Last Updated on May 9, 2023 by Photography PX
Underwater drones, also known as remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), are the marine likes of their aerial counterparts. And they’ve grown in popularity over the last five years, given the advancements in imaging and versatility. Now, they can capture equally high-resolution video and stills without risking an expensive DSLR and their even pricer housings. Instead, you can merely charge up the drone, toss it into the water, and capture images without risking your camera and livelihood.
Not to mention, with some models diving as deep as 150m, you can explore far further than before. So now these days, ROVs have become the ideal companion for exploring the great mysterious depths and hidden beauty of our oceans, lakes, and seas.
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They’re also equally appealing in investigating a prospective fishing location, hull inspections, research, or merely to test the waters to avoid dangerous wildlife. And they’ve become a must-have for today’s divers, boat owners, and scientists given that functionality. But, many creators also end up gravitating to them naturally to capture underwater footage.
Even so, as with aerial drones, ROVs are quite complicated. And selecting the right one for your use case and needs will be tricky. You’ll want to factor in several significant considerations, such as their depth rating, maneuverability, cruise speed, and camera setup – to name a few. With that, we’ve compiled a detailed guide outlining the factors to consider beforehand. And we’ll also cover the best underwater drones on the present market.
5 – Geneinno Titan
Released in 2018, Geneinno’s Titan is designed to tackle the ocean’s greatest depths. It features a 1/2.5 inch CMOS sensor that records 4K 30 FPSvideos and 8MP stills with a 160º FOV.
The Titan is a wired ROV with six thrusters, four vertical and two horizontal, reaching a top speed of 4 Kn (2 m/s). But crucially, with a maximum diving depth of 150m (492 ft), the Titan reigns as the deepest diver in the consumer category. And it’s designed with utmost durability in mind, given the pressure and extreme temperatures typical at such depths. Yet, the Titan is also expandable. And you can adapt it by connecting the optional sonar sensor, hydrophone, and even a robotic arm, making it the first to debut with this feature.
The hydrophone is quite a unique option that records the sounds of the ocean around it, giving you a surreal experience. And an unforgettable one that was previously unimaginable. But, more importantly, Titan is the first ROV with a robotic arm, great for securing underwater treasures or salvage applications. Other features include built-in storage, 1500 lumen LED headlights, depth holding, and a battery life of 4 hours. And Geneinno also includes a 1-year warranty, color correction filters, and a hardshell case with purchase.
Overall, Geneinno’s Titan does live up to the claim of “the ultimate underwater drone,” given its outstanding strength and expansion functionality. And it’s undoubtedly an excellent option for enthusiasts wanting to explore the ocean’s depths.
4 – QYSEA FIFISH V6
Released in 2019, QYSEA’s FIFISH V6 comes as the first compact omnidirectional ROV. It features a 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor that records 4K 30 FPS videos and captures 12MP stills with a 166º FOV.
The FIFISH V6 is a wired ROV with six thrusters reaching a top speed of 3 Kn (1.5 m/s) and descending to depths of 100m (328 ft). But, crucially, it’s the first drone boasting 6-degree omnidirectional movement. And its Smart Thruster Array lets you move with 360º of freedom. Yet, it also films 120 FPS full HD videos with an ultra-wide 166º field of view in the new H.265 codec and captures RAW images to boot.
And coupled with its ridiculously bright 4,000 lumens LED headlights, you’ll have little difficulty capturing great underwater images, even under challenging scenes. Other features include built-in storage, VR support, depth holding, and a battery life of 4.5 hours. QYSEA also includes a VR headset with purchase that surprisingly controls the drone’s orientation as you move using a clever motion sensor.
Overall, QYSEA’s FIFISH V6 brings outstanding maneuverability amongst rivals. And it’s an excellent choice for those wanting to explore tight spaces, say coral reefs, with great accuracy.
3 – Chasing Innovation Dory
Released in 2020, Chasing Innovation’s Dory comes to market as the world’s smallest ROV and their latest iF Design winner. It features a 1/2.9-inch CMOS sensor that captures 1080p 30 FPS videos and captures 2MP stills with a 100º FOV.
