Water, sand, and grit can wreak havoc with ordinary cameras, so unless you have a waterproof case for your camera (more about that later), your best bet is to get is to get a rugged, waterproof camera for underwater and the beach. This is especially true if you are around salt water.
The Top Three Waterproof Digital Cameras
Far and away, the best current choice for a waterproof digital point and shoot camera is the Olympus Tough TG-5. If you read the TG-5 reviews below, you will see why. In addition I found 9 online reviews (all linked below) of the best waterproof digital cameras. 7 out of the 9 reviews picked the Olympus TG-5 as the best waterproof digital camera. It is waterproof to 50 feet, crushproof to 220 pounds, and shockproof (i.e. drop proof) to 7 feet, making it a very rugged camera. Of the top three choices it is also the least expensive at $399.
It is also a camera system. In addition to a built in 4.5-18mm lens (25-100mm 35mm equivalent), by using adapters you can add a fish-eye lens, a tele-converter, and a 10X double element macro lens. There are two ring lite options that diffuse the light from the camera’s LED. The LG-1 Ring Lite is the preferred choice by many photographers but you might want to look at the FD-1 and read the reviews at Amazon (links below).
The Olympus Tough series has been a top rated favorite for several years. DPReview gave the TG-4 a Gold Award (their highest). You can read the comprehensive TG-4 review here. I will add links to several TG-5 reviews below so you can read more. You can find the Olympus TG-5 camera and accessories at Amazon.com via links in the Underwater Cameras section of my photography store.
The next two top rated choices are the Canon D30 and Nikon AW1.
The Canon D30 camera has a 5-25mm (28-140mm 35mm equivalent) lens and no accessory lens options. It is waterproof to 82 feet, the deepest of the three top choices. The current price at Amazon is $429.
The Nikon AW1 comes with a 11-27.5mm lens (30-74mm 35mm equivalent), but you can also get a 10mm lens. It is waterproof to 49 feet and shockproof to 6.6 feet. The Nikon 1 AW has a one inch CMOS sensor so you should expect an image quality advantage over the sensors in the Olympus and Canon cameras. The Nikon camera is the most expensive option of these three top rated waterproof cameras at $846. Due to the interchangeable lens system you have to be super careful with the Nikon camera to avoid water leaks. The Olympus lenses are add on accessories so you don’t have the same water leak risk when you change focal lengths.
Other than the top three cameras above, there are other waterproof cameras worth considering.
The Fujifilm FinePix XP120 waterproof digital camera is one of the most recommended budget models and currently sells for $149. It is waterproof to 65 feet and shockproof to 5.8 feet. It has a 5X zoom lens with a 28-140mm (35 mm equivalent) focal length range.
For more options check out the Best Waterproof Camera Articles below.
For a different kind of underwater option, look at GoPro HERO and Session cameras. They are a favorite for as inexpensive, small, underwater option and they are widely used by National Geographic, The Discovery Channel, and many other networks when they don’t want to hall, big heavy commercial video gear underwater. For more information read GoPro Hero6: Amazing, Small, Inexpensive, HD Video Cameras.
Camera Housings for Non-Waterproof Cameras
Ewa-Marine has been a top choice for reasonably priced, flexible camera housings for years. They come in all kinds of sizes for all kinds of cameras from small point and shoot cameras to large DSLRs, with or without a hot shoe mounted flash. Depending on the size of the camera, Ewa-Marine housings usually fall in the $150 – $450 range. You can buy some Ewa-Marine housings at Amazon but you should go to the Ewa-Marine site first to make sure you get the right model for your size camera.
The most expensive option for taking your non-waterproof camera underwater is a custom, camera model specific, hard shell housing. Prepare for sticker shock. For point and shoot cameras these run in the $500 – $1000 range and for DSLRs they run in the $1000 – $4000 range. Here are some point and shoot options and here are some DSLR options.
Olympus Tough Reviews
Olympus Tough TG-4 comprehensive review at DPReview.
Olympus TG-5 Review at Imaging Resource
Olympus TG-5 Review at Camera Labs
Olympus TG-5 Review at Digital Trends
Olympus TG-5 Review at PC Magazine
Best Waterproof Camera Articles – Some of these articles include the Olympus TG-4 because they were written before the TG-5 was available to review.
Top 10 Best Waterproof Tough Cameras 2017 – ePhotoZine
The Best Waterproof Digital Cameras of 2017 – PC Magazine
The 5 best waterproof cameras in 2017 – techradar
Best Waterproof and Rugged Cameras 2017 – Tom’s Guide
The 6 Best Waterproof Cameras to Buy in 2017 – Lifewire
Best Waterproof Cameras for 2017 – Gadget Review
The best waterproof camera you can buy – Digital Trends
Best waterproof camera – CameraLabs
Blue Water Photo for custom camera housings
This is one in a series of articles that will guide you to the best of all things photographic. The rest are here: Buyer’s Guide: Recommendations For The Best Photography Equipment, Software, Books, Magazines, DVDs, Online Photo Labs and More.