Which underwater camera to choose?
Having lived now for more than 10 years in tropical islands all around the world and keeping this travel/photography blog for 4 years now as I write these lines, Melanie and I thought it was finally time to write an article about underwater cameras. Indeed, I must admit that we had the opportunity to use a lot of them during our various snorkeling trips around the world. By the way, we wrote a complete article on the best cameras for travelling.
And this is finally what you’ll remember when asking the question “why would I buy a waterproof camera?”. Well, sure, you’re not going to use it only when snorkeling, but I would say that’s for me still the main interest of buying a digital camera of this type. However, you will be able to use this type of camera in all kinds of difficult conditions, be it snow, fog, sand, rain, etc. It is usually of small size, robust, practical and will allow you to bring back beautiful memories of your vacations in French Polynesia, Thailand or any island where you will be able to discover these beautiful coral gardens and this marvelous underwater sealife!
Of course, there is something for everyone: big ones, elaborate ones, with or without housing, and of course for all budgets. We have personally had several types of underwater cameras, including those with and without housings. I think it is safe to say that most people are looking for a camera that is easy to use, to store and to carry, light, and ideally that does not cost too much. In this article, we have therefore decided not to talk about cameras with waterproof housings. This is our choice, but it seems to us that what we propose will most certainly always be enough for the common citizen and his few weeks of underwater vacations. Getting a waterproof housing, in addition to your camera, will require a little more technique, but especially more financial means.
So, we’ve decided to propose this article, based on our own experience with the different cameras we have had and still have, but also by incorporating of course what’s currently best in the world of waterproof cameras without housing! In this article, we propose you the 6 underwater cameras we do consider as the best of the moment, the ones that you will be able to bring on your next vacations! But first of all, some details to explain you which criteria you should take into account for the purchase of your camera.
How to choose your underwater camera?
To help you choose your next waterproof camera, I’ll tell you which criteria to consider. Just click on the scrollbar below for further reading.
The different types of cameras
To put it simply, you can choose between three types of waterproof cameras:
- The “basic” underwater cameras: these are the ones we will talk about in this article. They are simply basic underwater cameras, without housing, and that will allow you to go and shoot between 10 and 15m (or even more) deep. This is more than enough for snorkeling in beautiful tropical waters. It’s worth noting that, on some of them (like the Olympus TG6), you can add an underwater housing suited to the camera which will allow you to protect it even better, but especially to be able to go deeper (especially for scuba diving, between 20 and 40m for example),
- Classic cameras with waterproof housing: these are simply “any classic cameras” to which you can add a housing. The main difference is that these cameras are not waterproof at all. You can easily place a small point and shoot cameras, an expert compact, or even a DSLR or mirrorless cameras. The challenge is to find the right housing for your camera and to control the placement of the camera in it. The risks are obviously leakage problems which, when they happen, can be fatal (as the camera is not waterproof). On the other hand, you can have much better-quality cameras inside your housing.
- “Action Cam” type cameras: the last type of camera (which is not really a camera) is the “Action Camera”. The most famous one is the well-known “Go Pro”, but there are many others for much cheaper. In my opinion, the pictures quality is not as good as it is with a classic camera, even if it seems that the last models have improved on this point. We usually buy this type of camera mainly for underwater video. Most of the time, they are sold with the waterproof housing.
Resolution and image quality
In photography, the resolution is expressed in Megapixels (MP). Let’s face it, you don’t have a major interest in having a digital camera filled with megapixels. However, they are definitely worthwhile if you start printing your pictures in large size and/or viewing them on a large screen. For the casual photographer who is just looking to enjoy himself by taking underwater pictures, a 12MP or even 15MP sensor will be more than enough. Having more MP can also be useful to crop a part of your image, to zoom in on a subject that was too far away with your zoom range.
In video, it’s the same thing: if it’s for leisure and simply to bring back memories (which is certainly the case), then there’s no need to have a very high-end camera. Shooting in 4K is fine, but if it’s for nothing more than souvenirs, the interest will be somewhat limited. However, who can do more can do less, and there will clearly be a difference between the cameras, especially on the shooting speed in video, for example.
