We tested each camera’s ability to produce dry-land and underwater photos using a controlled test scene photographed at every ISO.
After two days of hands-on underwater testing and three days of testing on dry land, we’ve determined that the Nikon W300 as the best waterproof camera out there. It can withstand greater underwater depths than any of the others, and its sturdy construction means it should survive any adventure. Images come out clear and colorful, and it has 4K video capability, meaning it goes beyond just taking amazing photos. The W300’s extra features like vibration reduction, intuitive and responsive controls, and automatic wireless photo transfers make it the best underwater camera available.
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Key Features of Waterproof Cameras
Like most modern digital cameras, waterproof cams have a wide range of available options and features. You can adjust image quality through exposure and shutter speed or even add special effects. Note that some of these cameras can also shoot video. Half of the cameras in our comparison shoot in true HD 1080p, if not 4K, while some only capture lower pixel ratios of 720p and standard definition. In addition, some of the cameras also feature Wi-Fi connectivity and GPS tagging. And though most of these cameras make it easy for experienced photographers to adjust settings, every camera we tested has auto mode and scene modes, if you just want the camera to figure out how to take the photo.
Durability & Design
A rugged design is a key to these cameras. Ensure that the camera you choose is sufficiently waterproof, shockproof, freezeproof, and dustproof to keep up with your adventures. It should also be lightweight and slim so it’s easy to pack into a suitcase or backpack. On average, the cameras we tested weigh an average of 8 ounces and are less than 5 inches wide. A few of them are bulky, but when we used them underwater, we felt that they were easier to maneuver than their slimmer counterparts. We liked cameras that had a built-in loop for tying on a wrist strap for extra security during use.
It goes without saying that underwater cameras should be waterproof; the best one in our lineup can handle being submerged in up to 100 feet of water. The cameras have different types of waterproofing. Some you simply place in a watertight exterior case, while others don’t require a case and use rubber seals to protect important parts – like the battery and ports – from leaks up to the recommended water depth.
These cameras should also be decently shockproof – we recommend from a height of at least 5 feet. If you’ll be traveling to more extreme locales, make sure your camera is freezeproof down to at least 14 degrees Fahrenheit and has an IP6X dustproof rating. Keep in mind that, even though these are made for intense usage, none of them are completely immune to any kind of damage or wear and tear.
Also important is whether it has a well-balanced feel for one-handed use. You should also be able to comfortably reach and interact with all of its buttons while holding the camera with only one hand. If you’re sure you’ll always hold the camera with two hands, this won’t matter quite as much, but keep in mind that even with two hands some cameras still feel off-balance.
The higher the resolution a camera has, the more information each photo will contain, which translates to a photo with more detail, that looks sharper and clearer. Any camera with a resolution of at least 12MP is good. With that, you’ll generally be able to view details, not grain, and it will look great should you choose to share it online with friends on Facebook. Having a good resolution is especially important when using the camera underwater, where things like sharpness and light are more intensely affected.
Aperture, ISO, and Shutter Speed
Together, aperture, ISO, and shutter speed form what’s commonly called the exposure triangle because they determine the brightness or darkness of an image. Aperture affects exposure but can also add depth of field to an image. Similar to the pupil of your eye, the aperture is the opening in a camera’s lens through which light passes. You can make it smaller when it’s bright out to limit over-exposure, or increase it in dark scenarios to allow more light in. You can also adjust the aperture to be larger if you want an aesthetically pleasing blur effect in the background of a photo, commonly known as bokeh. Conversely, a smaller aperture means less background blur.
A digital camera’s minimum and maximum ISO can affect how your photos turn out. A lower ISO is less sensitive to light, meaning taking photos of something dark (evening settings, indoors, etc.) generally wouldn’t turn out well. Higher ISOs respond to darker scenes but can come with grain or color distortion known as noise. High-quality digital cameras, especially DSLRs, can handle high ISOs with little to no problem nowadays. Look for a camera with a min/max ISO of about 100-3200. Some cameras can only go up to 1600 manually, but if you’re on auto, they can potentially access 3200 or 6400 if the camera’s algorithm determines that using a higher ISO won’t result in a distorted photo.
Shutter speed is how long the camera’s shutter is open, or how much light the sensor gathers. Speeds are measured in seconds, or rather fractions of seconds. For example, 1/8 means an eighth of a second, and 1/250 means one-two-hundred-and-fiftieth of a second. A 1/4s speed will let in more light than one that’s 1/8000s. Different speeds are used for different scenarios. As a general rule, fast shutter speeds are great for capturing a clean, clear action shot, and low speeds are ideal for dim environments or to create an intentionally blurry effect.
