While it’s no secret that compact cameras have taken a beating in recent years, there’s one area of the compact camera market that seems to be good at defending its position from the rise of smartphones – waterproof cameras, otherwise known as “tough” cameras.
The best waterproof cameras are those that are not only airtight 20 metres under the sea, but also offer modern features like HD or 4K video, WiFi and, of course, superb image quality. And, yes, you want them to go deep underwater, suffer knocks and scrapes, freezing cold conditions and come out the other side with a nice portfolio of images. That’s no small order, right!
In this buyer’s guide we’ll round up the best waterproof cameras on the market today that offer the a mix of toughness with great image quality.
The best waterproof cameras you can buy today
Olympus Tough TG-6
- Price: £449 / $499
- 4K video recording
- 120fps at 1080p slow-motion movies
- WiFi, GPS
- 15m waterproof
- 2.1m shockproof
The Olympus Tough TG-6 is a compact camera with a 12Mp 1/2.33-inch sensor. What makes it special is that it’s built to survive being dropped from 2.1m, crushed by 100kg, frozen down to -10°C and being taken 15m below water without a housing. That waterproofing also means it’s dust-proof so you can use it on the beach and not worry if you drop it.
Olympus has paired the Tough TG-6’s sensor with the TruePic VIII processing engine. That’s the same engine as is in the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II (and the TG-5). In the Tough TG-6 it enables a sensitivity range of ISO 100-12,800.
Like the TG-5 it replaces, the TG-6 has a lens with a focal length range that’s equivalent to 25-100mm. At the wide-angle end of the lens, the maximum aperture is f/2.0 and at the telephoto end, it’s f/4.9. That’s a useful range for general photography and the large aperture means the shutter speed can be kept up even in low light or underwater.
While the Olympus Tough TG-6’s target market might be adventurers, divers and families who want a childproof camera, the TG-5 proved popular with experienced photographers who want a camera that they can use in extreme conditions. I think the TG-5’s ability to record raw files may be part of the draw so it’s good to see that continue with the TG-6.
Like the TG-5, the TG-6 has Super Macro and Microscope modes. Super Macro mode reduces the closest focusing distance down to just 1cm from the lens while Microscope mode adds zoom capability to make objects larger in the frame.
In addition, there’s a logging system that can record a GPS, pressure, depth, temperature and altitude data, along with an electronic compass to show the direction of travel. Overall, the TG-6 is one of the most complete options on this list of best waterproof cameras.
- Price: £299 / $299
- 0.2-inch, 1170k-dot equivalent electronic viewfinder
- 28mm lens with 4.6x optical zoom (28-128mm equivalent)
- 2m shockproof
- -10 freezeproof
- Crushproof 100kg
- 31m waterproof
The Panasonic FT7 is the newest of the cameras on this list and brings some considerable chops, boasting waterproofing down to a best-in-class 31 metres, shockproofing from a height of 2 metres, freezeproofing down to -10 degrees and crush proofing up to 100kg.
New for this model, when compared to its predecessor, is the introduction of a 0.2-inch, 1170k-dot equivalent electronic viewfinder. In good light and good conditions, JPEGs straight from the camera (it doesn’t shoot raw) display beautiful colours with a strong amount of detail.
As well as great image quality, the FT7 also inherits some of the features from Panasonic’s premium interchangeable lens cameras, such as 4K Photo mode.
FujiFilm Finepix XP140
The Fujifilm XP140 is one of the best bargains on our list of best waterproof cameras, clocking in under the £200/$200 benchmark. It feels plasticky – and it is – but rest assured it’s robust enough to sink down to depths of 25m underwater or fall from heights of nearly 6 feet. And all in a body you could just call pocket-size.
Inside is a 16-megapixel, 1/2.3-inch BSI-CMOS sensor, paired with a 28-140mm (equivalent) f/3.5-5.5 lens. You’ll also find built-in WiFi and Bluetooth.
Video-wise, it technically records 4K movies, but frame rates are somewhat limited at 15fps. In Full HD, though, you can shoot up to 60p.
