I say it a lot: buying an underwater action camera (like a GoPro) was one of the best things I ever did for my snorkeling.
And many aenction cameras later, it’s still true. They’ve all allowed me to capture incredible photos and video of myself, my wife and our friends swimming alongside massive whale sharks, diving shipwrecks, tracking reef sharks, and so much else. They’ve allowed me to turn those memories into something tangible I can hold onto forever.
But, to make sure I capture these memories in the best way possible, I need to make sure to have an awesome underwater action camera. So, what are the best action cameras for snorkeling?
I’ve owned and used many action cameras for snorkeling over the years, and have experienced a ton using them first-hand in the water in a lot of different situations. I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t.
One thing I’ve also learned is that a general good all-around action camera isn’t necessarily the best action camera for snorkeling in particular. There aren’t many articles about action cameras’ performance in the water for something like snorkeling either, so it can be tough to figure out what to do.
So, let’s sort out what makes a makes a great action camera for snorkeling, along with what the best action cameras for snorkeling actually are.
After hundreds of hours in the water with various action cameras, here are what I have found to be the most important things that make the best action cameras for snorkeling and other underwater activities:
- Native Waterproofing. Most any action camera now will at least have an available case that you can put the camera in to make it waterproof while snorkeling, but many also are natively waterproof (meaning you don’t need an extra case). I think having a natively-waterproof action camera is crucial because not only does it mean that you don’t need to buy anything extra to keep it safe from moisture, but the camera will always be safe from the inevitable splashes it will encounter on boats, docks, etc.
- Excellent Photo & Video Quality. We of course want our photos and videos to look great no matter what kind of camera we’re buying or what photography we’re doing. But, the rules change underwater and it takes a special kind of action camera to produce good results in this environment.
- Great Image Stabilization. You might not realize it, but even when just floating in place, you move around while snorkeling. A lot. Watching snorkeling video without any sort of image stabilization is enough to make you nauseas without being anywhere near a boat. So, we want an action camera that can automatically smooth out our videos.
With this in hand, let’s look at the best action cameras for snorkeling that meet these requirements (and hopefully more).
My picks for the best underwater action cameras for snorkeling which excel in being natively waterproof, having excellent photo and video quality as well as great image stabilization are the GoPro Hero 11 Black, GoPro Hero10 Black, GoPro Hero9 Black, DJI Osmo Action 4 and Insta360 ONE X3.
From a purely specs-based perspective, here’s how they stack up with what we’d actually care about for snorkeling:
|GoPro Hero11 Black||GoPro Hero10 Black||DJI Osmo Action 4||GoPro Hero9 Black||Insta360 ONE X3|
|Max Video Resolution||5.3K (8:7)||5.3K||4K||5K||5.7K|
|Max Frame Rate||240fps @ 1080p||240fps @ 1080p||240fps @ 1080p||240fps @ 1080p||60fps @ 4K|
|Max Photo Resolution||27MP||23MP||10MP||20MP||18MP|
|Max Battery Life||88 mins @ 4K||76 mins @ 4K||82 mins @ 4K||89 mins @ 4K||81 mins @ 5.7K|
|Extra Front-Facing Screen||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|Image Stabilization||HyperSmooth 5.0 + Boost||HyperSmooth 4.0 + Boost||RockSteady 3.0||HyperSmooth 3.0 + Boost||FlowState|
|Waterproof Depth||10m / 33ft||10m / 33ft||18m / 59ft||10m / 33ft||10m / 33ft|
If some of the numbers and abbreviations above look like Greek to you, not to worry. The specs on each camera are all really solid and definitely enough to create a high-powered action camera. But which is the best action camera for snorkeling in particular? Let’s look.
- New 8:7 format 5.3K sensor makes vertical videos made for sharing easy to create
- Even better game-changing features like 360-degree Horizon Lock than in the Hero10
- Accessories from the Hero10 and Hero9 work with the Hero11
- Enduro battery is standard
- Great software to help you edit simply
The Not as Good
- Mostly a modest step forward from the Hero10 Black
- More moolah
Let’s start with the newest option, the GoPro Hero11 Black (on Amazon here).
In my opinion, GoPro continues to set the standard for the best action camera for snorkeling with the Hero11 Black with its updated 8:7 format sensor, improvements on game-changing features for snorkelers like Horizon Lock, and other nice-to-haves like a standard Enduro battery.
What does all that mean for me in the water?
Well, to start with the most foundational of the improvements, the image sensor (which is what all recorded video and photos flow through) continues with the same 5.3K resolution as the Hero10 Black, but the sensor is now shaped in a 8:7 orientation instead of the standard 4:3.
