Panasonic SDR-SW20

The cool factor of waterproof gadgets is high, even when there's a subsequent trade-off in performance. Anyone going any deeper than snorkel depth will need to look elsewhere, but at least the price reflects the compromises made for that cheerily tough exterior.

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Derek loves nothing more than punching a remote location into a GPS, queuing up some music and heading out on a long drive, so it's a good thing he's in charge of CNET Australia's Car Tech channel.

Anyone who's ever dropped their mobile phone in their beer will appreciate waterproofing. While you can't really drop it in your VB, the rugged Panasonic SDR-SW20 standard definition camcorder will survive a spill or spot of rain. Available now for around AU$769, will it stand up to the beatings of a beach holiday?

The SW20 has a small, sleek design. It's less round than most camcorders, with a slim and flat form factor closer to a (large) mobile phone's candy-bar body than a traditional camcorder's barrel shape.

This makes it easier to hold the camera if you prefer the thumb-at-the-front grip over the standard thumb-at-the-back grip. A second record button on the front right-side of the camcorder makes shooting easier if you're into different hand positions. There's also a textured surface for extra grip.

The 2.7-inch LCD screen flips out, but unusually doesn't twist over for self-portrait shooting. The camera's small size means the controls are placed in the screen well rather than at the back, which makes it harder to see both the screen and the buttons you're pressing at the same time. This can be a problem when focusing manually, as you need to use the click pad and look at the screen at the same time.

Headlining the SW20's feature list is its robustness. The SW20 is shock proof and can withstand being dropped from up to 1.2m. As its seals are designed to keep dust and water out — with one hatch for AV Out and USB connections, and another protecting the battery and SD/SDHC memory card slot — the SW20 can be submerged up to a maximum depth of 1.5m, which is good for swimming or snorkelling.

The battery's size is closer to that of a compact camera's than the usual chunky camcorder cell, although this does mean that there are no high capacity power packs to be swapped out with the bundled battery.

Boasting a small 4.23mm (1/6-inch) CCD sensor, the SW20 has a 10x optical zoom lens, shooting at 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratios. Stills are captured at a rather meagre VGA (640x480) resolution, good enough for internet sharing, but not much more.

The stereo zoom microphone follows the 10x zoom lens, so you will be able to hear what you are focusing on, even if it is further away. This isn't as effective underwater, though, because when underwater mode is activated, it reduces both the sensitivity of the mic, as well as adjusting the white balance to suit the watery conditions.

Footage is recorded in MPEG-2 format to SD or SDHC cards. In long play mode just under an hour of footage can be crammed onto a 1GB card, while the supplied 4GB SDHC card will record the same amount of time at maximum quality.

Adjustments available include backlight compensation and portrait-enhancing soft skin mode. There are also two low-light slow shutter modes, although they can cause blurred video, as well as surf and snow scene modes for holidaymakers.

The quick start feature sees the SW20 start up in 0.6 seconds, although this is effectively a standby mode and will have an impact on battery life. With moderate use of the quick start feature, the battery lasted just over an hour on one charge. So it's definitely worth investing in spare batteries.

Because the SW20 only packs a 4.23mm (1/6-inch) CCD sensor, video doesn't look particularly great as a consequence. Footage is not as crisp as we'd like and fine details are lost. Colour isn't bad though and it copes well with moving from dark to light contrast areas.

Low-light performance isn't much to write home about, with lots of gritty noise. This is an issue when either shooting at night or in water that's either murky or poorly lit. Footage is fine for internet sharing, but compression artefacts and noise look poor on larger screens.

The novelty of waterproof gadgets takes a long time to wear off and we'll never tire of drop-testing products. The Panasonic SDR-SW20 certainly has a high fun factor, looks great and is highly affordable. But this cheery toughness comes at a price in terms of image quality and, besides, it's still not robust enough for more extreme pursuits, like scuba diving. If you're happy to stick to the shallow end, the SW20 does the job.

