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Fun in the Sun: Canon D10

Seven waterproof digital cameras

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Canon D10

Canon's PowerShot D10 marks a return to the waterproof camera space, but it is the company's first waterproof digital camera. The unique design stands out from the pack with a rather bulbous nose that conceals a more traditional lens mechanism. The overall appearance brings to mind a diving bell, with rounded surfaces designed to better resist pressure from all sides. The flat back for the LCD makes that more an impression than a reality, but the Canon D10 is one of the three digital cameras in this roundup designed for diving photography, rated capable of withstanding the pressure at a depth of 33 feet.

The Canon D10 is also impact-resistant for drops from up to four feet, and freezeproof to 14 degrees Fahrenheit (-10C). Its 12.1-megapixel sensor sits behind a 35-105mm zoom lens with a fairly bright f/2.8 to f/4.9 lens.

Waterproof: 33 feet
Shockproof: 4 feet
Freezeproof: 14°F (-10°C)
Crushproof: N/A
Resolution: 12.10 Megapixels
Lens: 3.0x zoom
(35-105mm eq.)
LCD size: 2.5 inch
ISO: 80-3200
Shutter: 15-1/1500
Max Aperture: 2.8
Mem Type: SDHC / SD
Battery: Custom LiIon
Dimensions: 4.1x2.6x1.9in
Weight: 7.4 oz (211 g)
MSRP: $330
Availability: 05/2009

Look and feel. Though it's not as slim as the other designs, the Canon D10 fits fine in swim trunks and cargo pants, and its excellent lanyard with the sliding toggle lock mean that the Canon D10 can be securely attached to your wrist. The Canon D10 is a little heavier than some of the others, weighing 7.4 ounces (211g), but with the help of a key-float like the type used in boating to save your keys from disaster, the camera will actually float.

The main body of the Canon D10 is silver, with a removable color panel out front. The only way to get optional panels is to buy the $129 Accessory kit AKT-DC1, which includes a Shoulder/Neck strap, a Carabiner strap, a soft case with a carabiner, and interchangeable covers: orange, camo, and gray.

The front panel provides sufficient grippiness in water, aided by the raised Canon logo, and the rubber buttons and raised bumps on the back also help. Still, in order to prevent losing it in adventurous conditions, I recommend attaching the wrist strap and tightening the toggle lock.

Controls. All the Canon D10's controls are on the top and back of the camera, and all are buttons. Switches and dials are harder to seal, so most waterproof digital cameras are button-only (not all).

Power and shutter buttons are on top, and the rest are on the back. The Power button is a little larger than most Canon PowerShots, good for using in wet conditions or with gloves, but I did sometimes have to press harder to activate it. The shutter button is a little mushier than I'm used to from Canon as well, with a long throw before you get to the second stage where you capture a picture. I missed more than a few shots underwater until I got used to this tendency.

Across the top are the Mode buttons: Print/Share, Record/Movie, and Playback modes. These are a little awkward to use at first, but once you get used to them, they're easy to press when you want to, yet hard to activate accidentally.

The zoom controls are a little frustrating, with the top left button for zooming telephoto, and the bottom right button for zooming wide. The four-way controller, however, is a pleasure to use, with a curved button design that makes activation easy.

Dunk. Taking pictures underwater is as easy as submerging it and pressing the shutter button good and hard. It probably helps to let the bubbles clear a bit.

Shooting. Aside from items I've already mentioned, like the mushy shutter and odd zoom controls, using the Canon D10 is a pretty good experience. The LCD is very nice, refreshes fast, and looks vibrant and crisp. It also works well in the daylight, with good tonal representation, better than others in the roundup.

Getting underwater shots was where I had the most trouble with the Canon D10, because it was hard to know when the camera was focused and would finally take the shot (this would have been easier with goggles or a mask, which you would have if you were diving or snorkeling). Unless you're intent on getting flash shots of things like fish and coral, I advise turning the flash off, because this introduces even more delay into the question of when the image will actually be captured (this is true of all the cameras in this roundup). When diving, just watch the flashing lightning bolt to see when it shines steady, then take your next shot.

Click to view movie. MOV player required.

Video. 640x480 at 30fps H.264 MPEG4 format. Optical zoom is not supported. (Click to download 13MB MOV file.)

Shooting video was also fun and easy. Just frame, focus, and hit the Print/Share button to start recording. See the video at right for a sample. Resolutions are 640x480 or 320x240, both 30 frames-per-second. Underwater audio quality is similar to what one's ears hear, and audio playback is via the speaker on the bottom.