This new format for the sensor does a couple of main things. First, it gives the HyperSmooth 5.0 image stabilization (which is excellent, and hugely important for snorkelers riding the currents and trying to keep their camera steady) more space to work with to produce an even smoother final video. And, second, the taller sensor makes it much easier to create vertical video for sharing on platforms such as TikTok or Instagram without any loss in video quality.
Additionally, features that were utterly groundbreaking for snorkelers when they were new in the Hero9 Black — then making that camera the best GoPro for snorkeling, and even the best action camera for snorkeling — like Horizon Lock, are even better in the Hero11 Black.
In previous versions of Horizon Lock, which locks your video completely level with the horizon, the camera could cooperate if you kept any twisting of your shot below 45 degrees. Now, in the Hero11, you can twist and spin a full 360 degrees and the camera will keep your video perfectly upright and level.
It might not seem like a 360-degree Horizon Lock would ever really come in handy, but you might be surprised how much your camera can twist if you’re trying to be especially nimble in the water or if you are swimming hard to keep up with some marine life beauties. It’s definitely a welcome — and useful — addition to its case for the best action camera for snorkeling.
Helpfully, the new Hero11 Black is the same size and shape as the Hero10 and Hero9 Blacks, which means any of your accessories already in use with the old cameras like floating handgrips or red filters will continue to work with the Hero11. No need to shell out for updated accessories which need to fit a new camera shape.
And, while the new Hero11 Black could also run on the same standard batteries used for the Hero10 and Hero9, the Hero11 comes with a new type of battery: the Enduro.
The Enduro battery, most importantly, improves battery life and runtime by up to 38% compared to the standard Hero10 Black battery. But, it also works much more reliably in cold weather. That might not apply all that often to most snorkeling, but if you’re doing something in colder waters (like swimming with orcas or whales), you’re going to be very grateful to have a more reliable battery in your GoPro.
Once you capture all of your amazing footage with the new 8:7 5.3K sensor while using the 360-degree Horizon Lock under the extended life of the Enduro battery (along with all of the other great features of the Hero11 Black), you need to do something with it. Fortunately, GoPro continues to have excellent free editing software for both your phone and computer which pairs seamlessly with your action camera and is thoroughly accessible for beginners.
If we need to drum up some downsides of the Hero11 Black (there aren’t too many), they might be that it costs the most money of any of the options in the Hero line at $399-499 (depending on sales and time of year) which is normal given that it’s the newest model — though I would still argue that the value is extremely high — and the camera isn’t necessarily a gigantic step forward from the Hero10 Black (though there’s still enough new benefits to make it worth it). The last time we saw a generational leap was with the Hero9, and that should reasonably only be expected every few years at minimum.
In my testing, the GoPro Hero11 Black (Amazon) is the best action camera for snorkeling as well as the best GoPro for underwater activities of any type. For more details on some of the features that the Hero11 builds upon, you can read more about the Hero10 and Hero9 below. For a deeper dive on the Hero11 itself, check out our full review of the GoPro Hero11 Black and why it’s the best GoPro for snorkeling.
- New GP2 processor improves stabilization and unlocks full potential of 5.3K image sensor
- Even better game-changing features like Hindsight and Horizon Lock than in the Hero9
- Accessories from the Hero9 work with the Hero10
- Great software to help you edit simply
The Not as Good
- Slightly heavier
- Enduro battery not standard
GoPro has been a titan in the action camera industry ever since it came out with the original GoPro action camera, and it has improved the entire genre over the years, especially with its Hero line. The GoPro Hero10 Black is no different in that way.
First, it still has the huge image sensor (23.6 megapixels) that was new in the Hero9. The main hardware addition to the Hero10, however, is its new GP2 processor which fully unlocks the upper limits of the image sensor, allowing you shoot large 23-megapixel photos and capture 5.3K video, all with improved image stabilization.
You probably won’t be shooting in 5K just yet unless you have a very powerful computer to handle sorting through the video later, but where it really comes into play is with the aforementioned image stabilization. Even if you’re shooting in 4K (still very large and very clear) or less, the extra room on the sensor can be used to stabilize the video with as minimal cropping as possible. Definitely a huge win for snorkeling since you do get shuffled around a lot with the movement of the water.
And, speaking of image stabilization, the GoPro Hero10 Black further improves on a feature new in the Hero9 Black called Horizon Lock which, when enabled, takes stabilization to a whole new level. It’s now possible to sway up to 45 degrees (previously it was 27 degrees) in the water and your video will stay impressively upright, level and smooth. I think it’s a game-changer for video in and out of the water.
