The ‘Underwater camera’ – also known as waterproof compacts or tough / rugged compacts – allow us to take shots when we wouldn’t dare pull out our expensive cameras and lenses for the fear of them getting damaged.







Perfect for holidays when you’re swimming in the pool or taking a few casual snaps on the beach, they’re specially designed with protection in mind to shrug off all the things you’d normally associate with breaking a camera.

Underwater Camera frozen

Waterproof, shockproof, freezeproof and in some cases, crushproof, tough compacts are made like tanks to survive anything they come across. They’re now as popular with those who take up winter sports as those who lap up the sun and they must tick all the boxes if they’re to offer the best blend between build quality, image quality, performance and resistance.

A surge of new models have arrived this year from Olympus, Nikon, Fujifilm, Pentax and Panasonic, but do they have what it takes to put up a fight against last year’s winner of the tough compacts – the Canon PowerShot D20? Read on to find out in our Best Underwater Camera Group Test, 2013.

Best Underwater Camera Group Test 2013 – Canon PowerShot D20

Canon PowerShot D20, £260

Canon PowerShot D20

Key Specs

Sensor – 12.1MP
Sensor Size – 1/ 2.3in
Lens – 28-140mm
ISO – 100-3200
Display – 3in, 460k-dot  
HD Video – 1080p
Dimensions – 112.3 x 70.8 x 28mm
Weight – 228g

The Canon PowerShot D20 is one of three tough underwater cameras in this test to feature a 5x optical zoom. This provides a focal length that’s equivalent to 28-140mm and behind the zoom lies a 12.1MP CMOS sensor that works in tandem with a DIGIC 4 processor to offer an ISO sensitivity range of 100-3200.

With a 1.9fps continuous burst rate the Canon D20 clearly isn’t designed for speed, although it excels in other areas. An Intelligent IS system helps to keep handheld shots sharp, while GPS can be used to track your journeys by assigning location data, and full HD movies are recorded at 24fps.

Like all of the other compacts in this test, the D20 doesn’t support Raw and only shoots in the JPEG format, however there are functions to help shoot the best images underwater, including an underwater macro mode and slow motion movie option.

Build & Performance

The ergonomic body provides an excellent grip in the hand, while the D20’s large bright buttons make it easy to use underwater. It feels robust, but lacks two locking catches on the battery door like its rivals. The 3in, 460k-dot screen displays a crisp image; and the addition of active display technology, whereby one can tap or tilt the camera to scroll through captured images, works very well.

Canon PowerShot D20 sample image

Image Quality

The sharpest results on the PowerShot D20 are captured between ISO 100 and ISO 800. Beyond this point images get softer and lack vibrancy. At ISO 100 the sensor resolves 22 line pairs per millimetre and in real-world conditions images are well exposed, with detail being lost only in exceptionally bright conditions.

Underwater Camera Test

To keep the underwater test fair, each camera was set to its underwater mode with the flash switched off. The D20’s large buttons made underwater operation easy and the AF system locked on without fuss. Exposures were excellent, but a faster continuous burst would have been preferable.

Freeze and Shock Test

Our first review sample didn’t pass our freeze test, although the second one we called in sprung back to life after being frozen, with no ill effects. The D20 can withstand drops and knocks from a height of 1.5m and when we dropped it onto a hard floor it barely had a scratch.

Pros – Active Display; Build and handling; GPS; Close focusing
Cons – Only camera on test to fail the freeze test; Slow continuous burst rate

Best Underwater Camera Group Test 2013 – Fujifilm FinePix XP60

Fujifilm FinePix XP60, £150

Fujifilm FinePix XP60 front view

Key Specs

Sensor 16.4MP
Sensor Size 1/ 2.3in
Lens 28-140mm
ISO 100-6400
Display 2.7in, 230k-dot 
HD Video 1080i
Dimensions 104.1 x 66.5 x 26.3mm
Weight 165g

The XP60 boasts an impressive specification for its price. Costing £150 it’s the most affordable tough underwater cameras of the six and is waterproof, shockproof, sandproof and freezeproof like its rivals. With regards to imaging, it features a 16.4MP CMOS sensor, 5x optical zoom (28-140mm) and shares the same ISO range of 100-6400 as offered by the Olympus TG-2 and Panasonic FT5.

