Cameras for Disney Water Parks
Note: these reviews have not been updated since 2011. They are no longer current and this page should only be used for basic reference. Check out our “Best Underwater Cameras for 2013” for current underwater camera recommendations to use at Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach.
How could we get good photos at Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach?
This was the question confronting Sarah and me that prompted us to start looking at underwater or waterproof camera options. First, I thought maybe a Nikon D40 Underwater Camera Housing would be a good option. At over $1,000 for a legitimate one, this was quickly ruled out of the question. However, while looking, I found a product called the DicaPac Waterproof Digital Camera Case for a relatively inexpensive price, so we bought one. While pretty solid for what it is, it was difficult to control underwater (if you’re merely “around” water, it’s a great option), so we got in the car, headed to our standby “internet-purchase testing zone” (aka Best Buy), and set out to find the perfect underwater camera within our budget.
The big problem with testing underwater cameras at the store is that you can’t test their key component: underwater performance. Luckily, high ISO image quality in the store translates well to underwater image quality, so our quest would not be fruitless.
Here are the cameras we tested and our thoughts on each:
Olympus Stylus Tough 6020 – This is the camera we ultimately purchased. Price was a big part of the equation here. It was only $175 on Amazon. It’s definitely much easier to control than the camera through the bag, but I’m not quite ready to sing its praises. However, my complaints aren’t in line with those many of those on Amazon (do people really have that difficult of a time understanding how to properly use a point and shoot digital camera?!), but are more complaints of point and shoot cameras in general: the image quality, contrast, and depth of field controls aren’t what I’ve come to expect as a DSLR user. Not really a complaint unique to this camera, and my own problem, really. The camera has some manual controls, which is nice, and great options, but the taste of underwater photography that it has given me leaves me wanting more. I fear that $1,000 casing may be in my future…
Kodak EasyShare Sport C123 Waterproof Digital Camera – Admittedly, we didn’t spend much time playing with this camera, but I’m starting to wish that maybe we did. I have some perceived notions about the quality (or lack thereof) of Kodak cameras, so I pretty much dismissed this one out-of-hand. However, for less than $75, it seems like it would make a great option. It didn’t seem too bad in our tests, but I just assumed something would go wrong with it, so we didn’t get it. If you want a cheap underwater camera and don’t expect to own it for the long haul, definitely consider this.
Canon PowerShot D10 Waterproof Digital Camera – This was my “dream” option. I really like Canon point and shoot cameras, it performed well, there is a hack to enable RAW shooting, and it seems really well built. However, at $300, it was $125 more than our Oly, which put it out of our budget. My thinking was that I could probably find a D40 underwater housing for $700 if I looked really hard, and for “only” $400 more, I’d rather just go for that. If you want an underwater camera that will stand the test of time, I think this is probably it.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3 Rugged/Waterproof Digital Camera – When we did our testing, I swear this camera was like $375 or more. Now, it’s “only” $310. It was an impressive camera laden with features, but most of them seemed like things that are cool in theory but that we’d never actually end up using. Check out the Amazon spec list to see if any of them appeal to you. I thought the image quality was slightly lower than the Canon D10.
Pentax Optio WG-1 Adventure Series Waterproof Digital Camera – This was one fun little camera, and I think it’s one that actually might perform a bit better underwater thanks to its multiple little lights around the lens. If I had an unlimited budget and were forced to buy an underwater point and shoot, this would probably be it. In a world where money is finite, I think it tries to justify its price with flashiness. It’s probably not worth $350, though. (Or $400 if you buy it from Best Buy!)
Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-TX10 Waterproof Digital Camera – This camera looks awesome, but I definitely think it’s a matter of style over substance. The test images it shot were not any better than those we shot with the Oly, which is nearly $200 cheaper. It offers plenty of features, but many of them (such as 3D photos) seem gimmicky.
Conclusion: If we could do it over again, I think we might have just purchased the Kodak EasyShare Sport C123, or wouldn’t purchase anything and would just kept using the DicaPac Waterproof Digital Camera Case. Our biggest rationale for buying a stand-alone underwater camera was to be able to use something that would be easier to control and produce higher quality images. Surprisingly, the images aren’t that much worse when shooting through the bag! I also wish we would have considered an older model that was cheaper in price, but we couldn’t find any to test. (Check out the second page of Amazon’s Top Underwater Cameras for some high-quality older underwater cameras that are cheaper in price). Still, for the price we got a pretty nice little camera that will hopefully last several years!
If you’re looking for other photography equipment recommendations or photography tips in general check out a few of my top photography blog posts:
Photography Buying Guide: Way More Than You Ever Needed to Know…
Best Books for Improving Your Photography
5 Indispensable Tips for Better Vacation Photos
Neutral Density Filter Buying Guide
Travel Tripod Buying Guide
If you have an underwater camera that you use at Blizzard Beach of Typhoon Lagoon, which one is it? Do you have any recommendations? Share your thoughts in the comments!