Regarding sensor size, this is what will mainly influence the image quality. For cameras of this type, most sensors will be of size 1/2.3” (4 x 6mm approximately, it varies according to the brands). For those wondering, this refers to a sensor six times smaller than a full frame (24 x 36mm).
The zoom range
In the jargon, we speak of “focal length”. It is expressed in millimeters on the lenses, such as 4.3-21.5mm (for the Nikon Coolpix W300). Waterproof cameras do not have interchangeable lenses (like a bridge), contrary to a mirrorless or a DSLR. All the cameras proposed in this article have an optical zoom (the most interesting one), allowing you to get closer to your subject, and a digital zoom which simply enlarges the image, but makes it loose quality. In general, on this type of digital cameras, you will mainly immortalize your shots using zoom lenses, and not a fixed focal length.
Well, I talk about it quickly, even if on this type of sensor (1/2.3”), you will not be able to create nice background blur. Even at maximum aperture, the depth of field is often still very large. At best, you will find maximum apertures of f/2 (on the TG-6), which will allow you to be slightly more comfortable in low light conditions and will avoid you to go too high in sensitivity (ISO).
This is obviously a key point to look at on the cameras you will consider for your future trip or vacation. It’s about resistance to shocks, dust, blows, falls, pressure or temperature. All these elements are generally specified by the manufacturer, but you will have to go through all the characteristics to compare all of them. Most of the cameras presented here can be considered as all-weather, waterproof and shockproof!
Maximal waterproof depth of the camera
I could have started with this criterion right from the beginning, but it is actually not the most important one. Well, it all depends on your use. If you are mainly going to snorkel on coral islands, as a general rule, you will not go beyond 10 or 15m maximum underwater (and you’re good!). On the other hand, if you’re a scuba diving enthusiast with it, even with your Open Water Diver (i.e., up to 20m depth), it is different. If it is for diving, you will almost systematically have to invest more money and consider a camera with a housing, although some cameras like the Olympus Tough TG6 allow this possibility (I bought myself the housing to be able to go deeper). Clearly, this article will be more dedicated to people who are going to use their camera for snorkeling rather than diving.
This is a criterion that I consider to be important, especially depending on the conditions in which you are shooting. Not all products are equal, and it is something to look at. Batteries drain very quickly underwater (I do confirm it), even more so if the water is cold, so be careful!
Here, everything will depend on what you need, your desire and your budget. Cameras of this type often have a lot of options, like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to share immediately on social networks. Others have a GPS (personally, I find it interesting to see how far you went swimming). In short, there is plenty to do!
One last thing to consider, which is also important (especially if you travel with it)? Its weight and size. Here, everything will depend on you and what you will accept obviously. Some people consider that an 800g body is too heavy, while others say it’s fine!
The best underwater cameras of the moment
Based on our research and experience, here are what we consider the best waterproof cameras of the moment. We summarize the main characteristics of the different cameras in the table below. They are more or less listed in order of price range (from the most expensive to the cheapest), which is about the same as the ranking of the best in my opinion.
1. Olympus Tough TG-6
I start this ranking of the best waterproof cameras simply by what we currently own. We already had the previous version (TG5), which was also very good by the way. But the new version (TG6) goes even further and improves things. It is in our opinion the best one yet, but in the high price range. It is currently available at around 400€ from the usual retailers, which I personally still consider to be correct regarding its quality.
This Olympus 12MP camera is really designed for adventurers, people who travel around the world, and especially in difficult conditions (cold, humidity, rain, frost, etc.). It is waterproof (without housing) up to 15m, which is already more than enough for most people for snorkeling. Moreover, it can withstand shocks from a height of about 2m, freezing temperatures down to -10° and even dust.
The camera has a bright f/2 lens that, coupled with the 12MP TruePic VIII sensor, will capture great quality pictures in any situation. It offers many useful modes, including HDR for difficult conditions. Regarding connectivity, you will find integrated Wi-Fi, the ability to control the camera with your smartphone (via the OI. Share application) as well as GPS to locate your images. We also find 4K video and the ability to shoot in Full HD at 120 fps. You will be able to do bracketing or focus stacking. Small additional detail: if you want to edit your pictures, it is the only camera on the list offering the possibility to shoot in RAW.
