Here’s why you need a waterproof camera in 2017 — to capture your best adventures in rugged, wild, and watery places. You do this with waterproof cameras, plain and simple. With today’s rugged camera options, there’s no need to agonize over the levels of ruggedness, either: All of these point-and-shoot digital underwater cameras are shockproof, dustproof, and ready for whatever adventure you can dish out — they are fantastic marvels of engineering. We’ve spent multiple weekends and dozens of hours, shooting video of kids, fish, dogs, and deer to help us cut through the chaff to review the best rugged waterproof cameras.
Of course, you should know these cameras will not take photos as well as a full-size DSLR or mirrorless camera, and they aren’t as versatile as your smartphone. But they will give you the confidence to lean over the side of your boat and snap the photos of your life. With one of these cameras, you can chase your kids around the water park all day long, take video of fish, or wipeout in wet snow and not worry about your gear.
You’ll have a chance to capture the face of sheer adrenaline.
The best waterproof cameras help you amp up the quality of your adventure both during and after you return home. You don’t have to worry about a freezeproof camera doing its job in the toughest outdoor conditions. Here’s a review of the best waterproof cameras for 2017 — pick the camera that fits your budget or has that key feature you just can’t live without.
Best Waterproof Cameras 2017:
Olympus Tough TG-4
The 16 megapixel Olympus Tough TG-4 is waterproof down to 50 feet and with its accessories, it may be the most versatile rugged camera available in 2017. It offers built-in WiFi connectivity with iOS and Android mobile devices, which lets you control the camera remotely, even going so far as to let you control the zoom, select shooting modes, use the self-timer, and trip the shutter (handy for loners and group shots in the backcountry). The TG-4 also includes GPS and an electronic compass. In addition, it is the only rugged and waterproof point-and-shoot camera that has the ability to shoot RAW photos.
Another claim to fame in the TG-4 is its relatively fast F2.0 aperture lens (F4.9 for telephoto). Up close and personal, the TG-4 features a set of new microscope modes that will let you take astoundingly close photos of very small objects, like snowflakes, insects, or flowers.
The TG-4 has yet another nifty feature up its sleeve — add-on lenses. You can screw on an Olympus Telephoto Tough Lens to bring your zoom out to 7x or you can choose a Fisheye Tough lens that brings more of the outside world into your photos. Both lenses are add-on accessories that cost around $100 each. There’s more, though. For macro photography, the Olympus LED Macro Light Guide channels the TG-4’s flash into a circle of light around the lens to deliver even lighting that’s great for macro photography of tiny subjects. The TG-4 shoots Full HD video at 1920 x 1080 at 30 frames per second.
What we like most about the TG-4: The fast camera and the add-on lenses help you extend its usability.
Nikon COOLPIX AW130
The 16 megapixel Nikon COOLPIX AW130 is waterproof to 100 feet, shockproof from 6.5 feet, and freezeproof to 14 degrees. It boasts built-in GPS, along with an altimeter and depth gauge and WiFi. It shoots Full HD 1920 x 1080 video at 30 frames per second. The optical zoom is 5x and the maximum aperture is F2.8, which is relatively fast for rugged cameras and helps it take decent photos in dimly lit situations. The lens is a 24mm zoom NIKKOR wide-angle lens.
The AW130 boasts 5-axis vibration reduction, which suppresses camera shake during video shooting.
For GPS lovers, the AW130 supports points of interest that adds names of locations where photos are taken to your images, plus it includes other cool features like the ability to graph altitude and depth changes, as well as let you scroll over maps by tilting the camera.
The movie recording abilities include a feature that lets you pause recording then continue recording, all to a single file — or save a portion of a video as a separate file. Face Priority automatically recognizes faces and focuses accordingly.
With Nikon’s Wireless Mobile Utility app, you can use your smartphone to take pictures remotely, zoom in and out, and enable the self-timer.
The AW130 dives down to 100 feet.
What we like most about the AW130: In actual use, the AW130 feels the most rugged, and we prefer its beach photos over all others.
Olympus Tough TG-870
The 16 megapixel Olympus Tough TG-870 is waterproof to 50 feet, shockproof from 7 feet, freezeproof to the standard 14 degrees, and crushproof to 220 lbs (for back-pocket toughness). It has a 5x optical zoom, image stabilization, offers continuous shooting modes, and takes Full HD video at 1080p at 60 frames per second. While these features are expected for a rugged camera in 2016, the TG-870 has two standout features. The first is a flip-up rear LCD screen. Why? It makes taking selfies a breeze, helping you ensure that your outdoor vistas are properly framed behind your face. And the second interesting feature? A super-wide 21mm (equivalent) lens that Olympus claims is the widest lens found in any rugged camera. It captures 25% more than the typical 28mm equivalent lenses in most other waterproof cameras.
When you add this wide-angle lens to the Sportcam Mode — along with the cool optional Sport Holder — you can attach the TG-870 to a backpack or belt for hands-free use to capture your sporting exploits.
Of course, the TG-870 includes several filters, time-lapse options, more than two dozen shooting modes, including four for underwater shooting, as well as a fireworks mode.
What we appreciate most about the TG-870: It’s all-around versatility, decent video, and handy flip screen.
Shop Olympus TG-870 at Amazon.
Fujifilm FinePix XP120
The 16.4 megapixel Fujifilm FinePix XP120 is waterproof to 65 feet, shockproof to 5.8 feet, and freezeproof to 14 degrees. It has a 5x optical zoom with a 28mm wide-angle setting and optical image stabilization. It can capture up to 10 frames per second at full resolution with a handy dedicated continuous shooting button on the back of the camera. It also lets you shoot Full HD movies at 1920 x 1080 at 60 fps, along with a wind filter setting to reduce wind noise.
