As a camera specialist for a major retailer, I am overjoyed to finally get to play with a range of new underwater cameras from vendors other than Olympus and Pentax. I have only had a cursory look at each of these except the Canon D10 which is not available until May. Since the recent Rock n Roll event involved numerous photographers and a whole range of opinions I thought I’d give a brief rundown on the current line-up and my initial thoughts. Bear in mind, I haven’t done any real world testing but I will. Canon and Olympus have already agreed to give me demo units to test and I’m sure Panasonic will come to the party when I shame them into action. Here they are:
1. Olympus mju 6000 & mju 8000
Please don’t call them EM JAY YOUs. It is the Greek letter mju pronounced MYOO. That said, the new models continue on from the mju 1030 & 1050 but have even worse image quality. The sheer pointlessness of 12MP cameras is frustrating and the Olympus is plagued with dynamic range issues that is the bugbear of all Olys and will probably always be. The cameras are certainly tough and quite fast in their timings. We put over 100kg on the 8000 in the form of a large Macedonian salesman and then dropped it several times without so much as a scratch. It will certainly withstand the harshest kayak trip. Internally, it still has the stupid lens blind that does nothing but allow the entry of salt which is the thing that will ultimately kill these cameras. In short, great body, shithouse image quality. A limiting thing with the mju is the 3x optical zoom which is now a bit inadequate compared to the competition.
2. Fujifilm Z33
This neat little offering from Fuji is as cute as a button and for only $349 a handy option. Girls will love it. The problem is it is not shockproof so it is a marginal choice for the kayaking world. The other problem is the pokey little controls which are all crammed onto the right-hand side. Cold and wet hands won’t be able to operate this camera. I know this because warm and dry hands have a problem. Image quality is better than the Oly but still pretty ordinary. Speeds are fine but you don’t want an underwater camera where key things are controlled by menus. You want knobs and well marked ones at that. A great camera for girls at the pool but kayakers should give it a miss.
3. Panasonic DMC-FT1
This looks like an Olympus copy. Almost a retaliation for Olympus ripping off the Pana DMC-TZ series with the mju 9000. The FT1 is heavy duty shockproof with a 2m drop and 3m underwater rating. It also has 720P video which is a BIG plus for a kayaker. The 4.6x optical zoom is the longest of any waterproof offering and hence a major attraction for our mob. The image quality is the best so far but 12MP is far too much and dynamic range is woeful. Not as bad as Olympus but the constant push for higher resolution is just insane. Timings are very good and if you like the feel of the Olys you’ll like these better. The controls are large and positive and everything makes sense. At $699, it is the dearest of all but it is the best as well and well worth the difference. It is getting close to ideal for paddlers.
4. Pentax Optio W60
I haven’t had access to these but owners around the world have complained about short life spans and poor service. I can confirm the latter as Pentax in Australia has an appalling reputation for service which is why the major retailers generally shun them. A pity because the last crop of Optios had much better image quality than the Olympuses. Until Pentax get a service network and a better attitude to warranty, I’d avoid them. They do have a 5x optical zoom, however, so if you are prepared for the possibility of poor warranty servce, the Optio might be a strong contender.
5. Canon D10
I’m looking forward to this one because it is generally accepted in the biz that Canon compacts are far superior to everything else. This is due to the Digic system and the mostly excellent image sensors they use. Still, 12 MP is bloody stupid regardless of who makes it. If the guts is anything like an IXUS then it will be a winner. Especially if Canon have learnt from Oly on shockproofness. Remember that Canon have been making professional underwater cases for years so they should have that in the bag. The IXUS cameras excel in metering and exposure control. Classics like the IXUS 80 and 870 leave all other brands in their wake for image control and quality so I’m confident the D10 will have this level of performance. The D10 doesn’t have HD video which is a drag and it’s not crushproof like the Oly but it does have a 10m depth rating and -14 degree freez rating. You’d buy this for image quality alone but it would need to be significantly better thn the Panasonic to be the ideal kayakers camera. I’ll let you know in May.
So this means that by May all the majors will be playing in a category dominated by Olympus and unequally shared by Pentax. That’s a good thing. I keep saying it but 10 and 12 MP cameras with a sensor the size of a finger nail is plain dumb. It would be better to have a 5 or 6 MP camera with good dynamic range and a 6x optical zoom. HD video is great and if anyone brought out a camera like that with large, clear knobs and a good strong battery latch it would be perfect for us. Stay tuned for real world testing.