Digital cameras: Buying the best waterproof camera Choosing the best waterproof camera
Why do I need a waterproof camera?
If you want to take pictures anywhere wet, whether at the beach, by a waterfall, quarrying or just out in the British countryside on a rainy day, a compact waterproof camera is worth considering.
Compact - As well as waterproof, they’re also much less bulky than buying a waterproof case for your current camera – if a case is even available. Most compact waterproof cameras cost between £180 and £300, although there are cheaper models available for less than £150, such as the Fujifilm Finepix XP50.
Underwater stills and video - They can be used underwater, usually down to depths of around 10 metres or more - that’s twice the depth of an Olympic diving pool, or more than two Routemaster double decker buses – if you put one on top of the other and submerged them.
We fully test waterproof cameras in our test lab to see how they measure up for image quality, speed and ease of use - you can find out more about the lengths we go to when testing cameras in our how we test digital cameras page.
However, to test the waterproofing of underwater cameras and to see how well they capture action stills and video on the water, we pitted four models against each other in our waterproof camera test video.
To see a gallery of images shot during our waterproof camera group test, visit our waterproof camera photo gallery page. This is just a small sample of the waterproof cameras we've tested our lab. For full test results for all of the waterproof cameras we've tested visit our waterproof camera reviews.
Waterproof cameras are useful out of water too
Compact waterproof cameras may also be referred to as ‘rugged’ cameras, because most are designed to withstand drops, knocks, freezing conditions and to keep out dust.
If dust gets onto the sensor of a camera or into the lens, it can be difficult to remove and will affect picture quality. A waterproof camera is sealed, so dust isn’t a problem.
- Shockproof – most rugged cameras claim to withstand drops from a height of around 1.5m – good for active kids.
- Freeze proof – most also claim to withstand temperatures as low as -10°C – good for skiers.
- Crushproof – a few models, such as the Olympus TG-1, also claim to withstand forces of 100kg – around the force of an average man if he were standing on the camera – although we don’t recommend you try it.
- Travel camera – Some people have reported problems with their regular compact cameras when travelling somewhere humid like the tropics. A waterproof camera is sealed, so it should be able to withstand humid conditions.
A number of rugged cameras also feaure GPS (Global Positioning System), which, when switched on, records the location the photo was taken, so you won’t have to remember when you get home. Some, like the Fujifilm Finepix XP150, also have an electronic compass so you can get your bearings.
Waterproof camera limitations
Limited zoom – because the camera lens is behind a sealed casing, it can’t extend very far when zooming, so these cameras are not best suited to trying to capture close-up shots of subjects in the distance. Expect no more than 5x optical zoom from a compact waterproof camera.
No viewfinder – Viewfinders are rare on compact cameras and waterproof cameras. None of the waterproof cameras we’ve tested have viewfinders, so you’re reliant on the screen. Some screens can be hard to view in bright light – something we test in our lab tests.
Hitting the water – if you’re holding the camera when you dive in, the force on the camera will be increased at the moment it hits the water. Manufacturers make no claims on the rapid change in pressure a rugged camera can withstand, although the cameras we tested in our video had no problems withstanding the force of the rapids.
At the swimming pool – use of a camera may not be permitted in your local pool, so if you’re hoping to take photos in a swimming pool – such as in a parent and baby swimming class – contact the pool first to check whether photography is allowed.
What should I look for in a waterproof camera?
Think about why you’re buying the camera. If you’re buying it for family trips to the beach, you may want different features to someone travelling the globe or going on wet and wild action adventures.
Look for a model with well-labelled, simple-to-use controls, and an auto mode that’s easy to access – as on the Canon PowerShot D20 - if you need a simple camera that the whole family can use.
You may want to consider a model with GPS for recording photo locations, and a neck strap rather than a wrist strap, so the camera won’t be bouncing around by your hand the whole time – as found on the Nikon Coolpix AW100.
Action and extreme sports
If you plan to take photos when you’re part of the action, you need a camera that’s easy to grip and use with one hand. A wrist strap – like that on the Olympus Tough TG-1 – is likely to be safer than wearing the camera round your neck.
Look for a camera with a quick shutter that's able to take photos in quick succession in 'burst' or 'continuous shooting' modes, to ensure you don't miss a moment of the action.
At Which? we time how fast each camera's shutter is and how quickly it can capture shots in single and continuous shooting modes. See our how we test digital cameras page for more information on our tests.
Cheap waterproof cameras
If you think £250 is a little steep for a compact waterproof camera, it’s worth looking out for deals on older models, or cheaper models that don’t have built-in GPS.
New models tend to come on the market between February and July. When new models launch, older ones may come down in price.
Newer models may only offer minor benefits compared with their predecessors. For example, 2012's Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT4 offers the same 12Mp resolution and 4.6x optical zoom as the earlier Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT3, but it’s slightly quicker at taking shots. Buying an older model could save you around £50.
Waterproof camera tips
Select the right shooting mode - waterproof cameras have an auto shooting mode, but if you're taking photos underwater it may be better to switch to the dedicated underwater mode that's optimised to take the best underwater photos or movies.
Keep a lens cloth handy – most cameras don’t come with a cloth, but if you’re using the camera outside where it’s constantly going from wet to dry – on the beach or in changeable weather, for example – water drying on the glass can leave deposits which may show up on subsequent shots if you don’t wipe them away.
If you’re subjecting your waterproof camera to extreme conditions, it may require a little aftercare to keep it in tip-top condition. Care instructions may be included in the camera’s manual, but one general tip is to rinse the camera with clean water after use if you’ve been using it in salty sea water or outside.