Admittedly, the PowerShot D10 got a bit of a bad reputation from its preview pictures before we had even seen one of them in the flesh. It's a bulbous, rotund camera that is difficult to find terms of affection for, but one thing is for certain — it looks exactly like you'd imagine an underwater camera would look like, should a product designer let their wildest, craziest ideas loose on the drawing board.
Straight away you'll notice the huge, round rivets located on each corner of the camera. At first they seem like a curious design feature, but are actually there so you can attach a host of other accessories like a neck strap.
Chunky, so chunky...
At the front, the lens unit pokes out of the body a fair way. Just like its fellow underwater brethren the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT1, there is no lens cover, but the D10's lens feels more susceptible to smudges and scratches just because it protrudes so much. Above it sits a Cyclops-style flash unit that's sure to scare small children and fish.
At the back, there's enough Fisher Price-style buttons to keep anyone's inner child happy, with the zoom rocker relegated to button control at the top right corner, a four-way directional pad, and shooting and review buttons situated just above the 2.5-inch LCD screen. All the buttons feel responsive and are large enough to press with slippery fingers or gloved hands.
The flaps that cover the battery and card slot, as well as the AV out compartment, aren't so easy to use. It's quite easy to break a fingernail or two trying to open the cover at the bottom — which is good news as it means the chances it will fall open in an underwater situation are slim, but bad if you place more value in your manicure than in your photography.
Fortunately in the rugged camera battle, the megapixel race is (mostly) forgotten. Canon's D10 sits at 12.1 megapixels just like the Panasonic FT1, and the Tough 8000 from Olympus trails just behind at a straight 12 megapixels. As for the vital statistics, the D10 beats the other two hands down, waterproof to 10 metres, shockproof from 1 metre and freeze proof to -10 degrees Celsius.
Something from Loch Ness, perhaps? The D10 without the faceplate attached, and the long neck strap on the top corners. (Credit: CBSi)
When you first take it out of the box, the camera has a blue face plate attached to it, but as optional extras you can buy covers to change at your whim — there's a fluoro orange, muted charcoal and commando army green. Don't think the customisation stops there, as a plethora of other accessories are available to make your underwater shooting experience more useful. There's a shoulder and neck strap set that make the camera look like a creature from the Blue Lagoon, as well as a carabiner strap and a soft case.
In front of the lens sit two additional panes of glass, with a layer of air in between to help prevent condensation at extreme temperatures. As for the rest of the lens statistics, it's a 3x optical zoom, stabilised, with a widest aperture of f/2.8 — excellent news for letting in more light for dark underwater photography.
Accessing the menu system is a little different to the standard Canon configuration, as you use the buttons at the top rather than a dedicated switch. Available are automatic, program, scene or movie mode (note it's only VGA, not HD like we've seen on the FT1).
Normally, underwater cameras aren't the most satisfying to use if you value performance. Most of the Olympus Tough range, for example, takes a small eon to power on and shot-to-shot time is similarly glacial. So it is with much excitement that we report the D10's quick start-up time, blitzing in at 0.5 second. Successive shot time is also very quick for a camera of this class, as in continuous mode it is able to capture just over 1 frame per second.
The lens lets down the D10 a fair bit considering the rest of the advantages it has over the other two from Panasonic and Olympus. Chromatic aberration is quite prominent on shots taken above water. That said, colours were nicely saturated and not overly punchy, retaining more of a natural feel.
Images at full magnification are a little soft and not as crisp as we would have liked to see, especially when comparing them to shots from the Panasonic FT1. This is not so much of a problem underwater — and indeed, the photos we took when submerging the camera were very pleasing — but above the surface it's quite noticeable, even without zooming to full magnification. Noise control is surprisingly good though, and sensitivity is even expandable up to ISO 3200 in scene mode.
The D10 copes quite well with increasing sensitivity, but images are a little soft. Click image to enlarge. (Credit: CBSi)
Another disappointment is that the D10 prevents you from using the optical zoom in movie mode — unlike the FT1.
Canon's first attempt at an underwater camera is pretty impressive. There are a couple of areas to improve on like its video implementation and overall design, but for the most part the PowerShot D10 gets it right.
At this stage we have to say the Panasonic FT1 is the better overall contender, thanks to HD video and styling credentials that make it just as easy to use above the water as below. For AU$599 though, the D10 is relatively good value considering the price of external underwater casings for other compact cameras.