Regrettably, the size and resolution of the screen lets the Fuji XP60 down. Measuring 2.7in with a 230k-dot resolution, it’s smaller and doesn’t provide the same clarity or sharpness as the compacts with larger 3in screens. Sensor-shift image stabilisation is provided, and in addition to continuous burst shooting at a lightning-fast 10fps, full HD movie recording is available, which can focus within 9cm when set to its macro mode.

Build & Performance

With a small and lightweight design, the Fujifilm XP60 targets those who don’t want to carry a heavy compact in their pocket. It’s no more cumbersome to carry than a typical compact, but it doesn’t feel as solid or as refined as its rivals. That said, the battery/SD card door features a robust locking button like the AW110 to prevent it being opened accidentally underwater.

Fujifilm FinePix XP60 sample image

Image Quality

The XP60’s images were the softest of the six cameras. As soon as you begin to push past ISO 200, detail is lost and noise becomes more of an issue. The sensor only manages to resolve 14 lines per millimetre, while the richness of colour saturation drops off as the sensitivity is increased beyond ISO 1600.

Underwater Camera Test

The XP60’s underwater performance left us underwhelmed and was mediocre in comparison with its rivals. Set to its underwater mode, the camera not only struggled to acquire focus on our subject, but it produced images that were significantly darker than those captured by the others.

Freeze and Shock Test

The XP60 was the last of the six models to switch on after being frozen. The On/Off button had frozen solid, but breathing on it soon defrosted it. Shockproof to 1.5m, we held the XP60 at arm’s length before dropping it. It survived the test without a hitch and was damage-free afterwards.

Pros – Small and compact; Simple design and button layout; 10fps shooting
Cons – Dark underwater performance; Small screen; Low screen resolution

Best Underwater Camera Group Test 2013 – Nikon COOLPIX AW110

Nikon COOLPIX AW110, £270

Nikon COOLPIX AW110 front view

Key Specs

Sensor – 16MP
Sensor Size – 1/ 2.3in
Lens – 28-140mm
ISO – 125-3200
Display – 3in, 614k-dot
HD Video – 1080p
Dimensions – 110.1 x 65.3 x 24.5mm
Weight – 193g

The Nikon Coolpix AW110 is Nikon’s second foray into the tough compact area of the market, following the AW100. Mimicking the styling of its predecessor, it adopts many features and connectivity functions from Nikon’s Coolpix range, and it’s one of a few models in this test to offer built-in Wi-fi, which enables users to transfer images directly from the camera to a mobile device, and to control the camera remotely.

With a 16MP CMOS sensor, 5x optical zoom (28-140mm) and built-in GPS, the AW110 is a well-equipped tough compact, yet it has a more conservative ISO range (125-3200) than some of the others on test. Continuous shooting at 8fps is useful for capturing fast-moving subjects, while the 3in, 614k-dot screen is sharp but has a bias towards green tones, which was only obvious when compared against others.

Build & Performance

The build of the Coolpix AW110 is strong, suggesting it’s up to the task of surviving in the demanding conditions for which it’s made. Buttons offer a reassuring click when they’re used and the camera fires to life quickly for spur-of-the-moment shots. Full HD video is recorded at 30fps, while at the side of the camera there’s a secure lock that won’t allow the battery door to be opened unexpectedly below water.

Image Quality

The AW110’s images are crisp and clear. The sensor resolves an impressive 22 lines per millimetre at ISO 100 – a similar detail performance to the D20, FT5 and WG-3. As the sensitivity is increased images start to get softer, particularly above ISO 800, with saturation remaining consistent throughout.

Underwater Camera Test

The hit rate of successful underwater images taken on the Coolpix AW110 wasn’t as high as some other compacts. Regrettably, it doesn’t allow you to select continuous shooting in its underwater mode; but that said, it’s capable of producing excellent exposures and faithful colour below the surface of the water.

Freeze and Shock Test

The AW110 was the first of the six compacts to spark to life after being frozen. All the buttons operated as they should, leaving very little to fault. The Coolpix claims to be shockproof from a 2m height. With our arm outstretched, it shrugged off a drop from this height onto a hard floor.