Dory is a wireless ROV that connects to your phone using a floating Wi-Fi buoy through the Dory app. Once set up, it can dive to depths of 15m (49 ft) and reach a top speed of 1.5 Kn (0.77 m/s) using five thrusters. But crucially, it comes to market as the smallest drone in the segment. Weighing a mere 2.9 lbs (1.4 kg) with a size smaller than an A4 paper, it’s ideal for travelers wanting something well suited to carry in a small backpack.
Dory also obtains Chasing’s built-in true color restoration algorithm, ensuring the color accuracy remains accurate and true-to-life. And it also obtains the Dual Play Mode, letting two users operate the Dory simultaneously. One controlling its movements, the other the camera, great for sharing the adventure. Other features include 250 lumen LED headlights, depth lock, live streaming support, and a battery life of 1 hour. Chasing also includes a 1-year warranty with purchase.
Overall, Chasing Innovation’s Dory is an excellent budget option for beginners looking for something compact but capable. And as the little brother to the company’s hit Gladius Mini, it’s quite a powerful one at that.
2 – Aquarobotman Nemo
Released in 2018, the Nemo by Aquarobotman was the world’s first with a stabilizing system. And it records 4K 30 FPS videos and captures 16MP stills with a 150º FOV.
The Nemo is a wired ROV that uses four thrusters, two horizontal and two vertical. And they let it descend to a maximum depth of 100m (328 ft) and reach a top speed of 3.9 Kn (2 m/s), making it among the fastest in the class.
Yet, Nemo is also among the few devices offering 120 FPS recording in 1080p, so you can capture super-slow-motion videos at 1/4th the speed. And it’ll even do so with an outstanding QAS-Balance stabilizer, which significantly removes any camera shake from the equation. Other features include VR support, 1000 lumen LED headlights, 10 FPS bursts, and a detachable battery ready for 3-hours of use. Aquarobotman also includes a 1-year warranty and a backpack with purchase.
Overall, Aquarobotman’s Nemo brings outstanding range, battery life, speed, and stabilization to the table. And it’s an excellent option for those looking into marine exploration.
1 – PowerVision PowerRay
Released in 2017, the PowerRay by PowerVision is their Red Dot design winner and the category’s gold standard. It features a 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor that records 4K 25 FPS videos and captures 12MP stills with a 95º FOV.
The PowerRay is wired ROV that uses three thrusters, two horizontal and a bottom-mounted vertical thruster. Together, they allow the drone to have better latitude and movement. And they also let it descend to a maximum depth of 30m (98 ft) and reach a top speed 3 Kn (1.5 m/s). But, crucially, PowerWizard includes two variants of the PowerRay. The optional Wizard package includes the PowerSeeker Fishfinder, a ZEISS FPV headset, and a bait delivery system.
The Fishfinder is a unique option that lets the device scan 70m (230ft) below the surface using sonar, detecting both the landscape, temperature, and hot spots of marine life. Then you can catch wildlife using the bait-drop hook. Together, this functionality transforms the device into a dedicated fishing drone, ready to revolutionize your workflow. Other features include 5 FPS bursts, built-in storage, VR support, depth lock, 450 lumen LED headlights, and a battery life of 4 hours.
Overall, the PowerRay transformed traditional fishing expeditions. And not only does it look great, but it packs a long feature list. Sure, it doesn’t dive as deep as rivals. Even so, it’s an excellent option for those wanting to take their underwater explorations to a new level.
Underwater Drones Buyers Guide
Wired vs. Wireless
You can find these devices in wired and wireless forms, where the wired variants are tethered via a cable to buoys or floating beacons. And it’s important to note that these devices aren’t similar to aerial drones in that they can freely dive in deep waters without issues. No. Instead, they have limitations. Namely, wired ROVs are limited to a set cable length, which varies based on the manufacturer. But, generally, you can find them between 10-200m (32-650 ft). While wireless ROVs are mostly for surface-level use.
The reasoning is that wireless radio wave signals don’t easily transmit through water, and the signals quickly degrade with depth. The only exception being large antennas that are far above the surface. Otherwise, the signal strength isn’t great. And sadly, Sonar, the underwater communication standard, doesn’t provide a high enough bandwidth to transmit photos and videos, especially 4K UHD. So until sonar is overhauled, wireless ROVs are somewhat limited in their functionality. And there isn’t a genuinely wireless device on the market that matches that of a comparable wired one. Thus, for the time being, if you want to Livestream in deep water, a wired device is the only option.
