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.
Olympus Tough TG-5
- Price: £379 / $399
- 4K video recording
- 240fps at 720p slow-motion movies
- WiFi, GPS
- 15m waterproof
- 2.1m shockproof
The Olympus Tough TG-5 was designed to be used and abused. The TG-5 can withstand a drop from 2.1m, being crushed by a weight of 100kg and frozen down to -10°C. It can even survive being submerged to a depth of 15m without an underwater housing.
But while it’s built for extreme conditions, what really sets it apart from other waterproof cameras is its superb image quality. With its 12-megapixel sensor, the TG-5’s image quality is very good in many situations, meaning the shots of your most exciting moments won’t disappoint.
This mix of image quality and tough handling comes at a cost, though. The Olympus TG-5 is one of the more expensive options on this list.
- 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 XP130
- Price: £199/$229
- 10fps burst shooting
- 3in, 920k-dot LCD
- 1080p HD video
- 20m waterproof
- 1.75m shockproof
The Fuji XP130 doesn’t boast the best specs of the cameras on this list, but neither does it offer the worst. What it does offer is the cheapest price tag of any of the options on our best waterproof cameras list, and for that reason it’s arguably the best value out there.
The XP130 doesn’t offer the toughest credentials out there, but it is waterproof down to 20m and shockproof from 1.75m. You’ll also find 10fps burst shooting, optical image stabilisation, as well as WiFi.
Inside the XP130, its 16.4-megapixel sensor captures nice tones and detail in strong light, and even in low-light it’s able to keep noise at bay.
- Price: £249/$247
- 28-140mm lens
- 16-megapixel sensor
- 14m waterproof
- 100kg crushproof
- -10C freezeproof
The Ricoh WG-50’s tough credentials are pretty average when you compare it to other models on this best waterproof cameras list, but what it brings to the table – like the Olympus – is superb image quality. It fares very well in low light, and you can comfortably shoot at higher ISOs without having to worry about noise.
Its 28-140mm equivalent lens offers a nice focal range and produces sharp images with little distortion. Another handy feature is that Ricoh has added a series of LED lights around the lens ring, meaning you can properly light macro subjects from as close as 1cm.
What’s more, its widescreen LCD on the back is great for filming video.
Nikon Coolpix W300
- Price: £389/$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.
Which is the best waterproof camera?
It’s a tough call between the Olympus Tough TG-5 and Nikon W300 for which is the best waterproof camera. Both line up pretty equally in terms of specifications and are nearly equal in price.
On paper the Nikon W300 should probably pip the TG-5 to the finish line since it offers the superior waterproof and shockproof ratings, but I’m going to go with the Olympus camera. And that’s because of its image quality.
The Tough TG-5 takes some really nice pictures, and it’s a camera you could use in more situations than just those few times a year you’re 20 metres underwater!
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 yesars.
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…
- Price: £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
- Price: £389 / $419
- 4K @ 30fps
- Voice activation
- Free waterproof casing
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.