Underwater photography has become one of the most fun photographic categories, as you’re never quite sure what to expect and the results are often brightly spectacular.

It’s also a rather lucrative business, considering that we know more about space than what we do about earth’s oceans. Many photographers have made a name for themselves by taking pictures of aquatic life, and in the process won acclaim for their efforts – which means there is no reason that you shouldn’t be able to take stunning images as well.

We round up three underwater cameras to pit against each other, to see which one delivers the best on performance and usability.

Fujifilm XP70 (R2 300)

Fujifilm XP70

Thinking of Fujifilm, one wouldn’t automatically assume that they would make an underwater camera, but the company delivers a product that is on par with the rest of the above-water line-up. It’s truly built like an underwater camera, and with the Finepix action camera lens attached, it turns the model into an underwater powerhouse suitable for the roughest conditions.

Bulky but not overbearing, the XP70 will fit firmly into your hands – and it should, as you won’t be able to afford a slippery moment when taking pictures of Nemo and his friends. The video record, power and shoot buttons are all located in the top of the housing. The rest of the control options are located on the back of the unit, and here you will be able to go into the menus, replay your images and zoom in or out. There is also a loop to attach a strap, so that you can let go whenever the need arise.

The XP70 features a 16-megapixel CMOS sensor with primary colour filter, so you know that it will take better images than most smartphones on the market. Its ISO sensitivity can go up to 6400, features a wealth of shooting modes and has a lens focal length equivalent to 28 – 140mm on a 35mm format camera. At its largest, the highest resolution images can go up to 4608 x 3456 with a 4:3 aspect ratio, while the smallest images can be 1728 x 1728 in resolution. To take a 360-degree view of the awesomeness that you are seeing, there are three panorama modes: 360-degrees, 180, and 120. While the 5-times optical zoom, and a 10-times Intelligent digital zoom doesn’t sound that impressive, it will make a huge difference when underwater, as little critters are sometimes very difficult to get close to.

Since being an underwater camera, it is waterproof down to 10m (about 33 feet), which is pretty good if you are snorkelling along the coast or doing a spot of scuba diving. It is also shockproof from a maximum height of 1.5m, and can operate effectively even if the water temperature drops to -10°C. Things down-under don’t always go as smoothly as planned, but luckily the camera features CMOS shift type Image stabiliser. To make things a lot easier in the surf, there is also a 2.7-inch TFT colour LCD monitor on the back of the XP70, which covers approximately 97% of shooting, while displaying 100% for playing back videos or images.

“Funky looks… and performance to match.”
 
Rating: 4.5 Stars

Canon PowerShot D30 (R3 300)

Canon is arguably one of the best camera makers around, so any product that bears their distinct silver logo should rightfully fall into the same category. But underwater cameras are a whole different niche, and it’s not exactly an everyday product. So, how does the reputable camera manufacturer’s underwater offering stack up against the competition?

Slightly bigger than the Fujifilm XP70, the PowerShot D30 fits perfectly in your hand. Two rubberised sections on the front and rear of the camera will prevent it from slipping out of your hand, although you will be underwater when using it. In the default holding position the zoom buttons are easily accessible with a thumb, while the other functions are reachable by a slight manoeuvre. The D30’s menu system is fairly easy to work out, and houses all the settings and features that one would come to expect from such a model – simple, yet packed with functionality.

The camera packs a 12.1-megapixel High-Sensitivity CMOS sensor, and when it is combined with the company’s DIGIC 4 Image Processor creates the Canon HS SYSTEM – which provides the settings for low-light photography. This comes in real handy when exploring crevasses, caves or shipwrecks. Just in case you aren’t able to get close enough to your subjects, it has a 5x optical zoom with 28mm wide angle and a 10x digital zoom. Digital zoom isn’t always the best thing for photography as they are prone to contain more grain, but luckily it can also be switched off. In the event that you are able to spot a sea worm, the D30 has an underwater macro mode as well.

