Unless you have been living at the bottom of an ocean you can’t help but have seen the growth of the aerial drone industry, but now the nautical versions are making a real splash. We come up for air to compile the best underwater drones to suit a range of budgets.
Best Underwater Drones In 2018 – A Guide
The pace at which aerial drones have developed over the past few years has been quite astonishing to see and it is almost impossible to walk through a city park or take a drive through the countryside without seeing at least one in the sky. It may or may not surprise you then that a new kind of drone is emerging… or should that be submerging?
Underwater drones are set to be a big thing in 2018 and whilst they made a few waves in 2017, they are set to make a huge splash in 2018 as the technology looks set to take a similar path as that of their airborne counterparts. Indeed, it is likely that to begin with we will see just a few major players and relatively expensive models, but in time and with growing demand it is likely that we will see more options and prices reduce as supply increases. That being said, the quality of some of the flagship models provides something fairly comparable with a top end consumer drone produced by the likes of DJI.
The challenges posed by taking a drone underwater are somewhat different to those of the aerial variety with one of the major limitations being that your submerged drone is likely to need to be tethered. This is for video relay more than anything else as water poses a very different challenge when it comes to transmitting high quality and high speed data signals that are required to transmit video.
Underwater Photography & Videography
If you thought aerial photography was cool then underwater photography and videography just opens up a whole new landscape – quite literally! Whether you are a professional underwater photographer or a seasoned amateur, underwater drones open up whole new opportunities and whilst it is true that they will pose new challenges, the potential for new opportunities should outweigh this.
Like with standard drones, there are an array of different camera types and qualities and of course they all perform differently in different situations. Take the PowerVision PowerRay for example and for around £1500 you can get yourself an underwater camera drone that is capable of taking 4K UHD video and super high quality 12MP images.
Why Would You Want An Underwater Drone?
Most people are going to think straight to photography and videography when it comes to the reasons for wanting to buy an underwater drone but they can have other functions too. One of the key uses that is being pushed by PowerVision for their drone is the ability to find fish – imagine the benefits this could have when sea fishing! The drone can also inform you of water temperatures, water depth and provide images of the landscape of the sea bed – quite nifty stuff indeed!
So now you are up to speed on what underwater drones are, it is time to take a look at the best on the market:
Sea Deep J5 Underwater Drone – Best Overall Value and UK Delivery
We had the pleasure of using the SeaDeep J5 underwater drone for a few weeks in August 2018 and the one thing that stood out for us was the accessibility of this drone to the average user. The camera in the J5 might not be up to the standards of some of the other ROV’s featured on this page but unless you are aiming to achieve David Attenborough documentary quality footage the chances are the J5 will suffice for your video needs.
The J5 has been created by SeaDeep, a UK based company with a passion for underwater drones. Prices start from just £745 with a 25m tether making the J5 the cheapest underwater drone (excluding the Red5 toy) we have looked at. It is also available to buy right now so you could be exploring the seas in a matter of days.
See the J5 in action below:
Where the J5 really excels is in its submarine performance. It can travel at a speed of up to 2 knots and features 3 motors (2 horizontal and 1 vertical) that allow you to control the ROV very easily. The J5 uses a classic console gaming pad to control both the direction, thrust and camera tilt (140 degrees in total) and this familiar feel really helps to give you full control out of the box.
The footage is sent straight from the drone through the tether to your computer using the supplied cables and software and whilst this is a little more clunky to set up than a standard drone, it actually means you have a fantastic live video monitor. For explorers or those in the fishing industry we can only imagine the benefits of using this underwater drone.
The battery life of the J5 when fully charged is 2-3 hours according to SeaDeep although we didn’t have the stamina to test it for that long in a single sitting. The 2 double strip LED lights to the front of the drone give you maximum visibility and the materials used are very robust and provide good buoyancy.
Overall, if you are looking for a quality drone for using underwater that is reasonably priced and provides good quality live video then you have it with the J5.
PowerVision PowerRay With VR Goggles – Best For 4K
PowerVision is one of the companies leading the way with underwater drone development and they seem to be hitting all the right notes with the PowerRay. When bundled with the Zeiss VR One Plus VR goggles it really does provide a truly immersive underwater experience – without the need to get wet. Even without the goggles, the controller provides you with everything you need to get some top quality video footage.
The PowerVision PowerRay has inbuilt LED lighting to illuminate even the darkest of underwater areas and can dive to a depth of 30 metres. The data cable that needs to be tethered for data comms is 50 metres long (there is a 70m version too) so you should be able to get some good distance between you and your drone.
One thing that will be a pleasant surprise for anyone who has used an aerial drone is that the battery life of the PowerRay lasts up to 4 hours depending on which mode you use it on.
The camera has a 95 degree field of view and is capable of recording 4K UHD at 25FPS or full high definition (1920x1080p) at 60FPS which for technology that is relatively new is highly impressive. The LED lights offer 450 lumens of brightness and these can be dimmed so you have full control over how your shots look.
If you are thinking of buying an underwater drone for fishing then the PowerRay is perhaps the perfect choice thanks to its fish finder function. The dedicated app can be switched to fish finder and you will be able to see where the fish are, how deep and this can really assist with your fishing success. The app is available for iOS and Android.
Overall, this is one of our favourite underwater drones and at the price it offers a very high level of tech for the money and is comparable to that of an aerial drone in terms of video quality.
Red5 Remote Control Submarine – Best For The Kids & Fun
If you want to dip your toes in the water of underwater-droning (so to speak) then you might want to go for something that is completely the other end of the scale. In this case the Red5 submarine is going to be up your ally and with a price tag of under £20 it could be the most fun thing you’ve ever bought pound for pound.
This will win no awards when it comes to functionality and don’t expect a camera. But it does have a pretty impressive battery life of around 12-15 minutes from a single 20 minute charge. It is pretty nippy in the water but you will need to stay pretty close as the range is only around 6 metres – so don’t be expecting to go deep sea diving with it.
We won’t be surprised to see more entry level models with cameras and the like enter the market if this niche within the drone industry takes off, but for now if you want a really cheap underwater drone then this is as good as it gets for £20.
iBubble – Best For Scuba Divers – Coming Soon
iBubble has not officially launched yet but is available for pre-order at iBubble.camera. This is the first drone that is aimed solely at scuba divers and is completely autonomous in its operation. Essentially, the iBubble will follow you around as you complete your dive and will film shots that you ask it to with the control of a bracelet. The bracelet is also used as a tracker so it knows exactly where you are at all times.
With a 1 hour battery life, you should have plenty of time to capture the shots you need on your dive and when you are ready to surface you can simply tap the bracelet to call it back and surface with it. There is no need for tethering with the iBubble when in free dive mode but if you wish to control it from the boat then you can send it down solo like a standard underwater drone.
Two 1000 lumen lights allow you to really brighten up even the darkest depths and with a manual control (meaning you can hold and point the iBubble) you can get even more control over your shots.
This drone can dive up to 60m deep and does a lot of the hard work for you according to its makers. With pre-programmed framing and filming shots it could be a scuba divers dream. You can also attach a GoPro camera (3 upwards) to it for even more footage.
We will be adding more of our favourite underwater drones to this article as we get our hands on them.
Underwater drones could just be the next big thing in the drone industry and although they are somewhat niche, they could provide a whole new level when it comes to underwater photography and videography. The PowerVision PowerRay is one of the leading aqua-drones available on the market today and with the capability of taking 4K UHD footage it will take some beating.
- Ease of use
- Value for money