The Best Underwater Digital Cameras Available for 2013…so far
Posted by Bryan Cole on Feb 6, 2013
With so many underwater digital cameras to choose from, which one gives you the best results?
These underwater digital cameras are made for outdoor and sporting enthusiasts, and yes, for those family vacations too. Are you the adventurous type? One who loves to go hiking, snowboarding, snorkeling or whitewater rafting? Do you mind not getting wet or muddy, but worry about your digital camera getting destroyed? Then these underwater digital cameras are designed to meet all of your outdoor adventure needs. Built tough and rugged to protect against water, drops, dust, dirt, mud and freezing temperatures. They are also getting more technologically advanced with built in GPS, full HD video and WiFi. I take a look at four cameras, Canon Powershot D20, Panasonic Lumix TS4, Nikon Coolpix AW100 and Olympus TG-820 iHS that will give consumers the most bang for their buck.
Note – these cameras where released in 2012, but they are the best available so far in 2013.
Canon PowerShot D20
Canon finally released a 2nd generation waterproof camera in the form of the PowerShot D20. Formally the D10, the D20 is made for the everyday consumer who wants a solid underwater digital camera for their upcoming vacation to the Bahamas, or skiing trip. The D20 sports a new body style that is bigger and heavier, which is an immediate improvement from the tiny, ‘pebble-shaped’ D10. Although it features the same 12.1 MP resolution as the D10, it has a new sensor, bigger LCD screen and a wider lens. Unlike other underwater digital cameras, the Canon is still only available in one color (Blue).
User Interface Design
A major downfall to the previous model was a poor user interface design, which Canon addressed in the D20. The D10 received a lot of complaints about its performance in low light conditions, more notably noisy photos. The D20 features HS sensor technology that reduces noise in low light conditions. Another notable change is the location of the lens and flash. The lens is located in the right corner with the flash directly to the side. The buttons on the camera seem to have be simplified and the play button has been moved to the top of the camera. The large blue buttons on the back are easy to distinguish (even underwater) and are textured plastic for better grip control in wet or cold conditions. This camera conforms to the shape of your hand and is easy to operate with one hand.
The D20 has the same old menu system found on all Canon digital cameras of the last few years. Anyone who has used compact Canon cameras in the past should have no trouble navigating though the menus. However, it does feature an array of shooting modes that makes it easy to capture good photos in certain circumstances. For instance, if you to switch the camera to underwater shooting mode while shooting underwater, the images will come out with the correct white balance, tone and more. Perfect for inexperienced photographers.
The Canon PowerShot D20 rates admirably in image quality compared to similar handheld cameras. Low ISO performance is excellent. ISO 100 produces exceptional images that can be mistaken for a picture taken from a large sensor camera. Edges are sharp and surfaces are smooth all the way up to ISO 400. Around ISO 800 is where you will see a surge in noise, but nothing to extreme. A slight roughing of edges begin to creep in. Around ISO 1600 is where image quality really begins to breakdown. Images experience high levels of noise, almost to the point that renders the image unusable. Don’t bother shooting scenery at night, unless you have a tripod.
Images with the flash on at 28mm focal length will definitely see vignette in the corners with a loss of light throughout. Even when fully zoomed at 140mm, there is a faint darkness in the corners. A vignette is still noticeable in images with no flash. When shooting underwater, the vignette is only intensified with flash at a wide angle, but does nearly eradicate it when fully zoomed. The flash is a definite upgrade from the previous model, but still lacks the appropriate brightness needed.
The video has been upgraded to full 1080p HD and even comes with an HDMI port for viewing video and still on a TV. The video quality is rich, sharp and is comparable to other the video quality found on other waterproof cameras.
The PowerShot D20 is a great camera for the ordinary consumer who’s looking for a solid camera and isn’t worried about the lack of dynamic range found in other underwater digital cameras. This camera was specifically designed to be used on extreme holidays, such as skiing and scuba diving. Its solid structure and waterproof design will withstand the elements. Image quality is hit and miss, but users will be more than satisfied with those ‘real life’ shots. The LCD screen is bigger, which is a plus, but images look monochrome. No internal memory is not an issue, but it does have its own battery and charger (too bad it didn’t take AA). So remember to take the charger with you when traveling or be ready to spend a few extra bucks on a new charger. The Canon PowerShot D20 is a camera definitely worth considering.
