Updated: May 23, 2015
Best Waterproof and Underwater Cameras - The Olympus Stylus CameraREVIEW: Hands-on use of the new Olympus Stylus Tough 6000 Underwater Camera..
When it comes to digital cameras designed for underwater use, two names stand out in the industry: the Olympus Stylus models (850, 1050, 1030SW, 720) and the Pentax Optio models (W20, 30, Optio W60). Obviously, digital cameras and electronics in general don't mix well with water. So these cameras have to be specially engineered with special seals to keep water out of the battery and memory card compartments, as well as around all the buttons and the lens area. Why would you want a waterproof camera? When would you use it? Waterproof digital cameras are especially handy on wet vacations -- beaches, pools, skiing, boating, etc. It's nice to have a camera that can get splashed without having to worry about it. But these waterproof camera go a step further and let you actually shoot pictures and video underwater (within certain depth limitations). On recent trips to Maui and the Florida Keys, I was the ONLY ONE actually in the pool and the ocean with my camera, so these things are really game changers, and still pretty new. In this guide, we will give a detailed, hands-on review of our experience with the Olympus Stylus waterproof camera, with samples of pictures and video we took both above and below the waterline.
The Olympus Digital Camera Lineup - Waterproof Digital Cameras
The Olympus Stylus Tough 6000 Underwater CameraOK, so let's take a look at this camera. First, we will start with the basic technical specs.
- Dimensions: 3.8" x 2.5" x .88"; weight= 5.3 oz
- 10MP resolution -- sure you can get 12MP and more these days, but in general anything above 7MP is all that most of us need.
- 3.6X optical zoom, 5X digital zoom
- 2.7" LCD viewing screen (no viewfinder window)
- 20 different "scene" modes: night scene, fireworks, documents, snow, etc. + 3 underwater omdes
- "TOUGH" means TOUGH - Waterproof, shockproof, freezeproof, crushproof and shakeproof
- Freezeproof to 14 degrees F
- Waterproof to 10 foot depth
- Shockproof from 5 foot drop
- Storage: 42M built-in memory, uses xD Picture cards of 1GB or 2GB capacity (or microSD memory cards with adapter)
- Face detection, image stabilization
- Video: AVI motion JPEG format, 640x480, 30fps
Olympus Waterproof Digital Camera - Stylus Tough 6000So here's what comes in the box. Obviously, you get the camera. Also included is the li-ion battery, wrist strap, cables to connect to computer, battery charger (the type with the flip down plugs on the back so it is small and easy to pack), manuals, and Olympus Master 2 software CD. There is NO xD Picture Card included, so you'll need to buy one separately (see Amazon's best value xD Cards here). Personally, I use and recommend a memory card reader for transferring pictures from your camera memory card over to your computer -- most laptops and desktops now have them built-in, making these connector cables a thing of the past.
There are no obvious indicators from the outside that this is a waterproof camera -- and that's a good thing. It looks, feels, and handles like a regular digital camera. The zoom is handled all internally, so no lens ever extends out of the camera body (there is a lens cover that slides up and down when the camera is on or off). There is a flip-open hatch on the bottom for memory card and battery, and a hatch on the side for connecting USB cable.
Other than that, the buttons themselves must have little seals in and around them to keep water out -- whatever the process, it works. They do recommend that you wash the camera under fresh running water and let it soak for a while after use in the ocean or in pools to remove any chemicals or particles that may try to get into the camera. I'm not going to go into a lot of details about using the camera -- if you've used a digital camera before, this one works the same way -- zoom in and out with the little rocker button, select the mode you want to use (SCN for pre-set scene modes, playback/review, AUTO and manual photo mode, video mode, and one called "Beauty" which takes a full resolution photo and then "beautifies" it by giving you a lower resolution, softer photo, making things like skin blemishes less noticable), adjust flash or macro mode, set timer, delete photos, etc. Now let's see what kind of pictures this little camera takes!
Sample Underwater Photos from Olympus Stylus 6000
We decided to put this camera through it's paces by taking it along on trips to Maui and Florida. With plenty of time in pools and ocean, we had a lot of chance to experiment. Below are smaller sample images, both above and below the water line. If you click on them you can see larger, full-resolution original images. The larger images are all over 1MB in size so they may take a few seconds to load -- patience..!
Here's a pretty standard swimming pool shot. With clear water and some sunshine above, you get pretty good, crisp photos. Even our night pictures with flash around the pool turned out pretty good.
