Digital Camera Home > Waterproof Shootout 2012

Waterproof Shootout 2012: Lab Test Results

Six waterproof digital cameras compared

Waterproof 2012 TR

Lab Test Results

Here's where most of our determination of a camera's overall quality is made, in the image analysis. No matter how fun or easy to use we find a camera, we figure the true quality of an image capture device is found in its images. We think you'll agree.

Lens Quality


Model
Wide
Tele
Canon
D20
Nikon
AW100
Olympus
TG1
Panasonic
TS4
Pentax
WG2
Sony
TX20

Center Sharpness: These crops are taken from the center at maximum aperture, for both wide-angle and telephoto.

On shorter zooms, there's usually less difference between wide and tele in the center; the difference usually occurs in the corners, which we cover separately below.

A quick scan of the images at right shows that the Canon D20 and Olympus TG1 both do very well at wide and telephoto. The Pentax WG2 has softer images, but also employs less sharpening, evidenced by the lack of sharpening halos that are prominent in all the other images.

The Panasonic TS4 loses a lot of contrast at telephoto, more so than any of the others, and the Nikon AW100 and Sony TX20 both show what looks like lens flare, with the white background blending into the black bars.


Model
Wide
Tele
Canon
D20
Nikon
AW100
Olympus
TG1
Panasonic
TS4
Pentax
WG2
Sony
TX20

Corner Sharpness: These crops are taken from the worst-case corner at maximum aperture, for both wide-angle and telephoto.

As is true with the Travel Zoom category we reviewed Fall 2011, waterproof cameras also generally require some optical compromises, and that shows here in the corners.

The Panasonic TS4 stands out as one of the better performers, with decent contrast and good control over distortion and sharpness.

Next the Pentax WG2 looks very good, and the Olympus TG1 after that. While its wide-angle lower left corner crop is soft and suffers from a rainbow-like chromatic aberration, it's still better than the others.

Next we like the Sony TX20. It's softer than the previous three, but considerably better than the smear found from the Nikon AW100 and Canon D20, particularly at wide-angle. The Nikon is the worst of all, while the Canon at least redeems itself at telephoto.


Model
Wide (%)
Tele (%)
Canon
D20
Nikon
AW100
Olympus
TG1
Panasonic
TS4
Pentax
WG2
Sony
TX20

Geometric Distortion: Barrel distortion ("bloat") is indicated with a plus (+), pincushion distortion ("squeeze") with a minus (-). Numbers are in percent, and smaller numbers are better.

Geometric distortion at wide-angle ranges from imperceptible (Canon D20 and Pentax WG2) to moderate (Olympus TG1 and Sony TX20 ). The Olympus TG1 is odd in that it generated noticeable pincushion along the top edge, while the bottom edge showed noticeable barrel distortion. We've seen this asymmetrical distortion before, but not to this extent.

Distortion at the telephoto end is generally better controlled, with most cameras in this group showing negligible to relatively low amounts, except for the Canon D20 which showed a moderate amount of barrel distortion. It's interesting to note that some cameras in this group exhibit barrel distortion (+) at telephoto, when we're used to seeing pincushion (-), though most of these cameras likely have some software distortion correction applied during JPEG processing. Like the Olympus TG1, the Pentax WG2 showed some asymmetrical distortion with pincushion on top and barrel on the bottom, but it was pretty minor.


Model
Wide
Tele
Canon
D20
Nikon
AW100
Olympus
TG1
Panasonic
TS4
Pentax
WG2
Sony
TX20

Chromatic Aberration: Worst-case chromatic aberration (C.A.) in corners at wide-angle and telephoto.

Despite its very smudged images, the Nikon AW100 does very well controlling chromatic aberration. The Panasonic TS4 also removes most color aberration, and then the Pentax WG2 seems to vie with the Olympus TG1 for the title of third best.

Sony's TX20 has a little more C.A. coloring, but it's also not bad. The only contender here that can be called out for poor C.A. control is the Canon D20, with very bright green and purple chromatic aberration at wide angle. We don't think it's a deal breaker, but it is the most noticeable of the six cameras.


 

Image Quality


In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured, at base ISO. More saturated colors are located toward the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center. Mouse over the camera name links above to compare models.

Color: Saturation and Hue accuracy. Roll-over the links to compare cameras.

The Olympus TG1 and Sony TX20 were a little more true to life than most cameras at only about 4% oversaturated, while the rest of the cameras here produced fairly typical saturation numbers. It's no surprise the Pentax WG2 produced the highest mean saturation, but 12.3% oversaturation is still pretty tame for Pentax. All the cameras push reds and blues, but not by as much as we've often seen. With the exception of the Pentax WG2, all of them mute yellow somewhat.

