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 action 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.
What Makes for a Good Action Camera for Snorkeling
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:
- 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).
The Best Action Cameras for Snorkeling
My picks for the best action cameras for snorkeling that excel in being natively waterproof, having excellent photo and video quality as well as great image stabilization are the GoPro Hero10 Black, GoPro Hero9 Black, DJI Osmo Action, GoPro Hero8 Black and Insta360 ONE X2.
From a purely specs-based perspective, here’s how they stack up with what we’d actually care about for snorkeling:
|GoPro Hero10 Black||GoPro Hero9 Black||DJI Osmo Action||GoPro Hero8 Black||Insta360 ONE X2|
|Max Video Resolution||5.3K||5K||4K||4K||5.7K|
|Max Frame Rate||240fps @ 1080p||240fps @ 1080p||240fps @ 1080p||240fps @ 1080p||50fps @ 4K|
|Max Photo Resolution||23MP||20MP||12MP||12MP||18.4MP|
|Max Battery Life||112 mins @ 4K||112 mins @ 4K||63 mins @ 4K||74 mins @ 4K||80 mins @ 5.7K|
|Extra Front-Facing Screen||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Image Stabilization||HyperSmooth 4.0 + Boost||HyperSmooth 3.0 + Boost||RockSteady||HyperSmooth 2.0 + Boost||FlowState|
|Waterproof Depth||10m / 33ft||10m / 33ft||11m / 36ft||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.
GoPro Hero10 Black
- 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
- More moolah
Let’s start with the newest option, the GoPro Hero10 Black (on Amazon here).
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 new 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 $449-499, it’s more money compared to our other options. However, I think with everything you get and how well-tailored it is to snorkeling, it’s worth the price.
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. Check it out at The Newest GoPro for Snorkeling: 3 Keys for Buying or Upgrading to the HERO 10 Black.)
GoPro Hero9 Black
- 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 you, especially if you’re needing to save a few bucks since the Hero9 typically goes for $349-399 (instead of $449-499 for the Hero10).
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. Check it out at The New GoPro Hero9 Black: Is it the Best GoPro for Snorkeling?)
DJI Osmo Action
- More modest price point
- Very capable image stabilization with crisp photo and video
- Only option with an extra front “selfie screen” at this price point
The Not as Good
- Lack of advanced features like GoPro’s Horizon Lock or Hindsight
- Battery life is lowest of listed action cameras
If price is your biggest concern, the DJI Osmo Action (Amazon) could well be the best action camera for snorkeling for you.
The first serious competitor to GoPro’s Hero Black line when it came out was the DJI Osmo Action, and it still remains a great option among action cameras for snorkeling now.
Among features that are crucial for snorkelers, The DJI Osmo Action performs quite well. It’s actually waterproof to a deeper depth than the GoPro Hero9 Black at 11 meters or 36 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 also has a very capable image-stabilization technology called RockSolid which is very much on par with previous versions of GoPro’s HyperSmooth. And with 4K-video and 12-megapixel photo capability, you’ll be able to pull very solid snorkeling images.
One area where the DJI Osmo Action did actually leapfrog GoPro (at least momentarily) was the addition of an extra front-facing screen, which really does make it a lot easier to take any photos or video with yourself (and anyone else with you) in the frame. The Hero9 Black did ultimately add GoPro’s own version of the “selfie screen”, but at $199 (typically), the Osmo Action is the only action camera in the lowest price range with an extra front-facing screen.
Compared to the GoPro Hero10 Black, the DJI Osmo Action does also have some shortcomings since the battery and sensor size are certainly smaller. But, the Hero10 Black is a powerhouse so it’s tough to compare the two. Ultimately, though, the Osmo Action does make for a very capable action camera for snorkeling, and is very attractive at a lower price point.
You can look up the DJI Osmo Action on Amazon.