Digital vs. Optical Zoom
A camera with the ability to zoom in can better capture details and better frame your image. Note that optical zoom is preferable to digital zoom. With optical, the lens physically moves, whereas digitally, you’re actually not zooming at all – rather, you’re cropping the photo. Optical produces a photo at the same resolution as not zooming. Digital reduces the resolution of the photo because it’s cutting into the actual photo. We recommend cameras with 5x optical zoom and at least 4x digital zoom. Quality cameras offer optical zoom and sometimes digital as well, but inexpensive options typically only have digital.
Wi-Fi, Bluetooth & GPS
Having Wi-Fi built into your camera allows you to wirelessly transfer your images to a compatible smart device, like your phone or tablet, for further editing or social media sharing. This allows you to get those great underwater action shots and then share them instantly with your friends online without destroying your phone.
Nikon users have access to another option to wirelessly tether the camera to their phone – Snapbridge. This technology uses Bluetooth Low Energy to make the connection, rather than Wi-Fi, which is handy for areas without a reliable Wi-Fi connection. It also stays connected while your camera is off. It also has a mode that automatically transfers all photos you take after converting them to 2-megapixel versions, though you can manually transfer the original file as well.
Cameras with GPS capabilities allow you to geotag all of your photos. This marks specifically where in the world you took your photos. This makes it easy for you or a friend to revisit that exact spot again in the future or provides proof that you indeed completed that marathon hike to the summit. Or, if you’re a professional photographer, it’s an automatically-maintained index of locations you can use for repeat photoshoots.
Most of the cameras we reviewed include a rechargeable Li-ion battery. Typically, these allow for about 300 shots on a full charge, depending on usage, settings, and shooting environment. The ability to take over 300 shots before a recharge or replacement is optimal. We recommend cameras that have removable batteries so that you can easily swap them out for a replacement if needed.
Best Waterproof Cameras
Nikon Coolpix W300
- Waterproof, freeze proof, shockproof and dustproof adventure camera with extra capabilities
- Stunning high resolution photos, 4K Ultra HD videos, Time-lapse videos, Super lapse videos and music montages
- 5x optical zoom NIKKOR lens with telephoto power and Hybrid VR image stabilization
Nikon’s W300 is the clear-cut winner in our waterproof camera testing. We are impressed with how easy it is to use, as well as its stellar image quality for this level of camera. It felt comfortable and well-balanced; its buttons are easy to interact with, and you can reach them all with one hand.
It allows experienced photographers to have plenty of control over each individual shot, and Nikon’s built-in Snapbridge technology makes transferring and sharing freshly shot images online fast and painless.
The Coolpix W300 has an IP68 rating – the best of any camera in our comparison. It’s also shockproof up to 8 feet and freezeproofs down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit. It has built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Low Energy for file transfers, GPS for geo-tagging, and even an eCompass and altimeter. The battery door is tightly sealed yet easy to access when needed. You can use SD, SDHC, or SDXC memory cards, and the battery lasts for approximately 280 shots or one hour of 1080p/30fps video.
You can take high-resolution images thanks to the camera’s 16.76-megapixel 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor, or shoot 4K, or 1080p full HD videos with stereo sound using vibration reduction. The camera offers 5x optical zoom and 4x digital zoom, and you review your images on the 3-inch TFT LCD screen. Advanced users can tinker with the 1/1500-1 shutter speed and 125-6400 ISO to get the perfect shot. It also offers 20 scene modes and decent retouch features for on-device editing.
- Is the easiest to use and hold
- Shoots high-quality underwater and dry land images
- Bluetooth pairing with Snapbridge transfers photos to your phone immediately
- Could have a higher maximum ISO
- Struggles in low-light scenarios
- Doesn’t have a hinge on the screen
Fujifilm FinePix XP120
- Even dark scenes can be captured with clarity thanks to the 16 4 megapixel BSI CMOS sensor and the camera automatically adjusts shooting settings with 10 fps high speed continuous shooting
- The FinePix XP120 offers the all new Cinemograph mode producing still images with moving elements making a stark contrast against the rest of the still image
- 3-inch 920k-Dot LCD Monitor -- Full HD 1080p Video Recording at 60 fps
The Fujifilm FinePix XP120 is an impressive value given its modest price point. It has a smart, durable construction and an intuitive interface.
