Learn about the best waterproof smartphone cases and cameras available today. Also learn about what to look for in a waterproof camera.
Are you the adventurous type? Like to be one with the mud? Want to get great underwater snorkle shots? Don't mind getting wet, gritty, dusty, and dirty? These protective cases for your fragile mobile devices, as well as the latest compact waterproof digital cameras, are designed for you.
The latest generation of smart phones and compact digital cameras are pretty cool devices that are getting cooler with each new product announcement, but there's one design feature that, I think, is kinda dumb. These gadgets are filled with electronics that would be destroyed if they come in contact with water. And yet, they are, with few exceptions, not protected against water damage.
Even worse: Some brands' warrantees don't cover water damage! If you get caught in a downpour, too bad. Dropped it in the toilet while, er, texting? You're on your own, buddy. With replacement phones costing hundreds of dollars, it pays to have protection.
So, if you're the adventurous type, what are your options?
There are two ways you can go about making sure your camera (on a cell phone or stand-alone) will keep working if it has been splashed: Buy a waterproof camera, or buy a protective case for your smart phone or non-waterproof camera.
(Waterproof, by the way, does not mean you can take your gadget underwater. For that, you would specifically need to look for ruggedized compact digital cameras, which we cover below, or cases that are rated to be submerged.)
TIP: If you buy a waterproof case and the manufacturer says it is submergeable, test this out beforehand by stuffing it with paper towels, taking the case as deep as you plan to go with your camera. Then bring it up to the surface, dry off the outside, and open it up. If the paper towels are dry, you're good to go. If not, return it!
Let's look at all of the choices and specific products you can buy at Adorama to protect your digital investment. (Prices are accurate as of May 23, 2013)
1. Waterproof cases for smart phones
- You don't need to buy a stand-alone camera
- Relatively inexpensive protection
- Take advantage of social sharing features
- Cell phone image quality, while improving, isn't as good as a standalone digital camera's
- Few cell phone cameras have zoom lenses
Hitcase Pro Waterproof and Ruggedized Case for iPhone 5 with Built-in Wide Angle Lens
Adorama price: $129.95
Waterproof and ruggedized against shocks and drops, the solid Hitcase Pro can be submerged down to 30 feet (the company claims that's deeper than any other case on the market for smart phones) and, unlike other cases for the iPhone 5, has a built-in wide-angle lens with three glass elements. The lens allows for deep focus and is great if you want to record outdoor activities and allow your camera phone to double as an action camera or camcorder.
The Joy Factory Bubble Shield
Adorama Price: $19.95
Usable with any large smart phone, the Bubble Shield comes five to a pack and uses a dual-zip enclosure to protect your device from the elements, but allows for full touch screen use. Great price, simple to use.
Aryca Wave 2 Waterproof Case for iPhone 4/4s
Adorama Price: $39.99
If you own an iPhone 4 or 4s this waterproof case will give you protection against rain and sand. It is rated to be submerged down to 20 feet and has full touchscreen functionality. A hard outer shell absorbs shocks, and an Aircase Adaptor lets you mount your iPhone while participating in sports. Since all controls are accesable with the case on, you never have to remove it.
OtterBox Armor Series Waterproof Case for iPhone 5
Adorama price: $66.99
OtterBox is well known for protecting iPhones against bangs and bruises which it is built to absorb, and this version is completely sealed against splashes. A built-in screen protector lets you use the touch screen while fulling protecting it. This case, while waterproof, is not submergeable.
Aquapac 108 Mini Whanganui Electronics Case for iPhone
Adorama price: $29.95
While you don't want to dunk this below the surface, this case offers great protection against wind and accidental drops into water (it floats). A patented injection-moulded plastic seal opens and closes with a twist of two levers, protecting your iPhone from dust, dirt, sand and of course, liquid invaders.
2. Ruggedized and Waterproof Compact Digital Cameras
- No extra protective case needed
- Zoom lens
- Extensive built-in features (no additional apps necessary)
- Some models have Wi-Fi, Geotagging
- It's another gadget to carry
Summary: Fujifilm has improved the responsiveness of its entire lineup of compact cameras so there is virtually no delay from the moment you press the shutter release until the camera takes the picture, and the Fujifilm FinePix XP60 is no exception. The camera has a 16MP sensor, an internal-zooming 28-140mm (35mm equivalent) lens, and is backed by a 2.7-inch, 230k dot resolution viewfinder, ISO range 100-6400, and macro focus to within 3.5 inches. This camera can record 1080p images, and has high-speed movie mode for slow-mo videos at up to 240fps. The Fujifilm FinePix XP60 is available from Adorama in Green, Red, Blue, and Yellow.
- Waterproof to depth of 20 feet
- Shockproof against drops up to 5 feet
- Coldproof down to 14 degrees F
- Dust- and sand-proof
- Water-repellenant lens coating
Summary: The Nikon AW 110, Nikon's second generation ruggedized compact camera, gets a lot right. It features a 16MP CMOS sensor, built-in Wi-Fi for instant image sharing online, GPS, a 3-inch, 610k dot monitor and a control layout that lets you operate the camera while wearing gloves. What a smart idea for a camera that can be used at 14 degrees! In addition to shooting stills it can capture full HD in 1080p at 30fps. It has a variety of playback filter effects, an internal periscoping 5x optical zoom lens that starts at 28mm, close focusing down to 1cm, and an ISO range of 125-1600. Available from Adorama in Orange, Black, Blue, Camouflage.
