(Mostly) Waterproof Camera Options

Underwater picture of a diver


Prior to a recent trip to Hawaii I did some research on options for taking pictures in the vicinity of water – something that you might want to do when in Hawaii with kids.

Initially I didn’t think too much about this because the last time I went to Hawaii it was 1996 and the reliable old cheap-o disposable waterproof film camera was the only option. These can be pretty affordable if purchased ahead of time (i.e. not at the ABC Store across the street from Waikiki beach). The problem I faced was that it would be very difficult to for me to revert back to a disposable film cam after having learned the magic of shutter speeds, apertures, and ISO on digital.

Another obvious option would have been one of the many waterproof housings designed for standard cameras. Canon sells a number of hard plastic waterproof housings that are designed to fit specific cameras from point and shoot up to SLR models. The two knocks against this solution were that a) most camera places only carry a couple of selections of these housings so I would have had to special order the one I needed, and b) most camera buttons other than power, shooting mode, and shutter would be inaccessible. The other negative is that they are fairly pricey – almost as expensive as waterproof point and shoots.

3rd party suppliers also sell soft plastic waterproof housings that work much like the waterproof drybags used by kayakers . We actually did purchase a couple of these for carrying our cel phones in the water, but I imagined that I would face a similar issue with trying to access the more advanced functions of my camera that I have learned to love.

This left me looking at some of the waterproof and ruggedized cameras that have been released over the past few years by camera manufacturers. To me the big advantage of these cameras is full accessibility to all camera functions while also being waterproof up to 30 feet depending on the model. Furthermore, many advertise the fact that they can survive drops of up to 10 feet.

After researching all of the available models it appeared that the best rated camera was the Olympus Tough series. All of the manufacturers have released new models since then so I’m not sure that the detailed results of my research would be of much use but I may do a feature comparison in the future.

At the end of the day I was reluctant to buy the Olympus simply because as a longtime Canon shooter I was filthy with SD cards and I had no interest in investing into the XD media that Olympus uses. After posting my frustration with this situation on Facebook some very good friends of ours offered to loan us their camera and memory card. Yay!

We took the camera for a test drive in a swimming pool and it took great pictures, which was somewhat surprising to our friends because they had mixed results when shooting in the open ocean. It was pretty clear that getting sufficient light was going to be a problem, but I figured that I could work some ISO magic in some of Hawaii’s clear waters.

On our first day in Hawaii we brought the camera down the pool at the Sheraton Waikiki. We had lots of fun taking shots from the edge of the pool, down the water slides, and in the waterfalls. It was there that we learned a waterproof camera lesson, though. The camera that we had was waterproof to 10 feet, and despite the fact that we were never in more than 5 feet of water the seals failed and water got in. When talking to a camera store guy, it seems that the 10 foot depth rating is based on a camera just sitting in still water. If you’re down waterslides or doing cannon-balls with the camera in your pocket the water pressure far exceeds the specified max. It survived for about one more day before it fried. I only got a handful more pics in the water at Waikiki and never got to take great underwater fish shots. Live and learn.

We did eventually manage to get some good underwater pictures on Big Island, but those were shot from inside a submarine!

We returned the broken cam to our friends who have sent it back for warranty repair. Here’s hoping that Olympus honors that.

Oh, and here’s a pretty good article on how to take underwater pictures.

PC World

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