Waterproof: 33 ft/10 m Shockproof: up to 5 ft Freezeproof: 14°-104°
Dustproof: Not listed on specs, but Yes.
Panasonic LUMIX DMC-TS4
It’s hard for Panasonic to compete against the likes of Canon and Nikon in the world of DSLR cameras. They are the leader in rugged and outdoor digital cameras with the Lumix TS4. Just like other underwater digital cameras, the TS4 sports a boxy body made from a shiny aluminum that screams toughness. This camera was built to take punishment and will entice you to snap images where ordinary people would never venture. The TS4 has a long list of attributes and while I would like to touch on them all, I won’t.
Some of those attributes include; a non-telescoping, optically stabilized 4.6x Leica zoom lens (28-128mm), Power O.I.S (Optical Image Stabilizer), an LED light, 12.1-megapixel Hi-Speed CCD sensor with Intelligent Noise Reduction, full 1080p HD video resolution and GPS.
Serious photographers should consider purchasing a Canon 5D or a Nikon D5200, but I wouldn’t want to take either of those cameras rock climbing or whitewater rafting. The Lumix TS4′s boasts some of the highest water, shock dust and freezeproof ratings of all underwater digital cameras. Its tough design allows you to take photos of coral reefs or a POV video of you snowboarding without worrying about destroying your camera. The TS4 might have the highest waterproof depth rating at 40 ft and is perfect for shooting on the beach, underwater or in a pool and can be easily washed off. Its shockproof rating meets “Mil-STD 810F Method 516.5-Shock” test standard and is perfect for using around rough terrains or live action events where you have a high probability of dropping your camera. With a freezeproof rating of -10°C, the TS4 will more then meet the demands of shooting snowboarding, skiing or other snow related activities. And don’t worry about getting dust particles in the body, the TS4 meets “IPX8″ and “IP6X” standards.
User Interface Design
When was the last time you looked through the view finder on your point-and-shoot? Exactly. Most are too small to even try. That’s why Panasonic went away with the view finder and just left the 2.7 in. LCD screen. The menu system is pretty basic and won’t confuse the average person not familiar with a digital camera’s menu system. It has to be since it is where you will make most changes to settings. It also features a quick menu that allows you to adjust major setting, such as resolution, white balance, burst mode, flash on/off and more. Switching from still to video is a breeze. Simply press the red dot button and off you go shooting HD video. The mode button is also nice as it displays the per-programmed setting ranging from manual, sports, snow, underwater, miniature effect and more (14 total modes).
Like other handheld cameras, the Lumix TS4 has its own style USB connector that is unique to the Lumix. Why can’t every manufacturer put the standard USB plug on every camera? The battery is also unique the the charger so make sure you don’t lose it or the cable or get ready to fork over some extra cash to replace. Not everybody has extra cables and chargers lying around that fit this camera.
The Panasonic Lumix TS4 is great for snapping photos in wet and wild condition, but it falls short for other uses, in part thanks to a diminishing image quality as you zoom from wide-angle. Your best bet is to shoot everything at its maximum resolution. Outdoor, heavily lit landscapes, architecture, people and wildlife will come out great, granted there is enough light. This camera is really fun to take underwater. It outperforms other underwater digital cameras in pools and ocean where the water is clear. The LCD screen can be a little tricky to read when shooting underwater, so sometimes it feels like a true point-and-shoot.
With full 1080p HD video recording capabilities, the TS4 will deliver sharp HD video (granted that you are shooting in bright light). This camera does amazing underwater and even better on land. Watch the video on the left to see for yourself. The video playback on an HD TV is mediocre, but very good on a computer monitor. Make sure you have a big memory card, at least 8 gigs if you record a ton of videos.
Some other great features on the Lumix TS4 include the Quad Indication that displays GPS, compass, altimeter and barometer readings and stores them into the metadata of your image. The barometer also works underwater and will indicated your current depth. The GPS displays latitude and longitude along with area information that covers 203 countries or regions and landmark information of over 1 million locations in 82 countries or regions. Frankly, that’s a lot and would cover you for just about anywhere on this plant you want to travel.
