When you want to record jumping out of a plane or getting into a katana fight during the Cherry Blossom Festival in Japan to avenge your daughter’s honor, you need an action camera. When you have to capture your adorkable cat wearing glasses or take a quick, disturbing selfie in your bikini, the camera on your phone is fine. These have their place, but no matter how good they get, there is still one place where average cameras fear to tread: the sea. In the place where there be dragons, you need more than the average camera can offer. You need a camera that is waterproof, one that is willing to go both atop and beneath the waves.
Waterproof cameras must be more than just an adventure cam to truly work when wet. They need to be able to cut through the dim light that lies beneath the water’s surface. They require filters to eliminate water blurs. They must be able to withstand pressure so that they don’t collapse even when you’re fathoms below attempting to get a shot of Eternal Cthulhu’s unholy spawn for TMZ. Here is our list of fully waterproof cameras that can do it all whenever you are feeling wet and wild.
Nikon 1 AW1
Ultimate Adapter: The AW1 by Nikon was an animal heretofore unseen in the world of waterproof cameras. It allows photographers the ability to swap out the lens on the fly so that whether you need to photograph the landlubbers sitting in the sun or are ready to attack the deep, it is just a matter of switching accessories. The camera itself is excellent no matter which lens you use. It is entirely mirrorless for simpler shooting and offers 14 megapixels which can shoot continuously at 15 frames per second (fps) at 1080p with a dynamite autofocus. For those that need something a little more dramatic, it can go as high as 1200 fps for super slow-mo.
The depth for the camera is enough for any snorkeler and most amateur divers. It can go down nearly 50 feet for about an hour without issue. You can press it deeper and longer, but it is certainly not advised unless you want to kiss your expensive camera goodbye. It can withstand a standard 6 foot drop to a hard surface and operates in extreme low temperatures. In addition to changeable lenses, you can also outfit the AW1 with a Wi-Fi adapter, a strobe, and other accessories for the serious shutterbug. [Purchase: $747]
Low-Light Specialist: The WG-3 isn’t intended to be used anywhere but in the water, and since it looks like it belongs to a Scuba gear kit, that isn’t a shock. You’ll be able to get plenty of decent shots on land, but glare is a problem with the WG-3 since it was built for exploring the realm of Atlantis. That being said, it is still an impressive hunk of photographic machinery with a 16 megapixel camera that has some of the best triple shake-proofing possible to reduce the blur from the ebb and flow of the tides. No camera gives you clearer shots in murky light conditions without the inclusion of a flash.
The WG-3 has a zoom that goes to nearly 29x so you can get intimate shots without having to get up close and personal with some of the more dangerous fishies on your travels. It can take more than 220 lbs. of direct pressure so you are safe stowing it just about anywhere and if you sit on it, it will bounce right back. Can go down 45 feet without breaching for well over an hour. It shoots 1080p video, but it does so at only 30 fps. The backlit display is easy to read when you are down below, so you won’t need to get the bends just to see what you’ve just shot or to change your menu options. [Purchase: $319]
Canon PowerShot D30
Go Deep: The absolute floor for most of these cameras is only about 50 feet. Not so for the D30. It likes to get down and stay there. It can sink to 82 feet and still shoot like a pro, though you’ll certainly need an independent light source if you hope to see any of your lovely pics from that depth. The trade-off for extreme depth is that the camera is only 12 megapixels, so you might not necessarily get every scale and gill in each shot, but the resolution is still exceedingly good.
The design of the camera is strictly point and shoot which is ideal for snapping shots fast and furiously, but if you are looking to create something more artistic, you’re out of luck. The video you’ll get will only be 720p so there will be a little grit and grain on it, especially if you go deeper. The good news is that it works equally well above water as below and has good light automation to accommodate light levels and glare, which means your vacation photos will never appear washed out. [Purchase: $329]
Olympus TG-3 Tough
Anywhere, Everywhere: The aptly-named Tough was not just built to be a camera that repels water but rather the premier companion no matter where the road takes you. It works in extreme temperatures well below freezing and can follow you under the sea up to 50 feet. It has several modes to help you adapt to your environment, including a wide-angle and extreme close-up option for catching the surprised look on the fishes face when you snap your shot. The downside to these modes is that you don’t have full exposure control, but for most shots, you’ll be able to find a suitable setting that will get you close to the ideal pic, even if it doesn’t quite pull off perfection.
The accessories built into the camera show how versatile it was intended to be. It has on-board Wi-Fi and GPS, though don’t expect satellites to be able to pinpoint you when you’re relaxing beneath the waves. The resolution is among the best at 16 megapixels that make great use of the macro and micro modes so that you can catch the all the life teeming around you or focus in on the most minute detail with alacrity. It also gives you a readout of depth, longitude and latitude. Perfect if you are thinking about scheduling a shipwreck anytime in the future and want something better than a vollyball for company. [Purchase: $350]
Beautiful Pix: The Lumix doesn’t look or act nearly as rough-and-ready as its competitors, mostly because it isn’t. Instead it prefers to offer you the best pictures of the batch and video that is nearly professional grade. It has an extended dynamic color range, even when shooting in low light conditions so you’ll capture every stunning hue in the spectrum in sharp contrast. The resolution is only 16.1 megapixels, but that number is soft judging by the deep saturation of the pictures produced.
The Lumix also bears quality editing modes on-board that will help you fix up your photos in post production, before you push them live on Instagram, which you can do with the included Wi-Fi. It also has built-in GPS, though if you are looking for an exact location on the high seas, you’re likely to be disappointed. The 1080p video is beautiful, but the frame-rate is a little slow. While the pictures in shallow waters or on land or boat are great, you’ll find they get a little murky as you reach the bottom of the camera’s depth. Otherwise, very solid. [Purchase: $270]