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What Underwater Point-and-Shoot Camera Should I Get?

A reader asks:
I'm interested in a waterproof camera for an upcoming trip but can't decide between the various point-and-shoot models. I've read that some leak, or simply don't take great pictures. I know you can buy waterproof camera housings but wonder if I can get away with one camera that just does it all. So, just tell me what to get!

Dear Reader:
We totally agree. In our perfect world, every camera would be waterproof, shockproof, scratch-proof, lightweight and be able to snap perfect photos without a fuss. Encouragingly, several camera companies are taking steps in the right direction with moderately priced waterproof/ruggedized models already available from Canon, Fujifilm, Olympus, Pentax and Sony, among others. Less encouraging is that virtually all of them have some hiccup that leaves us wanting.

Waterproof Camera

Though you say you're looking strictly for a point-and-shoot model, we want to temper your expectations a bit and say that if you ever plan on venturing into scuba depths (30 feet and deeper), or are really looking for National Geographic-quality photos of marine flora and fauna, then you'd be better off opting for a DSLR camera, a waterproof housing and, probably, a dedicated flash. Period. Waterproof cameras are fun to use and can produce some great results, but it turns out shooting underwater can be maddeningly tricky, and you shouldn't expect to rival Cousteau (or Zissou) with a $300 camera.

That said, we recently tested a few waterproof point-and-shoot models, and came back pretty psyched on Canon's PowerShot D10 (from about $285 online). It's one of only a few models that can go 30-plus-feet deep. That may sound like overkill, but we're fans of buying with flexibility in mind. The D10's other specs are pretty standard for the category: 12.1 megapixels, 35mm equivalent lens, a 3x optical zoom, 2.5-inch LCD viewer, and a plethora of scene modes. One minor feature we especially like is the D10's unique precision-locking mounts on the four corners of its body, allowing you to instantly reconnect the strap or add another one. They're so pleasingly precise and well engineered, we'd love to see them appear on everything from laptops to messenger bags.

In our tests, the D10 took 'pretty good' to 'very good' photos underwater (from about 10 to 15 feet deep), and some 'very good' to 'excellent' ones above. In fact, leaving the camera in Underwater mode while snapping on land produced highly saturated shots that can be gorgeous. (We've included a few in the above gallery.) The D10 also adjusts between macro and regular modes on the fly, so close-up shots have a nice, shallow depth of field that many point-and-shoots can't attain.

Our major complaint was that we had a heck of a time framing shots, due to glare on the LCD and the difficulty of holding steady while swimming and trying to shoot a moving object. A wide-angle lens would be a wonderful improvement, as would be one-handed zooming. When we did manage to get something in frame, our photos generally looked pretty good, though focus was sometimes soft. Having taken several dozen shots, we came back with plenty of keepers. Shooting video (at standard definition 640 x 480) was a real blast, especially with the swirling sound of moving water. Taking all of the above into consideration, and assuming you aren't heading 20,000 leagues under the sea, the D10 is a solid choice and a real catch for the money.

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Tags: canon powershot d10, CanonPowershotD10, features, justtellmewhattoget, point and shoot, point-and-shoot, PointAndShoot, top, waterproof, waterproof camera, waterproofcamera