Digital cameras: Choosing and buying the best digital camera Buying the best waterproof camera

If you want to take pictures anywhere wet, whether at the beach, by a waterfall or just out in the British countryside on a rainy day, a compact waterproof camera is worth considering. As well as being waterproof, they’re also shockproof against accidental bumps and scrapes.

Most importantly, they can actually be used underwater, usually down to depths of 10 metres or more - that’s twice the depth of an Olympic diving pool. We fully test waterproof cameras in our test lab to see how they measure up for image quality, speed and ease of use. When buying a waterproof camera, there are five key features you should look out for.


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Video transcript

With the recent launch of the Olympus TG-1 tough camera, we've brought it here to Nene Whitewater Centre to pit it against its rivals, the Nikon AW 100, the Pentax WG-2 GPS, and the Canon Power Shot D20. The Nikon Cool Pix AW 100 has a 15.9 megapixel sensor. It's got a 5 times optical zoom, a 10 meter waterproof depth, and it's also shockproof from 1.5 meters.

So, that's it. I'm in my wet suit, my safety's on, so I guess it's time to get started in my tube. And first up, it's the Nikon. The Nikon AW100 is really quite comfortable to hold especially given that the lens is in that top left hand corner so you can really get your hand around the camera and the rocker switch is really easy to use for the zoom so when you're zooming in and out it makes it quite simple.

You don't have to move your finger. It's also really handy that the shutter release button is quite round and prominent so you can easily can press it without having to look. The focus also seems to lock onto things quite quickly, which is really handy when you're on the move. Didn't get too many blurred shots this one, but we'll have to see how it does overall at the end.

This Nikon takes quite bright looking pictures. It's a sunny day but you can see the blue is really nice in the sky. The tree is also quite sharp in the background, which wasn't the case on all of the cameras we look at. The Canon PowerShot D20 has a 12.1 mega pixel resolution. It's got a 5 times optical zoom and it's waterproof up to a depth of 10 meters.

It's also shockproof from a height of 1.5 meters. Again, like the Nikon, you've got the lens in the top left hand corner so you can use most of the body of the camera to really get a good grip. Strange thing with this one, if you're sitting around between times, I noticed it was turning itself off, and you're going to have to press the power button a couple of times to bring it back to life, which means you can miss that critical moment if you're kind of leaving it sitting there, pointing at something, waiting for the action to happen.

Overall the pictures look quite bright. Again, like the Nikon, it's creating a nice look in the colors and also in the background and the textures in the trees are looking quite good, even though you're focused on things that are quite close to you in the spray and my feet. The Pentax Optio WG2GPS has a 15.9 megapixel sensor.

It's got a 5 times optical zoom, it's waterproof down to a depth of 12 meters and shock proof from a height of 1.5 meters. Pentax has a really different feel to it when you're holding it. It's much longer and wider, so it feels a bit stranger in the hand. But it's actually still quite easy to hold and you can push against the lens with your finger so it doesn't overlap when you're trying to take a picture.

One of the more noticeable things about this is the screen was a little bit more difficult to see than the previous two that we looked at. So it was a bit harder to find out the shots also got a few more blurry shots from this one so it didn't seem to lock on to that quite as quickly but that might have just depended on what I was pointing it at the time.

Looking at the pictures, they're ever so slightly darker than the Nikon and the Canon. The blue sky just isn't quite as bright and the contrast in the trees is lacking. The Olympus Tough TG-1 has a 12 mega pixel sensor. It's got a 4 times optical zoom the least of the models here. It's also waterproof to a depth of 12 meters.

And shockproof from a height of 2 meters. The Olympus is the only one with a program dial and that's really great when you're just trying to flick between scenes. You don't have to dig around through menus too much. Although, the lens was in the center, you have that nice grip at the front to hold onto, so it was really easy to use, and the screen was much brighter, noticeably, after using the Pentax making it much easier to see and to line up the shots.

It seem to react quite quickly, take some pretty decent shots, but it wasn't quite as bright looking when you're kinda looking at the sky and the trees as Canon and the Nikon but I preferred the picture quality to the Pentax. All the models here are freeze proof down to a temperature of -10 degrees, see.

They all have built-in GPS and can shoot video at 1080P. Now any fool can float downstream in a tire but to help me with the video capabilities of these cameras, I've enlisted to the help of Chris Chapman, the kayak instructor here at Nene just to show how good the video is. As you can see from the video, they all capture it quite well considering they're compact cameras.