Canon claims that the D30 is the world’s deepest waterproof camera, as it can hold its own (or breathe) up to 25 meters – that is a long way down. All the action is viewed through the 3.0-inch PureColor System LCD screen, and the D30 has a Sunlight LCD mode built in, so that the monitor will be easily readable even in glaring sun. It takes a slight bit longer than the Fujifilm to be operational, but at least there are no settings that need to be set before snapping away. The built-in GPS will allow you to retrace your steps or plot the course you swam, as it’s always nice to overlay your images on an oceanographic map.

“Small yet powerful, Canon gets the job done.”
 
Rating: 4.0 Stars

Olympus TG-2 (R3 300)

Olympus has been in the camera business for a while now, so any model that they bring out is sure to be of the highest quality. The TG-2 is one of their toughest waterproof cameras, not only because the company says so… it’s written on the front as well! With looks of a traditional compact camera, the TG-2 functions great outside the water just as it does within.

About the same size as a compact camera, there is nothing straight off the bat that hints that the TG-2 could be waterproof camera. With all the necessary buttons located on the back of the model, it is very easy to get to all the functions with having to dig through the menus. The zoom buttons are situated on a rocker-like mechanics, making it easy to operate. The only problems with the buttons are that the Info, Delete and Scroll keys are on a weird flower-type button structure, which can be a bit tricky to manoeuvre. Pressing the power button, the camera will spring to life in a very short span of time, being ready to take the shot probably even before you are.

The TG-2 features a 12-megapixel BSI CMOS sensor and TruePic VI image processor – low light is no problem for the maximum aperture of f2.0. For those with a little bit more know-how of what is going on, it has an A Priority Mode so that you can manually set the aperture as desired to get the right mood and setting, as well as take some action blurring shots.

Waterproof, shockproof, freezeproof and crushproof, the TG-2 is really the workman’s camera in terms of underwater snaps. It is capable of recording movies at full high definition at an astonishing 240 frames per second. Unlike other underwater cameras, the TG-2 features a Microscope Mode for when you want to get really close to the coral reefs or sea urchins – the mode effectively boosts the zoom to 200mm (on a 35mm equivalent). Just in case you want to know where you have been or would like to retrace your steps, it also has a GPS and e.compass built in that records where you have been.

“Durable and sturdy, this one is built for extra-tough conditions.”
 
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Conclusion

This has been one of the toughest supertests for us to do. All three cameras performed exceptionally well, but as usual there can only be one winner. The Canon D30 is definitely the model that takes the better quality images, above ground as well as in the water, but it has a number of inhibiting factors that could prevent you from purchasing it.

The casing of the D30 is metallic, and after a number of dives it could become dented, scratched or damaged. This is where the Fujifilm XP70 shines – its casing is made from durable plastic. It is a far better material to make an underwater camera with, as you wouldn’t have to worry if it slips out your hand and takes a tumble down to the coral reef.

Then there is also the issue of price. While it does take better images, the D30’s price tag is a bit steep as one of only two underwater cameras from Canon. The XP70 is a full R1000 cheaper, and features a bigger CMOS sensor (not that it should be the only deciding factor). So with that in mind, we have to choose a winner, and this month it is the XP70. With the extra money that you save from buying a cheaper model, you could get some of Fujifilm’s underwater accessories like the Finepix Action Camera Lens.

[Image – CC by 2.0/Nate]
Charlie started his professional life as a motoring journalist for a community newspaper in Mpumalanga, Charlie explored different journalistic angles since his entry into the fast-paced world of publishing in 2006. While fostering a passion for the arts, Charlie developed a love for technology – both which allowed him to serve as Entertainment and Technology Editor for an online publication. Charlie has since been heavily involved in consumer technology for various websites and publications. He thoroughly enjoys World War II films and cerebral documentaries; aviation; photography and indie music. Oh yes, and he also has a rather strange obsession with collecting coffee mugs from his travels.