Another feature that I consider a game-changer for snorkelers (having two game-changers in one camera is pretty impressive) is Hindsight, also introduced with the Hero9.
One of the biggest challenges of snorkeling with an action camera is figuring out when exactly to be recording. If you’re recording 100% of the time, you’ll end up with a full memory card and a drained battery. If you only record when you see something interesting, you might miss a great shot if it passes by more quickly than you can get your camera going. Both of these things definitely happen, and can be really frustrating.
With Hindsight enabled, though, your camera will record continuously and just delete any video that you let pass by in a 30- or 60-second history window unless you hit the record button (which will save everything you’ve recorded in that window). This is huge for snorkeling because you won’t need to risk missing a shot or ending up with cumbersome, giant videos at the end.
(Hindsight, as you might expect, does take up a similar amount of battery as if you were recording normally, though, so it’s not a bad idea to grab an extra battery and charging pack on Amazon if you want to use this feature extensively. Your memory card will be delightfully spared, though.)
Then, with its other solid snorkeling-related specs of high-end slow motion frame rates (you usually don’t need any more than 60fps for snorkeling purposes, but 240fps is nice to have anyway), the front-facing “selfie screen” to help you frame self-shots, and the best battery life in the category, the Hero10s are incredibly impressive action cameras for snorkeling.
A couple of potential drawbacks (but definitely not deal-breakers) do exist, though. This version of the Hero Black with its larger battery and image sensor is a little heavier as you might expect. It’s enough to notice in your hand, but you probably aren’t going to notice it in the water because of the water’s buoyancy effect. And, at $299-399, it’s still not free. However, I think with everything you get and how well-tailored it is to snorkeling, it’s worth the price (and the Hero10 will save you $50-100 over the Hero11).
If your interest is piqued, the GoPro Hero10 Black can be viewed further and ordered directly from Amazon.
(We also wrote a more in-depth review of the GoPro Hero10 Black when it came out with more information and which walks through the finer points of using it as an action camera for snorkeling.)
- Great in low light
- Very capable image stabilization with crisp photo and video
- Solid horizon locking
- Automatic color adjustment for underwater video during editing
The Not as Good
- Image and video resolution sizes are somewhat lacking
- Price point nears the Hero11
The first serious competitor to GoPro’s Hero Black line for the best underwater action camera when it arrived on the scene was the DJI Osmo Action — making it a departure from the best GoPro for snorkeling theme — and its descendants still remain great options among action cameras for snorkeling now.
Among features that are crucial for snorkelers, the newest Osmo iteration, the DJI Osmo Action 4 (Amazon), performs quite well. It’s actually waterproof to a deeper depth than each of the GoPro options at 18 meters or 59 feet (instead of 10m / 33ft), though admittedly you likely aren’t going to head that deep while snorkeling (though it’s nice for scuba diving).
The Osmo Action 4 also has its own image-stabilization technology in RockSteady 3.0 and a horizon-locking feature in HorizonSteady, which are both quite capable but more similar in ability to the similar features in the GoPro Hero10, while the stabilization and horizon-locking in the Hero11 ultimately beat the Osmo Action 4 in my testing.
The stats for the sizes of images and videos which the Osmo Action 4 can produce (10MP photos and 4K video) also fall short of the Hero11 Black which boasts 27MP photos and 5.3K video. The quality of the photos and video in the Osmo Action 4 are solid, however, and you may not be using the extra video size capability found in the Hero11 Black unless you have a more powerful computer and/or phone to handle it when editing.
One area where the DJI Osmo Action 4 did actually leapfrog the GoPro Hero11 Black during testing is in recording video in low light. The previous version of the Osmo Action really struggled in low light, producing often-jagged and artifact-laden video, and in response DJI quickly added a larger 1/1.3-inch image sensor that is much more capable.
The extra low-light ability can come into play during snorkeling since underwater lighting is typically not as favorable as at the surface, but chances are that you probably aren’t snorkeling in dark enough waters often enough for this to matter consistently.
One other helpful feature for snorkeling that the Osmo Action 4 provides is the ability of its editing software (DJI Mimo) to read recorded data from the Osmo Action 4’s color temperature sensor and make automatic color adjustments which result in more vivid underwater video. It does work pretty well in practice, and is definitely better than nothing, but you would get truer results getting a red filter for your GoPro or similar. (Relatedly, DJI designed the Osmo Action 4 to also fit attachments that work for GoPros, which is nice.)
The MSRP for the DJI Osmo Action 4 is $399, which is a reasonable price for one of the best underwater action cameras available.
