Saturday, June 13, 2009

The state of the art of the waterproof digital camera's

It took a long time, but finally rugged waterproof (WP) digital compact-camera's are getting popular. Almost every self-respecting camera-manufacturer lists one or more WP-camera's. And when even the Hema (a Dutch retail organisation which promotes itself as "de normaalste zaak van Nederland/the most ordinary shop of the Netherlands") has a WP-Digicam in the "offers of the week" it must really be getting mainstream!

Although most reviews on the web and the magazine are quit positive about the new generation of WP-digicams there still is a lot to improve. A lot of reviews are not much more than just rewritten press-releases of the manufacturers. This kind of promotion works - it had me buying a new Olympus WP-camera earlier this year. I don't regret the purchase, but I am quit critical about the new camera. Mixed feelings.
At first glance it's great. The specifications are promising. I do like the look, the feel and the immaculate finish and the options in the user-friendly Olympus-menu's.
But in "heavy duty-kayak life" the performance is disappointing. Main issue is that the camera is slow: the starting up time, autofocus and shutter lag and cycle time make taking action pictures on the water a game of chance. The second issue is that the picture quality is far from what you would expect from a digital camera in the 300 euro-class. Lens-sharpness isn't great, internal reflections often hinder, the camera (often but not always!) tends to over-exposure and in low light conditions chroma and luminance noise are an issue starting already at 200 ISO. And about "rugged": after two months paddling life the lens cover of my first copy of the Olympus-camera stopped working, and a week later the camera broke completely down because salt water had found it's way to the internals. Probably I had a bad copy, I know a lot of kayakers using the predecessors of the Olympus camera without any problems with leakage. Dutch Olympus-customer-care worked correct and fast: the camera was within a few days replaced by a new copy.

The new Belgian Photomagazine Shoot published in this months issue a critical group test of all the current WP-camera's on the market. Regarding the performance and the picture quality of the Olympus this test covers my experiences. The test also confirms my assumption that the camera's of the other brands don't perform much better than the Olympus: according to the Shoot-test speed and picture quality are an issue with all the WP-camera's, differences are minor.

About the Pentax W60 in the Hema offer: I have some friends using this camera - comparing pictures, picture quality of teh Pentax is in general a bit better than that of the Olympus (metering/exposure/colour rendition are better). The Pentax isn't fast either and it feels more plastic than the Olympus. I know some people who had bad luck with water in the Pentax - but most people are using the predecessors of the Pentax for years without any problems. For the Hema price I think it really is an interesting offer: same or a bit better pictures and 50-60 euro's cheaper than the Olympus - suggestion for Father's day/Vaderdag? (in the Netherlands the 3rd Sunday of June ;-).

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