproof roll I might consider taking my “real” camera with me in a dry bag and keeping it under the spray skirt. But I don’t yet have ANY roll, and even this solution would be risky if I ever did have to do a wet exit.

Perhaps the ideal thing would be a dry bag that I could strap to the deck, in which the camera is held as if in a holster: open the bag, pull out the camera, take the shot, return to the bag and close it. But even this would entail some level of risk. I guess everything in paddle sports involves some level of risk, though, doesn’t it?

For sure. And not just with kayaking. I subject my cameras to risk all the time. Rain, sand, carried in backpacks. Padded cases can help. But using the camera entails some risk.

If I was making money by shooting wildlife, I would risk the camera. Probably use a hard case between my legs, or a really good dry bag on my deck, Like Watersheds Aleutian. But for me, kayaking is my objective, photos are fun and nice side objective.

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That’s what I do w/ my Canon Rebel. I use a Sea to Summit Big River dry bag that I secure to my perimeter lines and use like a deck bag. I took a plastic piece, like a flexible plastic cutting board, and cut it down to the right size so that it fits inside and domes the bag enough that getting the camera back in is easy. I also carry a small absorbent cloth right at the entrance to the bag so that any wetness that gets in from opening the bag hits that first.
So far I’ve only killed one body but that was from rolling the yak over getting out w/ an open dry bag on the floor of the cockpit.
I have NOT left that bag on the deck when practicing wet exits and remounts so I can’t speak to that keeping it totally dry. I probably should test it a few times w/o the camera in it on those practice sessions. For photo taking trips I’m willing to take the risk. I just can’t get the same quality of photos from something that is short a viewfinder and a manual options.

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Your Coolpix inspires me to dig out my old Canon PowerShot ELPH. It’s been sitting unused in a drawer for several years so I might as well start taking it out on the water if it will power-up. If it survives, great; if not, no great loss.
It would have been nice to have along this morning as I watched an eagle circling near the shore, glide in an snatch a small fish from just below the surface, then perch on a nearby branch for a breakfast of panfish sashimi.


The big advantage I find with my small Nikon waterproof in a pfd pocket is the ready accessibility for those unexpected fleeting shots you would otherwise miss.

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I use the Olympus T-6. Fits easily in the PFD pocket, and I also have the zoom (TCON-T01) and wide angle (FCON-T01) lenses. I also keep those in my PFD pocket and can quickly pull them out, clip them on and take the shot. Here is a shot with and without the zoom lens taken today.

Without zoom lens

With zoom lens

I’m no pro, so the picture quality is good enough for me. I do edit with Photoshop Elements. It has spent a lot of time in the water with no issues. I wouldn’t want to put my phone through that.

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I use a Gopro Hero 10 with a floating handle. Works great for what I need it for. It doesn’t really zoom but that’s fine for me.


I used to use a Canon Rebel T2i in an Otterbox, missed a lot of wildlife shots that way.

Samsung Galaxy S7 - IP67 (waterproof to 3 feet). You can find these phones for < $100. Great pictures but no zoom. I have accidentally tested the waterproof rating several times.

Nikon Coolpix AW110, waterproof and 5x zoom, $400. Ancient, tends to overexpose but easily corrected in FastStone. Picture quality does not compare to the phone.

The biggest problem with both of the above is no lens cap and usually no dry hands or way to wipe the water droplets off the lens while paddling, so pictures are easily spoiled.

Panasonic Lumix FZ300. Superzoom, “splash proof”, $400. I put this under my deck bungies and move it to my day hatch if things get too wet. I had to buy a screw-on lens cap as the OEM falls off too easily. Picture quality, especially at long zoom, does not compare to the phone. Colors are off. This is my go-to. I stopped bringing the Nikon after getting this, and bought another after drowning the first one.

You might also look at a waterproof GoPro but again, no lens cap.

Pics for comparison follow.
Canon wide open:

Canon zoomed in:

Galaxy S7:

Coolpix wide:

Zoomed in:

FZ300 wide:

zoomed in:

Note the website compresses images. Actual pixels:
Canon Rebel T2i:5184 x 3456
Samsung Galaxy S7: 4032 x 2268
Nikon Coolpix AW110: 4608 x 3456
Panasonic Lumix FZ300: 4000 x 3000
Uncompressed versions are here:–heGepJBrwtFQ9dI4uE-_qdgS6b?usp=drive_link


I use a Overboard Pro-Sports Waterproof SLR Camera Bag that I got at B&H in NYC. It holds a DSLR with a long lens and in my dunks has been totally waterproof.


I’ve looked at those bags but always get spooked by the number of reviews on the B&H website that say “this bag is NOT waterproof!”. I guess it’s like any other piece of supposedly waterproof gear: better test it before you use it. There are certainly plenty of reviews that back up your experience as well! And of course you never know to what extent the issues people had were caused by their own errors. It does sound like Overboard may have (or maybe had in the past) some quality control issues. But thanks for the recommendation! I may check out one of the bags, and test it a LOT before entrusting my gear to it…

Buy a scuba housing but maintain it according to manufacturers instructions.

Another compromise is a well maintained pelican case and landing when necessary. I use a travel tripod in a dry bag.

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We use an adequate waterproof camera for our ordinary paddles, but we learned the hard way that we really want our good digital SLRs for memorable locations. We’ve kayaked on five continents and love our photos now! We used to strap an ammo box to our kayaks, and it worked really well but was cumbersome. Our favorite outfitter introduced us to Watershed camera dry bags, which are so easy to use and very effective []. You can see photos like these on our website, We think the difference in photo quality is worth the effort.

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Great photos! And thanks for the recommendation.