Field Report: Underwater Cameras
Five relatively affordable models are put to the underwater test on a coral reef in the clear, blue waters of the Caribbean.
Like most of the cameras, the battery and SD card are housed under one locking latch on the bottom of the camera, and the DC-in and AV-out (where you connect the USB cord to the computer) connections are under another, smaller latch on the side. It was easy to download the photos to the computer, but I did wonder how long the thin, rubber gasket on those latches will keep those areas truly waterproof. But, everything worked for this test, and it comes with a 1-year limited warranty.
Canon, (800) 385-2155, www.Canon.com
Pentax Optio W90
The Optio W90 from Pentax is slightly narrower-that is, more rectangular-than the other cameras, and while it's a subtle difference, its shape actually makes it feel smaller than the others. Compactness is a good thing, especially when the camera is in your pocket or hanging from your wrist underwater. Maybe this was the reason that I liked the way it felt in my hand and, when all of the cameras were all charged up and laid out in the nav station, I found myself grabbing it first.
Conversely, while at first glance the LCD screen appears to be slightly bigger than the others, the actual visible image fills only most, not all of the screen. The image on the screen turns out to be slightly smaller than the screen images on some of the other cameras. The smaller screen-image size didn't keep me from taking good pictures, but the bigger screens made it just a little bit easier to see what I was shooting.
Underwater, I had no trouble seeing the screen through my mask and zooming in tight. All the function and menu buttons on the back of the camera are on the small side (as with some of the other cameras ), except for the shutter button. It's large enough, and I never missed a shot because I'd pushed the wrong button.
The latches on the battery and port compartments did a good job of keeping the water out, and the gaskets seemed up to the task, but the locking mechanisms on both latches were so small that I needed to use a fingernail with a coordinated slide of the latch to get them open.
Pentax, (800) 877-0155, www.pentaximaging,com
Panasonic Lumix TS2
In addition to the bright color and seemingly tough metal exterior of the Lumix TS2 from Panasonic, the other thing that caught my attention, even before I brought it overboard with me, was the camera's Leica lens. The lenses on all of the test cameras are necessarily small, and I'm not enough of a techie to tell you the specific impact that a Leica lens can make, but Leica lenses have a reputation for clarity that you can see in the test photo above.
Shooting photos with the camera was easy and straightforward. The control buttons are not as big as on some of the other cameras, but they're still relatively large and allow you to change settings easily. Moreover, the buttons are well marked, so I didn't encounter any "Is the camera set properly?" problems, even when I was underwater or bobbing on the surface. The screen was plenty visible, and the zoom, controlled by a small rocker button just in front of the good-size shutter button, worked well.