The best tough cameras

If you’re heading beach-side this year, these great underwater tough-cams are well worth a look.

Best tough cameras

by Kirk Schwarz |

Packing 1/2.3in sensors, the best tough cameras offer you near-identical image quality to the compacts in the next list. However, unlike anything else in our test, these all-weather wonders are designed to withstand the worst. Whether it’s snorkelling in the ocean, or scaling the face of a mountain, you’ll find something here for you.

Related: The best creative film and instant cameras

Of course, they do have downsides. The only camera which supports RAW shooting is the Olympus, with both the Panasonic and Fujifilm delivering JPEG files only. They also lack touchscreen functionality, a sacrifice which allows them to work below the briny depths. Although these features may be missed, this option is still a lot more practical than spending money on an underwater housing.

Best tough cameras 2021

Olympus Tough! TG-6

Olympus Tough! TG-6
Amazon

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Amazon

The specs and features are very impressive, as is the image quality from the 12MP sensor

The T stands for tough. If you still need more to base your purchase on, then you’ll find a 1/2.3in 12MP BSI sensor, and 35mm equivalent 25-100mm f/2-4.9 lens, which is an impressively wide aperture.

The ISO ranges from 100-12,800, though we’d stick below ISO 800 for best results. It also shoots RAW image files, and sports a compass, GPS and a thermometer – ideal if you find yourself shipwrecked. If you're not shipwrecked there is also integrated Wi-Fi.

If you’re looking to delve into video, it features 4K and Full HD 120fps, which opens up a world of underwater possibilities. For stills, there’s also Pro Capture, which records images at 10fps for 0.5 seconds before depressing the shutter. It also features macro and HDR mode, and includes a flash.

Although the specs and included features are very impressive, as is the image quality from the 12MP sensor, it’s the rugged design which really elevates this camera. It’s waterproof up to 15 metres, freeze-proof down to -10°C and crush-proof up to a sizeable 100kg.

Pros

Survival tools

10fps speed

4K video

Cons

Low-resolution screen

Shorter zoom than rivals

Spec

Weight: 250g

WxHxD: 113x66x32mm

Battery: 340 shots

Card type: SD, SDXC, SDHC

AF: 25-point contrast detect

Panasonic Lumix FT7

Panasonic Lumix FT7
Amazon

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The FT7 is the latest in a long line of underwater tough cams and boasts a 20.4MP 1/2.3in sensor

Panasonic has a reputation for excellent compacts, and this extends to its underwater range. The newly released FT7 is the latest in a long line of underwater tough cams, and boasts a 20.4MP 1/2.3in sensor and a 35mm equivalent 28-128mm f/3.3-5.9 lens. You also have a host of added extras, such as 4K Photo, which allows you to shoot at 30fps, and export a single shot at 8MP, or Post Focus, which allows you to alter your focal point after taking the shot. Sadly, it doesn’t support RAW shooting, but the JPEGs look great.

If you’re looking to capture underwater footage, the FT7 packs 4K video at 30fps, or 100fps in 720p HD. You also have a nippy focus system which works well in good light, comprising 49 contrast detection points. You also have an electronic viewfinder, which sets it apart from its rivals.

Arguably the best feature about the FT7 is the ability to reach a class-leading 31m depth, though it’s also freeze-proof to -10°C and crush-proof to 100kg, making it a very sturdy option.

Pros

4K Photo mode

Solid AF

31m depth rating

Cons

No RAWs

Quite chunky

Buttons can be fiddly

Spec

Weight: 319g

WxHxD: 117x76x37mm

Battery: 300 shots

Card type: SD, SDXC, SDHC

AF: 49-point contrast detect

Fujifilm FinePix XP130

Fujifilm FinePix XP130
Amazon

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The brightly coloured XP130 features a 1/2.3in 16.4MP BSI sensor and 5x optical zoom

Fujifilm is renowned for its amazing X-Trans sensor mirrorless cameras. However, it has history in the compact market with its FinePix range, including the brightly coloured XP130.

Featuring a 1/2.3in 16.4MP BSI sensor, and 5x optical zoom offering an equivalent 28-140mm f/3.9-4.9, it produces solid images. You also get 1080p Full HD video (no 4K video to be found here), 10fps continuous shooting speed and 3in 920k-dot screen, which is relatively high resolution for a tough cam. The ISO runs from 100-3200, working in conjunction with the handy optical image stabilisation for night time shots. The image quality isn’t quite as good as its rivals, but it still does a great job.

The body itself is well designed, maintaining a small form. It’s waterproof down to an exceptional 20m, freeze-proof to -10°C and able to withstand drops from 1.75m. It isn’t quite as robust as others in test, with the Lumix and Olympus offering crush-proof designs, but the price and depth rating may well swing it for you.

Although this is currently unavailable, you can add it to your list and Amazon will let you know if it comes back in stock.

Pros

High-res screen

Great price

Depth rating

Cons

No RAWs

No 4K

Battery life isn’t the best

Spec

Weight: 207g

WxHxD: 110x71x28mm

Battery: 240 shots

Card type: SD, SDXC, SDHC

AF: 49-point contrast detect

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Kirk Schwarz is one of our resident tech experts. A tech-addicted photographer with more than a decade's experience, Kirk's used to putting new gear through extreme field-testing.

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