Weatherproof compact cameras are now commonly offered by most camera brands. Underwater photography is now available for practically any budget. You can find waterproof cameras ranging between $129 and $499 price tags. Here is a summary of the 2012 waterproof cameras available on the market. As you will see, some go deeper than others, others have better screens, others a GPS sensor. We now have 14 rugged cameras sold, on the compact cameras segment alone. Here is a roundup to help you pick the right one.
My recommendations for choosing the right waterproof camera
- Underwater photography is always under dim light. Therefore, try to get a camera with a backside illuminated sensor (like the Sony Exmor CMOS) fot better result.
- A weatherproof camera is made for action and outdoor activities. It will probably be used as a travel camera. A GPS sensor makes sense to geotag the images (in-camera) and then later browse among them on a map in Aperture, iPhoto, Lightroom, Google Earth, Wikio…
- Some cameras resist to a 3m deep immersion when other may dive till 12m… depends on what you plan to do. If you go snorkeling, 3m is enough : you will never go further down. But if you plan to do some scuba diving, then go for the 10m or 12m proof ones. They are all shockproof, but when they are designed to bare deep immersions, their shock resistance is better.
The 14 waterproof compact digital cameras sold in 2012
Canon Powershot D20
The Canon Powershot D20 is much more convincing than its predecessor, the D10. Waterproof, the Canon D20 can dive up to 10m and gets a backside illuminated sensor of 12MP that offers appreciated high sensibility for underwater photography (max. ISO 3,200) and can record 1080p movies. Perfect as a rugged travel camera, the Canon Powershot D20 has a built-in GPS, a precious feature for outdoor activities. Its zoom lens is pretty usual on the waterproof cameras market : a 28-140mm. It has an interesting function that records 720p movies of the few seconds before each photo you will take and compile them in a small movie as a video summary of your day. If you need to go deeper under the sea, you can buy an optional waterproof casing, the WP-DC45 that can go 40m deep.
Fujifilm FinePix XP30 / XP50
This is the cheapest underwater camera on the market : the Finepix XP30 from Fujifilm can do 3m deep under water, has a regular 28-140mm zoom lens but also a GPS sensor, neat for the price. (usually less than $129). Its main weakness, to me, is the use of a regular 14MP CCD. But here comes the new XP50 that will succeed to the XP30 while being sold along the year together and the XP50 gets a more convincing CMOS sensor and 1080p video recording (720p “only” on the XP30). You can find the Fujifilm XP50 around $155.
Fujifilm FinePix XP150
Sold at a competitive price ($229), the Fujifilm FinePix XP150 offer advanced technical specs : it is waterproof till 10m deep, should survive to 2m high equivalent shocks and has a backside illuminated CMOS sensor (14MP) with 1080p video and the regular 28-140mm lens, plus a GPS sensor. It is among the best value for money waterproof camera.
Nikon Coolpix AW100
Nikon only dived this year in the underwater photography compact cameras market. Last summer, they launched the Coolpix AW100. They were late, but did it right. The camera can stand up to 10m deep immersion and gets Sony’s great 16MP BSI CMOS sensor with 1080p, swipe panorama, HDR photography mode,… The AW100 gets a GPS sensor. Today, we can find the Nikon AW100 for less than $300.
Simple, the weatherproof Olympus TG-320 camera is Olympus underwater cameras range entry level model. Sold at $179, the Olympus (TOUGH) TG-320 can go 3m deep underwater, has the average 28-140mm zoom lens and a standard CCD sensor.
Olympus TG-620 / TG-820
Waterproof till 5m deep, the Olympus TG-620 is the middle range camera of Olympus extensive Tough range. As the vast majority of its competitors, it comes with the 5x, 28-140mm zoom lens. But it offers the image quality of the BSI CMOS sensor of 12MP with 1080p video and the comfort of a 3″ / 460,000 dots rear screen. You can control the camera shacking it with the Tap Control function.
Technically pretty near , the TG-820 gets a tougher design and a better screen, 3″ / 1,044,00 dots. It is sold around $269 but it does not have any GPS sensor, neither, a feature that photographers will have to buy the TG-1 iHS to get it.
