The Best Underwater Compact Digital Cameras: 2011

by Tracy McGill •

The Best Underwater Cameras

The Best Underwater Cameras 2011

In years past, capturing the wonder of underwater life was left to those traveling with Jacques Cousteau or National Geographic. Today’s cameras offer the recreational water enthusiast the thrill of capturing their experiences to share with others. With so many camera manufacturers getting in on the underwater photography craze, it can be overwhelming to decide which one is best for you. The first thing to decide is how seriously you want to dive into underwater photography. If you’re an avid scuba diver with a basic knowledge of photography, you may want to consider investing in a single reflex lens camera (SLR) so you have more control and can purchase upgrades, such as wide angle lenses and strobe lights. However, most us are looking for a compact, point and shoot digital camera that we can trust to take on our adventures or send along with the kids on theirs.

We went in search of what experts across the internet are saying about the best rugged digital cameras. Researching reviews at Cnet, PCMag, LensTip, and Digital Photography Review, we came up with a list of the 5 best underwater cameras that repeatedly got the best marks across the board. You may want to check out LensTip for sample pictures from some of the underwater cameras, while Digital Photography Review offers handy side-by-side comparison charts.

Underwater Housing Systems

Ikelite Underwater Systems

Ikelite Underwater Camera System

If you already have a digital camera that you’re happy with- compact or SLR- you may just want to get an underwater housing for your camera. Underwater housing is a watertight plastic encasing designed specifically for your camera. A good source for these systems is Ikelite. They offer a wide range of housings for digital cameras, including discontinued models. These high quality housings offer scuba divers more depth, typically 200 feet, and allow for full access to the camera controls. One drawback though is that they can be just as expensive as the camera itself and this setup is just for underwater photography. If you’re looking for a more all-around rugged camera then check out the following 5 picks:

Pentax Optio W90 Underwater Camera

Pentax Optio W90 Underwater Camera

Pentax Optio W90 Underwater Camera

Pentax is not a stranger to making a rugged, waterproof camera. The Optio W90 is the 11th generation underwater camera from Pentax. It’s waterproof up to 20 feet, shockproof up to 4 feet, and coldproof to 14 degrees Fahrenheit. Features include 12.1 megapixels, a 28 mm wide angle 5x zoom lens, and a 2.7 inch LCD screen that can be viewed underwater. You’ll notice three LED lights surrounding the lens which help illuminate macro pictures.

This review by Cnet gave the Pentax Optio W90 an excellent rating with 4 out of 5 stars. They liked the features available for this price point and gave the design a 9 out of 10 rating. Testers at LensTip gave it an 8 out of 10 for underwater picture quality, while Cnet gave it a 7 out of 10. Not perfect, but better than most rugged cameras.  Both sites liked the comfort and size of the controls. This is important for underwater, one-handed shooting or gloved hands. On the downside, the battery life is short and missing from the features is an optical image stabilizer.

You can get it on Amazon for $389.99.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT2

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT2 Underwater Camera

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT2 Underwater Camera

The 14.1 megapixel Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT2 won the distinction of PCMag’s editor’s choice for best rugged camera. According to testers at both LensTip and PCMag, the Panasonic blows the competition out of the water, especially when it comes to the detailed quality of both pictures and HD video at depths beyond 10 feet. The Panasonic is waterproof up to 33 feet, shockproof from 6 feet, and freezeproof to 14 degrees Fahrenheit.  It offers the LED light that comes on automatically when light is dim. Another important feature is a power optical image stabilizer which detects hand shake to eliminate blurry pictures. LensTip reviewers also loved the new silicon sleeve that comes with the camera to offer even more protection from scratches and the inevitable fine sand particles that can sneak in.

The Lumix boasts an extended battery life and is one of the first digital cameras to use the high capacity SDXC card for video storage. There were some issues though that testers picked up on. The beach and sand mode was not as brilliant in coloring as the underwater or dry land modes. PCMag, along with a few Amazon reviewers, noted some lens fog under certain situations. Also, the controls were not quite as user friendly as the Pentax with the zoom control being too close to the shutter release. At a list price of $349.95, the Panasonic is one of the more costly choices, but you are paying for better features and picture quality.

Currently sells for $290.63 on Amazon.

Canon PowerShot D10 Underwater Camera

Canon PowerShot D10

Canon PowerShot D10 Underwater Camera

The 12.1 megapixel PowerShot D10 is the first offering by Canon in a rugged digital camera. By reading reviews at PCMag and Cnet, one would soon learn that this would be a good option if you’re looking for a digital camera strictly for recreational use: snorkeling, skiing, boating, or poolside. Because of it’s bulk, the Canon Powershot D10 doesn’t transfer well to use as an everyday camera. However, the design is well suited if you’re wearing gloves in an underwater setting. The auto settings make it easy to capture high quality images. It’s waterproof to 33 feet, freezeproof to 14 degrees Fahrenheit, and shockproof from 4 feet.

