Design and features
The HX-WA2 is a pistol-grip style camcorder that's waterproof enough to withstand three metres of underwater dunking, all the while shooting full HD videos. If you're looking for a simple camcorder to capture some beach holiday activities in an easy-to-use package, the WA2 certainly fits the bill.
Operation is very simple. The 2.6-inch screen can flip out from the body and rotate around 285 degrees. Opening it out also turns the camcorder on, though you can also power it on or off using the dedicated button on the side.
Because of its shooting configuration, most of the controls, such as the zoom and record buttons, are located at the top and positioned so that the thumb can easily access them. The pistol-grip is certainly a love-it or hate-it design; as some users (such as this reviewer) have difficulty in steadying the device, as it is somewhat top-heavy.
Buttons to switch between record and playback mode, as well as activating intelligent automatic, are found on the side panel. This is normally covered by the screen when the camcorder is powered off.
A small joystick on the rear can be used to navigate menu options, and a double-locking door just underneath it protects the battery, SD card and HDMI port.
The WA2 comes with 5x optical zoom, extendable to 15x using Panasonic's intelligent zoom technology. It can shoot video at the following quality: 1080/60i, 1080/30p, 720/60p, 720/30p, iFrame (960x540)/30p and VGA/30p. Voice recording is also available, and still images can be captured at a 14-megapixel resolution.
Manual focus control is available, but it is hidden within the menu options. It's also fiddly and difficult to get right, so for pretty much all purposes, you'll want to keep it on automatic.
Still photo options include a panoramic mode, which can stitch together a range of photos across either a vertical or horizontal axis.
While the WA2 is waterproof, there are no other tough credentials, like shock-proofing, to make it a viable competitor for still cameras. The only reason that we could see in buying a camcorder such as this, over a regular camera, is the extra reach of zoom.
Image and video quality
While the WA2 can't produce video that's as good as a higher-end camcorder, it does just fine for everyday shots, particularly if water resistance is high on your "must have" list. Autofocus is mostly smooth, except when zoomed in to the full extent of the intelligent zoom.
Zooming in (either at the optical or intelligent zoom length) highlights how twitchy the electronic image stabilisation can be. It would have made the WA2 a much more desirable device had it been fitted with an optical image stabiliser (OIS).
Panasonic has great OIS technology in a range of its camcorders and cameras, so we don't quite understand why the WA2 should miss out.
Colours are bright and punchy from the WA2, while exposures are generally fine for most situations. Chromatic aberration is hardly visible on the video image, though it does show up slightly on still images when shooting in high-contrast situations.
Low light performance is somewhat disappointing. Not only does the screen have trouble keeping up with the action, the video and still images develop quite a bit of noise.
As a dedicated underwater camcorder, the WA2 does its job well, but we can't help feeling that a little extra money spent on a regular waterproof camera will be a better investment.