Best Waterproof Camera:
The top models shoot it out

Bill Livolsi, August 13, 2012

Buyer Advice

All five of today's cameras are waterproof, dustproof, and shockproof. They all use LCD screens rather than eye-level viewfinders for picture composition. They all feel similar in your hands, and all save the Olympus TG-1 have lenses offset to one side of the case. Those with large hands may find these offset-lens cameras difficult to hold, and indeed I had trouble trying to use two hands without accidentally including a finger in the resulting photograph. However, their small size also makes these cameras very pocketable.

If there is a general criticism that can be leveled against all of these cameras, it's that the waterproof seals need to be replaced yearly by the manufacturer. If you never take the camera underwater, this is less of a concern, but it could invalidate your warranty if you neglect to keep up with maintenance. Check the camera's manual for maintenance instructions.

If you do plan to use these cameras for their underwater abilities, we offer a word of advice: test the underwater performance as soon as you buy the camera. It seems that some small percentage of these underwater cameras have faulty waterproofing, though this is consistent across all brands and models (it only takes one small leak, after all). We have seen reports of people who buy the camera, take it on vacation, and have it fail spectacularly on its first trip under the water, which can put a serious damper on your trip and your mood. If you find that the camera is defective immediately, you can exchange it with the retailer instead of dealing with warranty service, which is by all accounts a much more painful experience.


So what does this shootout teach us? Well, for one thing, the low-megapixel Olympus TG-1 manages to look better than its competition. For years, manufacturers and retail stores have been telling us that more equals better when it comes to megapixel count, and that's simply not true. Even an older camera like the Panasonic TS3, with less impressive specifications than its competitors, came in a solid second place. As if it weren't obvious before, this drives home the point that specifications don't tell the whole story.

When shopping for a camera, it's easy to get caught up in the numbers game. I've done it before, too. Sixteen megapixels has to be better than twelve, right? More zoom is always better, isn't it? Nonsense. The things that really matter in choosing a camera are how it feels in your hands and how easy it is to use. A good camera will "get out of the way" and let you do what you want to do without causing frustration. That's all. In our opinion, that's what makes the Olympus TG-1 the best waterproof camera.