In photography, water is the true equalizer and ultimate test of the camera’s design. Even the best devices today cower in fear with a bit of dampness and are rendered virtually useless afterwards. And underwater photography is also one of the most challenging mediums given it’s tricky lighting, pressure, danger, and corrosive conditions. But a fulfilling and worthwhile suit indeed. Thankfully, in comes waterproof cameras.
Waterproof cameras open new frontiers to creators and allow you to take your camera under the sea or virtually anywhere without the fear of damages. These cameras are some of the toughest around. And they’re the perfect compliment for adventurers looking to explore the world fearlessly. Now, whether you’re going to an exotic location for deep-sea diving or capturing poolside images, a dedicated waterproof camera is a good investment.
And sure, many photographers already have a mirrorless or DSLR camera. But cameras are an expensive investment. And while they take great beachside images with perfect scenery, most cannot do so under the water’s depths. And water is a sure-fire way to ruin a perfectly good camera. Not to mention, taking a traditional camera to the beach is risky, as sand could easily damage the internal components. Of course, many of today’s top-end flagship phones also have IP ratings so that you can submerge them for short bouts.
But why risk a quality smartphone and losing all of your data during a sudden change of tide. Instead, a dedicated waterproof camera allows you to capture gorgeous photos and videos in the ocean’s depths. And you can do so with little investment.
But when it comes to purchasing a dedicated waterproof camera, there’s plenty to consider, from image quality, ratings, lens quality, wireless capability, to name a few. And depending on your used case, the particular camera that suits you best will vary. With that, in today’s post we will cover a detailed guide explaining the factors that may be important during your search. And we will also cover the best waterproof cameras on the present market.
Jump to a Section
- 5 – Panasonic Lumix TS7 / FT7
- 4 – Fujifilm XP140
- 3 – GoPro HERO9 Black
- 2 – Nikon Coolpix W300
- 1 – Olympus Tough TG-6
- Buyers Guide
- Why should I get a waterproof camera?
- Why should I get a dedicated waterproof camera when I have a phone?
- What is a waterproof camera? Types of waterproof cameras
- Why get a waterproof camera if i have a DSLR or mirrorless camera?
- How to choose the best waterproof camera
- Lens Aperture
- Macro and close-up modes
- Photo Quality
- RAW support
- Video Quality
- Tips for improving your underwater photos
5 – Panasonic Lumix TS7 / FT7
Released in 2018, the Panasonic TS7 is the company’s latest waterproof compact camera. It features a 20.4-megapixel sensor, 4K 30 FPS, 1080p 60 FPS, and a stabilized 28-128mm lens. It also features an electronic viewfinder, a 3 inch LCD, USB charging, panorama, Post Focus, time-lapse, a built-in compass and altimeter, and wireless connectivity.
The TS7 is a substantial upgrade over its five-year-old predecessor. With this new model, Panasonic’s improved the rear LCD, which doubled in resolution, providing an even more clear view. It also boasts a new 20.4-megapixel sensor for unrivaled detail and remains one of the highest resolutions throughout the underwater segment. They’ve also refined the design, which is slightly larger, weightier, and provides a chunky hand grip for comfortable handling. But, crucially, this camera obtains Panasonic’s helpful 4K Shooting Modes. 4K photo allows you to capture eight megapixel still images from a 30 FPS video and ensures you never miss the moment. Another highlight is its outstanding IP8X sealing, providing a class-leading depth rating of 31 m (102 ft). As such, the TS7 is the perfect complement for professional deep-sea divers looking to push the bounds. Especially since you can turn the AF Assist LED into a full-time torch light underwater.
Overall, Panasonic’s TS7 is a substantial upgrade in capabilities and features over its predecessor. And it’s a bold move to capture the premium underwater market. But it’s the perfect addition to deep-sea divers wanting utmost capabilities, diving depth, telephoto reach, big prints, and flexible 4K photo modes.
4 – Fujifilm XP140
Released in 2019, Fujifilm Finepix XP140 is their latest waterproof compact camera and the annual update to the XP lineup. It features a 16.4-megapixel sensor, 4K 15 FPS video, 1080 P 60 FPS video, and a 5x optical zoom 28- 140 mm lens. It also has a 3 inch LCD, panorama, time-lapse, and wireless connectivity.
Fuji’s improved the camera’s water-sealing with this new model, now to IPX8 certification and 25 m (82 ft) and shockproof to 1.8m (5.9 ft). And it headlines with 4K video, though at 15 FPS, along with the popular square video format. But, crucially, they’ve improved the camera’s ISO sensitivity and added the new Face Auto Self-Timer Mode, making it easier than ever to capture selfies mid adventure. It’s outstanding 5x optical zoom lens, which zooms to 140 mm, is its true separator. And it stands as one of the longest zooms in the segment with unrivaled telephoto power that quickly gets you close to the action.
