Underwater cameras were once an expensive and specialised rarity, but here are six that are designed to be just as happy in the water as you are.
They’re not huge, armoured monstrosities, either, but regular compact cameras that don’t cost that much more than their land based equivalents.
Water isn’t the only potentially hostile environment for cameras, of course.
Come that winter skiing holiday, you’ll need a camera that can keep shooting well below freezing point as well as keeping out the snow. Or if scrambling in the Cairngorms is more your thing, you’ll want something that can survive some knocks and bangs, too.
And how about keeping out the sand on the beach?
That’s the great thing about these cameras: they’re not just waterproof, they’re also ‘ruggedised’ (with the exception of the Fujifilm). Whether you’re into extreme sports or you just want a camera you don’t have to mollycoddle, these items are perfect.
Underwater cameras explained
First, underwater cameras are depth-rated. Water pressure increases with depth, and these cameras can only withstand so much. The depth rating tells you just how far down they can go.
Second, shock-proofing is measured as the vertical height from which the camera can be dropped, but only under the makers’ precise testing conditions. These won’t necessarily reflect real-world conditions, and the makers don’t offer a guarantee against accidental breakage.
Third, ‘freeze proofing’ indicates the lowest temperature at which the camera is guaranteed to operate. But while the camera may be functional, that’s not to say the battery will be.
Lithium-ion cells are more tolerant than other types, but their capacity is still substantially reduced at these temperatures.
- Canon PowerShot D10 – 12.1 megapixels – £280
- Fujifilm FinePix Z33WP – 10 megapixels – £150
- Olympus Mju Tough 8000 – 12 megapixels – £260
- Panasonic Lumix FT1 – 12.1 megapixels – £260
- Pentax Optio W60 – 10 megapixels – £175
- Ricoh G600 – 10 megapixels – £300
Canon Powershot S10
The PowerShot D10 is Canon’s first attempt at a waterproof compact, and straight away it looks different from the rest. With a chunky, bulbous design that certainly looks the part, but which may have been needed to accommodate a larger, more conventional lens.
- Waterproof to 10m.
- Shockproof to 1.22m, behind the Olympus, Panasonic and Ricoh.
- Fatter design than rivals despite modest zoom range.
- The best defi nition, but strong barrel distortion in wide-angle shots.
- Second most expensive model on test.
- Smart Auto mode selects from 18 different Scene modes, not just a handful.
The FinePix Z33WP is fun, fashionable and inexpensive. Its depth rating (limited to 2 hours) is just 3m, though, and it’s neither shockproof nor freezeproof. Bu t it is ideal as a ‘beach’ camera for family holidays.
- Waterproof to 3m but for up to 2 hours only
- Lowest operating temperature 0 degrees – it’s not freezeproof
- Don’t drop this camera – it’s not shockproof.
- Inexpensive but stylish ‘fun’ camera that’s also easy to use.
- Slow image playback, zoom and panning
- Definition adequate for snaps but lags behind rest.
Olympus Mju Tough 8000
The Mju Tough 8000 is the toughest of the cameras on test, with the joint deepest dive depth, 2m shockproofing and ‘crushproofing’ up to 100kg too. The metal finish looks good, but is slightly slippery if the camera is wet, and the embossed markings on the buttons aren’t always easy to see. The controls are pretty tightly packed and could be tricky to work with heavy gloves on.
- Waterproof to 10m.
- Shockproof to 2m – the toughest of the six cameras on test.
- Freezeproof to -10 degrees and also ‘crushproof’ up to 100kg.
- 3.6x wide-angle zoom (28-102mm equivalent)
- Dual-format – xD and MicroSD cards (with a supplied adaptor).
- Good colour and exposure but patchy definition.
Panasonic Lumix FT1
- Waterproof to 3m
- Shockproof to 1.5m
- Similar price, design and specs to the Mju 8000 but not as tough
- 4.6x wide-angle zoom (28-128mm equivalent)
- 1,280×720 HD Movie mode using either AVCHD or Motion JPEG formats
- Proximity of Shutter Release and Zoom buttons could be a problem
Pentax Optio W60
The Pentax W60 may look and feel cheaper than many other rugged cameras, but it can go to a fairly impressive 4m underwater, albeit for only two hours. It’s not shockproof, though, and while it will work at -10 degrees, the battery indicator goes down to empty.
- Waterproof to an above average depth of 4m but only for 2 hours
- Freezeproof down to -10 degrees, but not shockproof
- 5x wide-angle zoom equivalent to 28-140mm
- 1,280×720 HD Movie mode, but only at 15fps
- Cramped controls difficult when using gloves
- Value for money given the zoom range and overall picture quality
If looks counted for anything, the Ricoh G600 would be the toughest camera around. It’s much larger than the most compacts, and has a rubber-like finish that feels much more suited to bouncing off rocks or getting a grip on underwater
- Waterproof to just 1m
- Shockproof to 1.5m, and operates down to a minimum -10 degrees
- 5x wide-angle zoom range (28-140mm equivalent)
- 360-shot battery life around 50 per cent better than the rest
- Big, clearly marked controls which are easy to work wearing gloves
- Quite expensive for what you get