Do your summer vacations revolve around an active lifestyle? Whether it’s snorkeling in the sea or wading in the kiddie pool, jaunting around cobbled-stone streets or tearing over hills on a dirt bike, you’ll want a camera to capture it all without breaking.
Waterproof, rugged cameras are designed to tolerate the elements, making them ideal for travel. The bodies are designed to withstand against water, dirt, sand, high and low temperatures, and drops. Rugged cams aren’t new, but the latest models have much stronger performance and pack more features than earlier generations. Whether it’s a point and shoot, action cam, or interchangeable-lens model, here are our current favorites.
Olympus Stylus Tough TG-4
Why should you buy this: This camera is the Hummer of point-and-shoot cameras.
Who’s it for: Someone who wants a compact, travel camera that can handle drops, spills, and chills.
How much will it cost: $380
Why we picked the Tough TG-4:
Come on. Just look at the thing. It’s a ridiculously robust camera that’s as capable on the inside as it is life-proof on the outside. It can shoot 16-megapixel uncompressed RAW photos, has 4x optical zoom, and offers an f/2-4.9 aperture. Although it uses a typically small point-and-shoot sensor, back-illuminated technology helps it perform better in low-light situations. It can shoot Full HD video, too.
The Tough TG-4 is waterproof down to 50 feet, crushproof to 220 pounds, freezeproof down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit, shockproof from 7 feet, and dustproof. More than enough to ensure it stays safe come hell or high water.
Add in the integrated GPS and Wi-Fi and it’s a no-brainer. After having tested numerous Olympus Tough models, we find them to be solid performers in any environment. If you are looking for a less expensive version from Olympus, check out the TG-870.
The best budget waterproof camera
Fujifilm Finepix XP120
Why should you buy this: It’s small, affordable, and easy to use.
Who’s it for: Vacationers looking for an inexpensive rugged camera.
How much will it cost: $230
Why we picked the XP120:
Fujifilm has mostly killed off its point-and-shoot lineup except for one: the rugged XP120. Why? Because it’s a category that still sells well. Although similar to the Olympus Tough TG-4, the XP120 has an affordable price tag and is lightweight. But don’t let its simple design fool you: The XP120 is waterproof to 65 feet, shockproof from 5.8 feet, freezeproof to 14-degrees Fahrenheit, and dustproof.
Inside the XP120 is a 16.4-megapixel backside-illuminated CMOS sensor. The camera handles continuous shooting of 10 frames per second, and Full HD video is captured at 60p. Its 5x optical zoom lens offers optical image stabilization. Built-in Wi-Fi lets you upload vacation pics while you’re still on vacation, or print to Fujifilm’s Instax Share printer.
If you don’t need the GPS or RAW support of the TG-4, save yourself some cash with the XP120.
The best waterproof 360-degree camera
Nikon KeyMission 360 4K Action Cam
Why should you buy this: A highly rugged camera that shoots 360-degree photos and videos.
Who’s it for: For those who want to relive their vacations in immersive 360 degrees.
How much will it cost: $500
Why we picked the KeyMission 360:
If you’re into creating 360-degree content, the KeyMission 360 is the most rugged option right now. Drop it on the floor or dunk it inside a glass of water – we’ve done both, and there was not a scratch.
The camera feels absolutely solid, but with its two-lens design that protrudes out quite a bit, it’s also bulky. In return, Nikon has made it waterproof down to 98 feet, shockproof from 6.6 feet, and freezeproof down to 14-degrees Fahrenheit, all without the need for additional housing. Imagine the cool 360-degree videos you can shoot of your deep sea diving (just remember to swap in the special underwater lens covers).
The KeyMission 360 manages to pack into its tiny, robust frame a 4K-capable sensor that captures 23.9-megapixel stills. The best part is that the 360-degree content is stitched in-camera, so there’s no need to transfer the files to a phone or computer for processing. And with Nikon’s Snapbridge built in, the camera uses Bluetooth low-energy to maintain constant pairing with your phone for image transfers.
The best waterproof action camera
GoPro Hero5 Session
Why should you buy this: It’s small, versatile, and packs in a lot of imaging power into its rugged cube frame.
Who’s it for: Adrenaline junkies who want the reliability (and cool factor) of GoPro
How much will it cost: $299
Why we picked the Hero5 Session:
The Hero5 Session is one of two smallest GoPros to date, but don’t let its size fool you.
Inside its small, dice-shaped body is a camera capable of capturing 4K video at 30 frames per second, 2K at 60 fps, and 10-megapixel stills. It also includes features new to GoPro cameras: electronic image stabilization, voice control, and improved wind noise reduction. It’s simple to operate – just press a button and it’ll start recording – and is compatible with all GoPro mounts. The Hero5 Session is completely waterproof without a housing, down to 33 feet. Whether you’re surfing a big wave or racing down a mountain on a bike, the lightweight Session is unobtrusive. Besides videos and stills, you can also capture time-lapse and action bursts. Wi-Fi lets you control it remotely from your phone.
Want to save some cash? Downgrade to the Hero Session, which has all the rugged attributes of the Session, but doesn’t have the new features or 4K video capture (it shoots Full HD at 60 fps and 8MP stills).
The best waterproof interchangeable lens camera
Nikon 1 AW1
Why should you buy this: It’s the only interchangeable lens camera that is also waterproof without a case.
Who’s it for: Water-loving photographers who want better image quality.
How much will it cost: $800
Why we picked the Nikon 1 AW1:
Nikon’s AW1 is a waterproof version of its mirrorless 1-series camera, and it channels the Nikon Nikonos waterproof film cameras from the past.
This mirrorless interchangeable lens camera is completely waterproof, shockproof, and freezeproof, all without the need for external housing. You only have two lens options for shooting underwater – a 10mm f/2.8 and a 11-27.5mm f/3.5-5.6 – but Nikon’s entire lineup of 1-series lenses work with the AW1, so long as you keep them dry.
Inside the AW1 is Nikons 1-inch CX-format CMOS sensor, which captures 14.2-megapixel photos upwards of 15 frames per second. It’s also capable of capturing full HD video and includes an integrated GPS unit for geo-tagging your photos on all your snorkeling and hiking adventures. In terms of image quality, the 1-inch sensor will perform better than the smaller sensors used in other rugged cameras.
If you want the AW1, you should act soon. Although it’s still available for sale, it appears Nikon is phasing it out (it’s no longer listed on Nikon’s website, however it’s still in the Nikon online store). While Nikon will very likely still support it in the future, we doubt it will remain on our list as a recommended product for long.