The FinePix XP120 includes Action Camera Mode, which fixes the camera’s lens to 18mm and turns off the rear LCD so you can mount the camera to your body and shoot longer while saving battery life.
For filter fans, the camera offers 10 built-in filters, including miniature, which produces the fun surreal shots that look like the world was created out of intensely lifelike little toys.
With the free Fujifilm Camera App, you can wirelessly transfer your photos to your smartphone or tablet — as well as save photos to a computer via WiFi.
What we appreciate most about the FinePix XP90: It offers all the best waterproof camera features at a very compelling price-point.
Canon PowerShot D30
The 12.1 megapixel Canon PowerShot D30 is waterproof down to a whopping 82 feet, shockproof from 6.5 feet, and freezeproof to 14 degrees — and heat resistant to 104 degrees. It has a 5x optical zoom. Quick question: Is the 12.1 megapixel rating substandard compared to 16 megapixels in similar cameras? Not necessarily because the sensors in cameras aren’t always able to collect and record light for each and every pixel, which often leaves you with “noisy” photos when shooting in tough conditions.
The PowerShot D30 captures Full HD video at 1080p at 24 fps. You can choose from two dozen shooting modes.
The camera includes a built-in GPS tracker that remembers where and when photos were taken so images can be captured along with the date, time, and location of each moment. With included software, you can track the locations of your photos on Google Maps. The D30 also boasts Canon’s Smart AUTO setting, which intelligently selects the proper camera settings based on 32 predefined shooting situations. Smart AUTO is coupled with Intelligent IS, which also automatically chooses from six different modes to help image stabilization for whichever shooting condition your working in.
Unfortunately, the D30 doesn’t have WiFi or wireless control options that similarly priced competitors include.
What we appreciate most about the D30: It’s simplicity and overall usability.
GoPro HERO5 Black
The GoPro HERO5 Black is actually an action camera, but it’s also rugged, waterproof and shoots surprisingly decent photos. The only downside is that it does not have an optical zoom lens, but it does shoot stunning 4K video. If you have a video preference and only shoot some photos, the GoPro HERO5 Black is for you.
The great thing about the HERO5 Black is how usable it now is for non-action fanatics — the new touchscreen interface is better than ever, and the screen helps you see and frame shots, as well as review what you managed to capture.
Unlike previous Black or Silver GoPro versions, the HERO5 Black is fully waterproof without the usual included clear case. So what about the rugged specs? It’s waterproof down to 33 feet, which is plenty for most mortals. If you want to go deeper, you can get an additional case.
The new usability features are what really make the new GoPro shine: It has voice control features in seven languages that will let you tell it to start taking video — and it will. It will also automatically upload photos and video to the GoPro Plus cloud when it’s charging (if you want it to). You can power the camera on and start recording with a single button press, and it now has very good digital image stabilization. It boasts stereo audio recording and great wind reduction capabilities. The camera shoots 12 megapixel stills.
All-in-all, if you have a priority for great video, the HERO5 Black is still the best action camera going for most everyone. As for photos, they’re surprisingly good in good outdoor light when your subjects are up close and personal — the GoPro has a wide-angle lens that makes it easy to always get your subject in the frame.
What we appreciate most about the HERO5 Black: The video quality and much improved usability.
The Leica X-U may be the best rugged camera available today — at least when your priority is photographic quality and the experience of shooting with a finely made device. As you might expect from Leica, it’s pricey — it flirts with $3,000. It’s made in Germany to exacting specifications, and it’s an exquisitely crafted unit. It’s shockproof to 4 feet, waterproof down to nearly 50 feet, and it can handle snow, wind, and dust.
The 16-megapixel sensor is paired with a 23 mm super fast f/1.7 aperture lens. It records Full HD 108op video at 30 frames per second, which, when you consider the price, is a con — we prefer 60 fps, and while that might be forgivable in a device at a tenth of the Leica’s cost, it’s hard to take when we’re talking three grand. If you’re still reading at this point, the Leica X-U fits a truly special niche for adventure cameras — a niche that starts with a big budget.
What we appreciate most about the X-U: That it even exists! Seriously, though, the craftsmanship paired with a great lens all wrapped up in a rugged housing is nice to see even though few people will ever use it.
Final Recommendations: Best Waterproof Camera 2017
All-in-all, each of these waterproof cameras are very good for most everyone’s wet and rugged adventure needs. While some people might be able to get away with a smartphone in a waterproof LifeProof case, smartphones don’t mount particularly well to kayaks or rafts, nor do they go well with fast rivers or deep water. While the Leica has superior craftsmanship and excellent photo quality, it still doesn’t fit in your pocket like all the other adventure cameras. Their primary job, as we see it, is to get you close to the action, wet and wild, and capture the shots and footage most people never get. If price isn’t a factor (other than for the Leica X-U), we like the Olympus TG-4 Tough with its telephoto zoom lens add-on accessory. If price is a factor, the previous generation Fujifilm FinePix XP90 is nearly the same camera as the XP120 — if you can find the XP90 for more than $50 less than the XP120, nab the XP90. If you’re on the fence, the Olympus TG-870 just keeps growing on us. Why? We like the flip up screen, especially because it makes taking cool low-angle shots a breeze. Plus, it shoots 1080p video at 60fps, which makes splashing water seem just a bit more liquid if you find yourself shooting more and more video.
Of course, video brings up the popular (and excellent) GoPro HERO5 Black. If video is your passion, you can’t go wrong with the GoPro HERO5 Black. It’s more usable than ever and the photos are surprisingly good. The only downside is that there is no optical zoom. When what you’re after is up close and personal, though, the GoPro is hard to beat.