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I always turn to your website/reviews when I’m in the market for a new camera toy– the Tokina 11-16 and Sigma 30mm 1.4 are on my next “to buy” list. But, first, I need a waterproof camera for my honeymoon in 50 days. I bought two waterproof cameras- a Nikon and Olympus and have been testing them, but I’m not thrilled with either. I was wondering if an update to this article is in the works by any chance as most of the cameras listed are no longer being made.
I am a Nikon girl, having always had Nikon SLR’s, but when it comes to point and shoots, I prefer Olympus or Panasonic, and with the two waterproofs I bought, it seems that the Olympus is easier to use with more features and the Nikon seems quite complicated. However– the Nikon takes way better photos in terms of color and quality. I need help! lol
We’re heading to the water parks soon, and hope to update it then. Stay tuned!
Thanks! I’m going to do my own little review- I bought four waterproof cameras (two Olympus, one Nikon and one Pentax) and I’m going to my own little review next week. I’ll link back to it- maybe it’ll help you out!
That would be great–please share it!
Ok- I got my review up! I hope you’ll take a second and read it- I think it’ll be helpful to you in picking your next underwater camera. If you think I left anything out, let me know!
While not neccesarily a still camera (it only takes stills at 5 MP) I picked up the the Kodak Zx3 for about 120 bucks. Yes, I know that its the old model but the new model does not have a removable battery and I like to carry several batteries.
NOTE: I did have the camera crash on me soon after getting it but I sent it to Kodak and within two weeks they sent it back good as new!
I actually have one of the Fujifilm XD cameras. It works well for a day at the beach or a day at Typhoon Lagoon. I also carry it on days that it may rain, and in the summer in Florida that is almost everyday. I shoot with a Nikon D90 at work and a Nikon D60 on my play time at the parks.
I bought an Olympus Stylus 720SW 5 years ago (waterproof + shockproof) for my main camera (I’ve since graduated to a D-SLR), but I find myself still using the Olympus for the beach, and other potentially wet adventures. It still works great–I often get better pictures with my DSLR or with my mother’s newer (but not waterproof) point and shoot–but for times when I don’t want to worry about the weight of my DSLR or ruining sensitive electronics (sometimes I use my Droid X for a point and shoot as well), I’ve been very happy with this camera. I’ve always liked Olympus point and shoot cameras.
I think this is the important take-away with regard to waterproof cameras. The image quality obviously won’t be the best, but it’s better than nothing, and certainly better than ruining another camera. Unfortunately, the perfectionist in me isn’t satisfied unless I have DLSR quality photos all the time now, so I’m not sure that the Oly will be a long term solution for me.
Found your website after reading through one of Hot Sauce’sDisneyland Phito Tips. Love it. Will be retreading everything as we head to WDW in a little over a year.
As for the underwater cameras, a colleague at work who is a big time diver uses Sealife cameras http://www.sealife-cameras.com. They are specifically made for underwater shooting. They have several P&S models in addition to the real kinds. While I havent purchased one I almost did in anticipation of my trip to Hawaii last year. Might be with checking out in the future. The only downside is they may not have manual controls in some models from what I gather.
Thanks for the tip–I will have to check those out!
We have the Olympus and are pretty happy with it. Its my husband’s camera so we actually bought it for not only the waterproof feature but also the shockproof feature and being able to drop it from several feet up and it not breaking. Its the perfect camera for him 🙂 He doesn’t have an SLR and will quickly tell you he doesn’t want one so for him this was the answer. Has he used it at the Disney waterparks? Yes. Are there any good underwater shots…not yet. (i think its more the novelty of knowing he can get it wet and it will be okay! lol)
Does your husband…drop cameras a lot from several feet up? Maybe you should have just invested in a wrist strap! 😉
Great review. Too Bad I could have used this about 2 months ago. 🙂 I wanted to add a little first hand experience on one of the Cameras that you did not pick. I figured with your vast readership reach of this blog that it was worth sharing. The Panasonic TS3. I do agree with your assessment on the price. It is on the high end and normally I would not have gotten a higher price P&S for only Underwater use. The main reason I decided on this was the GPS imprinting. Now for Disney this is really not that big of a deal because we all know where we are, right. I mainly was thinking of our cruise or some other places we sometimes travel (mountains of NC) and have no idea where we are when taking photos. So far this camera has performed up to my expectations and has now been officially taken over by my wife. This photos are coming out really well and the GPS does not drain the battery as much as I thought (even though I do notice a slight drop in battery life – pick up an extra battery). Not a bad camera and the face recognition is gimmicky but works well. I have 2 Panasonic’s now (TS3 & LX3) and so far I have been impressed.