The Panasonic Lumix TS4 camera was designed for the outdoors and is loaded with features that enhances the picture taking experience for consumers and hobbyists alike. Its simplistic and rugged design makes taking pictures in the most extreme conditions manageable. This camera outperforms all other underwater digital cameras in toughness and rivals some of the best handheld cameras in image quality. Startup time (2.1 second) and shutter lag (0.57 seconds) is a little slower than other cameras of its class. The flash recycle came it at 4.3 seconds, which is pretty good and hopefully won’t make you miss any moments. Just like other pos cameras, the TS4 needs it’s own charger and battery.
Waterproof: 39.37 ft (12m) Shockproof: up to 6.5 ft (2m) Freezeproof: 14°-104° Dustproof: Meets “IPX8″ and “IP6X” standards
Nikon Coolpix AW100
The Nixon Coolpix AW100 camera might look good on paper, but when you hold one you’ll see right away why it differs from others. Its also Nikons first dip in the underwater digital camera market and is great for consumers who are looking for a camera that will survive a few minor knocks and still live to shoot another day. The cheapest of the four, the AW100 has all the necessary ratings (water, shock and freezeproof) to compete with other cameras of its class. While it isn’t the toughest of the four, it does produce some of the best images. The Coolpix AW100 features a whopping 16MP CMOS sensor and a 5x optical zoom lens (28-140mm) that will capture beautiful images on the in the ocean, mountains, forest or desert.
Although the physical specifications rate lower than other cameras, the Coolpix AW100 features a built-in GPS, compass function and internal map that logs your location and records your route, even when your not taking photos or video. This camera does have the lowest shockproof rating (5 ft/1.5 m), so it is not recommended when rock climbing. Its waterproof rating comes in at 10 meters, which isn’t as good as the Lumix TS4, but will ensure that it will survive what the consumer throws at it.
User Interface Design
The Coolpix AW100 was designed to be easily operated with one hand and features something only found on smartphones. Nikon refers to it as Action Control Operations, but it allows users to simply shake the camera when needing to change a setting. Now you don’t have to remove your gloves while in the snow, for example. While other underwater digital cameras do not have this feature, most people who reviewed the AW100 agree that it should be on all cameras.
The shutter button is located on the top right that is easy to locate and has a cross-hatch texture that is easy to identify. All other buttons (12 total) are located on the back and are found to be not-so easy to use. The zoom and focus speed are a little on the slow side. The dedicated playback button gives users easy access to view their photos and videos.
The camera’s menu system is the same one found on other Nikon Coolpix series handheld cameras. First time camera users should find no problem learning the menu and its functionality. With easy access to shutter, iso, white balance, image resolution and Auto settings.
As mentioned above, the Coolpix AW100 has a 16MP CMOS sensor that is super fast and ideal for low light shooting. With a 35mm equivalent lens, the AW100 has a faster focal speed at its telephoto extreme ( f/4.8 at 140mm) than the Panasonic Lumix and Olympus waterproof cameras. It also has a number of features that help prevent camera shake and reduce blurred images. The flash struggles to illuminate subjects beyond a distance of 1.5 meters, zoom or wide, but does not result in any vignetting, unlike the Panasonic Lumix TS4.
The AW100 is one of the few models in the Coolpix family that has full 1080p HD video recording capabilities with stereo sound. There are plenty of resolution options to choose from to save on memory. Being able to adjust the frame rate is nice and allows users to film in fast or slow motion.
The Nikon Coolpix AW100 beats out the other underwater digital cameras in terms of image quality, but doesn’t have the rugged built other models have. The camera itself is lightweight, easy to handle and fits nicely in your pocket. The AW100 has a lot of cool features in GPS that won’t dramatically drain your battery. A high ISO and artificially high sharpness are some of the high points, but in reality this is still a middle of the road waterproof camera. The AW100 is available in four colors; black, orange, blue and camouflage.
Waterproof: 33 ft (10m) Shockproof: up to 5 ft (1.5m) Freezeproof: 14°-104° Dustproof: Not listed on specs, but Yes.
