The best waterproof cameras are designed to go where other cameras fear to tread. That's because you can take waterproof cameras on your snorkeling or scuba dives, bring them to the beach, or even just play around with them in a pool, and not worry about them getting wet.
What's more, most of the best waterproof cameras are also designed to withstand a few bumps and falls, so they're handy to take on hiking and camping trips. (They're also good for handing off to clumsy kids, too.) And, because some of the cameras also let you incorporate GPS data, you can not only see the photos, but see where you took them, too.
What are the best waterproof cameras?
After testing a number of models, the best waterproof camera is the Olympus Tough TG-6, which is exceptionally versatile yet fairly easy to use and offers very good quality photos and beautiful video at 4K-resolution. It also has a higher-resolution display than its predecessor, as well as a few other minor improvements. It's water-resistant to 15 meters (about 50 feet), and is also shockproof and freeze-proof. Plus, Olympus makes a bunch of accessories, such as an underwater case, should you want to take it deeper.
If you want to explore the briny deep even further, check out the Nikon Coolpix W300, which can go twice as far underwater at the TG-5 and can also capture very good quality photos and video in 4K-resolution. It also has a 5X optical zoom and onboard GPS.
The GoPro Hero 8 ($399) is the best waterproof camera that's also an action cam. Its small size and huge range of mounts means you can bring it pretty much anywhere. Plus, it has excellent image stabilization, built-in mounting points so you no longer need to use it with a case, and optional accessories that increase its functionality, such as a shotgun mic and external light.
Ricoh's new WG-70 has a 5x optical zoom lens, 16MP CMOS sensor, a microscope mode, and six LEDs for taking macro shots. It has a non-touch color LCD monitor, and is waterproof to 46 feet (14 meters) and shockproof from 5 feet (1.6 meters). However, the max resolution for video is 1080p.
The Olympus Tough TG-6 is the best waterproof camera overall for its versatility and ease of use. It sports a 12-megapixel sensor, f/2.0 lens, Olympus' TruPic VIII image processor, and a 4X optical zoom. It's capable of shooting 4K video at 30 fps, as well as slo-mo 120 fps video at 1080p. It has a number of underwater shooting modes, as well as a macro system, so you can get up close and personal with aquatic life.
The TG-6 is waterproof to 50 feet (15 meters), which isn't as good as the Nikon Coolpix W300, but should be more than sufficient for snorkeling. Should you want to take it deeper, Olympus makes a waterproof case. The camera is also shock-resistant up to seven feet, and can operate in temperatures as low as 14 degrees Fahrenheit.
The TG-6 also includes what Olympus calls a Field Sensor System, which tracks your movement, temperature and location, so that you can see your stats later, or embed that info directly into your footage.
Our favorite deep-diving camera, Nikon's 16-MP Coolpix W300 has the same 100-foot water resistance as the previous model, the AW130, while increasing shock-resistance to withstand falls from heights of up to 7.9 feet. We liked that it includes a slightly more powerful 5x zoom lens (from 24mm-120mm) than the Olympus lens (24mm-100mm), which is helpful for capturing close photos and video footage without degrading image quality, which happens when you use digital zoom.
Like the TG-5, the W300 can capture video at up to 4K at 30 fps, and will even let you shoot and save stills in the middle of recording a video. We liked the variety of video settings, including time-lapse and superlapse movie mode. But we were disappointed that it lacks slow-motion features like the TG-5. The W300 sports built-in a GPS, altimeter, depth gauge and point-of-interest mapping. And like all of Nikon's recent cameras, the W300 features the company's Snapbridge tech so you can connect your phone to your camera using NFC, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for super simple photo sharing. The Coolpix W300 is available in yellow, black and orange.