One issue I have noticed with ALL the Underwater Cameras is they all seem to collect small beads of water on the front lens when you pull them out of the water. You do have to remember to clean off the lens a little before taking a picture. They are small enough to sometimes not notice in the back screen when taking the shot but they show up as distortion on the pictures just the same. I have found a little tip on this that does not eliminate the beads but helps them roll off the lens. Go to a auto store and pick up some RainX. Put a little on the front lens cover. Beads roll off easier on there own or with a little blow they are all but eliminated.
One “Camera” that you missed was the GoPro Hero. While this is not really a still camera by design rather a video camera, it does take really good photos as well. At only 5MP still, it does fall short a little. But the shots were still very clear, especially in mid day. The biggest reason I liked this camera is the Wide Angle of View. At around 5-6 mm Focal Length (170 degrees field of view), it picks up everything. I know I don’t have to preach on UWA but it does pull in even more than the Tokina 11-16. It also has a fixed aperture of f2.8 so it does okay in lower light. Not the best but okay. It performs better on the video side and is a blast to watch after the day is done. I have been able to import and play around on the iPad with this camera as well. The files come in perfectly and can be edited very easily in many apps. Thought your vast readership would like to here about this camera as well. It is a little on the high end for cost. (Prices back up to $299 ($229 in June) and that doesn’t include the video display back) Not for all but another option that we had a lot of fun with.
Great review and keep dry.
The GPS is an intriguing feature, but ultimately one I figured we would never use. To me, it seemed like a gimmick, and one that really increased the price. Now that you mention how it is useful for you, I can see it as more than just a gimmick, but still not something that would be all that helpful for us. I would rather get a camera that excels in image quality is slightly cheaper than to pay for features I won’t use.
As for using Rain X, is that really okay? I use Rain X on our car windshield, and it leaves a thin film (that’s how it works). This means that it’s basically like a UV filter on a DSLR lens, except of lower optical quality. Obviously it’s a better bet than having water spots on the lens window, but the best bet is keeping it clean.
Interesting about the GoPro Hero. I neither considered that nor saw it in the store. I will have to do some reading on that, but it’s a little too late for me!
On the Rain X. I was a little cautious on this at first. I did not know how it would affect the front lens or the images. So far I have not seen any issues yet. I have even tried shooting into the sun and the images still look as good as before. I admit I did try this on my GoPro first because the front element on the waterproof case is replaceable so I figured if I screwed it up it would only cost about $3 or so to replace the front lens. I think this works a little better and the film does not cause too many issues is that the film layer is extremely thin compared to lets say a UV filter. I also think that because the film is actually touching the front lens cover vs being a couple millimeters away from the cover also has something to do with the fact that it did not make much difference. I have put it now on both cameras and it seems to be okay. (Please use this tip at your own risk, the owner of this tip takes no responsibility for any issues relating to this piece of advice-Ha). When we went to WDW, I did not have this one and trying to clean the front lens when floating down the Lazy River @ TL is almost impossible. There is nothing dry to wipe the lens with and with all those misting nozzles around, I was amazed at how many shots have little beads in them. The Rain X lens still needs to be cleaned but a little blow on the front forces most of the beads to fall off. Without it I found myself constantly blowing (and looking like an idiot according to my wife) off the lens.
I have to admit though that being able to take a camera in the waterparks was kind of fun. Lots of fun shots on the slides, wave pool and even lazy river. I have more video than pictures but it was still fun and a great way to remember our trip.
On the whole taking a DLSR camera though. I found that seeing people in the waterparks with zoom lenses and DLSR’s looked kind of creepy. I saw two guys standing at the pool’s edge zooming in taking shots and while they might have been just taking shots of there families it did look a little weird. Especially since that Wave Pool has been known to pull bathing suits off. Just saying, people might not understand the love of truely good photography work. Besides it is easier to sneak a small camera on the rides (Disney did not usually allow – even a small one) than a big camera.
Don’t look now but other colors of that Panasonic Lumix are about $275.
I’d love to pick up the Lumix but it’s still a tad bit more than I’d like to spend for a P&S
I am sure it will drop again once summer is over. They usually do. It is worth it though even at that price. I think I picked up mine for $375. Good video as well. Able to shoot the castle “Magic Memories” show relatively well on the video side.
It’s crazy how the prices on Amazon can fluctuate. That’s actually one of the things I like about Amazon, in that they seem to match any major US retailer’s sale price (and with less overhead and huge purchasing power, why shouldn’t they?). For $275, it’s definitely much more appealing, especially if all of the features appeal to you.
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