If you’re looking for the latest waterproof camera tech packed into a rugged and compact body, then check out the three best waterproof cameras on the market in 2016. These three underwater cameras from Olympus, Nikon, and Panasonic consistently get the most attention from our previous waterproof camera roundups, and for good reason: They all include GPS, in-the-field WiFi connectivity, and 1080p video recording — all of which, it turns out, are our three must-have key features that help these cameras rise above the competition.
It doesn’t hurt that they come in cool colors, too.
Of course, there are other waterproof cameras that work well, take great photos and video, and will deliver memories from the local water park to the ocean floor. Some offer amazing quality but are too big or expensive for most people (for example, you could spend thousands on a DSLR with a waterproof housing) while others almost get there in a rugged and inexpensive form factor (like the Canon PowerShot D30 that goes down to 82 feet deep) but they don’t include all of our three key needs: GPS, wireless connectivity, and 1080p video from a compact camera.
Plus, there’s some subjective judgement thrown in here — which is why you’re reading this in the first place. So save yourself some time and choose one of these bad boys:
*Note: Olympus and Nikon have released updated versions of these waterproof cameras. Learn more in our best waterproof cameras guide.
Best Waterproof Cameras: Olympus Stylus Tough TG-4
The Olympus Stylus Tough TG-4 is one the most popular rugged cameras available, and it replaces the previous generation TG-3, offering the same specifications as the TG-3 except for the new ability to shoot RAW photos (most pros prefer to shoot in RAW while pretty much everyone else is quite happy with the standard .jpg output).
In any event, the 16.0 megapixel TG-4 is waterproof down to 50 feet, freezeproof to 14°F, shockproof from 7 feet, and crushproof to 220 lbs. Its real claim to fame, though, is the F2.0 4x zoom lens, which helps the camera capture action shots without blur in less-than-ideal lighting.
The built-in WiFi works with the Olympus Image Share app to let you transfer files wirelessly as well as operate the zoom, adjust ISO and white balance, select the shooting modes, activate the timer, or select the autofocus point and snap a photo — all from your smartphone. This is handy for group shots, remote shots, or trying to capture a closeup of an elusive beast. Of course, it also means you can take selfies that include less head and more background. Best yet, to connect to the camera’s WiFi network, you just scan a QR code on the TG-4’s LCD with your iOS or Android device.
The built-in compass also shows your altitude or water depth, and the GPS unit will geotag your photos if you want to map out your journey or share your exact location.
The video will shoot up to 1080p at 30 frames per second, but video is not the most interesting standout feature on the TG-4 — the close-up macro and microscope modes are standouts. Not only does the TG-4 excel at shooting closeups of insects on flowers, it boasts a new photo stacking function can capture eight different shots continuously while adjusting the focus, giving you a final result with a broad focal range. And if you’re really into tiny stuff, you can get a round LED Light Guide to illuminate your subject.
You can also outfit your TG-4 with an add-on fisheye converter lens, as well as a telephoto lens that will bump your optical zoom up to 7x. And the center-placed lens? Helps keep fingers out of your shots while making it a bit easier to frame video while holding your camera at odd angles.
The Nikon COOLPIX AW130 features a 16.0 megapixel sensor with 5x optical zoom lens and a F2.8 aperture that can capture 6.9 frames per second in continuous shooting. It’s waterproof down to a mind-blowing 100 feet, shockproof to 6.6 feet, and freezeproof down to 14°F.
Like the WiFi on the TG-3, the built-in WiFi on the AW130 lets you transfer photos to your smartphone or tablet, as well as lets you use your smartphone as a remote control.
The built-in GPS and electronic compass lets you graph altitude and depth changes, geotag your photos, but it also lets you scroll over maps by tilting your camera and even can be used to alert you to Points of Interest areas around the world.
You can record video in Full HD, up to 1920 x 1080 at 30p or up to 60i . . . with stereo sound, too. You can even pause the video recording, then continue recording to the same video file.
Last of all, Nikon’s Action Control system lets you control the camera while wearing gloves. Nice.
As for accessories, there’s a COOLPIX AW Series Chest Strap you can use to capture video when you’re part of the action — and the 24mm equivalent wide-angle lens helps ensure that you get it all in the frame, too.
What about the previous generation AW120? The the guts of the AW120 are the same as the those inside the AW130, so the AW120 is essentially the same great camera — but it only goes down to 59′ feet underwater and it doesn’t have the slightly improved grip that is on the AW130.
We’ve got to give props to Panasonic for adding a camo option this year — what guy doesn’t appreciate camo? — but it’s what is inside that counts. The 16.1 megapixel Panasonic LUMIX TS6 has an F3.3 aperture and a 4.6x optical zoom 28mm wide-angle lens. It’s waterproof to 43 feet, shockproof from 6.5 feet, freezeproof down to 14°F, and crushproof up to 220 lbs — and by now, these basic rugged specs are getting familiar. So where does the Panasonic LUMIX TS6 excel? In addition to WiFi connectivity and remote control via Panasonic’s apps, some smartphones that support NFC (not the iPhone, unfortunately) make connectivity even easier: You can simply tap your smartphone and the TS6 together to turn your phone into a remote control — or tap your camera to your friend’s smartphone to transfer photos. You can also set the TS6 to instantly transfer photos to your phone as you shoot photos.
Outdoor photographers will also appreciate the Intelligent HDR feature, which shoots several still photos consecutively at different exposures that are then overlaid to produce a single composite image. How does this benefit you? If you’re taking a photo that includes dark shadows under trees but also bright sky, the Intelligent HDR will give you excellent sky with tree trunks that you can actually see — rather than washed out sky and nearly black tree trunks. A similar feature is its Intelligent Night Shot.
In addition, you can record Full HD 1920 x 1080 video at 60p as well as 60i (while the Nikon was 30p or 60i). Not sure what that means? Basically, a 60p recording mode captures more information — you can get 60 full frames per second. Not a huge deal for most people, but nice to see nonetheless. Another perk is the Dolby Digital stereo microphone, which also suppresses mechanical zoom noise if you zoom while recording video.
The TS6 also supports GPS and altimeter logging, has a built-in compass and barometer (which also works for depth).
If you have Panasonic 3D VIERA TV, you can shoot in a 3D Photo Mode and then view your photos for a 3D effect. Last of all, if you’re really looking for some extra serious protection, you can get a Marine Case that will boost your waterproof depth down to 147 feet.
All-in-all, for 2015, these three cameras combine the best ruggedized features in small form factors at compelling prices. You can’t really go wrong with any of them, and each one will likely make most any outdoor adventurer happy. They’re not as small as a GoPro (read our “The Last GoPro Review You’ll Ever Need“), but they’re far more versatile for more kinds of people and easier to use. Choose the Olympus TG-4 if you want a centered lens with telephoto or fisheye lens add-ons — or if you’re a close-up macro-loving photographer. Choose the Nikon AW130 for the all-around ease-of-use, does-everything-well value, wide-angle lens, mapping capabilities, silicon jackets, and chest strap. Choose the Panasonic TS6 for the wide variety of shooting modes and 1080p video recording at 60 fps.
Oh, and one more thing, don’t forget to get a fast memory card for shooting your burst images and HD video, like the SanDisk Extreme Plus 32GB SDHC UHS-1 Flash Memory Card. The last thing you want to do is hang out with mountain goats far away from civilization and run out of memory.
Make Your Decision and Get Back Outside!
The most important point? We narrowed the waterproof camera field for you, so don’t obsess over these options — follow your gut response, pick one, and get back outside to your next wet, dusty, frozen, and rugged adventure.