People are doing more with photography than ever before. Photos from iPhones are used to make billboard-quality graphics. Companies like GoPro are putting out entire 360-degree virtual reality camera rigs. Brands like Canon are putting out consumer-grade DSLRs with 50-megapixel sensors. Fifty. Who the hell even needs that many megapixels?
With the rapid pace at which things are changing, it can be difficult to keep your portfolio looking fresh and unique. Luckily, in the sea (ha!) of selfie sticks and HDR “professionals,” underwater photography is making a comeback in a more reliable and affordable way than ever before. You just need a good waterproof camera designed for shooting below the surface. And we’re not talking about a disposable underwater camera you toss after a few shots, these are all underwater digital cameras that will last you many summers.
Here are the five best underwater cameras you can buy right now:
Olympus Stylus Tough TG-4
Built with the quality and durability synonymous with Olympus’ Tough series, the TG-4 brings something more to the table, with its 50 feet of waterproof shootability and several underwater-specific shooting modes (like, “Underwater HDR”). The TG-4 also offers a beautiful 16-megapixel sensor, 4.5x optical zoom, RAW image capture, an f2.0 wide angle lens, and the typical freeze proof (14 degree Fahrenheit), shock proof (7 feet), and crush proof (220 pounds) you know and love. Additionally, just for shits and giggles we imagine, the TG-4 is also GPS- and WiFi-enabled. So there’s that. $299
Canon PowerShot D30
Clocking in at the same modest sub-$300 pricetag as the Olympus TG-4, the Canon PowerShot D30 packs a pretty comparable punch. The 28-140mm f3.9 to f4.8 lens offers 5 times optical zoom, full 1080p HD video, is waterproof up to 82 feet, and shock proof up to 6.5 feet. It’s even “temperature resistant” from 14 degrees to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Where the Canon falls short of the Olympus, however, is in the sensor department (a pretty damn important department). It offers only a 12-megapixel CMOS sensor, which is kind of meh, but does offer built-in GPS capability. $299
Nikon 1 AW1
The Nikon 1 AW1 is our favorite camera on this list (which is noteworthy because the person writing it is a notorious Leica snob) because it is officially the world’s first waterproof, shockproof, interchangeable lens camera. The camera features a massive 14.2 CMOS sensor (less than the 16 mp Olympus, but the sensor itself is literally bigger, and thus offers a more robust image quality), and works with any of Nikon’s new AW series camera lenses. Right off the bat, it comes with an ultra-wide 11-27.5mm f3.5-5.6 lens, but can also be used with Nikon’s AW series prime 10mm f2.8 lens. There’re a lot of talk of expanding the AW line to incorporate more potential lens combinations, but for right now, these are the two we have to whet our appetite. $795
Leica X-U (Typ 113)
As most Leicas tend to do, the Leica X-U outprices every other camera on this list—by far. Why? Because it’s a Leica. It was handmade in Germany, and is also the hands-down sturdiest and most solidly built camera on this list (which is probably something you should consider if you want a camera that can take a beating and won’t leak 30 feet under water). The Leica X-U is built on the same platform as the Leica Typ 113, and features the same iconic 35mm equivalent (technically 23mm f1.7) Summilux ASPH lens, as well as the same 16.5-megapixel CMOS sensor that Leica snobs know and love. Aside from being both dust and shockproof, the X-U is also waterproof up to 49 feet. If you do have the purse to spend on one of these rigs, buy knowing that it’s worth every penny. The build quality of the Leica, the 23mm Summi, the rubberized body, the incredible 16.5-megapixel sensor—the camera is an underwater photog’s dream. $2,899
Nikon Coolpix AW130
Another contender in the compact point-and-shoot category, the Nikon COOLPIX AW1300 is a solid workhorse that features many of the same smaller details as other comparable cameras (5x optical zoon, 16-megapixel CMOS sensor, 24-120mm f2.8-4.9 lens, a 3-inch LCD screen, GPS and WiFi enabled, etc.). The AW130 is also waterproof up to 100 feet, freeze-proof down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit, and shockproof up to 7 feet. You’ll spend a little more on the AW130 than both the Olympus TG-4 and the Canon D30, but that may be worth it for the extra few feet of waterproof depth ability, depending on what you’re using it for. $329