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What's Up With Waterproof Digital Cameras?: Olympus Stylus Tough vs Casio Exilim vs Pentax Optio W90

Updated on July 17, 2011

Have you been to your local electronics retailer and noticed the new crop of waterproof digital cameras? Ever wondered what's the deal with these? Are they any good or are they just gimmicks? I am a casual photographer and I happened to pass by a few of these cameras. When I saw they were priced $200-$300, I was curious to see if they were worth it. I had an old Finepix that was destroyed by water when I decided to trek to work through a deluge. Needless to say, I was pissed. I blamed it on myself. One, for not checking the weather and two, for leaving it in my backpack. I was happily surprised when I saw waterproof digital cameras in production. Are they really waterproof and do they take good pictures?

Olympus Stylus Tough-3000

One of the first waterproof cameras I saw was the Olympus Stylus Tough-3000. It had it's own kiosk and was proudly displayed at my local Best Buy. It was a nice looking camera. The first thing I noticed about the Stylus Tough-3000 is that it has the Stylus badge. For though who are not familiar, the FE is the lowest class, the Stylus is it's midrange and the SP is Olympus' high end compacts and sub-compacts. On paper, the Stylus Tough-3000 sounds like a Terminator character. No really, the Tough-3000 sports a 11.8(12) megapixel sensor, 3.6X optical zoom, simulated image stabilizer, and a 2.6 inch LCD screen.

Olympus Stylus Tough-3000
Olympus Stylus Tough-3000

This camera's selling point is its "toughness". Besides being waterproof up to 10 feet, it claims to be shockproof from a 5 foot drop. It also claims to be freeze-proof at 14°F/-10°C. Impressive claims. Not only can you take pictures in your freezer, but you can also record 720p HD videos. Image quality is very good in day light. Low light shots are not as good as well as video quality. The camera scores high marks for features and versatility but the LCD is fair quality. It isn't bad, it's just okay. While not such a big deal on other cameras, the Tough-3000 does not have a viewfinder, making it a bigger deal than it should be.

A crippling problem with this camera is its slow response time. The response time is similar to a $99 digital camera. For something over twice as much, I expected better. The slow response time made this camera feel cheaper than it was. That's not a good thing. The Olympus Stylus Tough retails for $229.99. This is a decent entry waterproof camera.

Casio Exilim EX-G1
Casio Exilim EX-G1

Casio Exilim EX-G1

The Casio Exilim EX-G1 is the second waterproof digital camera on our review list. Similar to the Tough-3000, the Exilim EX-G1 is a 12 megapixel waterproof camera with 3X optical zoom, image stabilizer and 2.5 inch LCD display. Casio produces point-and-shoot cameras it calls "Exilim".

The EX-G1 advertises the same waterproof(10 FT) and freeze-proof(14°F) as the Tough-3000 but it raises the bar with a 2 FT higher shock resistance at 7 ft compared to 5 ft with the Tough-3000. The EX-G1 does NOT have HD recording. It's max video resolution is 848x480. What can't be measured on paper is the styling. The Exilim EX-G1 has a unique body style with lots of sharp lines. I find it very attractive. What's also nice about this camera is it one of a few point-and-shoots that offer manual focus. This is a good thing when auto-focus fails on you. Image quality and flash pictures are not as good as the Tough-3000 and unfortunately, low light shots are about the same. The EX-G1 is 1 oz lighter than the Tough-3000 weighing at just 5 oz. It's wide angle focus is not as good at 38 mm compared to the other two at 28 mm. It's response time is also quicker. Noticeably quicker. Even though its image quality is not as good as the Tough-3000, the response time makes up for it. These are rugged cameras. When I need them to take shots, I want it to respond fast. The EX-G1 does it faster than the Tough-3000. The Casio Exilim EX-G1 retails at $229.

Pentax Optio W90

For casual camera buyers, it is easy to pass up the Pentax Optio W90. It's rugged, but rather plain looking. Don't let its looks fool you. This is the best camera out of the three. It's a 12 megapixel camera with 5X optical zoom, 2.6 inc LCD, and image stabilizer. Pentax calls its line of point-and-shoots "Optio". The "W" in "W90" means waterproof. This camera beats the previous 2 in that category. It claims to be waterproof up to 20 feet! That's twice as deep as the previous 2. It is cold-proof as low as 14°F/-10°C however only shockproof rated at 4 foot. The Optio W90 can record up to 720p HD videos and also has manual focus like the Exilim EX-G1.

Pentax Optio W90
Pentax Optio W90

Besides the extra optical zoom you get with this camera, it beats the rest in terms of waterproof. One very nice feature of this camera is that it has a special microscope more that lights up 3 LED's to illuminate close up objects. Image quality is not as good as the Tough-3000 but flash photos are better. Low light photos are also better. The Pentax Optio W90 also has the fastest response time out of the three. The LCD is also clearer and easier to see compared to the previous two. One shortcoming of the W90 is its camera shake. It doesn't handle camera shake as well as the previous two. Even with this minor setback, I rate the Pentax Optio W90 above the Stylus Tough-3000 and the Exilim EX-G1. Not a surprise, the Optio W90 is the most expensive out of the bunch retailing at $299.

The Best?

Are waterproof cameras good? Yes, they are good and they do work. If I had to turn back time and trade my Finepix with one of these cameras, I'd pick the Pentax Optio W90. Second would be the Exilim EX-G1 and last would be the Stylus Tough-3000. Although the Tough-3000 has HD recording over the Exilim, it's response time kills it.

Yes, the Optio W90 is the most expensive but I think its features make up for the markup. For a bit more, I have twice the waterproof compared to the other two. 20 feet of waterproof is amazing. I can't even dive 20 feet! The microscope mode is also very cool. I would love for the Optio W90 to have a better image stabilizer but that isn't a deal breaker for me. I do, however, think the Casio Exilim EX-G1 looks the best.

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