Wife and I are going on vacation in a few months and, based on videos of many others who have vacationed in the same locale, I realize I am going to need a waterproof camera.
I am not looking for something expensive. I just need a camera that can be used underwater while snorkeling and during other aquatic excursions. I’d like to keep the cost under $400, well under if possible, but it has to be durable and be able to take decent underwater stills and videos.
Underwater photography is mostly about lighting, and if you’re using a P&S camera without offboard lighting your results will have a limit.
Having said that, you can get quite good cameras for around $200. Top performers would probably be the Olympus TG-860, Panasonic TMC-TS6, Canon D30, and Nikon AW120. All perform pretty well at a reasonable price. They’re all about the same optical zoom and low light performance.
Are you planning on going SCUBA diving, snorkeling, or something else?
I bought a Panasonic DMC-TS30 camera a few years ago for a trip overseas where I didn’t want to cart around a full sized DSLR and waterproof case. (I was already carrying a large duffle and a 25 kg folding kayak, so carrying a camera bag as well would have been kind of ridiculous, and while I’m not above doing ridiculous things it turned out to be the right move.) The images the camera produced weren’t comparable to even a consumer-grade DSLR, but they were as good as any point & shoot camera that I’ve used, and the underwater pictures were surprisingly sharp and colorful. I’ve taken it skin diving down to 30’ with no ill effects, as well as taking it backpacking through the rainy Olympic Penninsula, snowboarding at Big Sky, snowshoeing in Yosemite, and looking for bears in the Sierras. Wirecutter rates the successor as second best to the Olympus TG-4 and DP Review gives the Lumix TS line overall good ratings.
I’m going to add my voice to the chorus for the TG series. I have an older Olympus TG-620 that I love. I just got back from Hawaii and it performed like a champ. I took it snorkeling and have some beautiful sea turtle photos and had it underwater to capture several minutes of whale song.
If you already have a decent camera, try searching for a waterproof housing for it. They’re available for a lot of cameras, and can sometimes outperform the actual waterproof cameras in terms of waterproofing. Waterproof cameras are always premium-priced but the guts aren’t usually super impressive. Heck, for $400 you could probably get an entry-level DSLR and add the housing.
But if you want compact size or the convenience of an all-in-one, I’ll agree with the other posters that Olympus is probably the way to go.
The problem is the housing can often cost as much as a low end DSLR, and they aren’t compact. A waterproofed and toughened camera like the TG or the Lumix is only slightly larger than a cell phone or normal P&S camera, and you don’t have to deal with gaskets. Unless you are specifically going on a photography tour, the P&S toughened cameras will go pretty much everything you probably want to do, and are cheap enough that if you lose it or it gets damage the most you’ve out are some pictures.
They do make very cheap waterproof bags for DSLRslike this, or even this. TBH they look pretty crappy and I wouldn’t trust my camera to that bag.
I liked the TG-4 because a hand strap doubled as a flotation for the camera so if I dropped it it’d be fine, and I could put it in my pocket. Also, it was durable so I felt no problem simply throwing it on the beach and having it land in the sand, diving for it in the pool, or letting kids handle it since dropping even on pavement is basically no problem.