If the only thing you're planning to wet is your whistle, you could pay a similar amount of money for the bigger and more voluminous Sony Handycam DCR-SR45.

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Joey posted a comment   

The Good:Compact. Ease of use

The Bad:Doesn't Work

I bought this from a reputable specialist camera retail outlet, who reccomended the camera. Took all the safety precautions as per the handbook, but now all I get is a black screen when I try to film anything. Thanks for nothing!!!


nick posted a reply   

it claims to be shockproof and mine fell out of my pocket and the screen cracked and we have waited about 6 months for it to be fixed but no one will touch it because its waterproof. it also made a lot of noise while filming and the video quality is not so good.


Grent posted a review   

The Good:It worked for 1 month

The Bad:It didn't work for the next 5 months

When moisture mysteriously entered this unit and shut it down, Panasonic service wanted 80 bucks to tell me it was unfixable and "corroded". I put it in the cuboard for a few months then plugged it in again. It turned on then had broken images for about an hour. No sound recorded. Then it came good and the images fixed themselves up. Still no sound - Maybe the "waterproof" microphone got water in it and, "corroded". Any company that charges $80 for a service fee on a product that should offer what it claims to offer, i.e. "WATERPROOF" should be held accountable.


Meowl posted a comment   

The Good:Waterproof, compact

The Bad:Any mistake and camera is gone but..

I had this camera for about 2 months, great for vacations and underwater fun. I was happy with my camera. One day i forgot to press over the button in the usb compartment, and when i took it under water camera shut down and don´t even turn on. I thought it was my mistake, try to take it to repair but panasonic technicians told me that there was no solution. I couldn´t believe i lost my toy and wasn´t able to throw it away, so i keep it.
After aproximately six months, i was going to throw it away finally, but i needed to do a las test, so i connected and put into charge for 1 night. Next morning i turned on the camera and surprisingly it was working... after 3-4 seconds it gone crazy and shut down again. With this hope in mind, i kept it for another week and then tried to turn on again. The camera turned on and after a couple of messages of error and turning on and off, the camera began to work perfectly in video an photo mode.
So if you have a problem with leaking or water getting into the camera, maybe this could help you to recover your full camera. I´m saying because even Panasonic technicians tells you there is no solution, so you throw away...


Rob posted a review   

The Good:When it works it's fine

The Bad:Leaked water after few months - at snorkel depth

I can only reiterate the negative experiences above with this camera. The only difference is that I have not gone through the repair process which sounds like it will only end with a bad ending. DO NOT BUY THIS CAMERA. If you want a real waterproof camera, just get the Go Pro Hero camera.


dave posted a comment   

The Good:none

The Bad:all


Dave posted a comment   

The Good:None

The Bad:Not waterproof. Just a piece of junk

I purchased one of these cameras about 9 months ago. After 6 months, whilst using in the swimming pool, the LCD screen began to flash on and off. I immediately switched the camera off, dried it and my hands with a towel and removed the battery and SD Card as I suspected that somehow this was due to water getting into the camera. The two doors were securely shut, but I had read that the camera should not be used with a tripod whilst underwater, or with the tripod mount attached to the base. It made no mention of the strap that connected into the tripod mount, but previously when I had used the camera in the water, I had not had the strap attached to the tripod mount, but had on this occasion forgot to do so.

Anyway, after a 10 week process of getting the camera evaluated by Panasonic's incompetant team, they finally got back to me.

The Technical evaluation explained that the "Battery Mositure Label" had "No Moisture" and the "Tripod Piece Mositure Label" had "Mositure Detected". In my opinion, this backed up my worry about the strap tripod mount and, as I was using the camera according to the instruction manual (which states that the strap must be firmly attached - even showing a picture of a snorkeller using the camera with the strap in the tripod mount), I assumed that I was to receive a replacement/repair/refund.

Panasonic, however, had other ideas. Their evaluation was that "minor corrosion was found to the ingress of water through the Battery/SD card compartment". This minor corrosion caused substantial damage to the unit rendering it "uneconomical to repair".