Pros – Altimeter and hydro-barometer; Build and handling; Wi-fi and GPS; Image quality
Cons – No continuous burst in underwater mode; Screen displays a subtle green cast

Best Underwater Camera Group Test 2013 – Olympus TG-2

Olympus Tough TG-2, £310

Olympus TG-2 front view

Key Specs

Sensor 12MP
Sensor Size 1/2.3in
Lens 25-100mm
ISO 100-6400
Display 3in, 610k-dot
HD Video 1080p
Dimensions 111.5 x 66.5 x 29.1mm
Weight 230g

Olympus has a strong heritage in the tough compact area of the market. The TG-2 is the company’s flagship waterproof camera and unlike four of its competitors, the TG-2’s 4x optical zoom (25-100mm) is positioned in the centre of the body rather than being offset.

It features a 12MP CMOS sensor that’s partnered by a TruePic VI image processor, and as well as boasting a 100-6400 ISO range the TG-2’s lens has a maximum aperture opening of f/2, which is brighter than most of its competition except for the Pentax WG-3. The TG-2 provides users with manual aperture control and there are 23 scene modes to choose from.

What’s more, GPS and full HD movie recording are available. At the rear, the TG-2 boasts a 3in, 610k-dot OLED display that not only displays neutral colour but also the most impressive detail of the six tough compacts on test.

Build & Performance

The TG-2 autofocus performance is one of the fastest out of the six and manages to back this up with an impressive build quality that shouts rigidity and resistance for shooting in demanding environments. The mode dial at the rear is good for accessing the camera’s various shooting modes, while the start-up/shutdown times are equally as quick as those recorded by the Nikon AW110.

Olympus TG-2 sample image

Image Quality

The TG-2’s 12MP sensor resolves 20 lines per millimetre – fractionally less than its Canon, Nikon, Panasonic and Pentax rivals. Crisp detail is captured between ISO 100 and 400, however when you push past ISO 800 images get gradually softer. Colour saturation drops off slightly at the TG-2’s highest ISO setting.

Underwater Camera Test

The TG-2’s mode dial was stiff and difficult to use underwater, but after setting the camera to underwater mode it was a joy to use. The fast AF system combined with 5fps sequential shooting allowed us to capture great shots in quick succession. Colours were rich and exposure couldn’t be faulted.

Freeze and Shock Test

A night in the freezer didn’t affect the TG-2. After breaking it out of a block of ice it was ready to use, with all buttons working without fault. The TG-2 claims it can survive drops and impact from 2.1m. We dropped it from this height and it switched on and worked without fault afterwards.

Pros – Fast maximum aperture; Mode dial and GPS; AF performance
Cons – Mode dial is difficult to operate underwater; Small buttons at the rear

Best Underwater Camera Group Test 2013 – Panasonic Lumix FT5

Panasonic Lumix FT5, £300

Panasonic Lumix FT5

Key Specs

Sensor 16.1MP
Sensor Size 1/ 2.3in
Lens 28-128mm
ISO 100-6400
Display 3in, 460k-dot
HD Video 1080p
Dimensions 109.2 x 67.4 x 28.9mm
Weight 214g

The Panasonic FT5 shares similarities with Nikon’s Coolpix AW110. Not only does it look very similar, it features Wi-fi connectivity and a 16MP sensor. The FT5’s high-sensitivity MOS chip produces a wide ISO range of 100-6400, while its 4.6x optical zoom is equivalent to 28-128mm in 35mm terms.

The FT5 is the only tough compact in this test to integrate Near Field Communication (NFC) technology. This enables users to transmit images to an NFC-enabled device simply by touching two devices together. Panasonic’s Image app (available for iOS and Android) can be downloaded to take control of the camera remotely and GPS is also available.

Optical image stabilisation is provided to keep handheld shots free of blur and the FT5’s underwater mode is designed to compensate for red tones that can be lost underwater.  

Build & Performance

The FT5 is comfortable to hold and operate. The grip at the front has a good profile to wrap your fingers around and get a good grasp, while the metal front and back covers give it extra protection from shock or accidental knocks or drops. Operationally, the camera springs to life, but the 3in, 460k-dot screen doesn’t resolve the same sharpness and clarity as offered on the Olympus TG-2.

Panasonic Lumix FT5 sample image

Image Quality

The FT5’s image quality performance is almost identical to the AW110’s. Rich colour and sharp images are captured, with 22 lines per millimetre being recorded by the FT5’s 16MP chip at ISO 100. Detail starts to soften as the sensitivity is pushed beyond ISO 800, but colours remain vibrant, even at high ISOs.

Underwater Camera Test

The FT5’s images were the brightest of the six, however the saturation wasn’t quite as rich and vibrant as the results produced by the Nikon AW110 and Olympus TG-2. The 10fps burst mode was handy for rattling out a continuous burst but the autofocus system didn’t prove to be as responsive as the TG-2.