Now for an ocean shot. This is in very clear water 3 miles off the coast near Key Largo. For ocean photos, the clarity of the water and the amount of sunshine has a huge effect on how good the photos come out. If waves are stirring up sand in shallow water and you have grey skies above, your underwater pictures just won't look very good.
Another ocean shot, some fan coral and one small yellow colored fish in the center. Click to see the larger image for more detail.
Underwater in the Florida Keys again -- clear water and good light make for nice photo. The white sand on the bottom gives some good contrast.
OK, here's what you get when the ocean stirs up a lot of sand and you have dull skies overhead -- all the colors are washed out, visibility poor. We had some heavy winds in Maui and days when the snorkeling looked like this -- not many photos worth saving here.
Here's a zoom in on a 5 foot barracuda. The auto-focus is not super sharp, but light and colors are decent. Makes for a good photo, even if not perfect. This is representational of the average shots we took.
This one is 70 miles off Key West at a spot called Dry Tortugas. The water is only about 7 feet deep here, 15 feet from land, with coral growing on these old pilings. With a good deal of particulate matter in the water, clarity wasn't too good.
In summary, pictures you take in the ocean will vary greatly depending on lighting and water conditions. If the water is at all murky, you are going to get dull photos. The flash especially can reflect back off 1000 grains of sand and make it look like you are in a cloud. With clear sunny tropical water, you can get some great photos. For swimming pools, waterslides, etc. with clean water, again your photos should be crisp and clear. It's fun to experiment and try to get part of the lens underwater and part above -- you can get some interesting looking half and half shots if you play with it. These 10MP pictures weigh in at 3648x2736 pixels, taking up about 4MB each on our memory card -- so a 2GB memory card should hold about 500 full-size photos.
Sample Video Clips from Olympus Underwater Digital Camera - Tough 6000Taking underwater videos with the Olympus Stylus Tough 6000 is a breeze. Just switch to the video setting and start shooting. One thing I found, like with most video cameras, is that SLOWWWW movements are key to ending up with a good looking video. If you swing the camera around too much, too fast, you get very herky-jerky clips that can be tough to watch. So if you are swimming or snorkeling, try to hold the camera steady and make slow turns and passes. The first clip is from Maui on a day with overcast skies, so the water is not super bright -- sunny days make for much better underwater visibility and really makes a big difference in both videos and pictures you take. Any pixellation you see comes from YouTube compression -- the original 640x480 video clips look better than what you see here.
This clip is from the Florida Keys. Lighting was better here with more sun overhead. A little move from underwater to out of the water to see the boat gives you an idea of the flexibility of this camera. In terms of size, the original 22 second clip at 640x480 resolution takes up 35MB on the memory card.
In general, I found that for the ocean, underwater video clips look significantly better than underwater photos. Since video clips only need to capture 640x480 pixels of detail, they are very forgiving. When there is sand or other particles in the water, they tend to reflect the underwater flash and otherwise end up contributing to a grainier, less crisp photo at 10MP. In a pool, the underwater photos generally looked pretty good given the clear water conditions, and video also was fine. Overall, I was quite pleased with the video performance of the camera. In closing, we were impressed with this little camera. It really is a tough camera, perfect for vacations where you don't want to worry about the kids using or dropping the camera around the pool, beach, river, whatever. Just hand them the camera and let them have fun. But when you use it, you'll get good quality vacation photos you can keep. At just over $250 for a 10MP camera, this is a good buy, and the added versatility of the waterproof features makes it a good investment that will last. Check lowest price at Amazon on the Stylus Tough here.
Underwater Housing for Digital Cameras - AccessoriesOne word of warning -- this is an underwater camera, but it DOES NOT FLOAT, not even close. Let it slip out of your hand and off your wrist and it will head quickly for the bottom. So if you will ever be in river or ocean conditions with it, the first accessory you want is a flotation strap. They look like little orange life preservers for your camera, built into a wrist strap, and they have enough float power to keep the camera on the surface if you should let go of it. Just connect to your wrist strap connector (there is an easy snap on/snap off connector, so you can remove the float when you don't need it). Cheap, they cost just $10-$20. Amazon carries these flotation straps here.
If you already have a non-waterproof digital camera but want to try your hand at underwater photography, another option is to get an underwater housing for you camera. They come either as plastic housings that snap around your camera, still allowing you to click buttons, or as simpler (and cheaper) waterproof bag styles with a clear area for the lens to peer through. If you don't want to splurge on a new waterproof camera, these might suit your needs.