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Note: You are currently reading our 2012 waterproof camera roundup. We've posted an updated roundup with all the new waterproof models for 2013. Check it out here!
No beating around the bush necessary: The Olympus TG-1 is far and away the best waterproof camera of the year. Tough cameras had been making baby steps in the right direction for years, but Olympus made a bold and necessary move when they slapped an f/2.0 lens onto the TG-1. Just like that, we now have a tough cam that is actually a great all-around compact camera, too.
It’s a winner across the board, earning top-pick status in every category in this roundup. The image quality alone puts the TG-1 a cut above the rest of the class, but it has the best body, too. It’s the most durable tough-cam, with top toughness ratings in every category. The 3-inch OLED screen is the brightest, smoothest, and punchiest display out there.
Handling is comfortable, and the interface is simple, but still offers enough user control. Extra features like super-macro mode, GPS, top-tier speed, and the most striking set of digital effects out there are just the cherry on top. Yeah, it’s the most expensive tough camera, but pound for pound, it’s a fantastic value.
If there’s a weakness, it’s the color profile. It’s a bit undersaturated, and there’s no user control in that regard. Our review unit was also a bit glitchy, and we’ve heard from a few people who’ve had the same issue—less than one-tenth of a percent of the people who have read the review so far, so it doesn’t seem to be widespread.
All things considered, we recommend the TG-1 as the best all-around tough camera out there, and an excellent camera, period. If you want the best underwater camera, this is it. If you want an excellent family camera that won’t break, this is also it. Highly recommended.
Honorable mention goes to the Panasonic TS4—as long as you don’t plan on taking it into the water much. But outdoor photo quality is excellent, and it’s basically as hardened as they come. Now that the price has dropped to about $280, it’s a solid value for a tough camera. We’ve just heard too many reports of water leakage to recommend it as a serious underwater camera. Splashes at the pool and in the surf, sure. Diving, not so much.
And second honorable mention goes to the Sony TX20. Photo quality is quite good, it’s fun to use, and it’s by far the smallest and lightest in the class—as compact as any of Sony’s other slimline pocket shooters. It’s the least-tough model out there, and the touchscreen is worthless in water, but it’s a nice carry-anywhere point-and-shoot.
Some of you might have noticed that the Nikon AW100 has the best overall score in our camera rankings among its competitors. It’s a fine waterproof camera, and in our opinion was the best on the market when we reviewed it last fall, shortly after its release. A big part of the score is the artificially high sharpness result. We also used different video tests last year, which affect the result in its favor. In reality, it’s somewhere in the middle of the pack.
The only model that we’d avoid outright is the Fujifilm XP150. It’s a cheap camera in a hard shell—supremely irritating to use, with sub-par results across the board.
It would be great to see a few manufacturers follow Olympus’ lead next year, and even better if somebody made a waterproof camera with RAW capture and proper manual exposure controls. Chances are slim—especially when you can just wrap something like the Canon S100 in waterproof housing—but we love surprises.