Saturday, 7 June 2014

Best Waterproof and Rugged Cameras of 2014

If you (or your kids) are prone to dropping things or if you like to venture out in extreme temperatures or dusty trails or sandy beaches, one of these rugged cameras might be for you. Rugged models are shockproof if you drop them, can operate in extreme temperatures and are sealed against dust, dirt and water.

But it’s the waterproof capabilities that may be most helpful this summer as vacationers head to beaches, pools, boats and, for the more adventurous, under the waves to explore and photograph exotic flora and fauna.

Best Advanced Waterproof Camera

Best Overall Compact Waterproof Camera

Best Compact Waterproof Camera Deep Diving

Best Waterproof Action Camera


Nikon 1 AW1

Olympus TG-3 Tough

Canon PowerShot D30

GoPro Hero 3+ Black Edition

Best Price

While underwater housings are available for many cameras, there are a number of models that provide protection against the elements all on their own. These self-contained, amphibious cameras are easy to carry and take great photos in gentle environments, as well. But we’ve also included a small housed camera, with various mounting accessories for shooting POV (point of view) photo and video.

Here are your best waterproof camera options. 

Best Advanced Waterproof Camera

Nikon recently launched the world’s first — and only — underwater interchangeable lens digital camera. Part of the Nikon 1 line, this rugged 14 megapixel mirrorless model is waterproof to a depth 49 feet for 60 minutes. That’s generally more than sufficient for casual divers and certainly exceeds the requirements of snorkelers…It’s also guaranteed to survive a drop of up to 6.6 feet onto a relatively hard surface (e.g., 2-inch plywood). Yet, it’s compact at just 4 x 2.9 x 1.5 inches and 11.1 ounces for the body.

The AW1 also has the features you’d expect from a good mirrorless camera, including full manual, aperture- and shutter priority modes, automatic controls, as well as creative modes like shooting at 400fps and 1200fps for slow-motion playback. It’s fast, too, with a maximum 15 frames-per-second continuous shooting speed with autofocus. And it captures 1080p HD video (at 60i/30p). The wandering adventurer will make good use of its built-in GPS, although don’t depend on it underwater. For Wi-Fi, you’ll need the optional (non-waterproof) $60WU-1b adapter, though.

While the AW1 accepts any of the 11 1 NIKKOR lenses for use on land, you’ll need one of Nikon’s two all-weather lenses to go underwater: the $200 1 NIKKOR AW 10mm f/2.8 (27mm-equivalent) or the $150 1 NIKKOR AW 11-27.5mm f/3.5-5 (30-74mm equivalent).

To complete the underwater outfit, Nikon offers a $750 waterproof external strobe, the SB-N10 Speedlight, which is depth-rated to 328 feet and is compatible with the AW1 as well as the WP-N1 (J1, J2), WP-N2 (J3, S1) and WP-N3 (J4, S2) underwater housings for non-waterproof Nikon 1 model cameras. Built-in flashes aren’t powerful enough to be effective underwater; and because they can’t be angled, they often produce backscatter — small, white dots from the flash reflecting off tiny particulates in the water. So the external, adjustable strobe is a great, albeit expensive, addition to the setup for divers.

More: Best Mirrorless Cameras 2014

Best Overall Compact Waterproof Camera

Olympus launched the first shockproof, waterproof compact camera in January 2006, and it still rules the category with its Olympus Tough TG-3. Depth-rated to 15m (around 50 feet), the TG-3 is one of the deeper diving, although not the deepest, self-contained compact cameras on the market. (See the Canon D30 if you want to dive deeper than 50 feet). The TG-3 is also made to survive any kind of abuse on land, being dustproof, crushproof up to 220 pounds of pressure, shockproof from a 7-foot drop, and freezeproof down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit.

A fast, bright aperture of f/2.0 helps scavenge light from darker underwater scenes, and the TG-3 is equipped with several special underwater modes, including wide-angle and macro (extreme close-up) options. Although the camera doesn’t offer full manual exposure controls, it has a number of useful modes, including Intelligent Auto, Program Auto and Aperture Priority. Along with the typical scene modes you’ll find on most compact cameras, the TG-3 also offers Olympus’ cool and creative Art Filters, as well as HD video and time-lapse video, among others. In addition to Wi-Fi and GPS, the TG3 includes a manometer to record water depth and displays a warning when you approach 50 feet. An electronic compass provides direction, longitude and latitude data.

With a 25-100mm (equivalent) focal range, the internal zoom lens offers a respectable wide-angle field of view. A duo of optional accessory lenses includes a $140 fisheye converter lens pack to get an even broader view of the underwater landscape. The TG-3 has incredible macro and microscope modes that let you get extreme close-ups of tiny subjects above or below water with up to 13.8x magnification. Olympus sells an optional, $41 circular LED Light Guide (LG-1) that fits around the lens for great macro illumination.

More: Top Smartphone Cameras

Best Compact Waterproof Camera Deep Diving

The Canon PowerShot D30 doesn’t have too many bells and whistles, but that’s a good thing if you’re looking for ease of use while exploring the underwater world or want to catch some snapshots at the beach. This 12-megapixel compact camera is the deepest diver of the rugged cameras on the market, with a depth rating of 82 feet. The D30 is also shockproof when dropped from up to 6.5 feet and works under a range of temperatures from 14 F to 104 F — for anything from ice fishing to sunbathing. The rubberized grip on the front panel provides a solid handhold.

A special white balance setting helps counteract the blue cast underwater. The D30 can focus as close as 0.4 inches, or even closer with its digital zoom capability, to capture the details and textures of tiny underwater creatures.

This is strictly a point-and-shoot camera, without any manual exposure controls. But Canon has outfitted it with a number of special shooting modes, including fisheye effect, toy camera effect, super-slow motion movie at 240 or 120fps and various color effects options.

Best Waterproof Action Camera

Action sports and underwater photography haven’t been the same since GoPro first introduced its tiny cameras in 2004. Today, the GoPro Hero is available in three models, but the best is the Hero3+ Black Edition, with a 12-megapixel sensor for still shots and up to 4K video (albeit at just 15fps) for motion capture.

GoPro’s underwater housing, which is bundled with the camera, turns this Lilliputian-size camera into an almost equally tiny fully waterproof kit that operates as deep as 131 feet. (The recommended maximum depth limit for advanced divers is is130 feet). A more-robust housing, good to 197 feet, costs $60. Since water is dense and absorbs light (and, therefore, color), you’ll need one or two video lights and/or filters to get the best results the deeper you venture below the surface. Red disappears at about 20 feet; other colors are not visible without lights as you descend. A kit with a single BigBlue dive light and a GoPro tray to attach it to the housing is available for about $260. Other third-party options are available as well.

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.

Writer and photographer Theano Nikitas has been covering photography for almost 20 years and has reviewed hundreds of digital cameras as well as other digital imaging hardware and software. Follow her @TheanoN and on Google+. Follow us @TomsGuide, on Facebook and on Google+.

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