There are also few manual controls. The XP140 doesn’t offer you the level of control as, say, the Olympus TG-6… but then it’s more than half the price.
If you’re looking for a simple point and shoot to capture bright, punchy images underwater or to slip in your pocket on your travels without having to worry about it, the XP140 is a bargain.
- Price: £223 / $247
- 28-140mm lens
- 16-megapixel sensor
- 14m waterproof
- 1.6m shockproof
- -10C freezeproof
It’s easy to forget Ricoh’s entry-level underwater camera, the WG-60. It may not swim to the depths of some of the other options on our list of best waterproof cameras, nor offer the same rugged bonafides, but it’s got a lot of things going for it.
For starters, it’s very easy to use. Like the Fujifilm XP140, this is largely a point-and-shoot camera. It’s also got a nice focal range in its 28-140mm (equivalent) f/3.5-5.5 lens.
What’s really handy, though, is its built-in macro ring light, which is really useful to add some extra light to a scene when shooting underwater.
The downsides? There’s no 4K video, and even its HD video is limited to 30fps. For slow motion videos at 120fps you need to shoot at 1280p.
Its waterproof down to 14m, which is well below the other cameras in this group… but do you often dive below 14m (46 feet)?
Really, the key selling point here is the cost. The WG-60 is a cheap camera, but offers good value for what it does.
Nikon Coolpix W300
- Price: £319 / $390
- SnapBridge connectivity
- 5x optical zoom (24-120mm equivalent)
- 4K video capability
- 30m waterproof
- 2.4m shockproof
- -10 freezeproof
The Nikon W300 marks a steep price increase over the company’s previous tough camera, the Coolpix AW130. But with this cost comes a waterproof rating of 30 metres and top marks in shockproof capability, with a rating of 2.4m.
You’ll also find 4K video recording and the addition of Nikon’s handy SnapBridge feature, which utilises a low-energy Bluetooth connection to transfer images from the W300 to your phone. There’s also an altimeter, GPS tracking and of course that 24-120mm equivalent lens with optical stabilisation. Images are sharp even at the telephoto end of the zoom.
So what are its faults? Well, none really. Image quality is good, if only average. But it’s as good as you would expect from a camera with a sensor this size.
The Ricoh WG-6 is the company’s flagship waterproof camera that can shoot 20 metres underwater and boasts Ricoh’s novel built-in ring light unit.
As well as waterproof to 20 metres, the Ricoh WG-6 is shockproof from heights of 2.1 metres, crushproof against weights up to 100 kilograms of force, dustproof and resistant to temperatures down to -10C.
Its back-illuminated 20-megapixel CMOS sensor provides a maximum ISO of 6400 and captures video in 4K resolution at 30p in H.264 format.
Ricoh has also introduced a new Movie SR+ mode, which it says produces a shake-reduction effect in your videos very similar to that created by using a gimbal stabilizer.
The Ricoh WG-6 features a 5x optical zoom lens covering 5-25mm (28-140mm equivalent) and offers a minimum focusing distance of 1cm.
The camera also boasts six LED Macro Lights situated around the lens barrel to help minimise camera shake and achieve faster shutter speeds.
Another interesting feature of the WG-6 is a Handheld Night Snap mode that, like many smartphones, captures several images of a low-light scene and produces a blur-free composite.
On the back of the WG-6 is a 3-inch LCD with anti-reflective coating. Other features include GPS tagging, 18 scene modes, 12 digital filters, an electronic level and two remote control receivers.
The WG-6 sits above the entry-level WG-60, and while it costs more it offers some of the best specs of all the waterproof cameras on this list.
Best waterproof action cameras
No doubt many of you reading this have heard about GoPro, but you may have assumed that because you aren’t into cycling or extreme sports, action cameras aren’t for you. This, too, was my assumption, and I held off exploring the burgeoning action cam market for many years.
Once you try one, you’ll quickly realise not only how fun and easy they are to use but how great they are for everyday photography.
Even better, most action cameras are waterproof and shockproof, offering you that same toughness as the compact cameras we’ve listed above.
