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Fun in the Sun: Overview

Seven waterproof digital cameras

Pentax W60>>

Fun in the Sun

We look at seven waterproof digital cameras for your next outdoor adventure

by Shawn Barnett
Posted: 07/17/09

Today's point and shoot digital cameras are easier to use than ever, with face detection, smart exposure modes, and image-stabilized optics that compensate for camera movement. But get caught out in the rain with any of them, or take them out for a water-bound adventure, and you'll either need to stash them in a jacket pocket or buy a dry bag just to take them along.

Pentax Optio W60
Canon PowerShot D10
Panasonic Lumix TS1
Olympus Stylus Tough 8000
Olympus Stylus Tough 6000
Olympus Stylus Water 550WP
Fujifilm FinePix Z33WP

Before 2009, only two major companies made waterproof digital cameras: Olympus and Pentax. For 2009, Panasonic, Fujifilm, and Canon have joined the fray, each offering a single waterproof camera, two of which are also rugged, meaning they can take a drop to concrete from a specified height.

What they all have. All seven of the digital cameras in this roundup are competent cameras that will capture usable images, bringing back memories that other cameras would miss. They each have one crucial element that makes them valuable: their ability to play in the water right along with you.

They're also all easy to use, generally speaking, defaulting to full Auto modes that make sure you get the shot more often than not. They all shoot movies with sound, as well as stills, and they all have internal optics, meaning that their lenses are all concealed inside the body of the camera, so you have little need to worry about damage to protruding lens elements.

You'll find sealed doors that you have to learn how to care for, and they all use lithium-ion rechargeable batteries, so you'll have to remember to bring the charger along on longer trips. If you're shooting video more than stills, you'll need an additional battery.

Note also that none of these waterproof cameras has an optical viewfinder, so how the LCD performs in direct sunlight is also important.

Where they differ. Along with image quality, a camera's responsiveness and interface are important. More responsive cameras, especially those with faster shutter lag, are going to get the shot more often than the slower models. So if action is your thing, you're going to want to pay attention to the shutter lag numbers, as well as whether the cameras helped or hindered while getting the shot.

Good Photos or No Photos? It's well worth trading off some image quality for ruggedness. Read about Dave's experience with an early waterproof camera in the rain forest.

Tradeoffs. The easy summary is that in this case, the four more expensive models are the best performers in most areas. As you move down the price scale, you start to encounter more compromises. That's not always the case -- sometimes there's a gem of an item at the low end in any given lineup -- but more important to remember is that no roundup can cover everything, nor can it determine the best camera for every individual. Price, size, weight, and type of adventure also play a part in what you'll choose.

At Imaging-Resource.com, we're all about image quality. We take hundreds of pictures with most of the cameras we review to carefully evaluate whether they're worth your money. But in the waterproof camera category, the main tradeoff is image quality. One of the reasons is the extra optical glass that most of the companies have to put in front of the lens to protect it from the elements. So know that though we've tested these cameras as thoroughly as we do other pocket cameras, we're not going to put as high an emphasis on image quality as we usually do, but you'll also be able to compare the cameras against their land-based counterparts and decide whether the tradeoff is worth it.

Criteria. Here's a checklist of a few items to consider when looking for a "Fun in the Sun" camera. It's not complete, and you can add your own thoughts, but these are just a few bullet points to think about as you read through our brief writeups on each camera.

  • Your intended use
    • Purpose: Does it include diving, or just occasional splashing and dunking? If diving or snorkeling is your thing, be sure to check the camera's maximum depth rating.
    • Kids: Will the kids be using it? If so, consider size, ease of use, cost, and responsiveness of the shutter, as well as impact resistance if they drop it.
    • Ruggedness: Will it live in a pack, hang from a carabiner, sit in the bottom of the boat? Again, ruggedness factors like crushability and impact resistance will steer you toward certain models.
    • Cold: Is snow among the adventures you'll pursue? Only a few models are freezeproof, or even cold resistant.
  • Your expected output size
    • Print sizes: Do you ever make larger than a 4x6-inch print? Do you ever crop your images? If not, you're going to be more interested in how the camera handles white balance in given situations than its resolution performance.
    • Landscape: Do you hope to take beautiful landscape shots on your adventures with this camera, ones you'll enlarge and hang on your office wall? Then you might want to look more carefully at our corner sharpness crops, distortion numbers, and noise suppression crops. You might also consider a waterproof housing for a different camera, and a few of these cameras also work with waterproof housings for greater depth capability. For the best image quality, you'll want to remove these cameras from the housing, again to eliminate the influence of that front cover glass.
  • Versatility
    • Will this be your only camera? If so, you'll want to see how each does in our indoor and low-light tests, as well as shutter lag. It's one thing to put up with compromised image quality in rugged conditions, but things can get much worse indoors where light levels are significantly lower than in broad daylight.

Read through our brief overviews to see whether a camera might be for you, read how they do on the above criteria, then check out the reviews, where we have example crops to show image quality, as well as printed test results and timing data for each camera.

We won't be covering every single aspect of each camera in these brief overviews; we figure you're more interested in how they handle wet conditions and whether they work well enough. See the reviews, linked at the bottom of each summary, for a more information on the features and performance.

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Pentax W60>>

 

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