It also feels well-balanced and comfortable to hold during one-handed usage. Four features help it keep up with your rugged adventures: It is waterproof down to 65 feet, shockproof up to 5.8 feet, freezeproof down to 15 degrees Fahrenheit and has an IP6X dustproof rating.
Optical image stabilization, paired with 5x optical zoom and 10x digital zoom, lets you can easily capture your subject, whether it’s an underwater portrait or the vast scenery of your beachside campground. The 16.4-megapixel 1/2.3-inch BMI-CMOS sensor allows for solid underwater and dry land images. You can opt to shoot video in true 1920 x 1080 resolution. It also features a high-speed continuous shooting function that can capture 10 frames per second. Experienced photographers have access to a 100-6400 ISO range and a 1/2000-1 shutter speed range.
You can view your recent media on the 3-inch 920K-dot LCD monitor. While you’re taking photos, you can use the screen for face detection, or for accessing cool modes to create a panorama, time-lapse or cinemagraph, for example. You can choose how many frames per second to use for interval shooting. Built-in Wi-Fi lets you instantly share your photos. There’s also a remote companion app if you want to take pictures or adjust other camera settings remotely.
- Has a 16.4-megapixel 1/2.3-inch BSI-CMOS sensor
- Includes optical image stabilization
- Has 5x optical zoom and 10x digital zoom
- Short battery life
- Waterproof depth is limited to 65 feet
- Wide-angle is very wide
VTech Kidizoom Action Cam
- Kids camera is durable, versatile and able to capture the most memorable moments; action cam is a waterproof camera meant for kids
- 2 mounts attach the kids digital camera to bikes, skateboards and more; underwater camera comes with a waterproof case to take photos and videos in up to 6 feet underwater
- Features 1.4-inch color video camera LCD screen and the ability to take videos, photos, stop-motion videos and time-lapse photos
If you don’t feel comfortable lending your GoPro to your kids at the beach, or even if you want photography to be a learning adventure for them, the VTech Kidizoom Action Zoom is a great underwater camera option for your kids.
It’s lightweight, easy to use, and even floats if your child lets go of it in the water. The few buttons are clearly labeled and are easy to press with or without the waterproof casing attached. And the Action Zoom’s coolest feature? Its flip cam, allows you to rotate the lens unit degrees quickly for selfies as well as scenic shots.
The Action Zoom is built like an action camera for kids, so the focus is more on that than high-end optics and sensors. Quality is good enough for kids, but it may be disappointing if you are looking for a standard waterproof point-and-click. It can only take 3-megapixel images and video at up to 640 x 480. It also lacks an image stabilizer and has limited scene modes, like time-lapse. You can view your images on the 1.8-inch color LCD display.
It has 128MB of internal memory, though you can also insert a microSD card of your own, up to 32GB, if you need more space. The built-in timer only allows for an 8-second delay, instead of 2-, 5-, 10-second, or custom timer settings. It also comes with a bike mount and a flat mount for on-the-go shots.
- Decently easy to use
- The camera in the waterproof case floats when dropped
- The moveable camera works for selfies and regular shots
- No image stabilizer
- Only 3-megapixel resolution
- No built-in GPS or Wi-Fi
- 16 megapixel backlit CMOS sensor offers plenty of image detail. Wide angle 5X internal optical zoom lens (28 140millimeter equivalent)
- Waterproof to 46 feet perfect for use when submerged
- Shockproof, ruggedized design protects from drops up to 5 feet
The Ricoh WG-50 easily fits into your pocket and is durable and sturdy enough to handle any adventure you throw at it. Despite its slim build, it’s packed with features and top-notch technology, ensuring you get a great photo no matter where you go.
It measures 4.8 x 2.4 x 1.2 inches and weighs just under 7 ounces, so it won’t take up much space when you pack it in your suitcase or backpack. It also feels well-balanced and comfortable to hold, with plenty of grips. The WG-50 can withstand being submerged in up to 46 feet of water or dropped from 5.2 feet. It can handle freezing temperatures down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit and as an IP6X dustproof rating.
The camera has a 16-megapixel back-illuminated CMOS sensor and can shoot pictures with resolutions up to 1920 x 1080 pixels and reduces noise even with a high ISO. Impressive 5x optical zoom and 7.5x digital zoom let you capture distant details with precision, and nine-point auto-focus and auto-tracking help you get crisp action shots. The WG-50 has Pixel Track anti-shake mode to reduce blur, and with 24 scene modes to choose from, along with vibrant and slide film modes, you can properly preserve your memories exactly how you intended. There are also various drive modes you can work with, including a high-speed continuous shooting option.
