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Choosing the Best Underwater Pocket Camera

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

Who Makes the Best Waterproof Camera: Canon, Panasonic, or Pentax

We are going to Maui next week for vacation and because we are going to be doing a lot of cycling and obviously spending time at the beach, my wife and I decided to add to our camera arsenal and purchase a more rugged camera for all of the outdoor activities that we will be doing.  I want to the camera to be small enough to take out of my bike jersey to quickly snap pictures when we are biking the Hana Highway and rugged enough to handle getting banged around on my bike while my wife wants a camera to take underwater snorkeling pictures.  



This will actually be the third underwater type camera that we will have owned.  When we went to Maui two years ago, I bought a Pansonic Lumix Ts1.  The Lumix was a great camera.  It took crisp and detailed pictures both in the water and out.  It was also light weight and easy to use while hiking.  Unfortunately, I had in the pocket of my board shorts while boogie boarding and the camera housing didn’t hold up to power of the waves and water seeped inside causing the camera to die.  It was a slow painful death as it struggled to turn on, and the viewfinder began fogging up, but eventually it just passed away.


After the sad death of my Pansonic, my next foray into waterproof cameras came when I bought an Olympus Stylus Tough 6000  for my wife when she was going on a work related cruise (at least she said it was a work related cruise).   The Olympus  Tough definitely lives up to it’s name.  This is a tough camera as I often take it when I’m cycling and it gets abused quite a bit.  However, the time between snapping the shutter button and when the image is actually recorded is so long, I think I could time it with an hour glass. Also, the pictures that this camera takes are nothing to write home about.  


So, based on my pass experience and the activities that I plan on using the camera for, I have developed the following criteria:


  1. The camera must be small enough to fit in a pocket.  I have a Nikon D90 as my primary  shooter, but I don’t want to lug it around all the time (not going to work on a bike).
  2. It needs to be able to withstand shallow depths of water for snorkeling.  I learned my lesson and am not going to challenge the camera’s build quality with extreme waves crashing over the top, but I want to be confident that it can at least withstand depths of up to nine to ten feet.  
  3. It needs to take the best possible pictures inside the water an out. 
  4. A decent zoom for taking land pictures. 
  5. I’m hoping to purchase the camera for under $400.  Less wouldn’t break my heart.



I briefly considered a water specific camera like the ones from Sealife or Nikonos, but those are probably more than I need as they are for scuba diving and will handle greater  water depth but are also significantly more expensive. 


I also thought about getting an underwater case for my D90, but that wouldn’t resolve the need for portability on the bike. 


I quickly narrowed my choices to four cameras:

 The Canon PowerShot D10

Canon Powershot(51641)


  • Canon makes great cameras and with a 12.1 mp sensor, the pictures have great resolution. 
  • The size of the camera makes it very compact.
  • The cost of the camera ($299) puts it right in the middle of my budget.


  • lag time with the shutter is  more than I want.
  • The shape of the camera (first of all, it just looks dorky) makes it difficult to hold.
  • There have been significant problems reported with water seeping into the internal workings of the camera and there are extensive instructions for how you need to treat the camera whenever it is exposed to salt water.

 The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS10
Panasonic TS10


  • This camera looks identical to my TS1 that I had originally purchased.  
  • The Panasonic Lumix brand of cameras take fantastic pictures and at 14.1 mp, this camera has a great sensor.
  • It can take pictures in a burst mode of up to 4.6 frames per second (at 3 mp resolution)
  • This camera is currently on sale for $199.99 at B and H Photo.  At that price, this camera is a steal since I paid over $400 for TS1 two years ago.


  • This camera looks identical to the TS1 and that camera failed.
  • It is a closeout model so it is using old technology
  • Small zoom capabilities (4x).
  •  The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3

The Panasonic Lumix TS3


  • This is the newest version of the Panasonic Lumix underwater camera line.  So it has technology features not found in the previous model (the ability to take pictures while simultaneously filming video sounds really cool).
  • It has the quickest autofocus and shortest lag time of any of the cameras.
  • It’s build quality looks more beefed up from the previous models
    Panasonic TS3
  • Pictures rival the best of any of the other cameras of it’s kind.


    • There aren’t too many users reporting issues with the camera failing, but there are significant instructions for how to treat the camera after being exposed to salt water.
    • The video file format is mpeg4 AVCHD which requires a lot of work to process if you are using a Mac.
    • Cost.  At $314, this is the most expensive of the group.  

       Pentax Optio WG-1


      Pentax WG-1
      • Rugged design.  This camera seems to be toughest and have the greatest waterproofing of the four cameras.  
      • Quick and responsive autofocus
      • Picture quality is above average and the camera works well in limited light situations.


      • It seems a bit bulky and the rubber outer casing could make it difficult to pull out of a bike jersey pocket.



      I was so happy with my first Panasonic Lumix camera that I’ve decided to roll the dice again and purchase the TS3.  I will really try to baby it when in the water and will follow the directions for soaking it in freshwater after it is exposed to salt water.  It may be a little bit of risk over the Pentax Optio WG-1 (my second choice) but the Lumix seems like the closest camera of the group that could come close to creating images that are similar in quality to my Nikon D90.



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