Olympus Tough TG-820 iHS
Year in and year out Olympus proves to everyone why they are the leader in underwater digital cameras, selling higher end (TG-2) waterproof cameras for extreme adventures and low-end (TG-320) cameras for water sports at home and on family vacations. The Olympus Tough TG-820 features the same great ruggedness found in previous models, but has been updated with all new electronics, including a 12 MP BSI CMOS sensor for an improved image quality. Plus, out all waterproof cameras listed, the TG-820 is crushproof.
The Olympus TG-820 has a really simply design and minimal features (compared to other models) that include; a large 3″ LCD screen, 5x wide-angle 28-140mm (equivalent) zoom lens, dual image stabilization, full 1080p HD video recording, built-in panorama mode and 3D photo capabilities.
The Olymus TG-820 rates comparably to the Panasonic Lumix TS4′s outdoor toughness. As a whole, the camera feels quite plastic, but has a nice finish and a tough core that will protect its’ internal elements. I guess the two large screws on the front give the sense it’s heavy-duty. As mention above, the TG-820 is crushproof and rated at 220 lbs. standing weight. Its waterproof rating (33 ft) are equal to the Canon D20, but not as deep as the Lumix TS4. Just like other waterproof digital cameras, this one is also dustproof. I’m still not sure what that means or how it’s rated, but it seams like a nice feature to have…if you live in the dessert. Don’t fear taking this camera outdoors under extreme conditions.
User Interface Design
The first thing I noticed when looking at the TG-820 was its poor design and button layout. It’s a little on the bulky side and have a good grip and users could find themselves fumbling trying to hold onto the camera. Mixed with the buttons being too cramped are a perfect storm. Don’t even think about wearing gloves and using the camera at the same time. The zoom toggle is the worst of the four cameras and makes it difficult to achieve smooth, consistent zooms. Just like the Lumix TS4, the Tough TG-820 does not have viewfinder and users have to rely on the LCD screen to see what their taking pictures of. If the LCD screen breaks you might as well throw the camera away.
The menu system on the Tough TG-820 is slick and the best of all underwater digital cameras, in my opinion. The text is easy to read and the pages are easy to navigate. Consumers should have no problem navigating the menu and changing the settings.
The Lens on the TG-820 looks exactly like the Panasonic and Nikon and is rated at 5x zoom, but Olympus advertises it as having 10x zoom. The camera can achieve a 10x zoom using digital zoom technology. Images at 10x zoom were terrible and should not even be attempted. Images at 5x zoom were not that distorted and have relative sharpness, comparable to the Lumix TS4, but not as great as the Nikon or Canon. The flash on the camera could be a lot better, but hey, at least there is a flash. The TG-820 also has the highest ISO at 3200 and 6400 for shooting in extremely low light. Images taken at those two ISO setting are grainy for the most part, but it’s nice to be able to shoot at that high of an ISO. There is no noise at ISO 100 and noise doesn’t begin to appear until about ISO 400.
The new BSI CMOS sensor does result in better image quality. Last years model (TG-810) had a 14 MP CCD Sensor, so Olympus figured a new senor and smaller pixel concentration would result in a better performance. They were right, images are sharper and more vibrant on the TG-820. HD video recording is top class and just as good as every other handheld camera.
The Olympus Tough TG-820 is just as impressive as previous models and is the perfect camera for every consumer, including those who like to take pictures in extreme conditions. While it doesn’t have the flashy features and modes that other waterproof cameras have, it does have a long lasting reputation as one of the best underwater digital cameras available. The TG-820 comes with a battery/cable, wrist strap and AV cable. Consumers do have to buy their own memory card and I would recommend at least a 6GB card if you plan on recording videos. This camera comes with everything you need to capture those special moments. The ruggedness and image quality checks out and I would reccommend this camera over the Canon D20.
Waterproof: 33 ft (10m) Shockproof: up to 5 ft (1.5m) Freezeproof: 14°-104° Dustproof: Not listed on specs, but Yes Crushproof 220 lbs. standing weight
Where to Buy?
$224.99 on Amazon
$249.00 at Newegg
While there are many other underwater digital cameras on the market today, such as Pentax, these cameras are the best for the consumer and will meet all their needs and more. More serious photographers should consider DSLR cameras with better optics. For my money, I would chose the Panasonic Lumix TS4.Other underwater digital cameras that didn’t make the cut include; Pentax WG-3, Sony Cyber-shot TX20 and Fujifilm Finepix XP170.