Despite the fact that smartphones are increasing in capability when it comes to their onboard cameras, and the fact that most flagship smartphones are at the very least water-resistant, when it comes to true, extensive waterproofing and ruggedness, the best underwater cameras are designed to be pushed to the limits and still generally come out on top.
With all the cameras on this list, you can use them on all your adventures, and not worry about getting them wet, how long they can stay immersed for, or if you’re into something like snorkelling or scuba diving, not worry about how deep you’re taking them.
Although there’s not been a huge number of new releases into the underwater camera market, a number of the underwater models which are already available are so good, it’s easy to see why they continue to do well.
Several different brands are included in our guide here, with a blend of the best compact cameras which are designed to be waterproof and/or rugged, and the best action cameras which work a little differently but are also suitable for underwater or waterside action.
It’s also worth thinking about waterproof cameras when planning a family holiday or day trip. As they can withstand a little rough and tumble, they’re ideal for slinging into a beach bag and not worrying too much about it.
How to buy the best underwater camera for you
Buying the best waterproof camera for you will largely depend on exactly what you’re hoping to achieve with a camera of this type.
If you’re a keen underwater photographer and you want to get the best possible image quality, then it’s worth investing more in an underwater camera than if you’re happy with just snaps from your beach holiday. By the same token, if you’re an enthusiast, you’ll probably be looking for a camera which offers more advanced features than a more simple point-and-shoot.
You’ll also need to think about exactly how waterproof you need your camera to be. If it’s just for splashing around at the beach, coastline or the river, then a minimal amount of waterproofing will be fine. However, if you’re into something more serious, such as diving, then you’ll need something that can cover deeper distances and longer exposure to water.
Next, you might want to think about size and weight. All of the models here are pocket-friendly, but some are smaller and lighter than others. You should also think about how simple/easy to operate the camera is if you’re going to be using something such as thick gloves while shooting underwater. Finally, you might like to think about whether there are any accessories you might want or need to go with your waterproof camera, as this will add bulk (as well as cost) to your setup.
Our pick of the best overall waterproof camera is the Olympus TG-6, which offers an excellent blend of portability, high image quality, advanced settings and very useful waterproofing settings. If you want to save a bit of cash but want a nicely capable point-and-shoot, then the Fujifilm XP140 is an excellent option. For action all-rounders, the GoPro Hero 10 Black is the obvious choice.
Read on to find out more…
The best waterproof cameras you can buy today:
An ideal camera for the adventurous, the serious tough credentials of the TG-6 make it well-suited to capturing all sorts of escapades that your phone, or standard camera, might not survive.
While there is always some compromise to be had, the image quality from the TG-6 goes beyond what you’d usually expect from a model of this kind, partly due to the fact that is equipped with a well-performing lens with an f/2.0 maximum aperture for shooting in low light.
Underwater shooters benefit from dedicated underwater settings, such as a specific white balance mode, underwater HDR and a microscope mode for ultra close-ups.
Enthusiasts also benefit from being able to shoot in raw format, something which is missing from most of those mentioned elsewhere in this guide. We’d like to see a little more manual control however for it to be closer to perfect.
The Fujifilm XP140 is a very basic offering, but it’s well-suited to certain scenarios which you might not want to expose other types of camera or phone to.
It can go as deep as 25 metres, which for the price is a great plus point. It’s also shockproof and freezeproof too, so you can use it on all types of adventure holidays and day trips.
The camera is also very simple and straightforward to use, with good size buttons that are easy to understand and decipher even when using with gloves or in limited visibility (such as while diving underwater).
However, the compromise here is very definitely with image quality. Although it takes perfectly passable snaps, your smartphone can almost certainly do better. If you just want some kind of record of your underwater or tough escapades at a low price point, it’s worth investigating, but if your budget can stretch to it - there are better performers out there.
The big rival for the Olympus TG-6 is the Panasonic FT7, which does better in some areas, but worse in others. However, if your key concern is the waterproofing credentials, being able to dive as deep as 31 metres could just make the FT7 the winner - though it only just pips the Nikon Coolpix W300 by one metre.
Although this is a fairly straightforward camera to get to grips with and understand, the buttons are a little fiddly, which is bad news for using in poor visibility or with thick gloves on. The big exception to this is the shutter release button which is large and textured - and perhaps that’s all you’ll need in most scenarios.
