Cameras made for underwater photography was popularized by a famous French underwater explorer named Jacques-Yves Cousteau in the 1960s. However it is the Japanese who perfected and succeeded in marketing it to the mass market.
Our focus in this timeline is to show you the history of mass produced waterproof cameras. Cameras needing special casings for underwater use are of no interest to us.
Picture credit: Jan Willem Bech
The Healthways Mako Shark was the first known commercial underwater camera. It could take pictures in black and white or color, be used in depths down to 100 feet and was sold for only $24.95 ($35.90 for the flash type with flash attachment). The entire mechanisms were identical to Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash model.
Marine explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau conceived a 35mm self-contained amphibious underwater called Calypso. It was designed by a French inventor named Jean de Wouters and could operate up to 200 feet / 60meters below sea level. In the same year, EG&G developed an extreme depth underwater camera for U.S. Navy.
Nikon took over the Calypso production and marketed the camera as the Nikonos. The 35mm camera came with dedicated underwater lenses that were unusable on land.
Minolta introduced a “water tight” pocket camera called the Weathermatic -A. The bright yellow camera used Type 16mm 110 film cartridges and could be used underwater at maximum diving depth of 5 meters.
Sea & Sea developed the Pocket Marine 110 SE, world’s first motor-driven amphibious 110 camera.
Fuji released the HD-M waterproof camera. The 38mm f/2.8 lens camera could be used up to 6 feet underwater.
Chinon Splash AF 35mm Weather Proof Auto-Focus Camera with a 35mm f3.9 lens was introduced. Chinon was later taken over by Kodak Japan.
Olympus unveiled the AF-1, calling it “Nurepika” (“Wet Flash”). It became the world’s first weatherproof fully automatic compact camera. Meanwhile, Nikon introduced the $268 Action Touch all-weather camera with built in flash. However, the 10ft waterproof camera was taken off the market when the Japanese concluded that the public was not smart enough to do a manual focus underwater.
The Kodak Explorer 35mm camera was released and retailed at $119.95.
Pentax introduced the 38-90mm fixed lens IQZoom 90WR film camera. It was the first weather resistant compact camera with zoom.
Olympus entered the market with Infinity Stylus camera featuring a 35-70 mm autofocus zoom lens plus an all-weather capability. In the same year, Nikon introduced the Nikonos RS/AF, world’s first underwater autofocus SLR. The body was retailed at $3,486, while the lens ranges from $978 for the standard 28mm lens to $3288 for the zoom (20-35mm). It could handle depths of up to 100m.
Olympus introduced Infinity Superzoom with a 38-110mm zoom lens and predictive autofocus. The $450 the camera was not fully waterproof. Instead, it was marketed as a camera built “protected against water splashes.”
Canon released its first film waterproof camera with the called Sure Shot A-1.
The new Olympus Epic was introduced and still being marketed as being able to survive an occasional splash , but not a real submersion. Meanwhile, Nikon discontinued the Nikonos RS system. Poor demand, tendency to flood and steep price and were cited as the reasons.
The Olympus mju/ Stylus Epic series became a bestseller with 3.8 million sales. The award-winning 35mm compact camera’s small splash proof body, accurate autofocus, fast lens, and integrated auto-flash led it to become a modern classic.
Canon introduced the Canon ELPH Sport. Dubbed a true sports utility camera – the APS camera was shockproof and could handle water pressure as deep as 16 feet underwater. This was due to Canon’s thick protective shell (about three times the thickness of regular cameras).
DIGITAL WATERPROOF CAMERA ERA STARTED:
The world’s first digital weatherproof camera was released by Kodak. The 2.1 Megapixel DC5000 weigh 1 pound and came with 2x zoom. Unfortunately, Kodak had to recall 75,000 cameras when 12 consumers reported being shocked by the camera when charging the batteries or while removing the memory card.
Olympus unveiled the mju-10 Digital. Despite the $699 retail price, the 3.2-megapixel camera soon became extremely popular. Pentax also debuted it’s first water resistant digital camera, the 3.2 Megapixel Optio 33WR the same year. But the point and shoot was still not rated for underwater use.
Pentax Optio WP started the waterproof digital camera tradition.
Olympus produced Tough 8000, world’s first waterproof and crushproof camera (to weights of up to 100kg)
Sony released world’s first touchscreen waterproof camera with the Sony TX5.