The 8 Best Waterproof Cameras
Sealed To Perfection
A lot of good photography is only possible underwater. The obvious images that come to mind are of fish and sharks patrolling reefs of explosive color and variety of life. Less obvious to you, but perhaps equally fascinating, are images of a child learning how to swim, or of a raucous pool party taken from within the pool.
Imagine you're on a ship at sea, a boat no bigger than The Orca, which you might remember was the fishing boat used to hunt the shark in Jaws. If the sea gets a little rough, the fishermen keep working, but you'd have to put your regular camera away for fear of getting it splashed as swells can bank up against the hull and crash buckets of water over your head.
Whatever your need for a waterproof camera, it's reassuring to know that they all function in ways that will be familiar to anyone who's operated a digital point-and-shoot camera, with the added benefit of seals against water.
The majority of those seals, the rubberized linings that prevent water from seeping into the camera, are put in place by the manufacturer along the camera's housing, and they require no maintenance for their performance. There are one or two seals, however, that do require some attention, and these you will find along the door to the battery compartment, as well as the door to the memory card slot. Most manufacturers have combined these two locations to cut down on moisture variables, but a few still separate the ports.
It is imperative that these seals remain clean and dry when you close their hatches. Any little bit of dust or moisture can render the seal ineffective, and as soon as the pressure is great enough, water will get in. I've even seen the integrity of a seal compromised by a single human hair. Luckily, most of these cameras come with a little brush to help you maintain cleanliness along the line of the seals.
One other vulnerable point on these cameras would be the lens, but if you look closely, you'll notice that the lenses on these waterproof cameras actually live behind an added element of clear plexiglass. Not only are the edges of this plexiglass sealed inside the camera body, the material itself is far more durable than the glass of the lens, meaning an angry fish won't break through your lens the way the shark in Jaws 3 inexplicably rammed his way through a thick glass window.
Slippery When Wet
One of the more fascinating properties of water is that it can act as an adhesive or it can cause you to slip and fall on your rear. While water's adhesive qualities are tied in with its ability to erode materials, we're more concerned with the other end of the spectrum today. Sure, your camera's plastic would eventually erode from constant exposure to flowing water, but that would take a few thousand years. It only takes a second for a wet hand to drop a camera.
I bring this up because the some of the makers of waterproof cameras also decided to incorporate a certain degree of shock-proofing into their designs. You can let these cameras go from up to five feet off of the ground and their warranties will cover against any damage incurred from the drop. If you're a little on the clumsier side, or if you're looking at this as a summertime investment for your kids to get to know photography, shock-proofing is practically a mandate.
Beyond that little feature, the usual camera buying conundrums present themselves. How many megapixels do you need? How high a quality of video do you want to be able to shoot? Answer these questions, and your model will readily present itself from those on our list.
It's also worth noting that all but one of the cameras on this list are modeled after standard digital point-and-shoots. The GoPro is the only standout, and its waterproofing isn't built in like it is with the rest. Instead, it comes with a waterproof housing that fits around the entirety of the camera. It also has the widest field of view of any of the cameras, making for a more fisheye view of the world, which may or may not suit your interests.
Almost Sixty Years Submerged
Nikon produced the first amphibious camera marketed to the public back in 1963. Called the Calypso or the Nikonos, the camera was the first of its kind to operate independently of any additional housing. It shot using standard 35mm film, but its film and battery compartments carried with them rubberized seals not too dissimilar from what manufacturers use today.
The obvious problem with this design was the same problem you find any time you compare film and digital photography. Once the roll of film ran its course, you had to change it. That's not the easiest or the safest thing to do underwater.
Digital photography changed the field dramatically, though the first underwater photography achieved digitally was done so with the use of housings, which still maintain a dominance among photographers willing to spend the extra money to bring their high-end equipment underwater.
As digital camera technology continues both to shrink and improve, the thought of bring $5,000 worth of camera gear on a snorkeling trip becomes increasingly silly.