Happy First Day of Summer! In honor of the change of seasons (to the best time of year in my opinion!), I’m reviewing four underwater cameras to help you decide which is the best waterproof / underwater camera out there!
We leave for our honeymoon in just over a month, and I’ve been saying I want to get an underwater camera to bring with us! I’m debating leaving my SLR at home (yeah right, we know that isn’t happening….), but I still want something tough and waterproof to bring that I can throw in my bag as we’re lounging on the beach in St. Lucia. My fiancé left the camera buying to me, and I take my job seriously, so I decided on a full out comparison/review.
Here’s the four cameras I reviewed*
Let me start by saying that I’ve owned many, many, many cameras in my 30 years of existence. I am largely a Nikon girl, with my primary camera being a Nikon D7000 . In the past, my point and shoots have been Nikon, Olympus and Panasonic, so while I am brand loyal to Nikon, I will branch out if it means getting the best photos possible.
For this review, I picked two Olympus brand cameras, one Nikon and one Pentax. The Olympus and Nikon both received top ratings in the underwater category on Amazon, but I wasn’t sure if that was based on user reviews or sales, so I did what any nutty photographer would do. I bought them all. (Allll the cameras….buy allllll the cameras!). These field tests are not full of charts and graphs, but are basic comparisons to each other. They’re waterproof cameras, so I headed out to the beach and put them through a variety of tests. For each photo, I set all the cameras to the same (or comparable) settings and stood in the same spot and took one photo with each camera. All the photos below are un-edited, as you would see them straight out of the camera. I wanted to test the cameras abilities, not my photo editing abilities!
In each photo below, the top left hand corner is the Olympus Tough TG-320, the top right hand corner is the Olympus Tough TG-2, the bottom left hand corner is the Nikon and the bottom right hand corner is the Pentax. I’ll write what settings I used above each photo/what the purpose of each photo was.
This was just taken on the auto setting. In this case I was testing how wide angle each lens was. (Each camera claims to have a wide angle lens). As you can see, the Olympus TG-2 and Pentax are both the widest. But- the Pentax takes wider than normal photos (at an HD aspect ratio). If cropped to 4×6, it would be on par with the other two cameras. Also, you can see that the Nikon (bottom left) seems to be washed out.
Next up is the macro capabilities. All cameras have a macro and a super macro setting. I set each on the super macro setting and got as close as I could to the caterpillar. The Pentax out-performed all three other cameras in focusing distance- I was practically on top of the little guy!
Now, to the beach to check out the cameras’ rugged-ness. This is the end of the beach looking out over a marsh area. Again, I wanted to see how wide the wide angle was, in addition to how well the cameras rendered the green of the grass and the blue of the sky. In my opinion, the Olympus TG-2 was far superior.
Next up was the zoom capabilities. I stood in the same spot as the photo above, and zoomed in as far as I could to an Osprey sitting in the dunes. They all appeared to be similar- but the Pentax has a larger digital zoom (which I’d rarely use because it decreases quality)
For this photo, I set the camera to auto and focused on the feather. The Olympus TG-2 and Pentax both have an f/2 lens, and I wanted to test out the depth of field. Nothing to write home about here- although the Pentax did have a bit of bokeh (blur) in the background. (Also, note to self- the Pentax lens seems to be in the way of my finger- I am not new to photography by any stretch of the imagination, but I found my finger in 3 or 4 Pentax pictures! In my defense, it was very bright outside and I wasn’t really looking at the screen too carefully).
Again, look at the color differences between the four photos!
While not a true macro, I did put all the cameras on the macro setting to try to focus on the sea glass I collected. All cameras performed similarly. (And yes, I can take a photo with a straight horizon….)
This photo was to test contrast. I put each on the “landscape” setting (if anything- just to check for color renditions). I knew I was essentially shooting in the sun, and under the boardwalk area would be dark and potentially underexposed. The Olympus TG-2 and Pentax performed best in my opinion (are you sensing a trend here?). You can actually see detail under the boardwalk area, and yet my legs aren’t overexposed. I also tried out the self timer setting on all four- the two Olympus had 2 second and 12 second options and Nikon and Pentax had 2 second and 10 second options. Pentax also has the option to buy a remote, which is a nice feature.
Last, I put all four onto their underwater mode and got down on the level of the waves (which oddly were not big at all!) For the first time in all my tests, I think the Nikon performed the best- the water seemed the most “crisp”, followed closely by the Pentax. Both Olympus cameras produced images that were too soft for my liking.