GoPro Hero8 Black
- A still-great GoPro for less money
- The older version of HyperSmooth (2.0) is still excellent
- Solid battery life and framerate options
The Not as Good
- Lack of advanced features like the Hero10/Hero9 Black’s Horizon Lock or Hindsight
- No extra front-facing “selfie screen”
- Lens cover is fixed in place
It’s not often that an older version of a product still makes it onto a “best of” list, but the GoPro Hero8 Black (Amazon) is still one of the top handful of action cameras for snorkeling even when considering the advancements its younger siblings have made. Plus, it’s lower price is attractive if you’re feeling more price sensitive.
The best parts of a GoPro — its excellent HyperSmooth image stabilization, tons of available accessories, a refined experience, etc. — are still here with the Hero8 Black. It still has crisp 4K video and 12-megapixel photos, decent battery life (74 minutes @ 4K) and the standard 10m/33ft waterproof depth, just like the DJI Osmo Action. All good things.
It does lack the extra front-facing selfie screen of the GoPro Hero10/Hero9 Black and the DJI Osmo Action, however. And, while the lens cover on previous Hero Blacks was removable which made it possible to add different lenses and other cool things, GoPro chose to fix the lens cover in place on the Hero8 Black, making adding accessories more difficult. (The removable lens cover has been restored in the Hero9 Black, though.)
Still, if you’re looking to save some dough (at $299, the Hero8 Black is $50 cheaper than the Hero9 Black), this camera is going to give you a great bang for your buck. It’s about $50 more than the Osmo Action — you do pay a bit for the GoPro name and capabilities — but the efficiency of its image stabilization and overall reliable GoPro experience is certainly worth it, making the GoPro Hero8 Black a compelling option.
GoPro provides more details along with ordering info for the Hero8 Black on Amazon.
Insta360 ONE X2
- 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
- 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 X2 (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 $499 than the ONE X2 at $425, it may not be #1 for everyone.
Otherwise, the two cameras (the MAX and ONE X2) are very, very similar. The Insta360 ONE X2 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 X2 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 $425 and an app built especially for a wide variety of users, the ONE X2 is worth considering if you want to have the ability to create 360 videos. More detailed information on the Insta360 ONE X2 can be found on Amazon.
The Winners: Our Top Picks
The Best Action Camera for Snorkeling
For me, the best overall action camera for snorkeling is the GoPro Hero10 Black (here on Amazon).
Yeah, its specs are better than all of the others. A 5.3K image sensor is really cool and sometimes very helpful. The big 23-megapixel photo resolution is really nice. The big battery is totally worth a few more extra ounces. All of these things are great.
But, for me, where the Hero10 Black really leaves the competition behind is in the new 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 snorkeling photo and video out of the Hero10 Black, and that makes the extra cost totally worthwhile as far as I’m concerned.
The Best (Cheaper) Action Cameras for Snorkeling
If you maybe don’t snorkel as often and aren’t ready to spring for the Hero10 Black, that’s totally understandable. Fortunately, there are other great options.
Here’s what I’d say about the next-tier action cameras for snorkeling…
If you prefer not to spring for the Hero10 but can do the GoPro Hero9 Black (Amazon), definitely do that. The Hero9 isn’t quite as powerful as the Hero10, 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 $100.
Or, if you need to keep the price as low as possible and would really value an extra front-facing “selfie screen”, get the DJI Osmo Action (Amazon). But, if you don’t care as much about the extra screen (it’s definitely nice, but I find that I use it sporadically), get the GoPro Hero8 Black (Amazon).
Both cameras (the Osmo Action and Hero8 Black) are still solid action cameras for snorkeling and are so similar to one another. If the convenience of the extra screen to frame yourself in photos and videos makes you happy, awesome. The DJI Osmo Action will be great for you. If a boost in battery life with quality and stabilization of video is your concern, you’ll be happy with the GoPro Hero8 Black. 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 X2 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 X2 (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 Hero10 Black
- GoPro Hero9 Black
- DJI Osmo Action
- GoPro Hero8 Black
- Insta360 ONE X2
- 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: