The best underwater cameras of 2012: our top 5 waterproof compact cameras of the year...
- Wed, 19 Sep 2012
Top 5 Underwater Compact Cameras of 2012
Electronics and water tend not to mix. But thanks to clever engineering and use of choice materials there are a growing number of waterproof cameras out there. Not only do these cameras tend to be waterproof to a depth of around 10-15 metres, they usually also benefit from being ‘toughened up' in a variety of other ways too, from freeze-proofing to shock-proofing and sometimes even crush-proofing. Collectively they're generally known as ‘ruggedised' or ‘tough' compacts. We've hand-picked a selection of the five best waterproof cameras of 2012.
When choosing a waterproof compact camera to use when you're snorkelling or shallow water diving there are a number of things to consider. For starters, you'll need to think about how deep underwater you're likely to be taking - at the affordable end of the spectrum most waterproof compacts are designed to withstand a depth of around 10-15 metres - if you think you'll be wanting to dive deeper then you might be better off thinking about purchasing a waterproof camera housing instead.
It's also worth bearing in mind that the folding-lens design favoured by tough compacts (which keeps the lens housed entirely within the sealed camera body) does require the optics to be considerably smaller than regular compacts with extending zooms. In the past this has often had negative effects on overall image quality - be sure to read our reviews thoroughly to see how your shortlisted models perform underwater.
Given the ever-increasing number of tough waterproof cameras that are available on the market we've rounded up five of our favourites from the past year. Read on to discover our top five underwater cameras of 2012...
Waterproof to 12m, the FT4 also benefits from being shock-proofed against accidental drops of up to 2m, freeze-proofed to temperatures of up to -10C and is also sealed against penetration by dust or grime. In addition the FT4 also boasts built-in GPS tagging, alongside a digital compass, altimeter and barometer making it a solid investment for adventurous photographers looking to venture off the beaten track.
Internally the FT4 is built around a 12.1MP CCD sensor, while the Leica branded 4.6x zoom (28-128mm in 35mm terms) also benefits from Panasonic's generally well-regarded O.I.S image stabilisation technology. In fact, our only real gripe is that the FT4's 2.7in, 230k-dot screen isn't the best on the market. Otherwise it's a solid little waterproof compact.
Click to read our full Panasonic Lumix FT4 review
Somewhat surprisingly, the AW100 is Nikon's first stab at making a waterproof ‘ruggedised' compact and comes waterproofed to 10m, shock-proofed from drops of up to 1.5m and freeze-proofed down to -10°C. In addition, the AW100 also features a GPS system, an electronic compass and a built-in world map. In addition to 16MP still images and one-touch panorama capture the AW100 can also record 1080p Full HD movies.
The Nikon AW100 comes in a choice of bright orange or all black, and you can even get it in a rather natty camouflage pattern. Better still the AW100's street price has fallen by around a third since launch, which means you can now pick one up for just over £200. At that price it's definitely worth a closer look.
Click to read our full Nikon AW100 review
Easily the most striking camera of all the cameras listed here, the Pentax WG-2 is also a solidly designed tough compact that comes with plenty of useful features. The WG-2 is waterproof to 12m, shock-proofed against falls of up to 2m, freeze-proofed to -10C and crush-proofed against loads of up to 100kg.
At its heart the WG-2 uses a 16MP CMOS sensor, and also sports a 5x optical zoom that offers the 35mm focal range equivalent of 28-140mm. Unique to the WG-2 are a set of small LEDs lights surrounding the lens. When activated these act like a ring light allowing you to take excellent close-ups and macro shots, which could be handy in murkier water. Other highlights include GPS functionality, a 3in/460k-dot screen and 1080p Full HD movie recording.
The D20 succeeds the popular D10 that came out in 2009. The new model is waterproof to a depth of 10m and also shockproof to accidental falls of up to 1.5m. There's no electronic compass on board, although the D20 does offer built-in GPS functionality for you to geotag your images with. In a unique twist the D20 also sports what Canon calls ‘Tap Control' whereby you can program the camera to respond to taps on the side to control it - very handy indeed if you happen to be wearing gloves.
Internally, the D20 is built around a 12.1MP backside-illuminated CMOS sensor and Canon's DIGIC 4 image processor. On the front you'll find a 5x optical zoom that offers the 35mm focal range equivalent of 28-140mm, while on the back sits a 3in, 461k-dot LCD screen to compose and review your images with. All in all, the D20 is a seriously good waterproof camera - so good in fact, it came top in our waterproof compacts group test earlier in the year
Olympus practically invented the idea of tough waterproof compacts, first with its mju range and latterly with its Tough series. The recently released TG-1 draws on all of the company's experience to produce a well-featured and versatile camera. Waterproof to 12m, shockproof to 2m, freeze-proof to -10C and crushproof to 100kg the TG-1 is the ‘toughest' of all the cameras in this selection.
Aside from being tougher than Chuck Norris, the big selling point of the TG-1 is its super fast (and class-leading) f/2 lens. It also gets a large, high-resolution screen - an area where tough compacts have often come up short in the past. Other highlights include a 12MP backside-illuminated CMOS sensor, a 4x optical zoom that offers the 35mm equivalent of 25-100mm, and 1080p Full HD movie recording
Click to read our full Olympus TG-1 review
For more waterproof cameras see our Waterproof Camera Group Test 2012