The Best Waterproof Tough Camera: Wirecutter Reviews

Our pick for best all-around waterproof camera, the Nikon W300, sitting on a wet rock and covered with droplets of water.
Photo: Phil Ryan

Our pick

Nikon W300

With the deepest waterproof rating (100 feet) and highest drop rating (8 feet) of the cameras we tested, and with its ability to shoot images with realistic color and lots of detail, Nikon’s W300 is the best waterproof camera for most people. It’s easy to use, and it can capture 4K video if you want to show off your experience water skiing on your enormous TV. Images shot with the more expensive Olympus TG-5 had slightly better image quality, but the difference is so small that we don’t think it’s worth the extra money unless you’re a nitpicky, pixel-peeping photo enthusiast (and we say that lovingly).

Shooting in full auto mode, the W300 consistently delivered great shots that anyone would be happy to post to Facebook. Even when shooting yellowing New York City subway tile walls under the institutional fluorescent lighting that can often flummox compact cameras, the Nikon produced a pleasing, if not totally accurate, result. The W300 ended up making the tiles more white than they actually were, while Olympus’s TG-5 captured the tiles more faithfully, and Ricoh’s WG-50 served up a very yellow, inaccurate image.

A test photo of a subway wall divided into thirds to show the results from each of our picks for best all-around waterproof camera.
Under challenging fluorescent lighting the Nikon W300 (left) slightly overcompensated to make the subway tiles whiter than they should have been, Olympus’s TG-5 (middle) closely replicated the real-world situation, and the Ricoh WG-50 (right) produced inaccurate, yellow results. Photo: Phil Ryan

The W300’s 5x zoom lens is one of the better lenses built into waterproof cameras. Its lets in more light than most of its competitors, with a maximum aperture of f/2.8, making it easier to shoot in darker situations. The zoom range (22.5-118mm full frame equivalent) is enough to handle most everyday shooting situations. It has about twice as much reach than the telephoto lens on the iPhone 8 Plus and captures slightly more of the scene than a standard smartphone lens. Plus, the lens has optical image stabilization to help prevent blurry shots caused by the natural shakiness of your hands. Ken McMahon at Camera Labs tested the W300, noting “the COOLPIX W300 can produce blur-free shots down to 1/10 at the maximum zoom range which is nearly four stops slower than would be advisable without it.”

When we took the W300 to a park to shoot some flowers and casually drop the camera (which didn’t break anything), we were impressed with the exposure decisions made in auto mode. Shooting late in the day, the images maintained detail in bright hedges in the background where the sun hit hardest and in the petals and leaves in the shadows. Plus, the colors looked natural. The W300 maintained the slightly warm quality of the late-day sunlight hitting the hedges while also giving a realistic look to the flowers in the shade.

A photo of a Hydrangea bush taken with our pick for best all-around waterproof camera.
The Nikon W300 captures detail and pleasing color both in deep shadows and bright sunlight. Photo: Phil Ryan

When we took the Nikon W300 to a swimming pool, the images we shot had a slight blue/pink cast. This is typical of waterproof compact cameras and happens because various wavelengths of light are absorbed differently by water. The screen was easy to see while underwater and camera felt secure in our hand.

A photo of a person holding a can of Diet Coke underwater taken with our pick for best all-around waterproof camera.
The Nikon W300 captures images with a slight blue/pink cast in a swimming pool, but it did a good job of capturing skin tones and the red in the Coke logo. Photo: Molly McLaughlin

Video from the W300 shared the image quality we saw in the stills. You can even shoot 4K footage, though the top framerate is 30 fps, so you might get better results with fast-moving subjects if you choose the Full HD 60 fps option. Fast flowing rivers, for example, might look better with the faster frame rate.

Backpackers should appreciate the W300’s light weight of 8.2 ounces, which is about the same as 3-4 Clif Bars, about an ounce and half heavier than the Ricoh, and a half ounce lighter than the Olympus. It’s also easy to grip even when wet, thanks to the textured surface on the right side of the camera and the area on the back of the camera for your thumb. If you take the camera skiing, you’ll likely have to take your glove off when shooting, as you would with any of the other cameras we tested.

One of the most important aspects of a waterproof camera is the mechanism to lock the door that lets you access the battery and memory card slot. That door is located on the side of the W300 and uses a wheel that locks into place, so you can be sure that the door is closed.

Pull Quote

Shooting late in the day, the images maintained detail in bright hedges in the background where the sun hit hardest and in the petals and leaves in the shadows.

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth let you transfer images to your smartphone through Nikon’s SnapBridge app (Android, iOS). The app also lets you trigger the camera remotely. Don’t get too excited if you want to use that feature underwater; Wi-Fi doesn’t travel well through water. You’ll have to press the shutter if you’re below the surface and wait until you’re out of the water to transfer images to your phone.

In his field test for Imaging Resource, Brent Durand calls the W300 “a great camera for those who want to keep their mobile phone packed away during extreme conditions — canyoneering, skiing, snorkeling, climbing, rain, waterfall mist — [that] offers more photo capture options than a GoPro, as well as a large 3″ LCD screen.” Ken McMahon at Camera Labs says, “The Nikon COOLPIX W300’s strength is that it’s a good all-round performer with a great balance of features.”

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