Image quality is decent enough in good lighting, suffering a little in low light conditions thanks to a fairly narrow aperture for the lens. This might not seem like such a big deal, but at deepwater temperatures, light is also low so it’s worth thinking about whether the TG-6 is the better alternative here.
Other useful features include 4K Photo, which allows you to extract stills from 4K video, in-camera USB charging and a built-in viewfinder, the latter of which being a rarity for cameras of this kind.
On paper, the Nikon W300 is one of the best models in our buying guide. It offers excellent tough credentials, including almost class-leading waterproofing (and with a difference of just one metre between it and the Panasonic FT7, it’s a minimal distinction anyway).
Other useful features include inbuilt GPS, 4K video recording, and a 5x zoom lens. There are some letdowns for the W300, especially at the price, including the lack of raw format shooting, and the buttons being a little fiddly, but otherwise, it’s a pretty good all-rounder.
If you’re a particular fan of the Nikon brand, this is the one to go for, but in almost every respect, the Olympus TG-6 beats it. If you need deeper waterproofing than its rival provides, it’s certainly a decent contender though.
The leading name in action camera, the latest Hero 10 Black model is the ideal model for those who want an all-round model adept at shooting in many different conditions - particularly if you’ve got a penchant for video.
A new processor in this latest model enables a resolution of 5.3K at up to 60fps, or if you’re happy to stick with 4K, you can reach up to 120fps, making it ideal for slow-motion shots.
Those who like water sports, such as surfing and the like will likely look toward the GoPro, especially as a number of different accessories and mounts mean you can use it with equipment such as surf and paddle boards.
Snorkellers and shallow divers may also be tempted, though, with a maximum depth of 10metres, those who want to go further are better suited by some of the models higher up in this buying guide.
Although the Hero 10 can be used for stills, it’s primarily a video-oriented device, which may or may not suit you. It’s also quite pricey compared to some models here, so if you’re just looking for something simple for family trips it’s likely to be overkill.
That said, if you want the best action camera on the market right now, it’s the one to get.
Here’s another good all-round compact camera that will serve a variety of users well, particularly if you’re looking for something tough and reliable for beach and family days out.
It can be used a little more seriously, with some good waterproofing credentials, and the digital microscope mode being particularly appealing - a set of lights around the lens means you can take some fantastic close-up underwater shots, something which might appeal to snorkelers and divers.
Image quality is best when light is good (or the scene is illuminated by the inbuilt lights), but it produces some decent pictures that should suit the needs of the average family photographer.
The biggest letdown here is the screen, which is both small and low resolution - but as that perhaps helps keep the cost down compared to the Olympus TG-6, it’s arguably worth forgiving it.
While GoPro might be the big name when it comes to action cameras, there are some intriguing alternatives on the market right now.
One of the most recent additions is the DJI Osmo Action 2, which with its modular design is a fun, versatile and highly customisable option that is ideal for travel and action holidays.
It can shoot at 4K at up to 120fps for slow-mo video, as well as a range of other frame rates for more usual shooting. It can’t quite match the 5.7K shooting of the GoPro Hero 10 Black, but unless you’re a serious videographer craving that ultra high resolution, it might not be a deal-breaker for you.
What you do get instead of resolution is other useful features such as “Horizon Steady” image stabilisation which is extremely effective in very shaky conditions - though it’s worth noting this can only be used up to 2.7K.
The really intriguing thing about the Osmo Action 2 is the modular design, with a useful array of different modules you can snap on and off the base unit depending on exactly what you need. Along a similar vein, you can also snap it on and off different mounts, depending on what you’re doing - useful for allowing you to go hands-free while capturing the action.
As with other action cameras, this is aimed primarily at video shooters, so if you’re more into your stills, one of the other cameras listed here is probably your best bet.
If you're a serious diver and you need something to reach depths that the other cameras listed here simply can’t manage, then the Sealife Micro 3.0 is one option - that is, unless you want to start investing in underwater housing and rigs for other types of camera.
As well as being able to reach those deep depths of 60 metres, the Sealife camera is permanently sealed to make sure no water can possibly penetrate it. The trade-off here is that you don’t get the kind of flexibility that other models offer - but if you need this depth, then it’s a sacrifice worth making. You get a fixed lens and a small sensor, but it can still produce good images.
You can buy the camera as a solo unit, but one of the appealing things about the SeaLife Micro 3.0 is the various kits that you can also buy it in. If you’re diving deep, then going for the Sea Dragon LED lights are worth adding to your cart as the light will be very much on the low side.