Of all the cameras in this roundup, the Canon D10's LCD was the best, maintaining more subtle contrast in bright sunlight, making subject identification, focus, and framing much easier. Playback was also a good experience.

The Canon PowerShot D10 is really easy to use and quite a lot of fun. Among my family members, it was the most wanted camera.

Image quality is the final thing to consider. Ranging from 35 to 105mm equivalent, the Canon D10 doesn't break any records for either wide angle or telephoto, which suggests that there's some room for growth if the line proves popular enough. The bell housing, though, is clearly a limitation that keeps both wide-angle and longer telephoto focal lengths more remote possibilities.

Auto White Balance Underwater WB
Tip: Switching between Auto and Underwater white balance settings often produces different results depending on whether you're in or out of the water. Here on the left we have what the Auto white balance chooses for both below water and above water instances. The images on the right are shot with the Canon D10's white balance set to Underwater. Auto gets the above-water image right, leaving the underwater shot quite blue (which is how my eyes saw the scene, by the way). The Underwater setting gets the white balance right for underwater, but the rest of your images could be too warm if you accidentally leave the camera in that mode. This is true with many of the cameras in this roundup. See our article "Tough/Waterproof Cameras: Care, Feeding, and Exposure" for more waterproof camera tips.

Regardless, the lens is optically stabilized and performs reasonably well... for a waterproof camera. Again, the cover glass on the Canon D10's porthole is likely the culprit, giving images very soft corners, worse than I expected. Looking through my personal snapshots, I didn't notice it as much, but our test shots are quite revealing. Barrel distortion is also quite high. Though chroma noise is present, it's so blurred in the corners that it's less noticeable as an individual problem. So though the Canon PowerShot D10 is a great outdoor adventure camera mostly because it'll take pictures in conditions others can't, it might not be your best choice for general all-purpose photography.

Noise suppression is a little too active in the Canon D10's images, significantly blurring detail at ISO 200. Again, it's relative to the waterproof experience, but it makes the Canon D10 a camera best suited for daylight photography. That corner softening is noticeable in printed images starting at 5x7, and getting worse as you go up. Center image quality is good at 13x19, as you'd expect from a 12-megapixel sensor. ISO 400 shots are actually usable at 11x14, again with the exception of the corners. You're less likely to notice the corners in underwater shots, but if you're expecting sharpness corner-to-corner, prepare to be disappointed.

Shutter lag is about average for a pocket digital camera, taking between 0.47 and 0.56 second at wide and tele respectively. See the full review for more on the Canon D10's performance.

The Canon D10 would have made a nice all-purpose digital camera that also goes underwater, but the corner softness alone makes that less likely. The combination of a smaller optic, the Canon D10's strong coverglass, and the high resolution sensor leaves corners too soft for anything but sports and underwater shooting.

How the Canon D10 fared:

Your intended use

  • Purpose: In principle, the Canon D10's f/2.8 lens means better light gathering ability, important for low light shooting, be it indoors, at dusk or tree shadows, or near 33 feet deep. However, image noise and noise-suppression blurring creeps in early, so it's not the best for everyday, all-purpose shooting.
  • Kids: The Canon D10 was among the fastest and easiest to use of all the cameras, and its LCD screen was the most pleasant to use in bright daylight, and my kids loved using it; my daughter was especially drawn to it.
  • Ruggedness: Rated to withstand a drop from four feet, the Canon D10 can handle a little more of what life dishes out, but four feet isn't quite as rugged as the five and 6.6-foot drop that two of the Olympus Tough cameras can handle.
  • Cold: Freezeproof to 14 degrees Fahrenheit (-10C), the Canon D10 should be a good companion in the snow.

Your expected output size

  • Print sizes: Though center image quality allows printing up to 13x19 inches, corner sharpness is not quite as good, remaining a factor down to 8x10. As long as you have no plans to print larger than 5x7, you won't notice the Canon D10's soft corners.
  • Landscape: Luminance noise and noise suppression does mar most detail in the Canon D10's images when viewed onscreen, but it's not as much of a factor at smaller print sizes, and is on par with or better than most other cameras in this roundup. Soft corners prevent the Canon D10 from serving as a good landscape camera.


  • Soft corners affect the Canon D10's suitability as a take-everywhere digital camera. It's better as a daylight watersports camera. Among those, it's one of the more expensive models. As for capturing images, it's faster than most, and will work as well as most digital cameras. You're paying extra for its greater depth capability, impact resistance, and cold-weather resiliency.

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Click here to see the Canon PowerShot D10 review

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