Monday, October 31, 2011

Waterproof Point and Shoot Camera Trials

Some time ago Molly wrote a blog post about the various digital cameras we have owned and the two that we currently use.  Occasionally we post a photo that was taken with a phone or an old camera but for the most part we use our Canon Digital SLR XSI or our water proof Olympus Stylus Tough.  Unfortunately it seems that our Olympus may have gone swimming one too many times. It no longer takes those clean crisp shots that so impressed us when it was we first bought it (used).  All of the features of the camera still work, but I suspect that a small amount of moisture got inside the housing and has somehow compromised the optics or sensor.

We probably need to replace our Olympus now and will definitely need another waterproof/shockproff/dustproof camera. At work we have started purchasing waterproof cameras to document our field work. Using these cameras at work and on weekends has given me the chance to try out the competitors to the Olympus.

First was the Fujifilm XP2; I took this camera to Thailand.  At first I was very impressed that it was 50% cheaper than the Olympus and seems very comparable.  It is slim, fast, and stitches together panoramic photos quite well.  But then I began to notice the unforgivable flaw of this camera: it does not have very good optics.  Distortion is a major problem and can be noticed in just about any photo that has a flat horizon. You can see some examples of this problem in my blog post about oil platforms in the Gulf of Thailand.  The other possible flaw with this camera is the waterproof doors.  They just don't seem to be as well designed as some of the other cameras, and considering that our last camera had a leak, this is high on my list of concerns.

While I would still recommended the Fujifilm for some people, I don't think I would buy it myself.  Those warped horizons and distorted corners are just too distracting in the scenery shots we love to take.

The next camera I tested was a Panisonic Lumix DMC-TS3.  This might be the best point and shoot waterproof camera available right now.  This 14MP camera is waterproof to 40ft, shock proof to 6.5 ft, has a built in GPS with an barometer and heading sensor, 4.6X optical zoom, image stabilization, and takes full HD video.  Perhaps the most impressive feature of this camera is the fact the the optics are made by Leica.  While this might not mean much to all of you, just take my word that Leica does not make cheap optics. When it comes to optics, you get what you pay for.  You commonly see Leica's stamp on products that are all about optics such as spotting scopes and laboratory microscopes.

So how does the Panasonic Lumix perform?  Very Very well. Just as I would hope for a camera that costs $350.  This camera continues to impress me after using it for a few weeks.  Check out Molly's last post to see some photos I captured using the sport mode.  While taking these dynamic shots of Molly and our friends back lit by the sunset I was impressed by the camera's speed. It is probably twice as fast as our DSLR.  So now I have a dilemma.  Do we save up and buy one of these amazing Lumix cameras for ourselves?  Or do we buy the newest Olympus Stylus Tough?  The new Olympus has many of the same impressive features and after all I already own extra batteries and a charger for the Olympus.

Readers, let me know if there are any other waterproof cameras you recommend. Or don't recommend.


  1. We have both the Pentax Optio W80 and the Panasonic Lumix. But if I had to get one it would be the Pentax Optio W90!

    I remember looking at Molly's Olympus and thinking it was too heavy, and I found the olympus video grainy with bad audio (I used some for the video I just made of our Karluk trip). The Pentax Optio has great audio and video, but the Pentax W80 has poor optics compared to the W90 (everyone I hunt with seems to have the W90 - but my W80 just will not die and so get replaced).

    As regards the lumix - it takes good photos and video (video seems the same as the optio), and I really like how it creates a still out of the first frame of any video. However, I hate how little messages pop up when I want to take photos or video, and it is not a 'quick' camera to use. It also has menus that are difficult to use and I can't change settings to match conditions quickly (but this is also because I know the pentax better). Finally, it is also bigger than the Pentax.

    Anyway, I'd check out the Pentax. I'd say around 90% of the photos on our blog were taken with it (and all of the hunting photos), and almost all the video I have posted too. It's a good, durable and lightweight camera that is ALWAYS in my pocket and accessible.


  2. Oops - I seem to have posted from Zoya's Kodiak Kindness account.

    Anyway, one last point. One key thing about waterproof and dirt proof cameras is to make sure it does not have a moving lens cover or zoom that moves the lens in and out. Dirt and dust get in there and scratch stuff up. The optio and lumix are both REALLY good in that regard. Patrick

  3. The lumix is actually bigger than the Olympus, which is a bit of a downside, but it's still small enough to put in your pocket.

    I think the video turned out so weird on the Karluk survey with my Olympus because it was set on underwater video the whole time. I didn't realize that until after I got home.

    We'll have to check out the Pentax Optio W90. I didn't realize there was another version of the Pentax. I knew you weren't especially happy with the W80.

  4. Patrick - what software do you use to stitch together panoramas? One of the features I love about he Olympus (even though it's not always perfect), is that it stitches panoramas together automatically. The Lumix does not do that. I've never stitched photos together myself so I have no idea how hard or easy it is.

  5. The Optio stitches pans together automatically too - but at at a reduced file size (I bet the Olympus reduces the files too). When I stitch photos from my canon SLR I use the manual setting to make all the exposures the same and then stitch them in photoshop - under file automatic stitch. Works great.

    As regards the Optio W80 vs 90 - the 80 is OK but it kind of sucks when you know the W90 is so much better (my old W60 was better optically than the W80 too!). And don't discount camera size! I use the optio rather than the Lumix because one fits in my jacket breast pocket and the other does not.

    Finally, a camera is only as good as you know how to use it! So read the manuel and take some time getting to know the controls. I generally take better pictures with my W80 than I do with my Canon G9 (a much better camera) simply because I know the controls so much better.


  6. I did some research and it looks like Pentax doesn't make the W90 anymore. Their new model is the Optio WG-1. I read some mixed reviews for it on Amazon. I wish I knew someone with one so I could try it out!

  7. Thanks a bunch. I'm going to get the Panasonic. :)


    1. Glad this helped! We relied on good advice from friends for our camera purchases too!