If you’re the type that likes to capture and record all of your outdoor escapades, a new rugged camera is a good accessory. Not only are these cameras built to withstand shocks, drops and extreme temperatures, they don’t have any trouble operating when it’s wet out either. It’s worth checking what kind of rough treatment they can endure, though: some are fine with a splash of water at the beach, while others can handle shallow snorkel drives, or deep scuba dives into the briny depths.
The best tough models we’ve tested are great in almost any situation: Our top model is the Olympus TG-5 ($450), which is exceptionally versatile yet fairly easy to use and offers very good quality photos and beautiful video at 4K-resolution. Coming in at a close second-place behind the TG-5 is the Nikon’s Coolpix W300 ($385) which can go twice as far underwater at the TG-5 and can also capture very good quality photos and video in 4K-resolution.
How did the TG-5 edge out the Nikon? The TG-5 allows you to shoot in RAW mode, which provides you with more latitude in challenging low-light settings, a common problem when shooting underwater. It also provides you with a very high ISO (12,800), which can be useful in low light. But there are other differences. as well. The TG-5 has a more versatile on-board flash: You can change the flash output, or amount of the its illumination, by adjusting the flash exposure compensation setting. That’s helpful if your subject is right near you and you need a strong flash to light your subject.
What’s interesting about the Olympus’ new Tough TG-5 in terms of its sensor is that it has a redesigned 12-MP sensor that has a lower megapixel count than its predecessor, yet still provides very good quality, and proves that megapixels alone do not determine images quality. (Sensor size and lens quality do that!) The TG-5 sports an f/2.0 lens and Olympus’ latest TruPic VIII image processor and a 4X optical zoom. The TG-5 also includes what Olympus calls a Field Sensor System, which tracks your movement, temperature and location, so that you can see your stats later, or embed that info directly into your footage. And because this camera is part of Olympus’ Tough line, you get some serious durability that includes water-resistance up to 50 feet, shock-resistance up to 7 feet, and operating temperatures that extend down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit.
What Olympus Tough TG-5 Owners Are Saying
Likes: Amazon customers liked the microscope mode, which lets you focus very close to objects. They also liked the sturdy build of the TG-5, yet it’s still smaller and lighter than expected. Others were happy with the 4K video and GPS and found it great to take snorkeling. It was also easy to change settings underwater. There were some owners that pointed out that it was better in low light than its predecessor
Dislikes: Like many point-and-shoots, you can hear the sound of the lens while zooming into or out from a subject. Other owner cons included having issues with connecting and disconnecting with computer via a USB cable, and being disappointed with the built-in Wi-Fi.
After more than two years, Nikon has refreshed its waterproof and rugged camera line with the new Coolpix W300. This 16-megapixel camera has the same 100-foot water resistance as the previous model, the AW130, while increasing shock-resistance to withstand falls from heights of up to 7.9 feet.We liked that it includes a slightly more powerful 5x zoom lens (from 24mm-120mm) than the Olympus lens (24mm-100mm), which is helpful for capturing close photos and video footage without degrading image quality, which happens when you use digital zoom.
Like the TG-5, the W300 can now also capture video at up to 4K at 30 fps, and will even let you shoot and save stills in the middle of recording a video. I like the variety of video settings, including fun features, like time-lapse or superlapse movie mode. But we were disappointed at it not having useful slow-motion features like the TG-5.For active enthusiasts who want to keep tabs on their adventures, the W300 sports built-in a GPS, altimeter, depth gauge and point-of-interest mapping. And like all of Nikon’s recent cameras, the W300 features the company’s Snapbridge tech so you can connect your phone to your camera using NFC, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for super simple photo sharing. The Coolpix W300 is available in yellow, black and orange.
What Nikon Coolpix W300 Owners Are Saying
Likes: Amazon customers were impressed with improvements to image and video stabilization as well as white balance and dynamic-range issues. Also, some noted the flash worked very well.
Dislikes: As with the Olympus Tough TG-5, some noted they were disappointed with the camera’s built-in Wi-Fi. Complaints also include that the new Coolpix is a bit heavier and that Nikon eliminated the map feature.
If Olympus’ and Nikon’s cameras are too pricey for your budget, FujiFilm’s FinePix XP120 may be more to your liking. It’s waterproof to 65 feet, can withstand drops from about 6 feet, and can withstand temperature ranges from 14 degrees to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Its 16MP sensor and a 5X optical zoom lens that goes from 28 – 140mm (35mm equivalent). It can also shoot 1080p video, and a Cinemagraph Mode lets you take still images with moving elements.
What Fujifilm FinePix XP120 Owners Are Saying
Likes: The XP120 has a rating of four stars on Amazon. Several praised its images, with one writing “pictures are good quality, both underwater and above ground.”
Dislikes: One owner said that the XP120’s manual was tiny and not all that helpful, while others said the battery life was too short.
The Samsung Galaxy S8 has one of the best phone cameras on the market, and its Active counterpartlets you use it on your next hike or swimming trip with confidence. The Active is MIL-810-STD tested and packs a shatterproof display, meaning you can drop it face-first onto just about any surface without a problem. It can also survive being under up to five feet of water for up to 30 minutes, complete with a dedicated shutter button for snapping a few underwater shots.
This rugged phone’s 12-MP dual-pixel shooter captures rich and vibrant daytime photos, and its f/1.7 lens excels under low light. The S8 Active’s fast autofocus is a great fit for action shots, and its 8-MP front camera packs its own flash for epic nighttime selfies. Complementing the phone’s camera is Samsung’s Activity Zone app, which includes a compass, barometer and flashlight button to make exploring easier.
Action sports and underwater photography haven’t been the same since GoPro first introduced its tiny cameras in 2004. While a number of models are available, our favorite is the Hero 5 Black, with a 12-megapixel sensor for still shots and up to 4K video (at 30 fps) for motion capture. It also includes an impressive voice control system, which means you can control the camera by simply telling the camera to “start video recording” or “take a photo”.
GoPro and third-party vendors offer a huge number of accessories, including touch-screen backs, external monitors, filters and multiple options for mounting the camera on just about anything you can imagine. Clamps and suction cup mounts are available for surfboards, cars, bicycles and more for recording POV videos, time-lapse videos and still images. It’s easy to share images, thanks to the camera’s built-in Wi-Fi and free app for Android, iOS and Windows Phone mobile devices.
Waterproof Cases and Housings
If you already own a (non) waterproof camera, and don’t want to purchase a new camera to go scuba diving or snorkeling, there is a whole constellation of accessories to make them waterproof. But one thing you’ll want to take note of: Be sure to find out the depth the housing is rated for. For instance, you’ll want to be sure to see how far underwater you can take your camera or smartphone once it’s in the housing.
For stand-alone cameras, you’ll want to look at both accessories created by your camera’s brand and by third-party accessories, such as Ikelite or Aquatec. For point-and-shoots, you’ll be able to find cases that range between $200 to $500. But if you’re looking to put an advanced interchangeable-lens camera, like a DSLR or a mirrorless camera, into a waterproof housing, you’ll have to spend quite a bit of money: Prices can range between $750 – $1,500.
For smartphones, you generally don’t get anywhere near the waterproofing in a standard case that you get with stand-alone camera housing. Waterproof smartphone cases might provide you with the ability to dive down only 6 or 7 feet underwater, and often for only a small period of time, like an hour. You’ll pay anywhere between $15-80, but if you want to go scuba diving your phone in a case, the models generally cost more than $100.