Freeze and Shock Test

Cold, freezing conditions didn’t prove to be an issue for the FT5 and it fired into life a few seconds after the Nikon AW110 at the same time as the WG-3. Droppable from a height of 2m – much like the AW110 – the FT5 showed no signs of damage or resistance to being switched on after a heavy impact.

Pros – Image Quality; Build and handling; Wi-fi and GPS; NFC connectivity
Cons – Images can lack vibrancy underwater; Screen scratches easily

Best Underwater Camera Group Test 2013 – Pentax WG-3

Pentax WG-3, £260

Pentax WG-3 front view

Key Specs

Sensor 16MP
Sensor Size 1/ 2.3in
Lens 25-100mm
ISO 125-6400
Display 3in, 460k-dot  
HD Video 1080p
Dimensions 125 x 64.5 x 32mm
Weight 229g

The WG-3 has the largest dimensions of the six and behind its 4x optical zoom (25-100mm) lies a 16MP sensor that offers a sensitivity range from ISO 125-6400. Similar to the Olympus TG-2, the WG-3’s lens has a maximum aperture of f/2, allowing you to shoot faster in low light without having to increase the ISO sensitivity.

The WG-3’s dual shake-reduction system combines image-sensor-shift-type with a digital SR mode, while six LED macro lights are positioned around the lens to help illuminate macro subjects in the camera’s digital microscopic mode, which lets users focus on subjects as close as 1cm away.

The screen is a 3in, 460k-dot display, while full HD movie recording is supported at 30fps. One other useful feature is the WG-3’s digital level, which is great for checking the vertical/horizontal inclination.  

Build & Performance

The WG-3 has a rubberised finish and the textured buttons at the rear prevent your fingers slipping off them when wet. Despite it being physically larger than the others, it feels great in the hand. The extra weight is noticeable, but its chunky build suggests it will survive the test of time. Operationally, the zoom was the slowest of the lot and takes four seconds to get from wide to full telephoto and vice versa.

Image Quality

The WG-3’s images weren’t as vibrant as those from its rivals in this test. Colours lacked the punch and contrast we’d expected, however the 16MP sensor produces excellent detail and challenges the D20, AW110 and FT5 by recording 22 lines per millimetre. Crisp detail turns soft beyond ISO 800.

Underwater Camera Test

Although not as gloomy as the images produced by the XP60, the WG-3’s images were dark and didn’t portray the same brightness or clarity as some of the others. Making up for a poor exposure performance, the WG-3 focused quickly, but its continuous 1.5fps burst at full resolution (16MP) is slow.

Freeze and Shock Test

The sub-zero temperatures in our freezer didn’t affect the WG-3’s performance and it sprung into life soon after the Nikon AW110. The rubberised design of the WG-3’s body allows it to absorb impact from a height of up to 2m. After a heavy drop it continued to work without fault.

Pros – Rubberised body; Attractive styling; Good image quality
Cons – Dark underwater performance; Screen scratches very easily; Slow zoom

Best Underwater Camera Group Test 2013 – Verdict

Underwater camera frozen

The demanding tests that we’ve carried out in this review have highlighted a number of strengths and weaknesses. The camera that we were slightly disappointed by in regard to its image quality performance was the Fujifilm XP60.

Fujifilm XP60 front

Though the price makes it tempting, the build quality isn’t in the same league as the other five. Unfortunately, Fujifilm’s flagship tough compact – the XP200 – arrived too late to be included, but after being individually tested, we compared the XP200’s results with the XP60 and found image quality and build to be superior – as you would expect for the £85 premium.

Pentax WG-3 front

The Pentax WG-3 survived all our testing challenges and produced good levels of detail, but its underwater performance has room for improvement and we noticed that the screen at the rear was susceptible to light scratches.

Canon PowerShot D20

Canon’s D20 was the winner of our tough compact group test last year, but in that time we’ve seen new models arrive from the likes of Nikon, Panasonic and Olympus. The D20 produces excellent images both above and below water. Our first review sample failed the freeze test, but we put this down to being a faulty unit; after calling in a second sample it passed the test with flying colours.