And the image stabilization working pretty well too. They're not too juddery, even though they're really getting chucked around. So they came out pretty well. And you can see there's a few minor differences maybe in color and things, but generally pretty good video. So having taken these four cameras for a fairly extreme doughnut ride, There's certainly things that I've noticed that are better for this kind of setting.

First up, if we look at this Canon, I really like the whole having the lens in this top corner because it meant I've had a lot of space to hold on to the camera. One thing I did notice though was with these buttons here, the zoom, because they are separate buttons they're not quite as easy to use as this kind of rocker switch when you're just trying to do things really quickly.

And also the on-off button and the shutter release button are very, very similar so when under water it's a little bit hard to tell which one i am pressing. That said, the screen is really good on this Canon, and it seems to take really quick shots, which is quite impressive. Moving onto the Nikon, again, it's got the same arrangement with the lens on the top corner plenty of room to hold.

Although I was a bit wary of the fact that I had this kind of video button very close to my fingers when using the rocker switch here. It was also quite easy to see the screen, so that's suited quite well, and it's fairly easy to hold. Having this neck strap really helped. Onto the Pentax, OK, so the lens is in the middle with this one, but you can at least feel this ring here.

Now it's quite comfy to hold but I had really trouble seeing the screen. It's a very bright day today and I did have to tilt it quite a bit. It's also a little bit fiddly on some of the buttons, trying to get through the mode settings. They're more in depth; if you want to just be able to take quick video it's much easier it's good when you've got a dedicated video button like on this Canon.

Now onto the Olympus. It's the one I tried straight after the Pentax, and the difference in the screen was really noticeable. It's colorful much easier to see in this light. Obviously with any camera when you're relying on the monitor it's much easier if you've got a view finder. But I got away with this camera.

And actually although the lens is in the center, this grip here became very useful to push against. And the buttons here are quite flat. This dial here, you can get quite a bit of pressure against it. Obviously it's not gonna press anything. It's not going to activate anything. That said, I did manage knock the info button a couple of times and bring things up.

But, I mean, the shots seem fairly quick and I think you're gonna be better off in this kind of situation if you're working in a continuous shooting mode. So this new Olypmus Tough definitely held its own amongst the others. If I had to pick a favorite I'd pick one of two. Personally I'd say either the Olympus Tough or the Nikon.

Easier to see the screens, just generally the buttons are so much more obvious. There was no mistaking this round button here for the on-off button there and the rocker dial here for the zoom is just so much easier to use. So they would be my choices if you're going to be going on a rough water adventure.

If you'd like to see a gallery of pictures taken on these cameras today, you can click on the link below. Now, we've already tested the Nikon and the Pentax in our lab, so we already know how fast their continuous shooting speed is, and how quick their shutters are, but if you want to find out the results to those cameras and to these cameras once they have been through our lab tests, go to

Read our waterproof camera reviews for full test results for all of the rugged cameras we've tested.

Waterproof cameras - five key features

1) Expect to pay £150 or more - while you can pick up a good digital camera for around £100, the same standard of performance in waterproof cameras costs an extra £50. For this extra money, wi-fi and GPS come as standard so you can easily share photos and record where you took them.

2) Aim for 10m waterproofing - the best waterproof cameras will work at up to 15m depth, but 10m is just fine. It’s or more than two Routemaster double decker buses – if you put one on top of the other and submerged them.

3) 1.5m shockproofing is good too - rugged cameras are designed to experience the best of the great outdoors. This means you can drop them from a significant height, and they’ll still work alright.

4) Limited zoom isn’t ideal – because the lens in a rugged camera is behind a sealed casing, its zoom won’t extend very far. Expect no more than 5x optical zoom from a compact waterproof camera.

5) They’ll withstand harsh weather conditions - most rugged cameras can operate in temperatures as low as -10°C and are sealed so as to operate in humid, sandy environments. Essentially, you can take them skiing and to the beach.

How to take the best waterproof camera photos

Want to make the most of your waterproof camera? Then you’ll need to get it wet, and that means taking a slightly different tack to photography.

  • Select the right shooting mode - waterproof cameras have a dedicated underwater mode that's optimised to take the best underwater photos or movies. Make sure you switch to it from the standard auto shooting mode.
  • Keep a lens cloth handy – if you’re using the a camera outside where it’s constantly going from wet to dry, water drying on the glass can leave deposits which may show up on subsequent shots if you don’t wipe them away.
  • Get close to your subjects - with such a small optical zoom on waterproof cameras, you need to really engage with how you take your photos. Don’t hang back and miss out any important details and pigmentation.

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