Camcorders, like most electronics, have a distinct aversion to water. But people don't. When it comes to filming at the pool or beach, many people opt out of bringing the camcorder altogether for fear of seeing it destroyed (or getting themselves fried). Fortunately, there is a small niche of camcorders capable of going underwater. (You can see a list of the latest waterproof camcorders here.)
Benefits of Waterproof Camcorders
The most obvious benefit is, obviously, their ability to go underwater. Most waterproof camcorders can be submerged in up to ten feet of water, although some can't go as deep. It's important to pay attention to how low they can go. If you exceed the specified depth, you can destroy the camcorder.
You'll also find dedicated scene modes for underwater filming, which will adjust your camcorder's settings to compensate for the unique environment under the waves.
Most waterproof camcorders are not just capable of submersion, but are sealed against dirt and dust and can operate in lower temperatures than standard camcorders. Some are even drop-proof and can survive small falls thanks to rubberized housings. They're literally "take anywhere" products that can take the proverbial licking and keep on ticking. Parents with grasping children may want to pay attention.
Waterproof Camcorder Limitations
While they deliver some obvious benefits, there are a few trade-offs in a waterproof camcorder that you should be aware of:
Less responsive controls: To keep water from leaking into the camcorder's innards, waterproof camcorders have seals and gaskets. In practice this means that their controls can be sticky or tougher to operate.
Lack of Choice: There aren't a lot of waterproof camcorders on the market, which means your options for features and functionality are limited as well. The best-of-the-best camcorders on the market are typically not waterproof models.
Lack of Depth: Waterproof camcorders can typically descend no deeper than 10 feet. That's fine for your average swimmer, but if you're into diving 10 feet likely won't do.
Premium Price: In some cases, you'll pay more for a waterproof camcorder than you would for a model with comparable features that isn't waterproof. However, this isn't true for waterproof pocket camcorders, which are priced the same as their non-waterproof competitors.
An Underwater Housing Alternative
If an underwater camcorder is too limited for your tastes, some camcorder manufacturers offer underwater housings for their models. A housing will encase your camcorder in watertight molded plastic. Housings can be a bit clumsy when it comes to operating the controls (you can't use a touch-screen LCD, for instance, or gain access every external control) but they do allow you to dive deeper than your average underwater camcorder.
Like waterproof camcorders, housings aren't exactly in plentiful supply. Not every camcorder manufacturer offers housings, and those that do typically do not supply a housing for each individual camcorder model (although many housings can work on several of a manufacturer's models if they're the same design). Housings aren't cheap either, they can run $150-plus, depending on the company. Nevertheless, they're an option to consider. The first place to start is on your camcorder manufacturer's Web site.
Waterproof Is Not Weatherproof!
When evaluating a camcorder, understand that if it calls itself "weatherproof" it is not waterproof. Weatherproof refers to the ability to withstand some light rain, it does not indicate that the camcorder can actually be dunked under water.