- Waterproof to depth of 59 feet
- Shock-proof against drops of up to 6.7 feet
- Freeze-proof down to 14 degrees farenheight
If nearly $350 is more than you were planning to spend, Nikon has a simpler underwater camera, the Nikon Coolpix S31 (right), which is waterproof down to 16.5 feet and shockproof to drops of 3.5 feet. While it doesn't have as extensive a feature set as the AW110, the Nikon Coolpix S31, at the budget-busting Adorama price of $106.95, is a great deal and might be best suited for the rough handling of a younger photographer wannabe. It's available in kid friendly colors: Blue, White, Pink, Brown and Yellow.
Summary: The Olympus Tough TG2-iHS is unique among underwater cameras: It is a system camera! Its fast 25-100mm (35mm equivalent) f/2-4.9 lens can be augmented via an adapter (Adorama price: $20) with a 2x tele extender, which increases its equivalent focal length to 200mm (Adorama price: $99), and a 12mm equivalent fisheye lens (Adorama price: $99). Since fisheye and ultrawide lenses are the optics of choice for many underwater photographers, this makes a lot of sense. Other features include a 12MP CMOS sensor whose lower pixel density holds the promise of better image quality; built-in GPS, a 3-inch, 610k dot resolution LCD monitor, contrast-detection autofocus, quick start-up, 3-way image stabilization, 1080p HD video capture at 30 fps, ISO range of 100-6400, HDR and backlight HDR, a "Microscopic Macro Mode", improved image stabilization,and an amazing 30fps burst rate at full resolution. Available in Red and Black.
- Waterproof to 50 feet
- Shockproof to 6.8 feet
- Freezeproof to 14 degrees
- Crushproof to 220 pounds
Summary: Featuring a Leica 4.6x zoom lens that starts at 28mm (35mm equivalent, the 16MP Panasonic DMC TS5 is a ruggedized camera designed for active outdoor and underwater use and is the first ruggedized Panasonic camera to offer Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity so you can upload and share your shots directly from the camera. In addition to GPS, it has a compass, altimeter and barometer to record altitude, barometric pressure and orientation (the barometer also indicates how deep you're diving). Other fatures include 1080p HD video in AVCHD format, an LED light for low-light video recording, macro focusing down to about 3 inches, ISO range 100-6400, and a3-inch, 460k dot resolution LCD monitor. Available in blue, black, orange, silver.
- Waterproof to 43 feet
- Shockproof to drops of approximately 6.6 feet
- Dustproof to IPX8 and IP6X standards
- Freezeproof operates to 14 degrees F
- Resists up to 220 pounds of pressure
Pentax Optio WG-3
Adorama price: $246.95-296.95
Summary: Pentax has been making rugged cameras longer than any other camera maker, and their experience building the Pentax underwater camera line has been poured into the WG-2, its 14th generation rugged camera. In addition to being waterproof, shockproof, crushproof and coldproof, the camera offers a new 25-100mm (35mm equivalent) f/2-4.9 optical zoom lens surrounded by an array of six LED lights designed to illuminate close subjects. That's great for both underwater and on-land macro photography, and the camera lets you get to within half an inch of your subject in macro mode. The 16MP sensor offers high an ISO of 6400, and three-way camera shake reduction. Almost all of its rugged features have been upgraded over its predecessor There's a 3-inch LCD montor, 1080p HD video capture, built-in GPS, a digital compass, and in the Green and Purple versions, pressure/altitude/water depth gauges (hence the differential in pricing). Available in Green, Purple, Orange, and Black.
- Waterproof to depth of 45 feet
- Shockproof from drops up to 6.55 feet
- Crushproof (220 LbF pound-force)
- Coldproof to -10 degrees C (14 degrees F)
- Sealed against dust
Waterproof cases for compact digital cameras
Finally, what if you already own a compact digital camera or DSLR that's not ruggedized, and you want to take it below the waves? We've got cases!
While there are numerous waterproof/underwater cases designed for specific digital camera models which you can find at Adorama, I selected these three cases because they are more universal in design and can be used for many cameras within a certain size range. The advantage is that these cameras are less expensive, and the ones rated to work underwater are fine for pool and snorkeling.
- Better quality images
- Zoom lens, flash, improving lag time
- Some models have large sensors and deliver near-pro image quality
- Pop-up flash
- It's another gadget to carry...plus a case
- Cases fitted to specific camera models are more expensive
My Aqua Case 6810, Large Underwater Case
Adorama price: $29.95
This case is designed for low-cost, compact digital cameras, and is good protection for rain and sand. It also can be submerged, but based on user feedback we suggest pool or snorkeling use, nothing deeper than around 5-10 feet.
DiCAPac WPS10 Waterproof Case for DSLRs
Adorama Price: $76.36
Claimed to be usable underwater down to around 16 feet (according to JIS IPX8 requirements), the DiCAPac WPS10 is designed for DSLRs with wide-angle lenses. It is sealed via an easy to open and close Roll Velcro zipper system, it features a UV-coated polycarbonate lens window. Controls are accessed via a built-in finger sleeve. User suggestion: Be sure to keep the lens window clean!
Kaiser Universal Underwater Digicam WaveCase
Adorama price: $24.95
A submergable case that floats safely if dropped in water, the Kaiser WaveCase accepts any camera with measurements up to 4.2x2.2x1 inch, and a zoom lens that extends no more than 18mm, or 0.7 inches. It has a protective hard-foam frame and removable hard-foam elements that hold different sized cameras in place, and a clear scratch-resistant coating on the lens side allows for clear shooting, while a flexible silicon foil covering lets you easily see the LCD.