Overall, Fujifilm Finepix XP140 is a capable mid-range compact that few can match. And it offers unrivaled zoom capabilities without a ridiculous price wrapped in a stylish and rugged build.
3 – GoPro HERO9 Black
Released in 2020, GoPro’s Hero9 Black offers more power, versatility and re-establishes its dominance in the action camera segment. It features a 23.6-megapixel sensor, 5K 30 FPS, 4K 60 FPS, and 1080p 240 FPS video. And this camera offers three lens options, from a wide 16-34 mm to 19-39 mm linear and a 27 mm fixed lens. It also has time-lapse, HDR, a removable lens cover, live streaming support, webcam support, and wireless connectivity.
With the Hero9 Black comes a new design and redesign displays. In this case, the rear LCD is larger, and the front display now has a live preview for capturing selfies or viewing camera information. This model also obtains the Hindsight Mode, capturing 30 seconds of video beforehand to ensure you never miss a critical moment. But with the new 5K resolution, you can pull 14.7-megapixel images from videos as a backup. But crucially, this camera is also waterproof, down to 10 m natively. But, you can push the limits to 60 m (196 ft) with the optional housing, making it ideal for even the deepest dives possible.
Overall, GoPro’s Hero9 Black delivers more resolution, versatility, and features. And it catapults the line to a brand new level while proving action cameras are quite a powerful tool for underwater adventures.
2 – Nikon Coolpix W300
Released in 2017, Nikon’s W300 is their latest waterproof compact in the COOLPIX family. It features a 16-megapixel sensor, 4K 30 FPS, 1080p 60 FPS, and a 5x optical zoom 24-120mm lens. It also has a 3-inch LCD, panorama, time-lapse, an AF torchlight, USB charging, and wireless connectivity.
With this new model, Nikon overhauled the camera’s video recording modes. And it now brings 4K UHD and 60 FPS to the COOLPIX underwater lineup. Thankfully, it retains the older models Short Movie Mode, which assembles a series of short clips in-camera into a 30-second movie. And this is a great option to show the best highlights of your adventures. Nikon’s also improved the depth rating to 30 m (98 ft) and shock rating to 2.4 m (7.8 ft). And it now stands as the most rugged COOLPIX to date. Additionally, it’s their first waterproof camera with SnapBridge Bluetooth connectivity for convenient background image transfer. But it also boasts built-in GPS, an electronic compass, and a barometer to pinpoint the exact location, depth, and direction of captured images. Plus, it receives Action Control, so you can control certain functions by shaking the camera to avoid fiddling with buttons underwater.
Overall, Nikon’s W300 is a powerful all-arounder, indeed. And it hits an interesting sweet spot in lens performance. But, it leapfrogs rivals with outstanding durability, making it well-suited for the most demanding conditions, and it’s a solid choice for deep-sea adventures.
1 – Olympus Tough TG-6
Olympus’ TG-6 is their latest waterproof camera and the top option around. Released in 2019, it features a 12-megapixel sensor, 4K 30 FPS, 1080p 120 FPS, and a 4x optical zoom 25-100mm lens. It also has a 3-inch LCD, Live Composite, focus stacking, focus bracketing, HDR, time-lapse, panorama, a 2x teleconverter, and wireless connectivity.
Where the TG-6 shines is in its fast F/2 aperture, which is the fastest around. And this lens significantly improves low light image quality. Even so, it also provides unrivaled macro capabilities, focusing at 1 cm and remaining as such throughout the zoom range. As such, it’s an excellent option for capturing small subjects at a safe distance. The TG-6 also delivers unrivaled continuous burst performance, shooting at 20 FPS with unlimited JPEG images. So, capturing fast-moving wildlife or underwater movements is of little difficulty. Plus, it also has a compass, manometer, temperature sensor, and GPS to ensure images are perfectly tagged. And it does so with the best 4K video of all waterproof cameras, with minimal compression and like life details.
Overall, Olympus’ TG-6 is the top waterproof camera, despite its lacking zoom or larger sensor. And it offers functionality and capabilities that rivals several higher-end mirrorless cameras. As such, if you’re looking for the best waterproof camera, this is it.
Why should I get a waterproof camera?