Nikon COOLPIX AW110

The Nikon AW110 is responsive to use and there’s little to fault in regard to its image quality performance. The screen has a subtle green cast and the sensitivity ceiling isn’t as high as its rivals, but on the whole it’s pleasing to use and manages to shrug off heavy handling, water and cold temperatures. The Wi-fi connectivity will be popular for those who’d like to take advantage of instant image uploading, something which is also available on the Panasonic Lumix FT5.

Panasonic Lumix FT5

The key battle in this group test has been between the Olympus TG-2 and Panasonic Lumix FT5. Though the FT5 resolves fractionally more detail from its sensor, the TG-2 produces better images underwater which are richer and more vibrant. There’s nothing to separate the two in terms of autofocus speed and both have similar dimensions, although the TG-2’s lens is positioned centrally and boasts a faster maximum aperture.

Olympus TG-2

In the hand, the FT5 is the more comfortable to hold and the buttons are larger than the TG-2’s, making it easier to operate for those with larger hands. The quality of the screen is very important when it’s being used to compose shots as well as review images – here, the TG-2’s screen offers better clarity and sharpness compared to the FT5’s display and we also preferred navigating its darker menu interface.

With only £10 to separate the two, it’s extremely difficult to pick a winner when both compacts perform as well as they do and are virtually indestructible. Given that we think the Olympus TG-2 and Panasonic FT5 are as good as each other, we’ve honoured both with a Gold Award and the Nikon AW110 with a Recommended.

  1. 1. Introduction
  2. 2. Best Underwater Camera Group Test 2013 - Canon PowerShot D20
  3. 3. Best Underwater Camera Group Test 2013 - Fujifilm FinePix XP60
  4. 4. Best Underwater Camera Group Test 2013 - Nikon COOLPIX AW110
  5. 5. Best Underwater Camera Group Test 2013 - Olympus TG-2
  6. 6. Best Underwater Camera Group Test 2013 - Panasonic Lumix FT5
  7. 7. Best Underwater Camera Group Test 2013 - Pentax WG-3
  8. 8. Best Underwater Camera Group Test 2013 - Verdict
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  • Brian Smith

    I took the TG2 sea kayaking in Canada and suffered severe condensation inside both the lens and display screen. Also the mode button info is only stuck on with 2 sided tape and came off after 3 days. The shutter release is not very positive and underwater it is easy to not actually take the photo. When dry picture quality is very good but overall I am very disappointed.

  • xirned

    Where does it say depth capability for each camera? the first thing to consider, surely7

  • neil tristan yabut

    lucky me! i just got the ft5 by reviewing only its predecessor

  • John Thompson

    The ice cushions the fall of the cameras and thus the drop test is flawed. The test needs to be done without the ice. Otherwise a nice comparison and beautiful young lady helping you out.

  • Cassandra

    I would really love to see you review the same cameras, but with regards to their movie quality. Bright light, low light and underwater should be compared, as well as sound quality.

    I’d also like to note that I have a Nikon AW100, and I found the GPS invaluable after my return from Thailand. I was able to pinpoint exactly where I was when I took a shot, which came in handy for the fast tours where you didn’t have a chance to catch the names of all the places you zipped through.

  • Vivi

    Dear Sir or Madam ,

    How are you!

    This time Vivi on behalf of CAMERAY would like to recommend our 50m Deep Underwater camera for your consideration.

    Features:

    *SGS Test approved,waterproof class IP68(50m deep water)
    *1/3″ Sony Super HAD CCD, 420/520TVL
    *8 pcs highlight white LED, insure good image in low light conditions, brightness can be adjusted
    * 2.5 inch TFT LCD portable video recorder
    * H.264 video compression, support 1-16GB Micro SD card
    * Built in 2300mAh battery + 4800mAh battery cabinet, recording time can last 12 hours
    * Stainless steel + PC housing, 3 colors housing optional
    *Mini size: 48 x 98mm, with aluminum suit case, easy to carry and use

    It’s good used for underwater surveillance & operation, diving, fishing, swimming pool etc.

    If you are interested in this camera, please do not hesitate to contact us, thank you.

    Best regards

  • Lin Adams

    Great review, Mike! Thank you! Have you reviewed Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20. I’m very interested in your opinion of it. Thank you!

  • Steve Hodgson

    It seems more than a little harsh to be to be so dismissive of the FinePix XP60 in the verdict considering it is between £100 and £150 cheaper than its rivals! If you compare it to standard £150 compact cameras its on a par in most areas…but you can take photos underwater! Surely its a bargain!