Waterproof Camera Review
Why Buy a Waterproof Camera?
The top performers in our review are Nikon COOLPIX AW130, the Gold Award winner; Olympus TG-4, the Silver Award winner; and Olympus Stylus TG-870, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a camera to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of nine products.
Waterproof cameras are great secondary cameras for families who want to go to the pool or on vacation and need a camera for any situation. These cameras are built to handle many water-based activities, cold environments and drops. Since action happens in seconds, these cameras are also extremely easy to use, just like any other point-and-shoot camera.
Durability is the key with these cameras. These waterproof digital cameras can handle more than a couple drops of water. Many of the devices are rated to work more than 30 feet under water. Some, like the Nikon Coolpix AW130, are rated to go 100 feet under water. A water-tight shell isn't the only durability feature. Many of these cameras are also dustproof. They are built with casings sealed so tightly that you don't have to worry about dropping them in the sand or dirt.
Many new tech products will crack if you drop them. Cracked cell phones screens are commonplace nowadays. These underwater digital cameras can take a beating and live to tell the tale – not like most cameras, phones, tablets or tech products in general. The best waterproof cameras are shockproof up to 7 feet, although all of the cameras in our review can at least withstand a drop from 4.9 feet.
Take note that we did not include action cameras in this category, which are great for high-intensity sports. If you’re looking for a GoPro, or other similar cameras, you can visit our action camera reviews. Digital cameras that take professional-quality images are found in our professional DSLR camera reviews. We also have several articles about waterproof cameras that offer extra tips and advice.
Waterproof cameras are essentially a more durable version of point-and-shoot cameras. They have the same level of image quality and extra features of those simple cameras, but their casings are sealed to keep water and dirt away from the internal components. The parts that open, like the battery and memory case, usually have extra seals and locks to keep water out. None of these cameras float, and some of them do not include wrist straps, so you'll need to keep a firm grasp when you're over deep water.
Waterproof Cameras: What We Tested, What We Found
We tested each camera's ability to produce dry-land and underwater photos. For our dry-land image testing, we set up a controlled environment so each camera had the exact same lighting and positioning. We took pictures of our test scene at every ISO available on the camera. Then we compared the images and evaluated them based on accurate color replication, color saturation, sharpness and clarity. The images were compared by our reviewers and given grades. The cameras that produced the most accurate and best quality images were given the highest grade.
The underwater image testing was conducted in an indoor pool to eliminate lighting variables. We placed each camera on a tripod and, using the underwater mode, captured images of the same underwater scene. If the camera did not feature an underwater mode, we used the auto settings. We compared the images with one another to determine the best ones. The cameras that produced the best underwater images received the highest scores.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate the experiences of a typical consumer. We obtained the cameras in our comparison both through loans from the companies and through retail purchases. The manufacturers had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
What Else Is Important in Selecting a Waterproof Camera?
Waterproof Cameras: What Other Features Do You Need?
Like most modern digital cameras, waterproof cameras have a wide range of available options and features. Adjustments for the image quality, exposure and shutter speed are within the menus. Many cameras come with picture effects to add an artistic touch. However, the most important additional feature is the ability to shoot video. Most of the cameras on our lineup shoot 1080p. A camera that films in 1080p will have the best pixel ratio and therefore the clearest image, while the lower pixel ratios of 720p and standard definition reduce the image quality of the video. Finally, new features in these cameras include Wi-Fi connectivity and GPS tagging.
Battery Life and Storage
Most of the cameras we reviewed include a rechargeable Li-ion battery. Typically, these will allow for over 300 shots on a full charge, depending on usage and shooting environment. The ability to take over 300 shots before a recharge or replacement is optimal.
Size and Weight Matter
For those packing for a hiking trip, every ounce matters. Fortunately, these cameras are very light, most weighing under half a pound. There are a few cameras that seem bulky at close to 5 inches wide, but when we used them in the pool, they were easier to hold securely. For outdoor adventures, we recommend small and light cameras, but for underwater photography, we lean toward large and heavy.
Waterproof Cameras: Our Verdict and Recommendations
The Nikon Coolpix AW130 is the overall best waterproof camera we reviewed. This Top Ten Reviews Gold Award winner takes great underwater pictures and can withstand greater underwater depths than any other camera we reviewed. We found this underwater camera, along with the two Olympus cameras we reviewed, takes the best underwater images. The underwater photos have sharp detail and great color saturation. The AW130's capabilities go beyond taking great photos. The camera can take full HD 1080p video that includes recording audio. It also has a long battery life and Wi-Fi capabilities.
The Olympus TG-4 is our runner-up for the best underwater camera. This Top Ten Reviews Silver Award winner takes sharp and clear underwater images as well as quality dry-land images. This underwater digital camera also includes all of the extra features we looked for such as video capture, image stabilization, face detection, Wi-Fi and GPS. This rugged camera can handle underwater depths of 50 feet and withstand a drop from 7feet without damage.
The Olympus Stylus TG-870 is our Bronze Award winner. The Stylus 870, much like the Coolpix AW130 and TG-4, takes outstanding underwater pictures. The detail is top notch and the color saturation is vibrant and accurate. Similar to the TG-4, the Stylus can withstand depths of 50 feet under water and drops up to 7 feet. The display on the back of the camera can flip up and around so you can better frame the picture while holding the camera in front of you. Like its top competitors, this camera also features full 1080p video recording and all other features we looked for in a top waterproof camera.