However, it’s certainly possible to find a GoPro Hero11 Black for the same price (depending on sales and time of year), and despite the Osmo Action 4’s handful of advantages over the Hero11 (like deeper-rated waterproofing and somewhat better low-light video), the overall excelling of the Hero11 makes the Osmo Action 4 a tougher sell for me when the two cameras are priced the same.
But, if the Hero11 is pricing higher or you are able to find the Osmo Action 4 for less and every dollar is important to you at that moment, it’s absolutely a great underwater action camera for snorkeling and worth the money.
You can look up the DJI Osmo 4 Action on Amazon.
- Big sensor for excellent photo, video and stabilization
- First versions of game-changing features like Hindsight and Horizon Lock
- Addition of new front “selfie screen” is nice
- Great software to help you edit simply
- Mid-range price point
The Not as Good
- Slightly heavier
- One-generation older processor somewhat limits capability of the image sensor
You may have noticed that a lot of what was mentioned as great about the Hero10 above were things that were first new in the GoPro Hero9 Black (on Amazon here). That’s definitely accurate, and really the only key physical difference between the two cameras is the new beefy GP2 processor in the Hero10.
The GP2 does supercharge a lot of what the newer camera is capable of, but the processor in the Hero9 is no slouch. And, the Hero9 introduced us to the new features like Hindsight and Horizon Lock which I consider hugely impactful for snorkelers.
This ultimately means that the Hero9 is a very similar camera to the Hero10 with all of the same key features, just with less horsepower and a few more limitations. Specifically, Horizon Lock works up to 27-degree rotation (versus 45 degrees in he Hero10), photos are capped at 20-megapixels instead of 23-megapixels, video resolution tops out at 5K instead of 5.3K, and 5K recording is limited to 30fps instead of 60fps with 4K limited to 60fps (which is still a fine slow motion frames-per-second for snorkeling) instead of 120fps.
These trade-offs aren’t nothing, but the Hero9 Black is still excellent and still very much in the running for the best action camera for snorkeling for you, especially if you’re needing to save a few bucks since the Hero9 typically goes for $249-299 (instead of $299-399 for the Hero10 or $399-499 for the Hero11).
You can check out more on the GoPro Hero9 Black here on Amazon.
(We also wrote a more thorough review of the GoPro Hero9 Black when it was released which can help you figure out if it’s the best action camera for snorkeling for your own purposes.)
- 360 video can capture very unique experiences
- Insta360 app is very friendly to beginners
- App has auto-balancing features for underwater video
The Not as Good
- Somewhat limited frame rates
- Most expensive option
Action cameras meant for 360-degree video don’t often get a lot of consideration for snorkeling as it’s a much more niche application. However, you really can achieve some fantastically unique effects with 360 video while snorkeling, so I think they at least warrant mentioning.
Usually, 360 action cameras aren’t as good as traditional action cameras for traditional purposes (i.e., shooting directly what’s in front of you at the highest level), but if you want to be able to feature yourself alongside what you’re swimming with in your videos or will be snorkeling in an area with a high volume of beauty surrounding you on all sides, 360 action cameras are the ticket.
The market for 360 action cameras is smaller with perhaps the most well-known option being the GoPro MAX, but the camera I wanted to discuss as a candidate for best action camera for snorkeling is the Insta360 ONE X3 (here on Amazon).
To be fully transparent, I do think the GoPro MAX (Amazon) is the better 360 action camera for me personally — just slightly. It has that unmistakable GoPro polish to everything and has more tools for creating more complex 360 videos. But, that means you should probably at least have some experience editing videos to get the most out of it. Plus, with it being more expensive at around $499 than the ONE X3 at around $450, it may not be #1 for everyone.
Otherwise, the two cameras (the MAX and ONE X3) are very, very similar. The Insta360 ONE X3 has 5.7K 360 video, great image stabilization, selfie stick removal, horizon leveling, and is waterproof down to 10 meters / 33 feet, all nearly identical to the GoPro MAX.
Where I think the ONE X3 really shines for a lot of people, though, is in its mobile app. Insta360 really put a lot of effort into making it powerful and accessible for everyone, including those just starting out. Here you can actually ask the app’s AI to edit your footage for you, making cuts, selecting angles and applying effects based on a chosen template. It also includes AquaVision, which works to auto-balance the colors in your underwater footage based on its unique needs, a beautiful thing for snorkelers.
(You should note that, since a lot of editing may be done on your phone, you’ll likely need a newer and reasonably more powerful phone to make that happen. A more powerful computer is also necessary if you want to edit under that route, both of which are also true for the GoPro MAX and 360 footage in general.)
With a lower price tag of $450 and an app built especially for a wide variety of users, the ONE X3 is worth considering if you want to have the ability to create 360 videos. More detailed information on the Insta360 ONE X3 can be found on Amazon.