There are many reasons to buy a dedicated waterproof camera. With the best waterproof cameras, you can capture high-quality images while snorkeling at sea, swimming at the lake, or scuba diving. And it opens a world of new possibilities, mostly unexplored by today’s photographers. Ultimately, waterproof cameras allow you to enjoy waterproof sports without fear. But, they’re ready and tough enough to withstand not only water but also extreme temperatures or drops. As such, these cameras don’t leave anything to chance. So, you’ll capture photos in areas you wouldn’t dream of taking a DSLR or mirrorless camera. And you’ll do so with complete peace of mind.
Why should I get a dedicated waterproof camera when I have a phone?
You may be asking why to buy a dedicated camera when you already have an excellent smartphone. And sure, today’s flagship smartphones carry waterproof and rugged constructions as mostly standard. And many of them are exceptional multi-use items for communication, navigation, and capturing great images. But even so, for practical day-to-day outdoors use, a dedicated waterproof camera will ultimately serve you better than a smartphone. And here’s why.
Yes, today’s smartphones are getting ever more powerful and improving in image quality. But, taking great photos results in a massive hit on the phone’s battery life. And if you choose to geotag images, that hit is even worse. And on longer expeditions, you’ll quickly run out of battery life and not be able to capture any more of your experience. Now, depending on where you are and how remote that location is, not having enough battery life will become a life-threatening problem. And you could ultimately compromise your ability to help navigate or communicate back home.
Additionally, when underwater, the cold weather also reduces the phone battery life. And phones can’t hold their charge nearly as long. So, even with the improved water sealing technology, none can survive the same deaths and conditions as a dedicated camera. Plus, waterproof cameras are also easier to operate. And using a smartphone underwater requires special gloves. However, it still proves difficult without exposing bare fingers to the cold depths. Lastly, dedicated cameras allow you to attach more professional equipment such as lighting, optics, and much more. As such, a waterproof camera becomes a better overall investment that’s more versatile and affordable. And you can take photos even in the worst conditions and capture epic moments on your adventures.
What is a waterproof camera? Types of waterproof cameras
We must take the time to define a waterproof camera, as definitions can vary. There are two popular types of digital waterproof cameras, action cameras or waterproof compacts. But you can also use disposable film cameras or your current DSLR or mirrorless setup.
Waterproof compact cameras resemble ordinary compact point-and-shoot cameras. But their main difference is that they’re waterproof and ruggedly built. They also tend to come in distinct bright colors, which is useful to find them underwater quickly. These cameras provide optical zoom lenses to get you closer to subjects without losing image quality, something lacking on most action cameras. These cameras are also larger and more comfortable to use underwater. But during excessive dives, that weight can bog you down and cause more fatigue. They also tend to have smaller sensors than mirrorless and DSLR cameras. So dynamic range, depth of field, and fine image quality are sometimes lacking. Even so, they’re a great option if you want to zoom into far-off subjects, and taking photos is most important.
Action Cameras, however, like GoPro’s, are typically much smaller than waterproof compact cameras. And their smaller size makes them easier to mount to a harness and lighter to carry. These cameras tend to have better video capabilities. And most shoot high frame rate 4K video, a feature mostly lacking in the waterproof compact segment. But they also have small sensors, typically matching that with a smartphone, so they suffer from a lack of dynamic range and fine image quality. And their smaller size means smaller buttons, which are more challenging to press underwater.
Another subdivision here is underwater disposable film cameras which are the most affordable solution for capturing images underwater. These are film cameras that deliver physical prints with a retro nostalgic appeal. And they’re usually a camera that you can purchase at a local convenience store to capture images then dispose of afterward. However, these cameras have smaller than average sensors and plastic lenses, so they don’t provide the greatest images. Even so, they’re a great option if you want physical keepsakes of your underwater adventures.
Why get a waterproof camera if i have a DSLR or mirrorless camera?
Suppose you already own a camera and don’t want to purchase a dedicated waterproof camera. In that case, there are accessories to make your current setup waterproof. And doing so will provide you with unrivaled image quality. To make a digital camera waterproof, you will need a waterproof case or housing. However, know these accessories are expensive, and their capabilities do vary wildly. For most point-and-shoot cameras, prices range upwards of $500, while for advanced interchangeable lens cameras, $1500. It’s also important to know the submersion rating of the camera beforehand, as these vary. The submersion death dictates how far underwater you can take your camera. Getting a dedicated case for DSLR is the professional route. But considering the price and investment, we suggest getting a dedicated camera instead as it will be more cost-effective for most users.
How to choose the best waterproof camera
When choosing the best waterproof camera, you’ll want to know how you want to use it beforehand.
