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Bringing a fancy camera along for a trip is risky, especially if you plan on venturing through the rain, snow, or waves. Fortunately, there are rugged waterproof cameras out there that can handle all these things without even breaking a sweat.
If plans for your next trip include taking photos while lounging at the beach, snorkeling, or diving, then you need a camera where you don’t have to worry about water damage.
There are an overwhelming number of underwater cameras to choose from, some great, some absurdly expensive and terrible quality. To save you hours of researching, I’ve put together a shortlist of great options for diving, snorkeling, and other water-based adventures.
Best All-Round Underwater Camera: Olympus Tough TG-5
The Olympus Tough TG-5 sits at the top of this list simply because it’s one of the top all-round waterproof cameras. Photographers and water sports fans alike rave about the camera’s photo quality and quick auto-focus, ideal for snapping pictures of fast-moving people and creatures swimming around you.
One of the more appealing features of the Olympus Tough TG-5 is its macro mode that lets you capture minuscule details far below the surface. If you plan on taking this camera with you on a dive, it’ll go as deep as 50 feet (15 meters) underwater. Going further requires a special case, tripling the maximum depth to 150 feet (45 meters), beyond recreational dive limits.
Another perk of the Olympus TG-5 is that it’s one of the few waterproof cameras offering RAW image support. RAW footage gives you additional flexibility for editing images or videos if you want more professional-looking results.
- RAW image support
- Fun shooting modes
- f/2.0 maximum aperture
- 4K video capture
- Can’t edit custom white balance in movie mode
- Screen is prone to scratches
Best Underwater Camera for Families with Young Kids: Nikon COOLPIX W100
If you’re looking for something that can endure not only water, but also kids throwing your camera around, then the Nikon COOLPIX W100 is a great option. This tumble-proof camera is perfect for family outings like rafting, ski trips, and adventures at the beach.
The playful design makes the camera easy to grip and operate. When you take it underwater, it autocorrects the colors to improve the vibrancy of your shots. There’s also a useful GPS geotagging feature, embedding your location into the photo for later viewing on Google Earth.
It is a little sluggish when acquiring focus, though, and the automatic white balance under the surface isn’t nearly as impressive as the Olympus TG-5.
- Bluetooth connection
- Waterproof up to 33 feet
- GPS tracking
- No optical stabilization
- Limited storage – you’ll need another memory card
- Sensitive shutter button
- Comparatively slow to focus, and white balance isn’t the best
Best Affordable Waterproof Camera for Frequent Snorkelers: Fujifilm FinePix XP120
Fujifilm’s FinePix XP120 is a lightweight, compact camera that’s perfect for tossing into your bag on the way to the beach. The camera is only a little bigger than a credit card, and waterproof up to 65 feet (20 meters).
Although the camera’s zooming capabilities aren’t spectacular, you end up with better image quality and a faster lens than other comparable cameras. The FinePix XP120 is good at detecting what kind of scene you’re trying to shoot, like landscape or macro, and changing its settings accordingly.
Something that’s unique about this camera is its cinemagraphs mode that lets you create GIF-like images from your videos. If you want an underwater camera that doesn’t cost a fortune, but still takes quality shots in and out of the water, the XP120 fits the bill!
- Wi-fi connectivity
- Image stabilization
- Facial recognition
- Time lapse recording
- Remote control capabilities via a smartphone
- No RAW shooting
- Low battery life
- No manual exposure
- No viewfinder
Best High-End Underwater Action Camera: Sony FDR-X3000
The action camera marketing is booming with great alternatives to the GoPro. One of the cameras leading the pack right now is Sony’s FDR-X3000. The company strayed away from the rectangular design of other action cameras in favor of a camcorder-style look, and that choice has definitely paid off.
The ergonomic shape of the FDR-X3000 makes it easier to hold and keep steady, and the inbuilt stabilization technology built into the camera counteracts any remaining “shaky hand” problems, even when shooting in 4K.
The camera itself is splash-proof, but you’ll need a waterproof case if you want to take it in the water, giving protection at depths of up to 200 feet.
- Image and audio quality
- Great image stabilization
- High price tag
- Limited battery life
Best Affordable Underwater Action Camera: Fitfort 4K
If you don’t want to shell out $500+ for the latest GoPro Hero, but still want a decent action camera for underwater photos, look no further than the Fitfort 4k. It boasts several features that’ll improve any shot or recording you take in the water, without busting your budget.
For starters, there’s a wireless remote control with a range up to 33ft, making it easy to instantly snap a photo or record a 4K video if the camera’s hard to reach. Another helpful feature is the camera’s noise cancellation setting, reducing unnecessary sounds while recording, while the ability to record at up to 120fps allows for smoother, less-jerky footage.
Overall, this camera holds its own against many higher-priced alternatives, and is perfect for budget travelers looking to record their underwater adventures.
- Cheap action camera alternative
- 4K HD camera
- Wi-Fi connectivity
- Narrow field of view compared to other action cameras
- Reports of occasional freezing
- Poor contrast in some light
Which Would I Buy?
If you’re not using an underwater camera for professional purposes and just want to have one for fun waterbound trips, I’d recommend the Fujifilm FinePix XP120. The price point and image quality (in and out of the water) make it a great option for someone looking for a digital camera that can withstand any environment.
However, if price isn’t an issue, I’d definitely go with the Olympus TG-5 or the Sony FDR-x3000. If you plan on doing deep dives, these cameras are a better option than the XP120, and offer better image quality.
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Final Notes on Underwater Camera Care
Although these cameras are built to last, if you do purchase an underwater camera, make sure to inspect the seals before submerging it. Don’t leave it sitting in the scorching sun for too long, and resist purposefully dropping your camera just because the packaging says it can handle falls from a certain distance.
Finally when you bring your camera back from a saltwater excursion, rinse it in fresh water after use.
What has been your experience with underwater cameras? Do you have any other recommendations to add to this list?
Images via Unsplash, manufacturers.