Regulars to diving or underwater photography related Facebook groups may well have seen myself or Duxy recommend the Canon G9X MkII in the Fantasea FG9X housing to people asking what underwater camera should they buy?
I thought it might be a good idea to give some specific info in a blog about what sets this particular compact camera and housing combination apart from the rest of the field.
To start with the G9X MkII ticks the five boxes that make a camera well suited to being used underwater which I detailed in my early blogs about 'what makes a good underwater camera'
The custom white balance on the G9X MkII works well for underwater when used down to about 15 metres depth. If you remember to set your white balance when you change depth by more than a couple of metres. There is a slight annoyance in that Canon chose to change the process you have to go through to set CWB from the one touch method available on almost all their compact cameras up to and including the original G9X. Instead the MkII uses the same method as on Canon DSLR's where you have to take an image of something white or grey and then set the White Balance. This is more clunky but still gives good results if you don't want to shoot RAW and colour correct with editing software.
In this aspect the Canon compacts come out ahead of the Sony RX100's which all struggle to some degree with white balancing for underwater photography.
Custom white balance on Canon compacts can also be used when shooting video which is a big plus.
As with most comparable compact cameras the G9X MkII allows you to shoot RAW format images and software such as recent iterations of Lightroom can handle these files. It also allows for shooting RAW and JPEG simultaneously if you want to.
Bear in mind that some waterproof cameras such as the Nikon W300 and a lot of action cameras don't shoot RAW.
This is a biggie with us and what sets the G9X's apart from their big brothers the G7X's. Adding a wide angle lens will significantly improve your images and the G9X's have a zoom lens that is the right size to work well with any of the good quality wide angle wet lenses on the market.
Cameras with long zoom lenses such as the G7X's or the RX100 MkVI need large ports on their housings to accommodate them. This results in difficulties when using wet lenses. The size of the port causes vignetting when the lens is zoomed out for wide angle. Vignetting is dark areas at the edges of shots. This means you have to zoom in to remove it which negates a lot of the increased field of view provided by the wet lens you've added.
The best way to get around this issue with cameras like the G7X MkII is to use a shorter port for wide angle photography and a larger port for macro. Nauticam have done this with their G7X housings by making them interchangeable port systems. But doing this comes at a premium. We sell the Fantasea housing for the G9X's for £449 but the Nauticam housing for the G7X MkII is £1017 plus an extra £167 for the short port. While this housing is a great piece of kit and the G7X MkII is a nice camera with some features that on land put it ahead of the G9X MkII, underwater you'll get very little discernable advantage for your additional outlay. In fact you'll lose the flexibility of being able to do macro and wide angle in one dive as wet macro lenses work better with the camera lens zoomed in.
Another really import feature if you want to get serious with your underwater photography. Being able to control shutter speed, aperture and ISO independently gives you the ability to consistently produce images with the look you are want. For example black background shots like those I discussed in a previous blog (Here) are very difficult to achieve in daylight without having manual control.
This is one of several areas where the G9X's come out ahead of the very popular Olympus TG's. The TG4 and 5 lack shutter priority and full manual modes. Some control can be taken of shutter by using aperture priority and adjusting the exposure compensation settings but this is nowhere near as effective as being able to set shutter speed yourself.
Pretty much all compact cameras have a built-in flash unlike the action cameras.
Where the G9X's stand out from some of their competition, in particular the Sony RX100's is the fact that you can set the flash to manual. This is a standard feature on Canon compacts and one reason we've been keen on them for underwater use for a long time.
The manual flash mode allows you to set it to minimal output and use it to trigger a strobe. This keeps battery use down, increases recycling time and removes the delay caused by the preflash when using built-in flash on auto. Unfortunately Sony cameras don't let you do this which means power usage is higher because the camera sets the flash output and delays when taking pictures.
Icing on the cake
There are other attributes with the G9X MkII and Fantasea housing combo that help make it our current top choice on the compact market.
As you'll realise from the discussion of the G7X MkII and Nauticam combinations the G9X MkII setup is cheaper than many compact setups. This stems from a less feature heavy camera than many of it's contemporaries, with relatively small zoom range compared to many, alongside a polymer rather than metal housing that doesn't require interchangeable ports. For more info about plastic vs metal housings read my blog on the subject- here
The camera has a one inch sensor like a Sony RX100, Canon G7X or Sealife DC2000. This puts it way ahead of something like a Paralenz, GoPro or Olympus TG5 in terms of low light performance, dynamic range and image quality.
The Fantasea housing is robust, has good controls including buttons that operate touch screen functions that allow all functions of the camera to be accessed. It also has a 67mm thread on its port for attaching conventional wet lenses such as Fantasea's own range. You can also fit a quick release lens system to the housing. The base mount has several screw holes for attaching a tray, and the housing comes with a detachable fitting for strobe cables. The housing also comes with an electronic moisture sensor to give added peace of mind against flooding.
Flies in the Ointment
There are one or two things that mean that the G9X MkII isn't perfect.
As mentioned previously the lovely one touch custom white balance has gone. If this is a must have then think about picking up a used G9X.
It doesn't shoot 4K video which isn't something I'm overly concerned about myself but for serious video shooters I'd probably go for a Sony RX100 MkV if you have the budget and are happy to use editing software more heavily.
As a land camera there are plenty of better performing compacts with longer lenses and more features. If you are looking for an all round camera for land photography then there are better choices and this can be seen in the reviews it gets on mainstream photography sites. But bearing in mind the cost of housing a mirrorless camera or even a G7X MkII in a Nauticam housing it's actually cost effective to have the G9X for underwater and another camera for land.
Bear in mind we aren't a Canon dealer. We do sell Fantasea housings but we sell them for G7X's and Sony RX100's as well, we also sell Nauticam and Olympus. So we aren't pushing an agenda here, we make money on which ever housing we sell. We recommend this setup because we know that it gets the job done for less money than most of it's contemporaries and anything cheaper than it is going to be lacking in some area.
If you want more specific advice or have a suggestion for a blog subject feel free to get in touch, details on how to do this are on our contact page. Do the same if you'd like a quote for equipment or to book on one of our courses or workshops (dates are on our Events page). Anyone with an interest in photography is welcome to join the Alphamarine Q and A