So at this point, I was down to liking two cameras. The Pentax and the Olympus TG-2. The Olympus has a nice option of buying two different lenses to screw onto the front (A 1.7x teleconverter and a fisheye). Both lenses are waterproof, but for a point and shoot camera, seem expensive to me (both run around $100) The Olympus also had great color renditions, as opposed to the cheaper Olympus and the Nikon. And last, the Olympus has aperture priorty and some fun features called magic art filters (fisheye, tilt shift, dramatic, etc) which can be fun to play with, but aren’t anything I can’t do in Photoshop. Even with all of that going for it, I went with the Pentax. Why? For one reason- the Pentax does one thing that not one other waterproof camera (not just the ones I reviewed, but out of every waterproof point and shoot out there) does- it has bracketing, meaning I can take a series of 3 photographs, one overexposed, one properly exposed and one underexposed and merge them later into a properly exposed photograph (called HDR for those who care to know).
Now, both Olympus cameras have an HDR setting where they manually merge pictures in camera, but I found them to look dull and flat. Here is a picture taken with the HDR feature turned on:
And turned off:
But- with my Pentax, I was able to take 3 photos and merge them when I got home in my Photomatix program to get this:
Last- both Olympus cameras have something called “drama” which creates a fake HDR, but it seemed to be very jarring:
Final verdict? The Olympus TG-2 and Pentax were both awesome cameras. If the Olympus had a bracketing option, that camera would have won by a landslide, but, the bracketing is very important to me, as I tend to shoot 75% or more of my pictures with bracketing turned on, and when I’m not carrying my SLR, I like still being able to have that option. Also, I take a lot of macro shots, and the Pentax’s macro outperformed the others. Plus, the Pentax has a ring of LED lights around the lens that can be illuminated to evenly light a macro object. I tried it out and it worked surprisingly well. It also comes with a macro ring to help balance the camera when using the “digital microscope” effect. I haven’t tried it out yet, but it looks like it’s going to be great.
If you want to keep reading, here’s some pro’s/cons for each camera:
Pros: lightweight, quick to start up, fun filters, cheapest out of the bunch, macro worked surprisingly well, the toggle switch on the back (sort of like a joystick) was very easy to use, especially when the camera was wet.
Cons: the color renditions were horrible compared to the other three cameras, and that is a major turn off. The camera does not come with a dedicated charger (the camera itself must be plugged in to charge- a pain if you have more than one battery!)
Pros: Very quick to start up, comes with a dedicated battery charger
Cons: the dials are very stiff and tough to operate, zoom is very slow, shutter button is difficult to press, macro worked the worst out of all four cameras.
Pros: color rendition is excellent!, it’s nice to have a dial on the back to easily access different settings (all three other cameras have you going into a menu), fun filters, adaptable to 2 different lenses, aperture priority mode (with f/2 lens).
Cons: while it is nice to have that dial, it is very difficult to turn when the camera or your hands are wet, 3rd most expensive camera (compared to the other three), no dedicated charger, macro was hit or miss.
Pros: the macro worked amazingly well for a point and shoot. I’d say almost as good as my Nikon and my Tamron AF 60mm macro. This camera has bracketing, as described above, and also I liked the feature of having a ‘fn’ button to which I could assign 4 more options from the menu. Makes changing settings easy. Last, it’s very rugged- the camera is surrounded a heavy rubber that looks like it can take a beating- not to mention it comes with a carabineer clip which will make it handy to attach to my bathing suit in the pool or ocean.
Further research also uncovered that there is a lens you can buy to screw on to the front of the camera. It is a Rioch fisheye and it costs about $125. I can’t really see myself spending that much on a screw on lens for a point and shoot, but its nice to know the option is out there!
Cons: out of the four, this one is the heaviest (which could be a pro if that’s what you’re looking for), it is also the most expensive. It doesn’t come with a dedicated charger like the two Olympus’ cameras. Last, because of the heavy rubber coating, the shutter button seems to be difficult to press, which, could cause camera shake in low light situations.
I think that about covers it! If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave me a comment and ask.
I cannot wait to go on our honeymoon and test this bad boy out! For now I’ll have to settle on testing it out at the beautiful Jersey shore when I head to the beach one day next week. Stay tuned for more pictures taken with it!
After deciding on the Pentax and playing with it for a few more days, I’ve decided that I am going to back to Amazon and buy the 2 battery pack and charger and a floating wrist strap.
One additional note:
Some of the cameras came with optional GPS- it is not something that is important to me, so I did not review that, but if it is something that is important to you, you should take that into consideration.
*This post is in no way sponsored by the individual camera brands, but the links placed within this post are affiliate links. By clicking through my links and purchasing from Amazon you help support my small blog. Any monies made go toward web hosting. All opinions, words and photographs are my own and may not be copied/reproduced in any way without prior consent.
Here are a few pictures I took with the Pentax, both on our Honeymoon to St. Lucia and just in general since then.
Power tubing (we went close to 40 mph on these things!)
And in our pool:
The pentax also takes awesome panoramas
One more pool shot