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The Canon EOS R: Capturing Underwater Wonders

This spring, I had the lucky opportunity to be one of the first photographers to take the full-frame mirrorless Canon EOS R underwater. The day after it arrived on my doorstep, I eagerly took it to my favourite dive destination – the cold waters of the Salish Sea in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. With some of the year’s best tides that weekend, I braved the region’s wildest currents in search of rainbow-coloured walls packed with invertebrate life. Not only did the diving deliver, the Canon EOS R managed to capture it all!

Underwater marine life photographed using Canon EOS R
Northern feather dusters (Eudistylia vancouveri) with various anemones species. 
Canon EOS R, f/6.3, 1/1250s, ISO 640

For underwater photographers, the Canon EOS R stands out with a 30.3 megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor and Dual Pixel CMOS AF capability with 5,655 selectable autofocus (AF) points. After diving extensively with various cameras, I think the Canon EOS R is the most useable underwater full-frame mirrorless camera on the market. 

A combination of ergonomics, build, and high-speed AF make the Canon EOS R an enticing option for someone looking to jump into the full-frame mirrorless world. The Canon EOS R also outshines its competitors in underwater ergonomics. You can customise 14 different camera controls for stills shooting. The Q menu on the Canon EOS R allows for easy access to almost all the important settings you need during your dive. Customisation is essential for adapting the camera to underwater housing controls, especially when it comes to choosing focusing modes, back button focus, and ISO changes. My EF lenses, used together with mount adapters, worked great with the EOS R and I can’t wait to try out the new RF lenses on my next diving trip!

The highlight of the Canon EOS R is Dual Pixel CMOS AF, which can achieve focus in as fast as 0.05 seconds and offers effective AF tracking. The low-light AF sensitivity is spectacular, which was beneficial to me when I photographed quick wolf eels in dark, green water. In fact, when I took the Canon EOS R underwater, I almost felt like I didn’t need a focus light.

Read more: Here are 5 Reasons Why the EOS R is Ideal for Night Photography

Underwater fish, a wolf eel, captured on camera using Canon EOS R
A wolf eel (Anarrhichthys ocellatus) curiously eyes the camera. 
Canon EOS R, f/8, 1/160s, ISO 400

Most importantly, I found the underwater image quality on the Canon EOS R to be top tier. I couldn’t believe the level of detail in my images when I enlarged them on my computer, especially the photos of wolf eels and colourful walls of corals. A 30.3-megapixel sensor is great for shooting tiny subjects like nudibranchs and cropping to your heart’s desire in post-processing. The ISO performance in low light was great with very little noise in my images even when shooting at higher ISOs. Any noise in the image was easy to remove in post-processing due to the fine grain size. As with most Canon cameras, the colour rendering was spot on with more striking red tones and accurate blue tones. This was especially important when I was shooting 4K video. Overall, I could not ask for better image quality, autofocus capability, and ergonomics in an underwater camera.

Learn more about underwater photography:

5 Things to Note When Composing Your Shots Underwater
4 Important Things to Remember When Photographing Underwater
Taking Advantage of Sea Creatures Behaviours: An Interview with William Tan
Canon EOS-1D X Mark II: Unbreakable Under Pressure


*Note: Underwater housing is sold separately from the camera