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Splashing with the Canon PowerShot D10
When I first played with an underwater camera, a few years ago, I was pretty underwhelmed. I felt like a successful model should perform as well as any decent point-and-shoot camera, but the versions I tried out were sluggish above water as well as below. Eventually, I decided to give it a few years before exploring the world of underwater cameras again.
And then it was time for a family vacation in the Caribbean and I realized that what I needed, almost as much as I needed some sun and sand, was a waterproof camera. I decided to take Canon's D10 along for the ride and see if waterproof cameras had improved since I'd last gone swimming with them.
A few words about the Canon PowerShot D10: it's a 12.1-megapixel point-and-shoot camera, with 3x zoom and a video mode (resolution of 640 x 480, not HD). It's rated to dive down to thirty-three feet underwater, to handle temperatures ranging from 14°F to 104°F, and to withstand drops of up to four feet.
When I first started playing with the D10, long before I'd gotten my swim fins on, I was taken by its solid, slightly-egg-shaped body and fun coloring. As a regular point-and-shoot, it worked pretty well — I tried it around the house and found it easy to get the hang of. That was a good start, but I was pretty eager to see how the D10 did as a beach buddy.
When I got to the beach, I found it difficult to actually get the thing near the water. Years of programming meant that it just seemed wrong to wade into the surf with a brand-new camera that I was borrowing from Crutchfield. You also find yourself wondering if you're going to drop it when you're in the water; that puppy may be waterproof but it doesn't float. Fortunately, Crutchfield's photographer owns a D10, and he tipped me off to the need to use the wrist strap and really tighten it before going into the water (his family actually uses a float, tied to the wrist strap, so they can toss the camera from one person to another when swimming or jumping in and out of boats).
However, I got my courage up eventually. Here's my very first moment of dunking the camera. (You may need to let this and the other video I've posted load before playing, by pausing as soon as they start; even though I compressed them slightly for posting I find pausing makes for a smoother experience.)
You can see that it kept on ticking with no problems — but you'll also notice that in video mode, the sensor seems to have a brief moment of being overwhelmed when the camera comes back out of the water and the sun hits all the droplets on the face of the lens.
I liked having the chance to snap photos of my family without worrying about wet hands and unexpected splashes, but what I really enjoyed was photos of the coral reef and bright fish I saw when snorkeling. The camera has a nice underwater mode for still photographs, so you can really capture the color of the plants and animals underwater. It doesn't apply the same processing to video shot underwater, but I thought the footage was still pretty true to my experience. The wrist strap stayed nice and tight, too, so even when I was swimming over chilly depths where I couldn't see anything of the bottom, I never had any fear of the camera sliding off and falling away into the darkness.
The camera was nice and responsive, too. Sometimes it paused for a bit while setting exposure and focusing, but not more than I would expect from any automatic camera dealing with a shifting scene. It did a good job focusing on the "right" stuff too — something my SLR's autofocus doesn't always get right. I was worried for a bit about the lens — one idiosyncracy for the D10 is that the lens never gets covered up at all. I was afraid that it was going to get hurt by all the sand, sunblock, and sticky toddler fingers that filled our vacation days. But even though I had to wipe it clean a few times, I didn't see any damage done. Canon must have a heck of a special coating on there.
There were two small hiccups to my underwater shooting. First of all, I found it difficult to see the 2-1/2"-LCD for much of the time I was in the water. It was not always easy to tell whether I had the school of fish framed, because so many things were bluish-green. I eventually solved this problem through trial and error — I developed a gradual sense for how to aim the D10 so as to capture the right image, if the lighting was making it difficult to see the screen. I also think this was more of a problem because I was snorkeling. If I'd been scuba diving, I think there wouldn't have been so much sunlight at my level making things hard to see.
Also, like many cameras, zoom in video mode seemed to be a purely digital effect, not an optical zoom. As a result, there was almost no point in zooming while capturing video, because the resulting image was unfortunately pixelated. That was a bit disappointing, but not a dealbreaker for me. I could still get close enough to capture some pretty cool videos.
One of my favorite videos was of this hawksbill turtle. It was so cool to be right there beside that slowly swimming creature. Because I was able to record it, I've gotten to share that moment with the family members who weren't lucky enough to be snorkeling during that time.
By the way, I really thought I was only going to get a chance to review the way the D10 performed in hot weather and underwater, but I got lucky (sort of) and got hit with a pretty serious blizzard not long after getting home. As a result, I was able to take the D10 out into the cold, where I promptly dropped it into a deep snowdrift — twice. After tunneling down to get it, I was glad to see that it was unfazed by the cold weather. It was totally caked with snow but once I got the lens and LCD screen cleared off enough, it was back to business as usual. We recorded sled rides, snowman building, and all kinds of chilly outdoor play.
Overall, I have to say the D10 was exactly what I'd hoped it would be — a camera that was just as responsive as most point-and-shoot models, with some pretty awesome additional capabilities that made it a must-have for my vacation. I'm having a hard time returning it to Crutchfield, actually. What if it snows again, or I go on another vacation?
Originally printed in Crutchfield: The Magazine. Read the digital edition.