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Whether you want to capture memories of a scuba diving trip, (respectfully) keep track of animals living in a local river or pond, or take pool pictures to post on social media, you need a waterproof camera.
These cameras have air-tight seals around their buttons and ports (think memory card slots for external storage, USB ports to connect to a computer and mini-HDMI ports to connect to a TV), to prevent water from seeping in. By closing off these areas, the cameras can also be more compact, and easier to carry.
A waterproof camera allows you to get pictures underneath the surface of the sea, pond, lake, river, or pool that you wouldn’t be able to get with a normal camera, or even a smartphone. Yes, many smartphones have become water-resistant, but that’s a feature you don’t want to push to the limit.
What You Need to Know Before Buying a Waterproof Camera
There are many factors to think about when choosing the right waterproof camera for you; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.
Durability: A waterproof camera doesn’t live up to its name if it isn’t durable. An gadget’s dust and water resistance is typically measured on the IP (ingress protection) scale, but cameras are a little different.
Manufacturers list how deep their camera can go underwater without getting damaged. Our baseline for this guide was 26 feet, but some cameras can go as far down as 50 feet. We also considered shock resistance, since cameras have sensitive sensors, and may get dropped accidentally. The cameras in our guide are rated to survive a drop from around five feet, which is shoulder-height for many people.
Traditional Cameras vs. Action Cameras: We wanted to include both traditional point-and-shoot and action cameras because there are waterproof versions of both types. But, there are slight differences between the two.
Action cameras are smaller, and designed to be mounted onto a helmet or selfie stick. There are buttons on the camera body, but they’re smaller, which makes them harder to hit. Action cameras are also typically a lot smaller and lighter, which makes them great to hold on a selfie stick, but harder to hold in your hands.
Traditional waterproof cameras look like the point-and-shoots that have been popular since the digital camera debuted. They’re larger, wider, and more comfortable to hold, but their extra size and weight make them a little more fatiguing to use on a selfie stick.
Both types of cameras can take great looking pictures and video, and are very durable, but consider the type of shots you’d like to get, and how you’d like to use your underwater camera before making a decision.
Photo and Video Quality: Waterproof cameras allow you to get pictures that would otherwise be impossible to capture, but that’s not very useful if the images and videos are blurry. The cameras in our guide have at least a 12MP (megapixel) lens and can take at least 720P (HD) video. At these resolutions your images and videos should look very clear, even on a large TV.
Optical Image Stabilization: Optical image stabilization (abbreviated to OIS) is a camera technology that allows the lens to move slightly to compensate for movement. You may notice you’ve gotten a clear picture on your smartphone or regular camera even if your hands were moving a little bit — that’s OIS at work. Every camera in our guide supports OIS, which is even more important when taking photos under water because you’re constantly in motion. This won’t save every picture — you should aim to be as still as possible — but it’s good to have some assistance when taking tough shots.
Storage: All of the cameras in our guide store images and videos on either a MicroSD card or SD Card. These are the most common storage mediums for consumer and professional cameras, and are readily available. Some cameras also have some additional storage built in, just in case your memory card runs out of space. We recommend getting a 64GB MicroSD or SD card, which can hold hours of HD footage, and hundreds of high resolution pictures.
What Are the Best Waterproof Cameras?
We’ve done the hard part by finding four waterproof cameras that suit the needs of amateur photographers, aquatic athletes, and everyone in between. Most of them feature standard features like a flash for low-light photography, and a zoom lens to let you frame the perfect shot, but each has something that makes it stand out.
1. PANASONIC LUMIX Waterproof Digital Camera
If you’re looking for a simple, reliable waterproof camera, Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-TS30 is the right choice. Panasonic says it can be submerged in up to 26ft of water, and dropped from a height of five feet without sustaining major damage.
It has a 16.1MP sensor that can take video at 720p — that video resolution is a little low compared to other options on this list, but is still respectable. Panasonic describes the DMC-TS30’s flash as a “torch light” — powerful enough to get well-lit images in dark environments. You can even activate it when you’re not taking a picture, which turns your camera into a flashlight.
This camera’s key feature is its 220MB of onboard memory, which Panasonic says can hold up to 34 images. You should always empty the camera’s SD card after each photo session, but if you don’t, it’s really nice to have the safety net. Losing a once-in-a-lifetime picture because you’re out of space really stings.
2. Fujifilm FinePix XP140
BEST FOR DEEP WATER
If you’re planning on taking pictures while taking some deeper dives, you’ll want Fujufilm’s FinePix XP140.
The company says this camera works up to 82ft underwater, and is shockproof from drops of up to 5.9ft. That makes it the most durable waterproof camera in our guide. It has a 15MP lens that can shoot full 4K video, which puts it ahead of the pack in terms of video resolution. The camera has 16 GB of internal storage, which it can use when you fill up your SD Card.
The FinePix XP140’s signature feature is its back-illuminated sensor, capable of delivering excellent photographs even in the water, or in low light conditions. The image stabilization system also controls camera shake, meaning your images will come out less blurry if you’re not used to taking pictures underwater. The “intelligent” optical zoom is also pretty solid, which doubles the zoom range without disintegrating the image quality like other digital cameras.
The mix of durability and technology make this an excellent waterproof camera.
3. GoPro Hero9 Black
If you need a waterproof camera to take with you on active trips — think kayaking, waterskiing, or diving — you should seriously consider the GoPro Hero9.
The camera is roughly the size of a binder clip, but don’t let the small size fool you. It’s got a 20MP lens and can shoot 5K video at 30fps (frames per second; the higher the number, the smoother the video). It doesn’t have any internal storage (you’ll need a MicroSD card), but you can connect the camera to WiFi and livestream video in 1080P.
The Hero9 GoPro also added a front screen to the camera, so you can frame your selfies, or monitor your recording from all angles. Unlike other action cameras, you can also remove the lens, and exchange it for a better one down the line, extending the life of this camera significantly.
All of the cameras in this guide support OIS, but GoPro uses a custom “HyperSmooth 3.0” technology to reduce even more jitters than a traditional camera. It also SuperPhoto, an image technology that makes colors and shadows look significantly more realistic.
The only real downside to using the Hero9 are inherent in many action cameras. Its small size makes it difficult to hold, and it doesn’t have flash, which can make getting the right shot a lot more difficult under certain conditions. This camera can be used in water as deep as 33ft, but GoPro doesn’t give an official drop test rating.
Still, if you’ve settled on an action cam as the right waterproof camera for your needs, the Hero9 is an excellent choice,
4. Olympus Tough TG-6
If you’re totally set on getting a traditional waterproof camera, and want one with virtually no compromises, the Olympus TG-6 is the correct choice.
Olympus says the camera can be used under 50ft of water, and dropped from a height of 7ft. Its 12MP camera can record video at 4K at 30fps, or 1080P at 60fps. It has five modes specifically for taking photos under water, and its lens is hermetically sealed to avoid getting fogged up, so your shots won’t look blurry.
The TG-6 has three underwater white balance modes to ensure the colors of your shots and videos aren’t blown out, and an AR (anti-reflective) coating over the lens to reduce unwanted elements like flares from messing up your shots. These more advanced camera features help the TG-6 standout, and many of them are designed to make all of your pictures look sharp, not just the ones you take under the waves.
This camera’s downsides come from its lack of extras. There’s no WiFi mode, no support for voice commands, and no internal storage. The TG-6 is all about nailing the basics, and photo features that work behind the scenes to help you achieve the best shots.