On the underwater side, the camera offers several interesting modes, including a microscope and an “underwater HDR” one. Shooting great photos underwater becomes almost child’s play. You can also add the TG6 PT-059 to go beyond 15m depth (we personally bought it). Last but not least, you will be able to add many accessories to get an even better set, or at least more adapted to your photography practice (housing, flash diffuser, interchangeable lens like a fisheye, and others). In short, as you will have understood, it is for us the ideal waterproof digital camera if you are looking for a serious camera to become a true underwater photographer (even in difficult conditions). It remains the most expensive one of this article, but it is honestly worth it, in our opinion!
2. Nikon Coolpix W300
Here is the underwater camera that we think deserves the second place in this ranking. This 16MP Nikon camera also offers serious references for people wanting to go on an adventure, both underwater and on land. Offered at a price almost equal to the Olympus TG6 (400€), it remains a serious reference to consider.
The latter has the big advantage, for divers, of being waterproof without a housing to a depth of 30m (for about 30 minutes). I don’t know if I would really dare to take it to this depth, but still, you can for example go diving with an Open Water Diver around the world with this camera, which the Olympus Tough doesn’t really allow (as it’s limited to 15m). Regarding the characteristics, we find here a solid camera, resistant to shocks up to 2.4m and to low temperatures down to -10°C.
The wide-angle lens opening at f/2.8 and equivalent to a 24-120mm (full frame) allows you to be very versatile (admittedly, less wide angle and less bright than the Olympus). We find, as with Olympus, the classic characteristics: Wi-Fi, 4K video, GPS, Bluetooth, remote control via your phone, etc. Note an interesting time-lapse mode too. Where this camera is really better than the Olympus in my opinion is in its autofocus, which is said to be much more responsive (more AF points and better tracking of the subject on and under water). Note also that the camera is stabilized, which strongly limits motion blur. We can however regret a slightly weaker battery and a rather low burst rate (7 fps).
Finally, as for the Tough TG-6, you can add accessories such as batteries, straps, selfie poles, etc. In the end, Nikon offers with this W300 a really qualitative and serious waterproof camera, which will delight everyone looking for a solid, waterproof and easy-to-use camera. For those who have a smaller budget, you can turn to an older version, like the W100.
3. Ricoh WG-6
We are changing range here, both in terms of the camera offered (and its options) and of the price (around 300€). This new Ricoh WG-6 waterproof camera is also an interesting option to look at among all the best waterproof cameras currently on the market, and at a lower price than the first two. The possibilities and options are however below what the TG6 and the W300 from Nikon offer. This is the top of the range version from Ricoh, better in my opinion than the version presented below, the Ricoh W-70 (but which is cheaper too).
The Ricoh WG-6 is a 20MP camera, resistant like all the others or almost to splashes, water, dust, drops of about 2m and extreme temperatures (-10°). The water resistance of this camera is given to 20m, which is very interesting for Open Water Divers for example.
Regarding the characteristics, it is heavier, bigger and has a larger lcd screen size than the W-70 of the same brand. The lens is a 28-140mm f/3.5-5.5, which is still less bright than the previous two. The AF points are also much more limited (only 9). Where we can see another difference is in the options of the camera: no HDR mode, no Wi-Fi nor ability to control the camera remotely, but it has however a GPS, a system of outdoor adjustment of the screen on the fly and a ring light system located around the camera, consisting of 6 lights, and allowing a better brightness (especially in macro modes). We also find the 4K video and a special Movie SR mode that will delight the videographers, as this limits very strongly the vibrations and the distortions.
In the end, the Ricoh RG6 is a very good waterproof and robust camera if you’re looking for something simple, without too many complex options. I think the current price at 300€ seems to be a very good compromise for many people looking for a waterproof camera for their vacations!
4. Ricoh WG-70
We stay at Ricoh here, with a 16MP model, certainly more recent, but also more basic if I may say so, all in a lower price range since it is proposed around 250€. Like its predecessor, the Ricoh WG-60, this WG-70 has the particularity to have a rather strange shape, all in length, with a quite futuristic design!