The Canon delivers when it comes to fast performance, beating most other rugged cameras in start up time and shutter lag, with the exception of the Panasonic. Reviewers also liked the brilliant LCD screen that stood up to bright light. It does feature an optical stabilizer, however it does not have the ability to shoot HD video, only standard VGA video, which could be a deal breaker if you want high quality video. The Canon PowerShot D10 is one of the more simple cameras to use, good for those who don’t want to mess with settings too much, but not if you’re looking for something with more features. And with a list price of $299.00, you may not feel like you’re getting the most bang for your buck. But if ease of use is your priority while you’re having fun, then the Canon PowerShot is a solid choice.

You can get it for $279.00 on Amazon.

Fujifilm FinePix XP10 Underwater Camera

Fujifilm FinePix XP10

Fujifilm FinePix XP10 Underwater Camera

The 12 megapixel FujiFilm FinePix XP10 is our budget pick for an underwater digital camera. You may not get all the bells and whistles as with the other underwater camera entries, but with an easy to swallow list price of $149.00, the Fuji would be a good option for the budget-conscious, occasional water enthusiast. The folks at Lenstip tested this model which offers waterproofing up to 10 feet, freezeproofing to 14 degrees Fahrenheit, and can be dropped from 3 feet. They liked the scratch resistant LCD screen, but noted that the varnish on the front of the camera began to peel off after use.

Though picture quality may not be in the same league as the other choices, it takes decent pictures for the price and does have the ability to shoot HD video. Underwater use is convenient with a well-positioned lens and one-handed operation. However, the menu navigation before getting into the water proved to be challenging for the testers. Features include digital image stabilization and a battery life of 200 shots. It also comes in other fun colors such as green, blue, and pink. If you’re looking for a basic point and shoot to take to snorkeling or just to the beach then the FujiFilm FinePix XP10 is a capable companion.

Currently on sale at Amazon for $119.95.

Olympus Stylus Tough 8010 Underwater Camera

Olympus Stylus Tough 8010 Underwater Camera

Olympus Stylus Tough 8010 Underwater Camera

If you need something indestructible to take mountain climbing, cycling, skiing, diving, or to let the kids use, then the Olympus Stylus Tough 8010 may be what you’re looking for. Scoring 3.5 stars out of 5 from both Cnet and Digital Photography Review, this ultra-rugged camera is designed for the toughest of the tough, or perhaps the most clumsy, as it’s crushproof up to a weight of 220 pounds and can be dropped from 6.6 feet. Take it underwater up to 33 feet or in temperatures as low as 14 degrees Fahrenheit. It offers 14 megapixels with a 5x wide angle zoom lens and a 2.7 inch LCD screen. One handy feature is the built-in user’s manual.

Cnet noted that the buttons are easy to press with gloved hands while underwater. Picture and HD video quality is good overall. However, the major drawback is the Olympus comes in last place against the other choices when it comes to speed performance due to a 4 second start-up time compared to 1.2 seconds with the Panasonic and the Canon. The other drawback is the hefty $379.00 list price to match the hefty packaging, which is ultimately what you’re paying for.

The Olympus Stylus Tough 8010 is currently on sale at Amazon for $289.00.

Comments 5

  1. The Sealife DC1400 is the best compact digital under water camera on the market today with a 14mp and 200ft depth it does the job nicely with out compromise.It has great HD recording(continous)and piano key controls that make it even easier to operate,in addition it has 27 land based modes and 6 under water modes .For around the $450-$490 mark it sure does cut the competition in half.The best part is the O ring does not need lubricating just keep the O ring clean,purpose built housing is worry free from most delimers that are associated with underwater cameras and is also compatible with sd and sdhc 32GB.3″ LCD screen for easy viewing and last but not least a protective rubberized coating for anti shock/drop.Consider this as a prelude to the web site and try it out for your self.Oh yes I do have one and I love it,even my six year old daughter can use it it’s that user friendly. Sealife on Amazon

  2. I have the Pentax W80 and have no issues with water leaking, it’s a solid build camera. I love the fact that I can take it where I need to go, I recently went to mexico and took it with me on the Explor Trip where we Zip lined and swam through caves with water, all around a good camera.

    I am looking to upgrade to the W90 as I am happy with it. I also own a Nikon D7000 which I can’t take every where I go.

  3. I was interested in the Pentax camera until I found out that some users have had issues with them leaking when swimming in salt water, and the seals are supposedly suppose to be replaced frequently. I think I am going to choose a different camera unfortunately.

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