If Olympus' and Nikon's cameras are too pricey for your budget, FujiFilm's FinePix XP140 may be more to your liking. This camera costs a shade under $200, making it the best waterproof camera for those on a budget. It's waterproof to 82 feet—deeper than the Olympus, but shallower than the Nikon—can withstand drops from about 6 feet, and can withstand temperature ranges from 14 degrees to 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
The FinePix XP140 has 16MP sensor, an ISO range of 100-12800, and a 5X optical zoom lens that goes from 28 - 140mm (35mm equivalent). It can also shoot 4K video, albeit at a low frame rate of 15 fps, so videos may look a bit choppy. A Cinemagraph Mode lets you take still images with moving elements, and a Smile Shutter feature will automatically take a shot when you can see everyone's teeth. It also has Bluetooth to make it easier to transfer photos from the camera to your smartphone or tablet.
The GoPro Hero8 Black has all of the things we liked from the previous model: a 12-MP sensor for still shots and up to 4K video (at 60 fps), slo-mo video at 240 fps. But, the Hero8 has a completely new design, so you no longer need a case if you want to attach it to an accessory, such as a helmet mount.
GoPro also improved the Hero8's image-stabilization feature, making video incredibly smooth. In addition, you can live stream from the camera using the GoPro app, so people can watch your derrings-do in real time. As before, the camera has an impressive voice control system, which means you can control the camera by simply telling the camera to "start video recording" or "take a photo." It's also waterproof to 33 feet without needing an extra case.
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.
Read our full GoPro Hero8 Black review.
How to choose the best waterproof camera for you
As with any camera, the first consideration when buying a waterproof camera is your budget. Our two top picks—the Olympus Tough TG-6 and the Nikon Coolpix W300— both cost more than $350. The Fujifilm FinePix XP140, on the other hand, costs less than $200, making it a good budget pick.
You also want to consider where you plan to use the camera. If you're snorkeling, then a waterproof camera that's good to 50 feet should suffice. But, if you're planning on taking it Scuba diving, you'll want something that can go deeper.
If you're really into adventure sports, the GoPro Hero8 Black is your best option, as it's the most compact, has the best image stabilization, and can be mounted virtually anywhere.
Tips for improving your underwater photos
There are many scenarios in which a waterproof or rugged camera can help capture unique photos or video. Here are some tips to really make the most of those images.
Make sure the compartments are sealed. If you let water get into the camera, it will be damaged, and will most likely not work again. It’s important to read the instructions on waterproof-and-rugged models, if only to prevent such damage.
Use a harness to carry. Your camera: Some camera manufacturers make chest straps so that you can shoot with your waterproof camera, hands free. It can make for some powerful point-of-view style photos and video.
Add a selfie stick. Although some have badmouthed these accessories, they can be useful by providing a new point of view. Just be careful not to bump into those around you. Also, be aware that some types of venues, like museums and stadiums, often ban selfie sticks.
Get a flash diffuser. Because some waterproof-and-rugged cameras have impressive macro, or close-up, features, you can use a circular flash diffuser, which fits around you camera lens, to provide much better illumination for your small-scale subjects.
Waterproof cases and housings
If you already own a (non) waterproof camera, and don't want to purchase a new camera to go scuba diving or snorkeling, there is a whole constellation of accessories to make them waterproof. But one thing you’ll want to take note of: Be sure to find out the depth the housing is rated for. For instance, you’ll want to be sure to see how far underwater you can take your camera or smartphone once it’s in the housing.
For stand-alone cameras, you’ll want to look at both accessories created by your camera’s brand and by third-party accessories, such as Ikelite or Aquatec. For point-and-shoots, you’ll be able to find cases that range between $200 to $500. But if you’re looking to put an advanced interchangeable-lens camera, like a DSLR or a mirrorless camera, into a waterproof housing, you’ll have to spend quite a bit of money: Prices can range between $750 - $1,500.
For smartphones, you generally don’t get anywhere near the waterproofing in a standard case that you get with stand-alone camera housing. Waterproof smartphone cases might provide you with the ability to dive down only 6 or 7 feet underwater, and often for only a small period of time, like an hour. You’ll pay anywhere between $15-80, but if you want to go scuba diving your phone in a case, the models generally cost more than $100.