This Ricoh WG-70 is a waterproof and shockproof digital compact camera. It has a solid construction ensuring shots up to a depth of 14m for 2 hours. Classic, it is shockproof up to 1,6m high, dustproof, as well as resistant at temperatures up to -10°. However, it will be less interesting for divers since they will not be able to take it to 20m deep.
About its characteristics, they are globally lower compared to the higher end model mentioned right above (Ricoh WG-6). It has a lower screen size and resolution, but the advantage of being a little lighter and offering an HDR mode. Regarding the lens, we are on the same line with an equivalent of about 28-140mm f/3.5-5.5. You will also not find Wi-Fi or any control via a smartphone, nor GPS. On the video side, the camera shoots only in Full HD. Like its big brother, you’ll find six macro-LEDs to be more effective for close-up shots.
In the end, this Ricoh WG-70 is an alternative solution for people looking for a waterproof and solid compact just for snorkeling, without wanting to own a camera too sophisticated! In this price range, it is worth it, I think!
5. Fujifilm XP140
We continue this ranking with another waterproof camera from Fujifilm, which has an excellent reputation and a very good quality-price ratio: the Fujifilm XP140. For less than 200€, this 16MP waterproof camera offers serious features that will make more than one want to take a closer look at it!
Like the other cameras on this list, it is sold as being dustproof, shockproof (1.8m) and low temperature resistant (-10°). But it is in terms of its immersion possibilities that this device is strong since you will be able to dive without a housing to a depth of 25m. It is relatively light (like the Ricoh WG-70), but smaller in size.
Regarding its features, they are honestly more than serious: 63 autofocus points (much better than the 2 Ricoh), the ability to track subjects, an HDR mode, 4K video capabilities, a possibility to connect your camera with your smartphone to automatically geotag the photos, share the photos on your smartphone or even take pictures remotely. The camera also has a GPS. On the lens side, we remain on a classic 28-140mm f/3.9-4.9. The camera offers a good burst capacity, up to 15 images per second (depending on the mode).
In summary, this little Fujifilm does not leave anyone indifferent, and seeing the very positive reviews of the users is enough to realize that for only 200€, it is a very interesting entry-level camera to consider (for level 1 divers as well as for underwater photography with friends on vacations or in difficult conditions).
6. Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT30
I end this article on the best current waterproof cameras with this little Panasonic DMC-FT30 that you can get for less than 150€. This camera reviews are quite positive and this 16MP camera remains in my opinion a good value for money, if you’re looking for something very simple at a low cost.
However, it is not as good as the Fujifilm. This compact camera is only waterproof to 8m, which will limit it mainly to small surface snorkeling, and obviously not for scuba diving. Like all other cameras, it is shockproof (1.5m), low temperature (-10°) and dustproof. However, to my eyes, it appears less robust visually.
To go into more detail, it has a 25-100mm f/3.9-5.7 zoom lens, which doesn’t make it very long or bright. It has no Wi-Fi, no GPS and only HD 1280 x 720 video at 25 frames per second. The photo and video quality are not known to be amazing. It must be said that the device is showing its age (2015). But since then, Panasonic has not released anything…
In the end, I admit I added it at the end of the article, but I wouldn’t recommend it neither. It is now too old, outdated, and for a very small budget, you honestly should opt for the Fujifilm XP140 which is much better!
Here is a table summarizing all the cameras mentioned in the article and their interesting features to look at, in our opinion.
|--||Olympus TG-6||Nikon Coolpix W300||Ricoh WG-6||Ricoh WG-70||Fujifilm XP140||Panasonic DMC-FT30|
|ISO max.||12800 ISO||6400 ISO||6400 ISO||6400 ISO||12800 ISO||1600 ISO|
|Battery||340 pictures||280 pictures||340 pictures||300 pictures||300 pictures||250 pictures|
Here I am, at the end of this comparison of the best waterproof cameras currently on the market. I hope that I have enlightened you and that you will now be able to easily choose your next camera for your future adventures. I’ll see you soon for a new article! In the meantime, if you are looking for a small (in size) but not waterproof camera, I invite you to read our complete guide on compact cameras. So, who said that choosing a camera was so simple?
See you soon, and until the next article, I wish you beautiful pictures.