If you (or your kids) are prone to dropping things or if you like to venture out in extreme temperatures or dusty trails or sandy beaches, one of these rugged cameras might be for you. Rugged models are shockproof if you drop them, can operate in extreme temperatures and are sealed against dust, dirt and water.
But it's the waterproof capabilities that may be most helpful this summer as vacationers head to beaches, pools, boats and, for the more adventurous, under the waves to explore and photograph exotic flora and fauna.
While underwater housings are available for many cameras, there are a number of models that provide protection against the elements all on their own. These self-contained, amphibious cameras are easy to carry and take great photos in gentle environments, as well. But we've also included a small housed camera, with various mounting accessories for shooting POV (point of view) photo and video.
Here are your best waterproof camera options.
The Olympus Tough TG-4 is the fourth generation of the company's shockproof, waterproof compact camera. It is waterproof in depths of up to 15 meters (about 50 feet), making it one of the deeper-diving, although not the deepest, self-contained compact cameras on the market. (See the Canon PowerShot D30 if you want to dive deeper than 50 feet.) The TG-4 is also made to survive any kind of abuse on land — it's dustproof, crushproof to withstand up to 220 pounds of pressure, shockproof from a 7-foot drop and freezeproof down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit.
The TG-4's fast, bright aperture of f/2.0 helps capture light from darker underwater scenes. It features several special underwater modes, including wide-angle and macro (extreme close-up) options. It has a 16-megapixel backside-illuminated CMOS sensor, and can shoot in RAW format.
Although the camera doesn't offer full manual exposure controls, it has a number of useful modes, including Intelligent Auto, Program Auto and Aperture Priority. Along with the typical scene modes you'll find on most compact cameras, the TG-4 has macro and microscope modes that let you get extreme close-ups of tiny subjects above or below water with up to 44.5x magnification.
In addition to Wi-Fi and GPS, the TG-4 includes an electronic compass that provides latitude and longitude, barometric pressure, altitude and water depth.
Optional accessory lenses include a $140 fish-eye converter lens pack to get an even broader view of the underwater landscape, a $130 teleconverter lens for a 7x zoom, and a $41 circular LED light guide (LG-1) that fits around the lens for great macro illumination.
What Olympus TG-4 Owners Are Saying
Likes: Amazon customers who purchased the TG-4 praised the camera’s microscope mode, which let them take macro photos. They also liked the fact that the TG-4 shoots in RAW format, a feature rarely found on point-and-shoot cameras.
Dislikes: Camera settings, such as that for RAW shooting, are buried deep in menus. It doesn’t help that the TG-4 doesn’t come with a printed manual. Other owner cons include poor shots in dim lighting and short battery life.
The Canon PowerShot D30 doesn't have too many bells and whistles, but that's a good thing if you're looking for ease of use while exploring the underwater world or want to catch some snapshots at the beach. This 12-megapixel compact camera is the deepest diver of the rugged cameras on the market, with a depth rating of 82 feet. The D30 is also shockproof when dropped from up to 6.5 feet and works under a range of temperatures from 14 F to 104 F — for anything from ice fishing to sunbathing. The rubberized grip on the front panel provides a solid handhold.
A special white balance setting helps counteract the blue cast underwater. The D30 can focus as close as 0.4 inches, or even closer with its digital zoom capability, to capture the details and textures of tiny underwater creatures.
This is strictly a point-and-shoot camera, without any manual exposure controls. But Canon has outfitted it with a number of special shooting modes, including fisheye effect, toy camera effect, super-slow motion movie at 240 or 120fps and various color effects options.
What Canon PowerShot D30 Owners Are Saying
Likes: Amazon customers like that the D30 can withstand dives up to 82 feet without the need for a case, as well as its subaquatic mode, comfortable grip, and slo-mo video recording. One woman, who took it with her on her honeymoon, reported her “underwater pix are clear, it's rugged, and resistant to depths of 75ft!”
Dislikes: The D30 doesn’t have Wi-Fi, so you have to remove the SD card to transfer pictures. Autofocus had trouble when shooting movies, and some reported problems with the gasket on the battery door not providing a strong seal, letting water in.
Action sports and underwater photography haven't been the same since GoPro first introduced its tiny cameras in 2004. While a number of models are available, our favorite is the Hero4 Silver Edition, with a 12-megapixel sensor for still shots and up to 4K video (albeit at just 15fps) for motion capture.
GoPro's underwater housing, which is bundled with the camera, turns this Lilliputian-size camera into an almost equally tiny fully waterproof kit that operates as deep as 131 feet.
GoPro and third-party vendors offer a huge number of accessories, including touch-screen backs, external monitors, filters and multiple options for mounting the camera on just about anything you can imagine. Clamps and suction cup mounts are available for surfboards, cars, bicycles and more for recording POV videos, time-lapse videos and still images. It's easy to share images, thanks to the camera's built-in Wi-Fi and free app for Android, iOS and Windows Phone mobile devices.
What GoPro Owners Are Saying
Likes: Amazon owners of the GoPro Hero4 Silver loved the camera’s high-quality video, and as one user noted, “even their snap shots can be quite amazing too.” The GoPro also earned praise for the wide variety of accessories, which let them “mount the thing pretty much anywhere.”
Dislikes: GoPro users noted that battery life was poor, and on some units, a popping sound was heard if Wi-Fi was on while recording video.
For the rough-and-tumble shooter, Fujifilm has unveiled its newest rugged camera: the FinePix XP90. The camera protects its 16.4-megapixel sensor and 5X optically stabilized zoom lens with a body that can resist drops up to 5.8 feet and underwater dips down to 50 feet. The XP90 also includes a dedicated Wi-Fi button that automatically turns into a selfie shutter release when you decided to jump in front of the camera. Using its action cam mode, the XP80 allows for hands-free shooting when the camera is mounted to a helmet or harness.
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