Now, call me a synic, but I cannot see how water can get in through the battery/sd compartment, avoiding the "moisture label" in that area, work it's way through the camera and to the tripod mount moisture label.

I strongly suspect that Panasonic are trying to rip me off.

I would recommend that nobody buys this camera for it's waterproof abilities, and anyone that does choose to get on makes sure that they do not screw the strap mount into the tripod hole if they are going to use the camera underwater.

The camera itself is very basic, takes adequated videos and was a great pocket sized device to have (well, it would have been if the waterproof integrity had remained). Previous to this, I would have highly recommended it as an addition to the collection to save any worry when filming in the rain, or going to the beach etc.

With this I would now suggest that the camera is hopeless. Take away the waterproof aspect and it is a complete waste of money. Add to that, it is not until you buy one that you read the instruction manual that explains that every 18 months the waterproof padding inside degrades and needs replacing, this is definately one to avoid.

Other annoyances with this is that when recording in widescreen, the video files do not contain a header to explain to any other software than the basic panasonic one, that the movie is widescreen. You can get a piece of software to add the header, but it's not something a beginner would want to do. I had to do it because the panasonic software was pretty hopeless. I was on holiday taking lots of videos and backing up the SD card to a portable HD. What I didn't know was that unless you copied the entire card structure each time, rather than just the new movie files added, you could not even find the movies with the Panasonic Software.

Overall, I have been a supporter of Panasonic products, but this has left a nasty taste in my mouth. I am going to fight them for a refund, and I suspect that I will win, but to me they are clearly trying to deceive someone with a valid warranty claim. As a result I will no longer be buying any Panasonic products.


Avoid this camera. It is a complete waste of money.


mario posted a review   

After 3 days in switzerland in rain spoilt. gurantee not covers that . can not be repaired according customer service of panasonic. But can be raplaced for that i should pay the value of 550 swiss franks the real price in store was only 440 swiss frank


Peter posted a review   

The Good:Compact
Dust proof, water tight and has survived several drops already

The Bad:Picture quality (good but not brilliant)
Battery life (If on holiday and are out for the whole day it’s quite possible you will kill the battery so I now always carry a spare battery and SD card but as these are pretty small this is not a hassle, just try to negotiate a extra when you buy the camera)

I have had this camera for a few months now and I absolutely love it. Small compact take anywhere, easy to use. Highly recommend it.

But let me put it in perspective, the video quality is not as good as a full size camera (this being my main complaint) bright colors will saturate when you have a large amount of a single color in frame (e.g. a bright red life jacket will appear super saturated red almost glowing). If you want high quality go for a Panasonic 3CCD. As mentioned in one of the reviews (leaked on the third day while underwater) I don’t think it is really for heavy under water use and I’m not game to find out its limits but I had it splashed in salt water quite a few times and just washed it off without any effect.

If you want a handy reliable go anywhere camera for holidays or to follow the kids though the dust, mud, sand and or to the waters edge then I highly recommend it.

Unholy man

Unholy man posted a review   

The Good:Portable, easy to use

The Bad:Advertised for underwater use but not warranted for underwater use. 3 days use for $599 is not good value.

Case started leaking after 3rd day of snorkelling - not covered by warranty, not fit for purpose in my opinion

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User Reviews / Comments  Panasonic SDR-SW20

  • Joey


    "I bought this from a reputable specialist camera retail outlet, who reccomended the camera. Took all the safety precautions as per the handbook, but now all I get is a black screen when I try to fi..."

  • Grent



    "When moisture mysteriously entered this unit and shut it down, Panasonic service wanted 80 bucks to tell me it was unfixable and "corroded". I put it in the cuboard for a few months then plugged it..."

  • Meowl


    "I had this camera for about 2 months, great for vacations and underwater fun. I was happy with my camera. One day i forgot to press over the button in the usb compartment, and when i took it unde..."

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