Why choose an action camera over a compact waterproof camera?
- Size. Action cameras are small and fit in your pocket.
- Video. Action cams like the GoPro Hero range provide fantastic video quality, with many features for enhancing your videos, such as high frame rates for slow motion playback.
- Mounts. Action cameras are typically accompanied by a wide range of mounts, allowing you to fix them to everything from your car to your dog to your frisbee.
So what are the best waterproof action cameras? Here are our picks…
GoPro Hero7 Black
- Price: £339 / $349
- Body waterproof to 10m
- Waterproof to 30m in case
- 4K @ 60fps
- HyperSmooth image stabilisation
- Live Streaming
There’s so much one can say about the fantastic GoPro Hero7 Black. It’s such a powerful little tool for video and stills, providing exceptional quality, that you almost forget it is waterproof down to 10m just as it is, straight out of the box. Or if you pop on a waterproof housing, which is an optional extra, and you can take it down to 30m.
The other advantage it has is its small size. Becaue there is no bulk to the solo Hero7 Black, it means that you can literally take it anywhere, even deep into the water.
And once you’re in the water, you’ll have tons of creative options at your disposal. You’ll have live streaming capability, GoPro’s HyperSmooth image stabilisation, 4K video at 60fps and 1080p at up to 240fps. The list goes on.
Not only is the GoPro Hero7 Black perhaps the best waterproof camera on this list, but we’d argue it was the best camera launched last year.
- Price: £180 / $199
- Voice activation
- Full HD video at 60/30p
- Timelapse Photo and Video modes
- 10m waterproof
Most action camera users simply want to shoot video and then show it to their friends. The GoPro Hero does precisely this. It is extremely easy to use and understand. It’s probably the most user-friendly action camera that’s ever been produced.
If you need a reliable, solid camera for capturing your adventures, or even just a fun timelapse of yourself making brownies, then the GoPro Hero is an excellent choice.
It’s waterproof down to 10m without the need for a housing. It has a responsive touch-screen, is easy to use and records great quality footage. The only downsides are it lack of 4K capability and its (as yet) incompatibility with GoPro’s Karma Grip.
Garmin VIRB Ultra 30
Garmin has quietly become a credible force in the action camera and even the 360 camera market with its VIRB range. The VIRB Ultra 30 is the company’s current flagship action cam, and while it’s body design isn’t waterproof in and of itself, Garmin includes a waterproof case with the camera upon purchase. We’ve tested it; and it works!
The VIRB Ultra 30 is a workhorse. It’s tough and feature packed and part of a larger Garmin eco-system. If you’re really into the outdoors, trail blazing, riding, fitness and off-roading then the VIRB Ultra 30 is the perfect match for you.
Compared to the GoPro, the decision becomes more difficult – the Ultra 30 wins on being part of a larger family of fitness products. Both feature GPS, but the Garmin wins on the motion and GPS feature set.
Video quality is exceptional, and although its higher bit rate does increase the amount of card space consumed, it’s well worth it for the boost in quality the VIRB Ultra 30.
Which is the best waterproof camera?
It’s a tough call between the Olympus Tough TG-6 and the GoPro Hero7 Black for which is the best waterproof camera.
On paper the TG-6 has the advantage in waterproof capability. It can sink 14 metres to the GoPro’s 10m. But put the GoPro Hero7 in a case, which you can buy inexpensively, and it can go 30 metres.
The Tough TG-6 takes some really nice pictures, and it’s a camera you could certainly use in more situations than just those few times a year you’re 14 metres underwater. But comparing its image quality to the Hero7… it’s just no contest. Add in the Hero7 Black’s impressive 4K video specs, its HyperSmooth image stabilisation, live streaming, tiny size and lower price tag and, well, it just seems the obvious choice for best waterproof camera.
The TG-6 is very close behind, though. It is a beast and offers a lot of nice manual control over the image-making process. Of the compact models in this group, it’s probably the best waterproof camer of that bunch.
And it’s worth giving a shout out to Ricoh’s WG-6, as well. It offers some impressive specs, too, and boasts that novel built-in ring light.