However awesome your flasher or fishfinder, there’s nothing like actually seeing the fish you’re after. And from species identification to indications of behavior, live video is an impressive tool to enhance your angling prowess.
Indeed, plenty of hard-water anglers already know that “eyes-on” fishing will improve your success. Are you jigging through the ice for hungry pike? Seeing how they react to your lure can be the difference between hooking a monster or coming up empty-handed. Tired of guessing where the weedline is? With an underwater camera and a series of test holes, you can map the precise contours of the weed beds that hold active fish.
But you’re not going to tie your GoPro onto some tough braid and toss it through your hole!
Instead, you need a dedicated fishing camera system. If that piques your curiosity, keep reading. Below, we’ll discuss what to look for if you’re in the market for a fishing camera, as well as provide reviews of some of our favorites.
Quick glance at the best underwater fishing cameras:
- MarCum VS485C Underwater Viewing System – Our Pick!
- Eyoyo Original Professional Underwater Video Camera S1322MG
- MarCum Recon 5+ Underwater Camera Viewing System
- Vexilar FS800 Fish Scout Underwater Camera
Table of Contents
- 1 What We Consider When Selecting an Underwater Fishing Camera
- 2 Best Underwater Fishing Camera Reviews
- 3 Our Pick – the MarCum VS485C Underwater Viewing System!
What We Consider When Selecting an Underwater Fishing Camera
As every dedicated hard-water angler already knows, low temps put a beating on equipment. And even the best ice fishing shelters and heaters can only go so far in creating a tech-friendly environment.
Whether we’re talking about pools of water on the ice, plummeting mercury, or just the occasional bump and knock as you drag your sled, you need a camera system that can stand up to some punishment and still function flawlessly.
Cable length is a critical concern.
Unlike the transducers on your flasher, the camera on an underwater system can only see what’s right in front of it (there are exceptions, like the three-position camera on MarCum’s Recon 5+). In practice, to make use of a camera, you need to be able to suspend it nearly to the bottom. And to see weed beds and the fish who live and hunt in them, your camera needs to be able to reach them.
MarCum and Vexilar offer 50 feet of cable, while Eyoyo provides nearly 100 feet!
For deeper water, then, the choice is clear.
Screen Resolution and Camera Quality
This is perhaps the trickiest technical specification of these systems, and it’s worth noting that these fishing systems are basically just dressed-up security cameras. What’s true for one is true for the other.
There are two different systems for measuring resolution: pixel count and TVL (television lines).
Pixel count is a digital measure of resolution, matching two numbers to describe (mega)pixel count in the horizontal and vertical dimensions. Simply put, the greater the number of megapixels, the greater the resolution.
But these numbers also function as a ratio–as in 480 x 234–that further describes the ‘shape’ of the picture. In this case, it’s 16:9, or ‘widescreen.’ If the horizontal number (first) is more than double the vertical pairing (second), the picture will be quite flat, and in .AVI file format, may be difficult to view on a standard monitor.
By contrast, TVL is an analog measure of video quality, describing how many horizontal “television lines” a video camera can capture. Defined as “the maximum number of alternating light and dark vertical lines that can be resolved per picture height…. [a] resolution of 400 TVL means that 200 distinct dark vertical lines and 200 distinct white vertical lines can be counted over a horizontal span equal to the height of the picture.”
As you can see, the greater the TVL count, the better the image quality:
That said, the cable connecting the camera to the monitor can’t exceed 750TVL, so a better camera than that is just wasted money!
It’s also worth noting that MarCum’s excellent Sony camera, available on the VS485C, is actually a CCD/analog model measured in TVL–which means that MarCum is converting TVL measures into digital megapixels in the product description.
As far as we can tell from the technical specifications, none of the systems we reviewed actually used a digital camera.
Camera Viewing Angle
You’re not looking to see tiny details with your fishing camera, and so you want a wide field of view.
The models we reviewed offer either 90 or 110-degree viewing angles, where specified. Both work really well, and we can’t see a competitive advantage for one over the other.
Standard screen sizes seem to hover around seven inches. More portable units, like the Recon 5+, are smaller, as you’d expect.
We like the seven inch benchmark for ice fishing, as space in a pop-up is generally at a premium when more than one angler is involved.
Many anglers want to record the fish they see–and hook–and then share these videos with friends and family.
If that’s something you want, consider a model that features an SD card slot. But don’t be misled–these videos will be stored in .AVI file format, which is unfortunately not the easiest option to work with.
Typically, expect to download some software to edit and view .AVI files, as Windows Media Player won’t open them.
If that sounds like a lot of hassle, it is. So unless this is a feature you really demand, it might be worth giving it a pass.
Battery life is one of the defining features of these systems, and more is obviously better. A great camera with a brief window for use just won’t get it done, and we like to see estimated numbers that allow for all-day fishing.
Note: Current and turbidity can be an issue for any underwater camera. If you routinely fish in murky water, or in lakes and rivers with significant current, these are probably not the best options for you.