In terms of hue accuracy (after correction for saturation), Canon leads the way here, followed by Nikon and Olympus, with Pentax, Sony and Panasonic bringing up the rear. Every camera shifts cyan toward blue to improve sky color, but every camera except the Nikon AW100 also shifts yellow toward green. Combined with a reduction in saturation of yellow, this leads to some dingy greenish yellows in our Still Life shots.

Overall, though, each camera puts out fairly accurate color, though as mentioned previously, Olympus and Sony are more conservative with color than the others.


Model
Auto
Auto Flash
Canon
D20
ISO 1000, 1/20s
ISO 320, 1/20s
Nikon
AW100
ISO 400, 1/10s
ISO 200, 1/30s
Olympus
TG1
ISO 400, 1/10s
ISO 400, 1/60s
Panasonic
TS4
ISO 400, 1/6s
ISO 320, 1/60s
Pentax
WG2
ISO 200, 1/8s
ISO 200, 1/50s
Sony
TX20
ISO 800, 1/15s
ISO 800, 1/30s

Indoors: Indoor Incandescent Portrait without and with flash, in full Auto mode.

For sheer white balance, the Panasonic TS4 hits it pretty well on the nose. The camera raises ISO to 400, which is about average here, but color is faded and noise suppression blurs detail. Its flash shot is a bit harsh, retaining little of the ambient light, but detail is also soft at ISO 320.

The Nikon AW100 is our second pick. It's a little red and a little dim, but not bad overall. The flash shot is a little hot, but the camera lowers ISO to 200, allowing for a little more detail.

The Canon D20 does fairly well, but it raises the ISO to 1,000, resulting in low detail and yellow blotches in skin tones. Flash is good, though, with some ambient light retention and decent detail.

The Sony TX20 gets the white balance close, but exposure is dim, even raising the ISO to 800. The flash shot is exposed well, but with an odd orange glow from the ambient light.

The Olympus TG1's rendering has an overall clay-like look that's flat and unappealing, but noise processing and sharpening manage to make the image look sharper than others in this shootout. The flash image is rather dim.

Pentax's WG-2 declined to raise its ISO above 200, resulting in underexposed images in both scenarios. There's a little less noise suppression as a result, but it's not really a plus.


100
200
400
800
1,600
3,200
13x19
11x14
8x10
5x7
4x6
Unusable
Canon D20: ISO 100 images look pretty good, though we'd love to see a little sharper detail. Enough detail disappears at ISO 200 that it looks better at 11 x 14 inches. ISO 400 and 800 look very similar, but Canon's application of a little more sharpening makes ISO 800 look a little sharper in this crop.
125
200
400
800
1,600
3,200
13x19
11x14
8x10
5x7
4x6
Unusable
Nikon AW100: After seeing all the other cameras, we had to revise our evaluation of the Nikon AW100, whose ISO 125 shot is a little sharper in the center than the other contenders. Its corners are pretty dramatically soft, however, so bear that in mind. Nikon is carefully processing images as ISO rises, leaving ISO 800 and 1,600 shots to the smaller print sizes, while ISO 3,200 is unusable.
100
200
400
800
1,600
3,200
13x19
11x14
11x14
8x10
5x7
4x6
Olympus TG1: The TG-1's images look very processed at ISO 100, but print pretty well as ISO rises, sustaining higher print sizes thanks largely to sharpening of heavily processed images. They don't look great onscreen, but translate well to print. Note that the TG1 was not able to produce a usable 4x6 print at ISO 6,400.
100
200
400
800
1,600
N/A
11x14
11x14
8x10
5x7
4x6
Panasonic TS4: It's easy to see why the TS4's print quality starts so low. It's also easy to see why they didn't include ISO 3,200. Images start out soft and end up even softer as ISO rises, even cropped from the center.
125
200
400
800
1,600
3,200
11x14
8x10
8x10
5x7
4x6
Unusable
Pentax WG2: From the crops above, it seems like the WG-2 should have done better printed, but it just wasn't the case. It's the worst performer of the group for prints. Still, users can output a decent 8 x 10 at up to ISO 400.
125
200
400
800
1,600
3,200
13x19
11x14
8x10
8x10
5x7
4x6
Sony TX20: The Sony TX20 ticks down in print size pretty evenly as ISO rises, with the exception that both 400 and 800 will make a decent 8 x 10-inch print. It's the second best of the group in terms of print quality.

ISO: Noise and Detail: For reference, this bottle label has razor sharp detail, but most cameras don't show that. All of these cameras are suffering somewhat from noise suppression that attacks what amounts to the grout lines in the mosaic.

Be sure to see our Print Quality results below for a better idea of how this affects print size. Note that we've also added the print sizes below the crops to help you see what the different ISO settings can produce in terms of print size (this isn't an estimate, we really print the images).



