Best Camera for Cruising

… and the answer is …. the best camera for cruising may be the one you currently use!

[Editor’s Note:  Since this post was written, the IPhone/Android cameras have become real players in the market , and even the underwater snorkeling market with the lifeproof case and I’ve upgraded my Canon DSLR setup – I’ll do an updated camera post soon, but this one has good basic information, so …]

The short answer is that there is no best camera for cruising.  Being somewhat of a photography aficionado, I asked this question over and over.     Before we left to go cruising, I was just sure there was something someone wasn’t telling me.      Many years later, I realize that cameras along with other electronic equipment aboard just don’t like the salt/water/humidity that is inherent in cruising.  Luckily for Commuter Cruisers, we return to the US every six months, so if it’s important we can replace a camera when it goes kaput!

Current Canon EOS Rebel Xsi

Current Canon EOS Rebel Xsi

Currently I have two cameras … my “good” camera is a Canon EOS Rebel Xsi DSLR with the “kit” lenses – an 18-55mm and a 55-250mm.  The entire kit cost roughly $700, but it’s no longer available.  There are other similar kits by Canon that are very reasonably priced.  While I was at the camera store, the saleman tried to convince me I needed a more weather resistant Canon camera … problem was that just the camera body was priced more than kit.  By the time I would have added lenses, the “weather resistant” camera would have cost three times the inexpensive version.   Since this was my first DSLR, I wasn’t used to carrying around such a heavy, bulky camera anyway and the weather resistant version was larger and heavier still.  I reasoned I could replace the Xsi three times for the price of the more expensive Canon.  Plus since it was my first DSLR, who knew if I’d even like it!  Turns out I do like it and 2+ years later it’s still functioning fine, even after two six month seasons on the boat.

Originally it came with a nice nylon case with inside separators and pads.   I bought a waterproof pelican case to keep it in on the boat, used it once or twice, discovered the camera was never easily at hand to grab and take photos, so the pelican case came back to the house with us when we returned this spring.  I’m sure it’s good to keep the camera out of the sea air humidity, but I want it immediately accessible … i.e. sitting on the nav desk ready to grab whenever the dolphins cavort behind the boat!  We also have a waterproof bag to store the DSLR when we take it in the dinghy or other adventure where a bit more protection is a good idea.  Again though, it takes time to get it out and ready to shoot.

Canon A720IS with Canon Waterproof Case

Canon A720IS with Canon Waterproof Case

I have a tripod that was given to me and a monopod.  I opted for the inexpensive monopod, BIG MISTAKE!   The mount doesn’t allow much up/down/side to side rotation and when I used it I found I could never just set the camera on it – I usually ended up taking the camera off and hand-holding.  The tripod is a bit much to haul around, so again, I usually end up hand holding the camera.  I’m sure alot of my photos could be better if I used the tripod under low light or marginal conditions, but I’m not a pro and don’t want to be bothered most of the time.

Along with the DSLR, I have a little Canon PowerShot A720 IS that I traded my son for because there was a waterproof case available from Canon.   It’s 8 mega pixels, but it does a great job underwater or kayaking, in conditions I hesitate to take the DSLR.  I’ll discuss waterproof cases/camera in a minute.   The A720 takes good photos although now that I’m getting more familiar with the DSLR, I really prefer all the settings and adjustments available on the larger camera.

Both cameras have a feature I consider indispensable for shooting from a boat or dinghy, or hiking or whatever — image stabilization … or IS.  Altho’ I try to never say never,  I promised myself I will never have another camera or lens without it.

Olympus Ultra Zoom

Olympus Ultra Zoom

Prior to the current camera setup, I always used Olympus cameras.  I started with the original UZ (ultrazoom) and upgraded three times – usually because of more features available than out of necessity with a dead camera.   My first UZ was a 10X zoom – the largest available on the market and also featured a wide-angle on the opposite side.  It was GREAT!  I loved that I could get the entire boat in the photo when shooting down from atop the mast.  When I upgraded to an 18X ultrazoom, I was very disappointed to see that Olympus had changed the wide angle end and now the camera would not get the full boat in while shooting down from the mast.  These days I see Olympus has a new version, that claims a wide angle on one end and super zoom on the other.  My original 10X zoom camera was very easy to get clear sharp photos but when I upgraded to the 18X zoom, while zoomed in, I saw alot more fuzzy photos – I assume it’s because while zoomed all the way, it’s more important that the subject be stock still — not usually possible on a boat!  The latest version is 30X ultrazoom and I have a hard time imagining that I would be able to get clear photos zoomed out.  The latest version also advertises “wide angle” at the other end, so I’m assuming Olympus wised up and added the feature back that they changed after the 10X UZ.     I really do miss the zoom functions on the ultra zoom cameras.  Several manufacturers make ultrazooms, so if this is the type of camera you want, check around.

After comparing my photos of Machu Picchu, taken with the Olympus UltraZoom with my friend Doug’s photos taken with a tiny Canon, I was appalled.   Comparing photos taken at the same time from the same place, the Olympus photos looked washed out colorwise compared with the Canon.  Then and there I decided to switch from Olympus to Canon.

My first underwater camera was a Sea & Sea yellow blob with some cheapo film camera inside.  It took lousy photos and I couldn’t see them until I spent money to get bad photos developed!  After that I bought an Ikelite case for my first ultrazoom.  Ikelite cases originally were much larger and heavier, usually pro quality, and VERY expensive.  The case was so user-unfriendly I found myself rarely using it and eventually sold it on e-bay.     Then I switched to a Fantasea underwater case for my Olympus — it was good, overall I liked the case.  Unfortunately the camera from it was stolen in our break in in Utila (for that story see the post “Robbed in Utila”).   The camera had been discontinued and the case wouldn’t fit any other camera.  GGGGgggrrrr!

Olympus Underwater Camera

Olympus Underwater Camera

Friends had one of the brand new Olympus underwater cameras — tiny by the standard of the underwater cases and much easier to use since you didn’t have to look through the case to sight the photo – the perfect solution to spending 4 hours a day in the water.    It was rated to 10′ and since we were primarily snorkeling, that was fine.  But it lasted a couple of months and died – it did not get water inside, just wasn’t up to snorkeling 4 hours  day for weeks on end.

Then I got the newer version rated to 33 feet.  It suffered the same fate and I gave up, traded my son for the discontinued Canon A720IS, got the underwater case for much less than usual since the camera had been discontinued and that’s still the combination I’m using.  It works well, seems to be much more robust than the Olympus underwater cameras.  Although I must admit, the tiny Olympus without a case is easier to use underwater because the view screen is so much clearer.

Overall, I’m happy with my current two camera set-up, we’ll just have to see how long it lasts since it’s not the weather resistant camera body!

Do you have a favorite cruising camera?   Leave a comment and tell everyone why!    THX!   Jan








  1. As a cruiser, we have the camera a Power Shot Canon SX30IS. It’s fairly new to us, and we’d love to learn how to use the darn thing properly. Our problem is that no ‘manual or CD’ really came with the camera to explain what all the ‘nifty’ settings are used for or how to make the most out of the camera. We contacted Canon and because it’s a powershot there are no real learning tools.

Speak Your Mind