Buying a New Waterproof Point ‘n Shoot

I travel a lot and I want my new waterproof camera to be versatile and able to capture a variety of situations. In particular I want the camera to be fast enough to grab those split-second images, have the ability to handle low light situations and to take macros in sharp focus. Great video with great sound would be nice too…

My current camera is a 3 1/2 year old Nikon Coolpix that has taken 35,000 photos. Previous to this I had an Olympus camera which I loved so much more than this Nikon, but ultimately water leaked in and destroyed it.

To shop for a new camera I took my memory card into a camera store and used it to test some of the new waterproofs: Olympus TG3, Nikon Coolpix AW120, Panasonic Lumix TS5 and Pentax WG-4. Later I checked out all the images and video on my computer at home.


The Pentax WG-4 supposedly has the best macro BUT the getting the camera into macro mode is complicated, not just a one-button thing. It has a ring of lights to light up subject, helpful when you get so close to something that you put the object in shadow. However I couldn’t figure out how to get the lights to work, or get much of anything to work. It’s one of those cameras where you really have to read the manual in order to figure out how to use it.

Later, when I looked at the photos on my big computer screen, they were so soft, out-of-focus and blah that I took the Pentax out of the running. Operating a camera shouldn’t be this difficult.

The Olympus TG3 has best sharpness across the entire photo (as with my old Olympus); it also has a Superlight for close-ups (I used to use this a lot). Below was taken with the Superlight. The macro was easy to access. Winner of the macro contest by a mile!


Olympus TG3 in ‘Super Macro’ mode

With the Nikon Coolpix AW120 the sharpness on the macro deteriorates wildly at one edge. This drove me crazy on my current Nikon, and is the main reason I probably wouldn’t buy another one.

  • 1/6 of the picture is out of focus in my current camera. The newer model has the same problem!
  • There is no light to turn on if you happen to block the light source.
  • On the other hand, it’s real easy to use as the buttons are exactly the same as on my current camera.
  • In fact, three and a half years later, the camera doesn’t seem to have changed at all. The salesman says that the main difference is that the ISO is higher, and wide angle is wider (24 vs 28). At a different camera store, the salesman told me that the point ‘n shoots seem to come up with some radical changes every five years or so, and in between the changes are small and incremental. In 2014 we are at the four year mark so if I want a camera with exciting new technology I should probably wait another year.

NikonKeys0003 Panasonic Lumix TS5. No light for macro. Out-of-focus areas. The other macro I took with it has shake blur, meaning it wasn’t easy to dial down the exposure, so that in a low-light situation I was stuck with a shutter speed that was too slow to hand-hold.

However, overall this camera is usually rated first or second-best all-round camera, with rave reviews on everything other than macro. This camera appears to be the best of the waterproofs; it’s just not good for macro and since 20% of my photos are macro…

Low Light and General Shots

Olympus is horrible. It seems slow to focus when grabbing a quick shot. Consequently the bulk of my snaps are out of focus; the video also suffers from this. I did have one shot in focus though. It is the lightest of the three, rating in the middle in terms of focus.
OlypusLowlightFocus090006Panasonic Lumix is the darkest of the three with the best focus.
LumixLowlightFocus0099 Nikon is the worst of the three – it almost looks as if I have applied some artsy filter to it – something I notice with my current Nikon as well.


On top of all this I wouldn’t mind having fairly decent audio on my videos, especially as I would like to occasionally shoot bits for my Spanish Course. Don’t want much, do I?

The salesman tells me that the sound is muffled on all waterproofs because of the waterproofing seals. On the plus side, the newest cameras all have stereo sound vs. mono sound on the older models. Unfortunately, almost all reviews talk about image quality and don’t even mention audio.

I have shot some video with sound using my current Nikon and it’s not bad. Here is one shot in Mexico:

Video on the Panasonic is 60fr/sec, which is very fast and allows slow motion effects (but do you need slow motion effects?). It has something called AVCHD ‘Lite’ to keep the file size from exploding, but this review noted that this was painful to edit :

As mentioned, the video on the Olympus was horrible.

What to buy? Anyone else out there with similar problems???


I ended up buying the Olympus TG3 and then taking it back.

A friend lent me his Pentax, which I really hadn’t liked during my tests, and I still didn’t like it. The controls are totally non-intuitive and the picture quality is awful.

Crayfish Dish by Pentax

This seafood dish shot with the Pentax looks very unappetizing, and even less so when viewed full size on my big screen.

I’m now thinking that maybe I should buy a non water-proof point ‘n shoot with a better zoom (the 5X zoom is really killing me). Plus the audio should be better without the muffling of the waterproofing seals. Hmmmm…


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