After testing a number of models, the best waterproof and rugged camera is the Olympus TG-5, which is exceptionally versatile yet fairly easy to use and offers very good quality photos and beautiful video at 4K-resolution. Olympus has a successor, the Tough TG-6, which has a higher-resolution display and a few other minor improvements.
Coming in at a close second is 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.
The GoPro Hero7 Black is our favorite rugged action camera. Not only is it waterproof to 33 feet without needing any extra housing, but it has improved motion stabilization, which should help make your videos look smoother.
You might also want to consider the Hero7's successor, the Hero 8 ($399), which offers better 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. Stay tuned for our review.
1. Olympus Tough TG-5
Best overall waterproof camera
Megapixels/Sensor Type: 12MP 1/2.3 BSI CMOS | Water Resistance: 50 feet | Drop Resistance: 7 feet | Video (Max Resolution): 4K (30 fps) | Display: 3 inches | Wi-Fi/GPS: Yes/Yes | Battery Life (CIPA): 380 shots | Size and Weight: 4.4 x 2.6 x 1.3 inches/9 ounces
The Olympus Tough TG-5 sports a 12-MP sensor, f/2.0 lens, Olympus' latest TruPic VIII image processor, and a 4X optical zoom. The TG-5 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. And because this camera is part of Olympus' Tough line, you get some serious durability that includes water-resistance up to 50 feet, shock-resistance up to seven feet, and operating temperatures that extend down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit.
Read our full Olympus Tough TG-5 review.
2. Nikon Coolpix W300
Best deep-diving waterproof camera
Megapixels/Sensor Type: 16MP/CMOS | Water Resistance: 100 feet | Drop Resistance: 7 feet | Video (Max Resolution): 4K/30 fps | Display: 3 inches | Wi-Fi/GPS: Yes/Yes | Battery Life (CIPA): 370 shots | Size and Weight: 4.4 x 2.6 x 1.2 inches/8 ounces
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.
Read our full Nikon Coolpix W300 review.
3. Fujifilm Finepix XP130
Best budget waterproof camera
Megapixels/Sensor Type: 16MP/CMOS | Water Resistance: 65 feet | Drop Resistance: 7 feet | Video (Max Resolution): 1080p/60 fps | Display: 3 inches | Wi-Fi/GPS: Yes/Yes | Battery Life (CIPA): 370 shots | Size and Weight: 5.7 x 5.5 x 2.1 inches/1 pound
If Olympus' and Nikon's cameras are too pricey for your budget, FujiFilm's FinePix XP130 may be more to your liking. It's waterproof to 65 feet, can withstand drops from about 6 feet, and can withstand temperature ranges from 14 degrees to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Its 16MP sensor and a 5X optical zoom lens that goes from 28 - 140mm (35mm equivalent). It can also shoot 1080p video, and a Cinemagraph Mode lets you take still images with moving elements. It also has Bluetooth to make it easier to transfer photos from the camera to your smartphone or tablet.
Fujifilm has a newer XP140, which is waterproof to 82 feet, takes 4K video at 15fps, and has an ISO range of 100-12,800, but that camera costs around $200.
4. GoPro Hero7 Black
Best waterproof action camera
Megapixels/Sensor Type: 12-MP | Water Resistance: 33 feet | Drop Resistance: None | Video (Max Resolution): 4K/60 fps | Display: 2-inch touchscreen | Wi-Fi/GPS: Yes/No | Battery Life (CIPA): N/A | Size and Weight: 2.4 x 1.7 x 1.3 inches/ 4.2 ounces
The GoPro Hero7 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, a new image-stabilization feature means that your footage above the water will be just as smooth as that below. In addition, you can now 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 Hero7 Black review.
5. Samsung Galaxy S8 Active
Best waterproof and rugged smartphone camera
Megapixels/Sensor Type: 12MP | Water Resistance: 5 feet/30 minutes | Drop Resistance: 5 feet | Video (Max Resolution): 2160p/30 fps | Display: 5.8-inch 2560 x 1440 AMOLED | Wi-Fi/GPS: Yes/Yes | Battery Life (CIPA): N/A | Size and Weight: 7.6 ounces
The Samsung Galaxy S8 has one of the best phone cameras on the market, and its Active counterpart lets you use it on your next hike or swimming trip with confidence. The Active is MIL-810-STD tested and packs a shatterproof display, meaning you can drop it face-first onto just about any surface without a problem. It can also survive being submersed in up to five feet of water for up to 30 minutes, complete with a dedicated shutter button for snapping a few underwater shots.
This rugged phone's 12-MP dual-pixel shooter captures rich and vibrant daytime photos, and its f/1.7 lens excels under low light. The S8 Active's fast autofocus is a great fit for action shots, and its 8-MP front camera packs its own flash for epic nighttime selfies. Complementing the phone's camera is Samsung's Activity Zone app, which includes a compass, barometer and flashlight button to make exploring easier.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy S8 review.
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.