Olympus TG-1 iHS
This is the most attractive waterproof compact amera for underwater photography launched in 2012. The 12m/40ft proof Olympus TG-1 iHS offers a lot of exclusive features like a backlit CMOS sensor with 1080p, a 4x zoom lens only, but what a lens ? It is a 25-100mm equivalent, with a fast F1.8 at wide-angle. Its rear screen is an OLED screen and has a GPS sensor. It is launched in June for $399.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT4 / TS4
This waterproof camera is the most advanced of Panasonic underwater cameras range. The Lumix TS4 (USA) / FT4 (Europe) can go 12m deep underwater comes with a GPS and a 4.6x zoom lens (28-128mm). It is far from being the most attractive underwater photography tool in 2012 although it is among the most expensive cameras, sold for $349 originally, now discounted around $279.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT20
Cheaper than the FT4 / TS4, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT20 / TZ20 (USA) can be found for $119. Its price will make it a bargain if you are on a tight budget and need a weather-sealed digital camera that will be trouble free on the beach or for outdoor activities. It can dive up to 5m deep which is better than its entry level waterproof competitors. It has a regular 16MP CCD sensor which only gets 720p movie recording but you may appreciate its wider than usual zoom lens, a 25-100mm. It has no GPS sensor, whereas the FT4/TS4 has one but is sold more than twice its price.
Pentax Optio WG2 et WG2-GPS
The way Pentax approaches the underwater photography business is smart : they launched two versions of the Optio WG2, a version without GPS, the WG2 and a versin with a GPS sensor, the WG2-GPS. Simple and neat for those want or do not want a GPS sensor on their camera. Pentax is among the pioneers on this camera market. The Optio WG2 and WG2-GPS may dive 10m deep, resist to 100kg pressure and shocks. Both get a BSI CMOS sensor of 16MP of resolution and the standard 28-140mm lens with a 1cm super macro mode with a ring LED flash. Their screen is better than average, 3″ / 460,000 dots and the WG2 get an aluminium hook that suites its adventurer design. The Pentax Optio WG2 is sold $279 while the WG2-GPS price tag is $345.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20
Of course, in its waterproof camera line, Sony use its Exmor R sensor like in the Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V that gets the 16-megapixel version. That means that the HX20 can record Full HD movies at 50i and 60i, shoot swipe panoramas… but the Sony HX20V gets a few assets other cameras don’t, like a 25-100mm wide-angle lens, a superfast 10 fps burst rate in full resolution, a remarkably convincing 3″ / 921;000 dots touch-screen and a ligtning fast autofocus, said to focus in just 0.13s. The Sony HX20 gets the ultraslim shape of the TX camera line and comes in a variety of vivid colors. It is guarantied till 5m / 16ft deep and shockproof (1.5m/5ft). Its official price is $329.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX200V
Also waterproof till 5m / 16 ft, the Sony TX200V is a technological bombshell. Sony has gatherer all its latest advanced imaging technologies in the TX200V : 18MP Exmor R CMOS sensor, 10fps burst rate, 1080p (50p / 60p if you please…), fast AF (0.13s), large 3.3″ OLED touchscreen of 1,224 Kdots, 26-130mm ambitious zoom lens stabilized with an Active mode for video image stabilization when walking while filming. Of course it gets a GPS sensor and an exclusive glass panel design.
Probably the best waterproof compact digital camera for underwater photography with the Olympus TG-1 iHS, the Sony HX200V is sold $499, but can not be found everywhere in the world.
What waterproof camera would I buy for myself ?
Probably the Olympus TG-1 iHS but I might consider the Sony TX200V. I love Sony Cyber-shot cameras… but that would be regardless of my budget.
If I was looking for the best value for money waterproof camera, I would certainly buy the Nikon Coolpix AW100.
If I was looking for the best “entry level rugged camera, I would definitely go for the Fujifilm FinePix XP30 or XP50 that offer decent resistance and a GPS sensor for only $129.
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