Shooting Underwater is something I’ve never done before, not really sure why… I don’t really have the fancy tanks that a lot of the great underwater photographers have and I guess that kind of always kept me from messing around with it.

But then the other day I realized, I didn’t used to have most the equipment I use today and that never, ever, never stopped me from experimenting and having fun.

So, I decided to give some underwater images a try.  What better way to start out than with some relatively inexpensive, easy to use point-and-shoot cameras?  Both are 14 megapixels, both can go underwater for up to 33ft, and both retail for around $300 or less at B&H.  14 megapixels for $300?  Just five years ago I would have had trouble wrapping my head around that… my how times have changed!

Lumix Panasonic at B&HVersus

Olympus Stylus Tough at B&H

What’s in the Box

The Panasonic Lumix comes with a couple cool little extras, like a rubber camera case, a plastic battery case and a CD that I’d never look at.  Other than that they come with almost identical offerings.

There is one difference in how the batteries recharge though.  The Panasonic Lumix comes with a separate battery charger, however you have to plug the Olympus camera TO the battery charger with the USB plug.  To me the Olympus design is absolutely unacceptable.  For one, if you’re traveling with it you need to remember to bring the chord AND the battery charger that plugs into the wall… two, you’ll have to remember to bring the chord home with you… three, and this is the big one, you cannot buy an extra battery and charge it while the camera is in use.

Score one BIG point for the Panasonic Lumix.

Specs

The Olympus comes with 2GB built in memory, which is really cool, but the Lumix comes with an LED light for video, which is also really cool.   I can’t really say which one is better because both of them would be AMAZINGLY convenient during that one or two times in your life when you filled up all your memory cards and you NEED a few more picture.  Or when you’re 12 feet under water and you want to throw a tiny bit of light onto that eel you’re videoing.

I’m giving them a TIE.

The Test

Anyone interested in purchasing an underwater P&S isn’t going to be extremely picky about minor differences in technicalities, so I’m skipping those.

What really matters to me for a P&S camera is whether or not it’s easy to carry around, there is an intuitive interface and button layout and biggest of all that it is FUN to use… and it should take decent pictures.

So, I decided to jump into a pool a few times with both cameras and see what I could come up with just messing around!

I assumed I would be writing a review about how both of them are great, fun little cameras. I also thought I probably wouldn’t be able to tell much of a difference between them.  On this I was very surprised to find out I was VERY wrong I was.

I preferred using the Panasonic Lumix much, much, much more and it all came down to how short of time there was between me pressing the button and the camera taking the picture.  The Olympus seemed to take an eternity!  As a photographer I want INSTANT responsiveness.

Score a BIG point for the Panasonic Lumix

The Photographs!

After shooting with both cameras on three separate occasions I went through the images and picked some of my favorites.  NONE of these results are straight out of the camera, I’ve taken all of them through my standard development process in Lightroom.

It should be noted, for all of you purists out there, that this sort of tweaking has gone on in the darkroom long before a computer was invented… in my opinion a photo is not finished until it’s been tweaked.

So tweak I did!  Here are the results, grouped by camera.

Results From the Olympus Stylus Tough!

Olympus

Results From the Panasonic Lumix!

The Verdict

I had a blast shooting underwater. If you live anywhere near a source of water I think the $300 for either of these cameras is well worth it, if nothing else just for the fun factor!  I got plenty of useable images from both cameras, one wish would be that they could shoot in RAW format rather than JPG but for $300 I can’t complain too much!

That said this was just a warmup, in a week or so I’ll be taking my Canon 5D Mark II beneath the ripples while trying out the Aquatech Underwater Casing and let you know how the experience compares to the more spontaneous feeling Point and Shoots…

I’m very excited for that, but until then back to the results.

The clear favorite!

Overall the Panasonic Lumix‘s response time made it much more fun to use and I was able to catch the decisive moment much more easily.  Also, since it was quicker I could get an extra shot or two off while holding my breath.

The runner up…

So how do I rank the Olympus Stylus Tough?  Well, it took great pictures but the slight delay from pressing the button to opening the shutter was very annoying… that loss in “fun-factor” and ability to capture the “decisive moment” gets it a solid luke-warm rating.

Special thanks to the models: Ashlé Hansey, Chloe Roberts and my beautiful wife Jenny!

Equipment used to achieve these images