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Best Digital Cameras For Underwater

So you're planning on taking photos underwater. Whether you're scuba diving, or just snorkeling it can be tough picking the right underwater camera. Some cameras leak, while others don't take good pictures underwater. Still others don't work properly the deeper in the water you go. You can always opt to buy waterproof camera holdings, but wouldn't you rather buy a versatile camera you can use for all situations including underwater?

Our experts went and test drived several underwater cameras. Yup, one of us was already planning a trip to Oahu, Hawaii, so we thought, might as well test some underwater cameras while we're at it. Here are the best underwater digital cameras we found:

1) Canon Powershot D10

Canon Powershot D10

The D10 is a versatile monster. It's one of the Canon models where you can still take photos deeper than 30+ feet. In fact, this was the first camera we used while snorkeling in the North Shore, and all of our photos turned out be good - in fact some looked marvelous. One trick we learned is to leave the D10 in "underwater mode" but shoot the shot on land. This produces very saturated photos that look visually stunning.

Canon Powershot D10 sample photo

The D10 is a fairly solid camera outside of the water, featuring 12.1 megapixels, a 3X optical zoom, and a 2 1/2 inch LCD display. The design of the D10 leaves a little to be desired though. We didn't find the grip that comfortable, and it is kind of bulky. You definitely can't fit this into any regular sized pocket. But I guess you have to sacrifice something in order for it work underwater.

In terms of performance, well, the D10 isn't the fastest camera out there - in fact it's subpar. Start up to first shot takes 1.2 seconds, which is decent. Shot to shot time is also decent at 2 seconds. However, the shutter lag is quite slow - one of the slowest among cameras in this price range at .5 seconds. Also there's no burst mode at all.

The image quality is fairly solid here. At low ISO, quality of all our photos were excellent and detailed. Once you reach ISO 400, it starts to get grainy. And at ISO 800, the photos become undesirable. We like the colors of our photos, they had good exposure and accuracy.

The video quality is a different story. If you need to record videos while underwater, or even in land, we recommend finding another camera. It's not horrible, but there's better options.

What's great about it:
- Excellent photo quality underwater and in land
- Works 30+ feet deep underwater

What's not so great:
- Design is not good
- Performance is sub-par.
- Bad video quality

Summary: All in all, this is a solid point and shoot camera. You sacrifice some performance and design for a versatile camera that will take excellent photos underwater.

2) Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS2

Panasonic LUMIX DMC-TS2 camera

The DMC-TS2 is a tough little camera. Just holding it, you can tell it has a durable build, and will withstand anything such as water, dust, and shock. Panasonic made sure to build a very strong camera here and it shows. You can drop this camera from up to 6 feet, and it will still work and stay in 1 piece. It's waterproof up to 30 feet or so.

We took the TS2 for a test drive and dumped it into a swimming pool that was 10 feet deep. It worked as we expected. So we took it out for a shallow dive and tested it even further. Lo and behold, the TS2 managed to be waterproof in levels greater than 30 feet.

We also were gutsy enough to test the shock proof of the TS2. We dropped it from a height of 5.5 feet, and were a little scared to see whether we just lost out $300 camera. Nope, it was still working, and remained in 1 piece. Durability: A+

The TS2 overall, is a nice upgrade from the TS1 and features a cool 28mm wide angle view, and a super fast Sonic Speed AF with 4.6x optical zoom. The performance of the TS2 is quite impressive - the shutter lag is just .005 seconds. Unlike the Canon Powershot D10, the TS2 has excellent performance.

We took some pictures of sea turtles and fish with the TS2 and for the most part, we were pleased with the image quality of all of our pictures. The colors were accurate, and not grainy. We also shot some videos, and these also looked great.

Panasonic DMC-TS2 sample underwater image

One thing we did notice is that the TS2 has a habit of producing drowned out images that are a bit soft. You can fix this by using the natural code mode rather than the standard color mode. Even then, softness is an issue you will encounter with this camera, and you will need to edit it afterwards to reveal the true potential of the photos you shoot with the TS2.

What's great about it:
- Good water and dust resistence
- AF performs fast
- HD video is great

What's not so great:
- Pretty expensive for its features

Summary: If you're looking for the most durable camera that is shock proof, water proof, and weather proof, we can't recommend a better camera than the TS2. And unlike the D10, the video quality is superb underwater.

3) SeaLife DC 800 Camera

Sealife DC 800 camera

The 2 above cameras we mentioned are great if you're planning to do snorkeling, shallow dives 30 feet or higher, or swimming. If you're planning on doing serious scuba diving, SeaLife specializes in these powerful underwater cameras. The DC 800 is one of their most popular ones.

We used this actual camera while scuba diving near a ship wreck. This camera was a snap to use. It felt comfortable and sturdy. It was very simple to use - the controls were user friendly. It was small, which is great since you don't want to carrying something bulky while diving.

We took many photos with this camera (including photos of some sharks!). We were very impressed with all of them. We just recommend you be patient while shooting. Don't use the zoom if you don't need it. Just be patient, and try to take the pictures as close as possible to the subject.

SeaLife DC800 underwater image

Above water, the photo quality is just average. We weren't impressed by it, but weren't turned off either. You'll be satisfied
- underwater is there the DC 800 outperforms the rest of the competition.

We love the battery life of this camera too - we have to mention that. We took maybe over 500 photos and it was still working. Great battery life.

What's great about it:
- Perfect for beginner divers/snorkelers
- Great bang for the buck

What's not so great:
- Photo quality just average in land

Summary: If you're a serious diver, this is the camera for you. If you're just starting out though, we do recommend testing your skills with a camera bag, and a cheap camera. Once you get the hang of shooting underwater, you can then graduate to the DC 800.


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