Best Underwater Fishing Camera Reviews
MarCum VS485C Underwater Viewing System – Our Pick!
Battery: enclosed 12 volt, 7.2 amp hour battery
Est. battery life: 6-8 hours
Cable length: 50’
Monitor resolution: 800 x 480
Screen Size: 7” 16:9 aspect ratio LCD monitor
Camera viewing angle: 90-degree Sony Super HAD II ultra-low lux CCD
If you fish hard water, you’ve seen (and probably worn) MarCum red. Indeed, generations of ice anglers trust this name with their winter fun. And though there’s a constant rivalry between it and Vexilar in the flasher industry, on the ice camera front, we’re calling it decisively for Big Red.
MarCum’s VS485C is the Recon 5’s big brother, offering a larger screen and a design that nods in the direction of pop-ups and shanties. Driven by a powerful battery, and armed with a great monitor and camera, the VS485C is an easy choice for our top spot.
MarCum is no stranger to the ice, and like Vexilar, you can expect all-weather durability and a case designed to cushion hard knocks. But where MarCum distances itself from Vexilar is image quality–and you’ll notice that right away.
Driven by a Sony camera with impressive low-light capabilities and a very sharp resolution, MarCum’s full-size 7-inch screen offers fantastic resolution, probably exceeding the camera’s analog capacity. Moreover, if the VS485C recognizes that the light is too low or the water too murky for full-color resolution, it will automatically switch to sharper B/W imaging. That’s a nice touch.
We think that the MarCum’s camera is the best of the bunch, offering clearer, sharper images than its competitors. Paired with this excellent screen, it’s a winner for ice fishing.
It’s worth noting, however, that the manufacturer includes a sun shield with this unit, recommending in the manual that the screen be shaded from bright sunlight for best viewing. We’d keep this bad boy indoors for best performance, or restrict its outdoor use to overcast days.
The MarCum’s excellent camera is attached to the unit by 50 feet of cable, a nod to the industry standard shared by Vexilar. And like its Vexilar challenger, expect a video-out port, but no SD card.
Given the issues with .AVI file compatibility, we don’t think that’s a big deal, but you may disagree.
- Robust and durable
- Good battery life
- Excellent monitor
- Excellent camera
- Short cable
- No SD card/recording
Battery: standard 12 volt (4500 mAh)
Est. battery life: 4-7 hours
Cable length: 30m (98’)
Monitor resolution: N/A
Screen Size: 7”
Camera viewing angle: 1000TVLwith unspecified viewing angle and both LED and IR lights
Eyoyo is a relative newcomer to ice fishing, and this Chinese monitor company has already established itself as a master of effective customer service. Engineers from Eyoyo have even gone as far as to solicit comments on ice-fishing forums–an impressive move!
Are Eyoyo’s systems true competitors for the tried-and-true MarCum and Vexilar alternatives?
That’s the big question.
In terms of durability, this unit comes in a padded aluminum case. If you can beat your way through all that protection, nothing you take on the ice will survive! In terms of electronic durability, users do have occasional issues over time, though the manufacturer is quick to make that right.
Eyoyo uses a 7-inch monitor that provides clear, crisp color. We have no complaints there, and the few users who have had trouble report that the manufacturer was quick to respond and awesome about replacement.
Where we’re more concerned is the camera. An unspecified unit, Eyoyo describes it as offering 1000TVL resolution. That’s an analog specification, as we noted above, and experts say that it’s often misleading.
According to them, neither the cable nor the DVR can make use of a 1000TVL resolution, being limited to 720TVL maximums. On the other hand, many Chinese firms mistakenly translate excellent 1080p resolution cameras as 1000TVL, mixing and matching digital and analog designations.
Whatever the actual camera resolution, users report good quality video, and are impressed by the performance of the infra-red lights in low light. We have no complaints on this front in the real world, though we’d give the edge to MarCum’s excellent Sony camera in terms of quality and range.
The Eyoyo does, however, sport a long cable. That’s a real plus, and you can count us as impressed.
You’ll also find an SD card slot on this unit, though it converts video to .AVI files. This can make it tough to edit or view them on a PC or Mac, and it’s probably best to rewatch them on this system. That said, it’s a nice addition.
What’s the verdict?
Let’s say that–provisionally–we’re impressed. Eyoyo is clearly dedicated to customer satisfaction, and they’re interested in hearing from anglers. That said, we’d give the nod to one of the MarCum units if it was our money, as the poor battery life is a deal-breaker on the ice.
- Awesome customer service
- Big, high quality screen
- Infrared lights for night fishing
- Long cable
- Poor battery life
- Durability issues
Battery: internal lithium-ion battery pack
Est. battery life: 5-6 hours
Cable length: 50’
Monitor resolution: 800 x 480 Hi-Res Color
Screen Size: 5” LCD monitor
Camera viewing angle: 110 degrees
Everyone on the ice is familiar with the MarCum name, and from flashers to bibs, they’ve been supplying winter fishing adventures for years. A well-respected company, MarCum’s products can be trusted to perform season after season, and that’s true of the Recon 5+ as well.
