Are you the adventurous type? Like to be one with the mud? Want to get great underwater snorkel 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 November 11, 2013)
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
Bell & Howell WP10
Adorama price: $69
Summary: Let’s say you’re not ready to spend hundreds to submerse yourself in underwater photography, but are rather looking for a pool/beach camera so you can just get your feet wet. Bell & Howell makes several cameras that can be submerged to pool depths (around 10 feet) for well under $100. The Bell & Howell WP10 is a bare-bones affair, with a 12MP resolution sensor and a smallish 2.4-inch LCD monitor, a fixed wide-angle f/2.8 lens and a built-in flash. It also shoots VGA-quality videos. It’s a great first camera for a kid, or a good knock-around pocket camera for water parks, canoeing, skiing and so forth. Want to get more serious? The cameras below have a fuller feature set and offer better quality.
• Waterproof to 10 feet
• Shock resistant
Fujifilm FinePix XP60
Adorama price: $148-159.95
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
Nikon 1 AW1
Adorama price: $796.95 with 11-27mm kit lens
Summary: Meet the world’s first waterproof MILC! The Nikon 1 AW1 is the first interchangeable-lens compact digital camera that can not only be dunked, it can be used in dives. It is rated for use at underwater depths down to 49 feet—without a bulky protective housing—and is ruggedized against cold, drops and dust. Wi-Fi compatible using a WU-1b Wireless Mobile Adapter (not waterproof, but how many hotspots are there at 49 feet down?), the AW1 lets you share images on iOS and Android devices. While the Nikon 1 AW1 will work under normal shooting with the full lineup of Nikon 1-series lenses, Nikon has also announced two lenses (the 11-27.5mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens and wide-angle 1 Nikkor AW 10mm f/2.8) that are also waterproofed specifically for use with the AW1. Mount either lens and it creates a tight, protective seal. Quick autofocus, extensive 1080p HD video and 15fps rapid sequence still shooting make this a great action camera when you’re part of the action. Available in Silver, White and Black.
• Waterproof to depth of 49 feet
• Freezeproof to 14 degrees F
• Shockproof against drops of 6.6 feet
• Water-repellant lens coating on WR-compatible lenses
Olympus Tough TG-2
Adorama price: $379
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
Adorama price: $348
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, and 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.
• Save the case as you upgrade camera
• You can use zoom lenses
• Some cameras that fit in these cases have large sensors and deliver near-pro image quality
• Costs less to buy a waterproof case than an underwater camera
• 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. Available in Green or Pink.
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: $27.95
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.
Waterproof cases for smart phones
• No need to buy an expensive specialized camera
• Immediate image sharing capabilities
• Most let you operate touch screen through housing
• Keep the armored case on at all times to protect expensive device
• Most smart phones don’t zoom
• Limited feature set
• Resolution not as good as many stand-alone cameras
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. It allows you to operate any touchscreen device (phone, camera, whatever) through the case. The company says that when using a cell phone you can talk and hear with no problem.
Hitcase Pro Waterproof and Ruggedized Case for iPhone 5 with Built-in Wide Angle Lens
Adorama price: $129.99
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.
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.