Print Quality: Here, we've illustrated maximum recommended print size at each ISO in a simple spreadsheet view, with different colors for each size. This provides a pretty quick picture of which cameras are doing better than others when it comes to prints.
Print size vs ISO speed
6400 Unusable Unusable
3200 Unusable Unusable 4x6 Unusable 4x6
1600 4x6 4x6 5x7 4x6 4x6 5x7
800 5x7 5x7 8x10 5x7 5x7 8x10
400 8x10 8x10 11x14 8x10 8x10 8x10
200 11x14 11x14 11x14 11x14 8x10 11x14
Lowest 13x19 13x19 13x19 11x14 11x14 13x19
ISO D20 AW100 TG-1 TS4 WG-2 TX20


 

Performance


Model
Startup
Time

seconds
Full AF Lag
Wide/Tele

seconds
Pre-focused
Shutter Lag
seconds
Single Shot
Cycle Time
seconds
Full-Res Burst Speed*
fps (frames)
Canon D20
~1.6
0.33 / 0.39
0.073
1.93
1.9 (60+)
Nikon AW100
~1.4
0.31 / 0.31
0.017
1.58
7.1 (3)
Olympus TG1
~0.9
0.32 / 0.31
0.040
0.80
5 (25)
Panasonic TS4
~2.1
0.41 / 0.57
0.010
0.95
3.7 (6)
Pentax WG2
~2.3
0.44 / 0.36
0.048
1.86
1 (18)
Sony TX20
~1.2
0.29 / 0.30
0.015
1.99
10 (10)
Group Average
~1.6
0.35 / 0.37
0.034
1.52
4.78
Model
Full Power Flash Recycle
seconds
Low Light AF Limit
foot-candles
Low Light AF Limit Assisted
foot-candles
USB Transfer
Rate
KB/s
CIPA
Battery Life*
shots
Canon D20
6.4
~1/2
0
7,269
280
Nikon AW100
5.9
~1/8
0
6,158
250
Olympus TG1
2.9
<1/16
0
9,329
350
Panasonic TS4
4.3
~1/8
0
7,130
310
Pentax WG2
4.9
~1/4
0
9,693
260
Sony TX20
6.3
~1/4
1**
7,501
250
Group Average
5.1
~1/4
0.17
7,849
283
* Manufacturer's specs.
** AF assist overwhelms our target

Startup: The Olympus TG1 was the fastest at powering up and taking a shot, with the Sony TX20 a close second. The Nikon AW100 was a bit faster than average, while the Canon D20 was average. The Panasonic TS4 and Pentax WG2 were the slowest at startup in the group.

Autofocus: The cameras in this group produced fairly similar full autofocus shutter lag numbers at wide-angle. The Sony TX20 was the fastest at 0.29s, while the Pentax WG2 was the slowest at 0.44s. Not a huge range here. The Sony TX20 was again the fastest at full telephoto at 0.30s, but this time the Panasonic TS4 was the slowest at 0.57s. Still, not a huge range. Prefocused shutter lag varied a little more, ranging from a blazing 0.010s for the Panasonic TS4 to 0.073s for the Canon D20, which is still pretty fast.

Shot-to-shot: Olympus had the best shot-to-shot times in single-shot mode, at 0.80s, while Sony had the slowest at 1.99s.  Full resolution burst mode varied a lot, from a pokey 1 fps for the Pentax to a blistering 10 fps for the Sony.

Flash recycle: The Olympus was quite fast at recharging its flash after a full power discharge. The Panasonic and Pentax were a little faster than average, while the Nikon, Sony and Canon were slower.

Low-light AF: The Olympus TG1 was able to focus in less than 1/16 foot-candle of light, thanks to its fast (bright) f/2.0 lens. On the other hand, the Canon D20 struggled in low light, requiring more than the average amount of light to achieve focus. All cameras could focus on our target in complete darkness with AF assist lamp enabled, except for the Sony TX20 which has a very bright lamp that overwhelmed the AF system in our test, requiring about 1 foot-candle of ambient light to achieve focus. The Sony's very bright AF lamp isn't necessarily a bad thing, though, probably providing the best range, however it can make focusing on closer subjects more difficult.

Download speeds: USB 2.0 transfer speeds ranged from 6.2MB/s for the Nikon to 9.7MB/s for the Pentax, tested with a fast 45MB/s SDHC card. The average for the group was about 7.8MB/s.

Battery life: The Olympus and Panasonic have above average CIPA-rated battery life, while the Nikon, Sony and Pentax have a bit below average. The Canon's battery life was about average for this group.

 


Follow Imaging Resource:

Purchase memory card for zndE60d digital camera
Enter this month to win:

1 $300 Adorama Gift Certificate

2 $200 Adorama Gift Certificate

3 $100 Adorama Gift Certificate