Thankfully, there are several benefits for wired devices. Namely, a wired connection will prevent losing the drone at any point, especially during turbulent waters, or from an impact with wildlife, a strange signal loss, or, forbid, an engine failure. The wired connection also transmits a live video feed from the camera underwater, giving you real-time playback on the remote display or even FPV goggles. And they do so without any lag and unnecessary latency. So you get a far more immersive and timely representation of what it’s doing. And that’s an excellent means to explore, say, a shipwreck or coral reef.
Even so, if you don’t want to dive underwater, and staying surface level is sufficient, then a wireless device is an option. And a device like PowerVision PowerDolphin would be the go-to.
Camera quality and lighting
The main use case for these devices is to capture underwater photos and videos in harsh aquatic conditions, like hard-to-access caverns or murky waters. But, to do so, the device must have a camera set up ready to deliver quality results. Thankfully, many of the top products in this space offer 4K UHD-equipped cameras with excellent image stabilization. And many offer image sensors that match that of today’s smartphones, so the results are high-quality.
But, it’s important to note that not every model available offers these capabilities. So, it’s important to consider the camera setup, especially if you want to document your experiences. Otherwise, look for options that focus on low-light performance instead, as they’re better suited for inspection and reconnaissance applications.
Another aspect to consider here is the lighting system used. You can find options with either headlamps or projectors to illuminate the foreground. But, manufacturers will specify the power of either system in Lumens (LM), which measures the quantity of visible light.
The strength of the lighting will vary, though. And you can find devices ranging from 200 to 5,000+LM. So it’s essential to consider the diving depth you’ll use beforehand, as deeper waters tend to be quite murky. And you’ll want powerful lighting in these situations. Otherwise, a device with, say, 200 LM should be sufficient.
Thrusters, Propellers, and Cruise Speed
You can find these devices with a range of thruster configurations, which determines how they’ll move and their maneuverability. Most units use two motors or thrusters encased into a frame for protection. But, you can also find several models with four or more.
The benefit of more motors is greater stabilization, 3D movement, self-balancing, and more fine-tuned control. Either way, though, two motors alone tend to be strong enough to change the direction in challenging currents. More motors will merely give you better handling and precision. So it’s something to consider if you plan on navigating through tight spaces, like reefs, where you need pinpoint accuracy.
Another area here is the top speed, which varies wildly. Many factors will ultimately determine if this top speed is achievable, though, such as the strength and direction of the current and the depth. So depending on the weather conditions, the top cruise speed may not be possible. Even so, expect most top-end devices to reach a top speed close to 2 m/s (4 knots). And speed is important if you plan on diving deep with the drone, as it’ll need more power to fight against the added pressure and current strength.
Unlike their aerial counterparts, which only offer battery life rated in minutes, underwater ROVs are ready to deliver hours to use. And you can find devices offering anywhere from 1-6 hours of total battery life. While 1 hour should be plenty, it’s not enough for everyone. And it’s an element of particular importance for those wanting to do inspections or reconnaissance tasks that will require hours of effort to complete. So if you fall into that category, it’s wise to look for devices with interchangeable batteries or ultra-high capacities, so you can maximize the run time or swap to a fresh pair when needed.
You can find these devices with a large range of supported diving depths, ranging from as little as 10m to a maximum of 150m. Generally, models that can dive to 100+ meters are expensive, given the engineering requirements involved, though. Either way, it’s important to find a device offering the correct depth for your use case. And the last thing you want is to dive too deep, having the pressure crack its hull and causing permanent damage.
But, if you only plan on traversing shallow waters or snorkeling, it’s wise to skip models offering more than 10m. There you can save money and have enough flexibility. However, if you’re looking to film scuba diving, reef exploration, or research applications, 20m or more is necessary.
It’s also worth noting that the visibility at these depths isn’t great. So you’ll also want a device with a powerful lighting system to correctly orient yourself. And that goes back to the lighting system mentioned above.
Sonar and sensors
You can find some devices with built-in sonar functionality, letting them perform scans of the surrounding environment. It’s a helpful feature for those looking to perform aquatic mapping and topography. You can also find some models with obstacle avoidance sensors, letting them navigate rugged or delicate terrain without damages. If either of these features sound important, consider them during your search.