- Has a 16-megapixel sensor
- Min/max ISO of 125-6400
- The display is full 1080p HD
- Can only be submerged in water up to 46 feet
- No Bluetooth or Wi-Fi
- Lacks panorama and time-lapse modes
- 4K Ultra HD action camera. Professional 4K 30Fps & 2.7K 30Fps video with 16MP photos at up to 30 frames per second for incredible photos, which is 4 times the resolution of traditional HD cameras.
- Wireless wrist remote control sports camera. With a wrist 2.4G remote, you can capture the world in an all-new way. Controlling the camera, framing shots or recording video is convenient.
- Longer battery life. AKASO EK7000 action camera comes with 2 rechargeable 1050mAh batteries. Each battery can record up to 90 minutes. No more worry about the recording time for this Action camera.
Though the Akaso EK7000 works like a GoPro action cam, and can even shoot video in 4K, its extremely low price point is not without reason. The camera has a simple design and comes with a waterproof case and tons of other accessories for mounting it onto your bike or anywhere else.
Four buttons let you power the camera, cycle through scene modes, take a photo or navigate other aspects of the user interface. On the back of the camera is a 2-inch display, but it’s not a touchscreen like those that are featured on newer GoPros. Two small batteries power the Akaso, and it’s easy to buy replacements.
One of the biggest downsides to the EK7000 is its lack of an image stabilizer, meaning your video reflects all of the motion you make while filming it. Footage taken while walking was a little rough, but video taken while riding a bike, for example, was nearly unwatchable, and outweighs the benefits of it being able to shoot in 4K, to begin with. However, if you’re only wanting to use it to take photos, you’ll have a better experience. The 12-megapixel sensor takes decent photos, though they come out a little brighter and more clearly without the waterproof casing on. The camera lets you take time-lapse sequences and burst photos.
- Shoots 4K video
- Has a 170-degree wide-angle lens
- Can be submerged in up to 98 feet of water
- No image stabilization
- Cannot change the field of view
- Mobile app drops connection on occasion
Why Trust Us
We have been reviewing waterproof cameras for over six years, and our most recent series of in-house testing took over five days. In our evaluation process, we looked at top-of-the-line action cameras, budget cameras, and ones designed specifically for kids to use underwater. Each camera was carefully assessed and thoroughly tested by experienced professionals who take photos by trade (and sometimes even just for fun!). We set up two controlled environments for our tests – one on dry land and one underwater. In our tests, we evaluated photo quality, ease of use, comfort, storage, design, and other features. We noted which cameras were the easiest to use as well as the most powerful and capable.
How We Tested
After first researching waterproof cameras online, we ordered the top devices and tested them ourselves. We performed image quality testing above water for three days and underwater for two.
For our dry land tests, we set up a controlled environment so that each camera had the exact same lighting and positioning. We took photos of our test scene at every ISO available on the camera. Then we compared the images and evaluated them based on accurate color replication, color saturation, sharpness, and clarity. The cameras that produced the most accurate and highest quality images were given the highest grades.
The underwater image testing was conducted using a large fish tank. We kept the lighting consistent for each product and captured images of the same underwater scene located at the bottom of the pool. If the camera did not feature an underwater mode, we used the auto settings. We compared the images closely to determine the best ones. The cameras that produced the best underwater images received the highest scores.
Once you have your camera, you may think you’re good to go, but don’t be so quick to forget the accessories. After all, with the right accessories, you can get better-looking photos and make your photography sessions go a little smoother. Keep in mind that not all the cameras we tested come with accessories, though this differs for each model.
It may not be practical to pack accessories for your underwater camera when you travel across the world. However, if you’ve got extra room in your luggage to spare, they’re worth the space, as they can greatly enhance your photos. If you have a compatible camera, consider taking filters and lenses. They are relatively small and make your photos look polished. We also recommend bringing an extra SD card in case you fill up your first one – that way, you can continue documenting your fun adventures. Along the same lines, you should also bring a backup battery or a battery charger.
Many of the cameras we reviewed float when dropped in water. However, just in case the one you choose doesn’t, we recommend getting a wrist strap to keep you from dropping it in the water and losing it. Also, these cameras have passed rigorous waterproofing tests and are fine as is, but you can opt to buy additional housing for your camera if you’re worried about water seeping in.
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