The 5+ is an upgrade over the older Recon 5, adding SD card compatibility that provides video recording. That’s a worthy addition in our book, and it’s probably worth moving up a bit in price to gain that feature.
Otherwise, the Recon 5+ is the same unit.
Expect bomb-proof durability from MarCum, as their decades of experience translates into real-world toughness. MarCum claims an operating range of 14F to 104F, and users report that the internal lithium-ion battery pack can take single digits and hold a charge. In normal conditions, expect as much as 6 hours from that pack before a recharge is in order.
As its name suggests, the Recon 5+ uses a 5-inch screen with very nice resolution, mated with an unspecified camera. That camera isn’t a real rival to the MarCum VS485C’s incredible Sony, but it gets the job done and offers a 110-degree viewing angle. And as an added–and useful– feature, it has three angle settings: down, up, and horizontal (normal).
Like the other MarCum we reviewed, the camera will automatically switch to B/W if either light levels or turbidity prevent clear color video. That’s a nice touch, and you can expect excellent quality, sharp pictures and plenty of range from this camera.
The Recon 5+ is a small system, easily packed away and transported, but it suffers a bit in screen size, obviously, and like pretty much all such cameras, it’s probably best kept out of bright sunlight while in use.
If you’re looking for an easily stored, easily stowed camera system that offers an SD card slot, this is an awesome choice. Be aware, however, that it records video files in .AVI format and alters the resolution to 720 x 240. That means that these files are best re-watched on the Recon 5+ rather than exported to PC or Mac.
- Robust and durable
- OK battery life
- Excellent monitor
- Good camera
- Easily stored and transported
- SD card slot
- Short cable
- .AVI file format and altered resolution on recordings
Battery: enclosed 12 volt, 9 amp hour battery
Est. battery life: 9 hours
Cable length: 50’
Monitor resolution: 480 x 234
Screen Size: 7” 16:9 aspect ratio LCD monitor displaying 7 colors
Camera viewing angle: 90 degrees
Vexilar is a trusted name on the ice, and generations of anglers have come to rely on their tech on the hard water. Indeed, it’s fair to say that it’s locked in a constant flasher competition with MarCum, and tempers flare when fans of one brand or the other offer criticism of their rivals.
In this case, we’re forced to recommend the MarCum over the Vexilar for superior camera tech. Head-to-head tests reveal that the MarCum VS485C and Recon offer better picture quality.
That said, the Vexilar FS800 has earned plenty of fans, displacing the once popula Aqua-Vu camera system among ice fishing enthusiasts. It did that by offering a winning combination of durability and performance, and fished within its limitations, it’s a great choice.
Let’s start with the good.
Vexilar’s proven experience on the ice translates into real-world durability, and from an enclosed battery that should offer a full day’s fishing even when the temperature is brutal, to a case designed to handle a rough outdoor life, there are no worries on this front. Vexilar claims an operating range of -22 F to 150 F, and we don’t have any reason to suggest this isn’t accurate.
The 12-volt battery system is excellent, but it’s worth noting that you must have the power switched “on” when charging. Many users neglect this precaution, arrive on the ice with no charge, and think that their camera system is defective.
Now for the bad.
The heart of this system is a seven-color monitor with decent-enough resolution. It supports a color and B/W camera with less-than-stellar picture quality, and an auto gain control that can cause issues in low light, irrespective of a user’s inputs. In the real world, that means that it can be hard to make out fish at the limits of the camera’s range, and the picture can darken suddenly as the auto gain control attempts to make adjustments.
Reading the Fish Scout’s screen in bright sunlight can be troublesome, too, and this is a unit that’s best used in the shelter of an ice shanty or pop-up.
The FS800’s camera dangles from a 50-foot cable. If you fish deeper than that–and many ice anglers do–this isn’t the model for you.
It’s also worth mentioning that the FS800 features a video-out port, but doesn’t support an SD card or recording feature.
- Robust and durable
- Good battery life
- Big screen
- Low-resolution camera
- Poor auto gain control
- Short cable
- No SD card/recording
Our Pick – the MarCum VS485C Underwater Viewing System!
In our opinion, the MarCum takes the top spot with ease, defeating its competition on pretty much every front.
The VS485C offers a better camera than the alternatives, delivering sharp images in a variety of lighting and turbidity conditions. While analog, it performs admirably, and you can count us as impressed in clear water. Its screen is excellent, and from durability to battery life, the VS485C gets top marks.
Its limitations are a 50-foot cable and the lack of an SD card.
We’d like to see a longer cable, or at least an option for one, perhaps matching the Eyoyo’s awesome 98-foot offering. We can live with what it’s got, though, especially given the Eyoyo’s modest battery life.
And given the trouble associated with .AVIs, we’re not missing the SD card!
But if you want a more portable option, the Recon 5+ is hard to beat, and it features the recording options some anglers crave.
We hope that this guide helps you get up to speed on fishing cameras, and we’d love to hear how they’ve worked for you on the ice!