The Latest and Greatest in Waterproof Cameras

Maybe you’ve seen the popular shirt around the marina that reads: B-O-A-T/Break Out Another Thousand. It’s a pretty accurate saying when it comes to boat ownership and maintenance, but you don’t have to take the same financial blow to capture quality images offshore.
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 Photo by David Peters

Photo by David Peters


Maybe you’ve seen the popular shirt around the marina that reads: B-O-A-T/Break Out Another Thousand. It’s a pretty accurate saying when it comes to boat ownership and maintenance, but you don’t have to take the same financial blow to capture quality images offshore.

Below is the breakdown for six popular compact waterproof cameras. These are from the more mainstream companies that you’d look to for your run-of-the-mill point and shoot. Reviews for these cameras differ slightly from website to website, which left me disappointed that I wasn’t able to test them all myself.

Most companies have higher end models, larger and more complex cameras, or at least some type of waterproof housing for their less sporty cameras. Strictly nautical companies like Sealife make their own waterproof cameras, one of which I actually got my hands on and reviewed more extensively.

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SEVEN UNDERWATER CAMERAS: The Breakdown

Name

Price

Digital Zoom

Screen

Megapix

Depth

Dimensions

Weight

MaxISO

Shockproof

Sea Life Mini II

$169.95

3x

2.4"LCD

9

130ft

4.5 x 1.8 x 3.0 in.

10oz

n/a

6ft

Fujifilm Finepix XP200

$299.95

4x

3"LCD

16

50ft

4.6 x 2.8 x 1.2 in.

8oz

6400

6.6ft

Pentax Optio WG-3

$299.95

4x

3"LCD

16

45ft

4 x 2.5 x 1.3 in.

8.5oz

2400

6.5ft

Canon Powershot D20

$299.99

4x

3"LCD

12

33ft

4.42 x 2.79 x 1.10 in

8oz

3200

6.6ft

Nikon Coolpix AW110

$350

5x

3"OLED

16

59ft

4.4 x 2.6 x 1.0 in

7oz

3200

6.6ft

Olympus Touch TG-2

$379.95

4x

3"OLED

12

49ft

4.4 x 2.6 x 1.14 in

8oz

6400

6.9ft

Panasonic Lumix TS5

$399.99

4x

3"LCD

16

43ft

4.30 x 2.65 x 1.14 in

7.5oz

6400

6.5ft

 Photo by David Peters

Photo by David Peters

FUJIFILM FINEPIX XP200

  • Wifi capabilities
  • Advanced Filters
  • Poor image quality: inaccurate colors, 

    overcorrected sharpness
  • Video works best with a lot of light

PENTAX OPTIO WG-3

  • Another version with GPS for $50 more
  • Unique shape
  • 1080/30p HD video shooting
  • Photos lack contrast and look washed out
  • Six LED lights around the lens for macro shots
  • Focuses quickly
  • Images are a bit noisy

CANON POWERSHOT D20

  • Slow taking shots
  • Easy to grip
  • Keeps colors vibrant
  • Good ISO
  • GPS equipped
  • Video is recorded in QuickTime

    format at 1080p24 or 720p30
  • Camera can spend up to 60 minutes underwater
 Photo by David Peters

Photo by David Peters

NIKON COOLPIX AW110

  • Full HD video: 1920x1080p / 30fps
  • Built-in street level mapping included in GPS
  • Very sharp screen
  • Wireless connectivity with smartphones, acts as its own hot spot
  • No continuous burst on underwater mode

OLYMPUS TOUGH TG-2

  • HD Video 1080p
  • GPS and digital compass
  • High ISO
  • Fast lens
  • Macro LED light
  • Image isn’t as sharp as comparable cameras
  • Hard to see the screen in full daylight
  • Audible focus/zoom noises with video

PANASONIC LUMIX TS5

  • Full-HD 1080/60p videos
  • Wifi connectivity
  • Fast burst capabilities
  • Images aren’t as vibrant compared to

    the other reviewed cameras

 Photo by David Peters

Photo by David Peters

REVIEWED: Sealife Digital

The SeaLife digital dive and sport Mini II is an affordable underwater diving camera that gets the job done. You won’t end up with professional quality images but you can capture adventurous aquatic moments and at least some of the pictures will be share-worthy. I took test shots in a swimming pool because neither Long Island Sound nor Boston Harbor has clear enough water to run a useful waterproof camera test.

The camera is easy enough to use but it’s definitely necessary to peruse the instruction manual to use alternative settings. “East set-up mode” gives an option of underwater or land mode. Within the underwater mode, it’s then possible to select a more specific setting. Snorkeling mode is for depths less than 20 feet, while diving mode should be used anywhere between 20 and 130 feet deep, and camera+flash is used only with an external flash or other light accessory. A lever on the left side of the 2.4-inch LCD screen allows for landscape or macro shots, for close range subjects less than four feet away. To the right of the screen are the zoom button—up to 3x—and the flash button which offers four common flash settings: auto, on, off, and red-eye reduction. A neat feature that can only be reached via the advanced settings menu is “spy mode.” This will set the camera up to take continuous shots at intervals (5 sec, 10 sec, 30 sec, 1 min, 5 min, 30 min) without being prompted. Spy mode isn’t very useful without a tripod or some other form guaranteed stability, I quickly learned. Images taken on land are of decent quality but honestly nothing to write home about.

SeaLife kept the camera body design simple, with just five buttons, plus the landscape/macro switch. A wrist strap with a plastic hook was already attached to the camera in the box, something I found useful even in my treacherous 9-foot chlorine lagoon.

The camera has 28MB of internal memory, enough to hold 10 hi-res pictures, and also accommodates an SD card. There isn’t a way to connect the camera directly to a computer to upload pictures, but a small USB card-reader comes in the box.

One drawback is the lack of customization capabilities the Mini II has. Options are limited to the aforementioned modes, leaving you stuck with a “good enough” mentality. Sometimes the camera will put a pink overlay filter on in an effort to correct color even if it doesn’t make sense to the eye. A few of my videos had a pink hue, a complaint I’ve seen in several reviews and on discussion boards. 

 Photo by David Peters

Photo by David Peters

KEEP IT COVERED : Underwater Casing Options

When it comes to housing, your best bet is to splurge for the appropriate manufacturers case. This way you can be sure the housing will completely cover your camera and allow access to the important buttons and controls. Another benefit is the warranty that big companies offer. Bringing a camera underwater is a big and potentially expensive risk, so a warranty will ease your mind on that first plunge.

Another option for housing is the Lifeproof case for the iPhone. Editor-in-chief Peter Nielsen wrote up a review after he bought one for himself. The iPhone indeed takes better quality images than some point and shoot cameras, so spending the extra $80 for a durable case is a solid frugal-friendly alternative to buying a separate camera for underwater shots. An added bonus is the protection from other cell phone woes, like a cracked screen caused by the dropsies.

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