Some questions to ask yourself to help figure this out include: do I want to shoot both photos and video, or do I want to shoot pictures alone. How important are the images the camera produces? Do I need fast burst shooting to capture moving subjects? What is my budget? And how deep do I plan on going underwater?
These are just some of the questions to answer beforehand when deciding between two similarly priced options. But below, you’ll find some of the other factors you may want to consider while looking around as well.
Above all else to consider is the durability, construction, and design of the waterproof camera. As ultimately, a waterproof camera will not live up to its core function if it lacks durability. Thankfully, most waterproof cameras come with shock, dust, and water sealing as standard. However, the level of durability and sealing between devices does vary.
When it comes to durability, the core marker is the camera’s water-resistance. Water-resistance is measured on the IP scale, indicating how far a product can be submerged without sustaining damage. You can find the camera’s submersion depth or IP rating on the manufacturer’s listing. However, 10 m or 32 feet, it’s typically standard. And some higher-end models do also support 50 feet or more. Even so, 10 m is excellent for basic scuba diving and most casual applications. And the extra depth limit will give you some peace of mind in the event you accidentally drop the camera. However, you’ll want closer to 30 m for professional-level deep-sea diving.
Another factor that determines durability is shock resistance. Most underwater cameras can survive a drop of 5 feet, which is about shoulder height. But some models do offer better constructions that provide 10-foot drop protection. This measure is vital if you plan on also using the camera for rock climbing and hiking. But otherwise, it’s not quite as crucial for diving.
Lastly, crushproof designs, which are particularly helpful during deep-sea diving as the pressure increases. The standard amongst most cameras in this class is 100 kg. Anything higher is a bonus that helps professional deep-sea divers.
A camera’s usability will be of particular importance if you plan on also using gloves underwater. Smaller controls are easy to operate on land. However, larger buttons are favored when using diving gloves. If you plan on scuba diving and wearing gloves, look for underwater cameras with large, easily identifiable buttons.
There’s a dramatic light fall-off as you dive underwater. And in many situations, you may find yourself in murky conditions. As such, a large aperture lens that lets in as much light as possible is best. And look for cameras with apertures of F2.8 or wider, so you can capture any light available.
Macro and close-up modes
Macro and close-up modes are another consideration, as light doesn’t travel well through water. As such, most underwater photography online occurs relatively close to the subject. So look for cameras that can focus at a half-inch or less from the front lens to ensure you can capture well-lit subjects.
Likewise, low-light performance will be key if you’re heading down to the depths. And once you’re back on dry land, connectivity is something to think about if you’re keen to share your seaside images swiftly.
These cameras allow you to capture pictures that are typically impossible otherwise. But they’re not useful if the photos that they captured are blurry. As such, look out for cameras with at least 12 megapixels and 1/2.3 inch sensors. In quality, a camera that supplies this configuration will match most of today’s smartphones. And you can print 8 x 10″ photos in good detail.
Not all underwater cameras supply RAW images. But shooting in RAW allows you more post-processing flexibility in fine-tuning colors, exposure, and much more. And it’s a good option if you plan on shooting in highly contrasting scenes or diving deep into low-light areas.
Video quality may or may not be important to how you plan on using the camera. But if you plan on recording videos underwater, Then getting a 4K capable camera is best. However, most traditional underwater cameras do not supply 4K video. It’s a scarce feature. Instead, consider getting a housing for an action camera.
Optical image stabilization allows the lens to move slightly so it can compensate for movements. And it allows you to capture sharp images even while moving. Since swimming underwater requires constant motion, this is not a feature to overlook. And depending on the conditions, it may prove impossible to be completely still. As such, an optically stabilized lens will allow you some room for error so you can capture sharp images regardless.
Most waterproof cameras have quality optics that deliver sharp edge-to-edge detail and accurate color reproduction. And unlike most smartphones, these cameras have telephoto lenses that zoom physical, not digitally. An optical zoom lens allows you to zoom closer to subjects without losing detail doing so. And it’s a must, given its versatility when shooting far-off subjects or potentially dangerous wildlife.
Most waterproof cameras offer built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity so that you can transfer images wirelessly to a smartphone or tablet anywhere in the world. But, it’s a good option if you want to share memories or moments from your underwater adventures online.
Tips for improving your underwater photos
Below are some helpful tips to make the most of your adventure and capture the best images.
- Consider using a harness for your camera or a chest strap. This allows you to shoot hands-free for a unique point of view style photo or video. It also gives you more flexibility to navigate and swim.
- Consider adding a selfie stick so that you can have a first-person point of view underwater.
- Consider getting a flash diffuser, which fits around the camera’s lens and provides better illumination for close-up subjects.