OK, I’m not a techie and I’m not a professional photographer. Sometimes I like taking a few pictures on my dives but I don’t want to carry a bulky camera with underwater housing with me all the time. I see more and more divers using these compact cameras without housing and I have been thinking about buying one myself. I could put it in my BCD pocket and carry it on all my dives. Whenever I feel like it I can flip it out and take some pictures.  So which waterproof camera is the best to buy? I compared 3 of the most popular waterproof compacts and I also had a look at how they compare to a GoPro.

 Olympus Tough TG-5

Highlights:

  • 12MP sensor
  • Waterproof to 15m
  • RAW format recording  
  • 4x optical zoom, f/2-4.9
  • Excellent macro shots
  • price around $ 449

The Tough TG-5 is one of the most popular waterproof cameras for scuba diving. It’s waterproof to a depth of 15m. To take it deeper (up to 45m), you will need the 

 

The Olympus Tough TG-5 comes with a cool selection of original accessories, which can expand its capabilities even further. They include a tough telephoto converter and a macro converter. Together with the original Olympus strobe – that looks very similar to the Sea&Sea YS 01 – and Olympus arms and tray you can build a pretty impressive setup.

http://www.seaandsea.jp/products/strobe/ys01/

http://asia.olympus-imaging.com/product/compact/accessory/underwater/ptwc01.html

http://asia.olympus-imaging.com/product/compact/accessory/underwater/ptmc01.html

http://asia.olympus-imaging.com/product/compact/accessory/underwater/pt058.html

http://asia.olympus-imaging.com/product/compact/accessory/underwater/ufl3.html

http://asia.olympus-imaging.com/content/000090145.jpg

If you like macro the Tough TG-5 is your top choice. It’s impressive microscope mode make it ‘the king of the macro compacts’ for sure. Another key selling point is that it can shoot in RAW format. Shooting in RAW increases your options for photo  editing

The camera features 4 different underwater modes; Underwater Wide Angle, Underwater Macro, Underwater HDR and Underwater Snapshot. For all the macro lovers it even has 4 different macro modes;  Microscope, Microscope Control, Focus Bracketing and Focus Stacking. If you like to know more about these tech features you can download the TG-5 user manual here. 

 

Nikon COOLPIX AW130 / W300

Highlights:

  • 16 MP sensor, f/2.8 lens with 5-times magnification optical zoom
  • 4K video recording
  • Waterproof to 30 m
  • Price around $ 389

Nikon has two waterproof cameras that are worth looking at. The Nikon COOLPIX AW130 and the slightly newer W300. Both are  waterproof up to 30 meters— the most of any waterproof camera on the market today. The differences between the two Nikons are minor. The W300 is slightly more expensive and features 4K video and some gadgets like bluetooth connectivity and electronic compass.

Compared to the Olympus TG-5, the COOLPIX W300 can capture 16 MP still images, is slightly cheaper and can be taken much deeper.

However, the TG-5 has a better lens (f/2.0 vs f/2.8 in the Nikon) and can shoot photos with higher ISO, so it should be better in low-light conditions. On the Nikons you are also limited to shoot JPG images. Macro capabilities on the COOLPIX W300 are also pretty impressive. It can focus up to 1 cm (above water!) but it lacks the awesome Microscope mode that the Olympus TG-5 has.

You can download the user manual here 

Or you can have a look at the quick start guide 

 

Canon PowerShot D30

Highlights:

  • Good ergonomic design
  • Waterproof to 25m
  • No built-in Wi-Fi
  • Price around $ 410

 

Last camera I looked at is the Canon D30. The Canon D30 is waterproof up to 25 meters. It features oversized controls that makes the camera exceptionally easy to operate, even while wearing gloves. So if you are diving cold water you will like the Canon.

However the Canon D30 is the oldest of the three and that means the image quality is noticeably less than on the Olympus TG-5 and Nikon COOLPIX W300. The Canon does not shoot RAW images so you are limited to JPG.

The D30 also doesn’t record depth data and has no Wi-Fi connectivity.

It’s great that the PowerShot D30 is a waterproof down to 25 metres, but aside from this and it ergonomic benefits, its been surpassed by the competition.

You can have a look at the user guide here

 

 

GoPro Hero6

Highlights:

  • 12MP sensor
  • Waterproof to 40m (with housing)
  • RAW format recording
  • Field of View 170 degrees
  • Price around $ 399

 

So why would I buy one of these cameras when I can buy a GoPro Hero6 for roughly the same price? With the waterproof housing I can still put it in my BCD pocket and I can take it to 40 meters. It can also shoot in RAW format and video quality goes up to 4K.

GoPro is very easy to use. The Hero6 has a touch screen and even voice control!

Main disadvantage is that the GoPro Hero6 shoots ultra wide angle video and photos. This means you are limited to shooting other divers or making overview shots of the reef. If you come up very close to your subject, the wide angle lens deforms the image. Certainly macro shots are not possible with the GoPro.

There is no flash on a GoPro so to make colorful images you will need a video light. The red filter works but it is not a great solution if you want to make quality images.

There are only very limited settings on the GoPro to change exposure, shutter speed, white balance, etc. With most compact cameras you can choose automatic mode or choose to control all these settings in manual mode. More info about the GoPro Hero6 here.

 

Conclusion

If you are looking for a camera that you can put in your BCD pocket there are some great compacts out there! In my opinion the most useable compact camera for scuba divers is the The Nikon COOLPIX W300. It has great image quality and you can take it to 30 meters without housing.

If I could take it deeper the Olympus Tough TG-5 would be my number one choice for sure. It also makes great quality pictures, it shoots RAW and the macro capabilities are just awesome. However, you will need to put it in a housing if you want to go deeper than 15 meters and that is the deal breaker for me.

Asia Scuba Instructors Blog is written by Course Director Marcel Jansen. Asia Scuba Instructors runs PADI Instructor Courses in multiple locations around Asia.