How to Pick the Best Underwater Camera

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Don't Let Anyone Tell You Which Camera is Best for You

Waterproof digital cameras are a growing segment of the photographic market, and there are now a wide variety of underwater cameras to choose from, but which is the best underwater camera for you? Many sites can tell you which is the bestselling model or which is the best-rated out of all of the models available, but if it's out of your price range or doesn't meet your needs, you're not going to be happy. Here are some considerations to find the best waterproof camera for you.

5 Questions to Help You Pick the Best Underwater Camera

Waterproof cameras are available from under $100 to over $500, can be taken anywhere from 5 feet to 200 feet underwater, and come with a wide range of features, from HD video to built-in GPS. Which features do you need? Which do you want? Here are some questions to ask before you make your purchase.

1. Will this be your primary camera?
The most important consideration in selecting the best underwater camera for you is whether it's going to be your primary camera for everyday use or a backup that you'll only be using in the water or in wet conditions.

If it's going to be your everyday camera, you'll probably want to spend a little more and pick one of the most popular and versatile models with the best ratings, such as the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3 or the new Panasonic TS4. These models are waterproof, shockproof, dustproof and freezeproof, so they're perfect for any type of shooting situation, and they're proven to be reliable and well-rated. As of this writing, the DMC-TS3 is still the most popular camera in the underwater photography category on Amazon and has a 4- out of 5-star average rating from nearly 300 customers.

If your waterproof camera isn't going to be your primary camera, then you should focus on the activities you'll be using it for. Don't get sucked into buying an expensive camera with features you'll never use just because everyone else likes it.

2. How will you be using your camera?
Once you determine whether your underwater camera is going to be your primary carmera or a backup, you should now focus on how you'll be using your camera.Do you want to shoot time-lapse photos in the rain while riding your mountain bike? Or do you want to go scuba diving to 100 feet underwater and capture photos of the marine life? Or are you simply looking for something cheap to take a few photos on your snorkeling trip next month?

There are popular waterproof cameras perfect for all of these needs, but they're not the ones mentioned above. While the Panasonic Lumix cameras are great for all-around everyday use, they're not designed for shooting time-lapse photos from your mountain bike in the rain or going scuba diving, and with a price tag of $300 - $400, they're not a cheap accessory for a weekend trip. For these needs, you'll want to look at cameras such as the GoPro Hero 2: Outdoor Edition for hands-free shooting, the SeaLife DC1200 or DC1400 for high-quality images down to 200 feet underwater, or the Fuji FinePix XP30 for a waterproof camera near the $100 price range.

3. How rugged do you need it to be?
In addition to being waterproof, many of today's higher-end underwater cameras are also dustproof, freezeproof and shockproof to varying degrees. Do you need those features? You can pick up an underwater camera for under $100 if you're not looking for the added benefit of a rugged exterior or the ability to go below 40. feet underwater You can take these cheaper models to the pool, the beach or the local water park, and they'll be just fine but if they fall off the kitchen table, you might be in the market for another waterproof camera. So you'll need to weigh the long-term benefits of a tougher, more expensive camera vs. the short-term benefit of a cheaper model and decide which is best for you.

4. What type of quality do you expect?
If you're a professional photographer or a serious amateur, there's no question you want the best underwater camera you can afford to get the highest quality photos. But if you just want to take a few pictures of the kids in the swimming pool, do you need 16 MP resolution or will a lower resolution (such as 5 MP)camera suffice? If so, you can pick up a camera such as the WP5300 for under $100.Again, if you need fewer features and don't need the highest resolution, you'll pay less money.

If you only plan or looking at your photos on the computer or printing them out as 4x6 prints, 5 MP will be fine. But if you think there's any chance you'll want to create a large print or poster, you'll want to choose a higher resolution model.

5. Are you willing to pay extra for features like panoramic shot or GPS?
It sounds really cool to have a camera with GPS, an altimeter, barometer, compass or the ability to take 3-D photos, time-lapse images or panoramic shots, but do you need those features? Will you use them? Again, think about what you need versus how much you're willing to pay. You can get some fun features on today's new underwater cameras, but they're only worth the extra cost if you're actually going to put them to use.

Finding the best waterproof camera for you really comes down to how you're going to use your camera and what features you really need. Think about what you want before you go shopping and you're less likely to be swayed by bells and whistles when it comes time to pull out your wallet.

Panasonic TS4

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