The Best Action Camera for Snorkeling (Or, The Best GoPro for Snorkeling)
For me, the best GoPro for snorkeling — as well as the best overall action camera for snorkeling — is the GoPro Hero11 Black (here on Amazon).
Yeah, its specs are better than all of the others. A 5.3K 8:7 image sensor is really cool and sometimes very helpful. The big 27-megapixel photo resolution is really nice. The resilient Enduro battery is totally worth a few more extra ounces. All of these things are great.
But, for me, where the Hero11 Black really leaves the competition behind is in the further-refined features to come out of its labs, namely Horizon Lock and Hindsight. They’re both just so incredibly useful for getting super-stable video while snorkeling and not having to worry about missing any incredible shots (which is just the worst when it happens, and a wonderful thing to be able to avoid).
Ultimately, I know I’m going to get the absolute best GoPro for snorkeling with the photo and video from the Hero11 Black, and that makes the extra cost totally worthwhile as far as I’m concerned.
The Best (Cheaper) Underwater Action Cameras for Snorkeling
If you maybe don’t snorkel as often and aren’t ready to spring for the Hero11 Black, that’s totally understandable. Fortunately, there are other options.
Here’s what I’d say about the next-tier action cameras for snorkeling…
If you prefer not to spring for the Hero11 but can do the GoPro Hero10 Black (Amazon), definitely do that. The Hero10 isn’t quite as powerful as the Hero11, but you’re still getting the core features that make both cameras so incredible for snorkeling. You’ll still have a lot to be happy about, and will have saved about $50-100 which could still make the Hero10 the best GoPro for snorkeling for you.
Or, if you need to keep the price as low as possible but would still really value the most important benefits of the current generation of GoPro Hero Black cameras, look into the GoPro Hero9 Black (Amazon) where you’ll still find the front-facing selfie screen, hugely-helpful features such as Hindsight and Horizon Lock, and a still-great image sensor. You may miss out on some refinement of the most useful features and a bit of horsepower, but the Hero9 Black is still a great action camera for snorkeling.
Each of the current generation of GoPro Hero Black cameras — the Hero11, Hero10 and Hero9 — have a lot of similarities (all were the best GoPro for snorkeling at some point in time) along with a few key differences. Ultimately, if you value having the best of the best and don’t mind spending a few extra bucks, opt for the Hero11 (Amazon). If you need to save the most money but still want an excellent underwater action camera for snorkeling, opt for the Hero9 (Amazon). If you fall somewhere in between, check out the Hero10 (Amazon). I really do think it’s that simple for most people.
The Best 3D Action Cameras for Snorkeling
If you’re feeling creative and want to try your hand with a 3D action camera for snorkeling, both the GoPro MAX and the Insta360 ONE X3 are both excellent options.
Ultimately, if you want to have a familiar GoPro experience and the most high-end tools to put together crazy 360 videos (and already have some experience putting together videos), and don’t mind the slightly higher price tag, I like the GoPro MAX (Amazon).
Otherwise, if you’re looking for an easier entry into editing 360 videos (and have a good phone) and/or would prefer to save a few bucks, I like the Insta360 ONE X3 (Amazon).
Both, however, are excellent 3D action cameras for snorkeling and you’ll certainly be able to capture every inch of your underwater adventures with either one.
(As an aside, if you’re on the fence about choosing between a traditional and 360 action camera for snorkeling, Insta360 created the ONE RS Twin Edition (Amazon) which is essentially a very solid traditional action camera paired with a 360 action camera in a really unique assembly. It’s a fun idea and many of the benefits of their other models of action cameras are present, so it’s totally worth checking out if you’re feeling torn.)
The Deep Dive
Action cameras for snorkeling have really revolutionized how I interact with the sport. Now instead of the memories being limited to my mind (which is still a beautiful thing), they’re hanging on my wall, playing on my Instagram, and being shared with friends. I’ll have them forever, and that’s awesome.
Picking the best action cameras for snorkeling can be a little tricky. But, if you use this guide to narrow down what specs are really most important for snorkeling specifically and learn how those specs actually affect your experience in the water, you’ll be well on your way to expertly capturing your own snorkeling memories.
Check out the product listings on Amazon for each of the action cameras for snorkeling outlined in this guide:
- GoPro Hero11 Black
- GoPro Hero10 Black
- DJI Osmo Action 4
- GoPro Hero9 Black
- Insta360 ONE X3
- GoPro MAX
- Insta360 ONE RS Twin Edition
Also, take a deeper dive into using a GoPro to capture those incredible memories while snorkeling with some of our other articles below: