Canon PowerShot D20

12.1MP | 28-140mm (5X) Zoom | $295/£279/€306
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While other camera manufacturers have been making rugged cameras for many years, Canon didn't enter the market until early 2009 (preferring to create optional waterproof housings for many of its 'regular' compacts instead). Canon's first truly waterproof digital compact camera, the PowerShot D10, had a rather unique (and chunky) design, but its solid performance photo quality earned it a 'Highly Recommended' badge in our 2009 Waterproof group test.

Three years later, the PowerShot D20 emerged, whose colorful, curvy but less bulbous design appears to have been be inspired by tropical fish. The D20 offers a host of improvements over its predecessor, that include the use of a CMOS sensor (which Canon touts as 'high sensitivity'), plus a 5X zoom lens (versus 3X), larger/sharper LCD, built-in GPS, and 1080p video recording. While the D20 can be submerged as deep as its predecessor underwater (10 meters), it's slightly more shock resistant and able to take a slightly higher drop than before (1.5 versus 1.2 meters).

Specification Highlights

  • 12.1 effective megapixel BSI-CMOS sensor
  • F3.9-F4.8, 28-140mm lens (5X)
  • Optical image stabilization with 'Intelligent IS' feature
  • 3.0 inch LCD with 461,000 dot resolution
  • Built-in GPS with logging function
  • Waterproof to 10m, shockproof from 1.5m, freezeproof to -10C
  • 1080/24p movie mode

While the D20 has the same number of pixels as its predecessor - that's 12.1 million - its use of backside illumination technology promises better low light picture quality. That said, the D20's lens is on the slow side, with a maximum aperture range of F3.9-F4.8. This compares especially badly next to competitors like the Pentax WG-3 and Olympus Tough TG-2 (at least at wide-angle) - so the sensor has its work cut out for it.

The PowerShot D20 features an F3.9-4.8, 5X optical zoom lens, with a 35mm-equivalent focal range of 28-140mm. The folded optics lens design allows the camera to stay relatively slim.

The PowerShot D20 is a compact camera made of a mix of metal and high grade plastic. It's much more stylish than the original D10, and a welcome change from the boxy, industrial designs of most of its peers. The D20 is available in blue, silver, and yellow (color selection may vary in your country).

The PowerShot D20 fits well in the hand, though the placement of the zoom controller (shown below) is awkward.

It's also easy to confuse the power and playback buttons, as they feel identical.
At the top-right of the back of the camera is a thumb rest, two buttons for controlling the zoom, and a dedicated movie recording button. The placement of the zoom controller feels rather awkward when holding the camera with one hand.

The camera's 3-inch LCD has good sharpness for composing and reviewing photos. Above water, we found both outdoor and low light visibility to be adequate. Underwater, the D20's screen was bright enough to locate and track fast-moving fish.

The D20 has a pair of sealed doors. While each door has just one locking mechanism, that's okay, since they're nearly impossible to open accidentally.

The camera's I/O ports can be seen here, and include USB+A/V output, HDMI, and DC-in.

The D20 can spend up to an hour underwater at depths of up to 10 meters (33 feet). If you want to go even deeper, then you may be interested in Canon's WP-DC45 housing, which increases the maximum depth to 40 meters. Being a waterproof camera, it should come as no surprise that the D20 is also dustproof. According to Canon, the camera can take a drop from 1.5 meters (4.5 feet) onto a plywood surface - it may not fare as well when it hits concrete or asphalt (as is the case with its competitors).

Shooting Modes

Shooting modes include Smart Auto (which selects one of 32 scene modes automatically), Program mode (which lets you directly adjust more options), and numerous scene and special effect modes. Thanks to its dedicated video button, the D20 lets you record movies in any shooting mode, complete with scene selection and special effects.

The main menu is attractive, easy-to-navigate, and offers 'Hints & Tips' that explain what each option does. The Function menu is your shortcut menu, and allows you to quickly adjust white balance, ISO, the self-timer, and more.

When it comes to taking pictures underwater, the PowerShot D20 offers two dedicated shooting modes (underwater and underwater macro), as well as an underwater white balance preset. While the camera can use its GPS (described below) to tell you your altitude, it does not work when you're diving.

As with the vast majority of low priced compact cameras, the PowerShot D20 offers few manual controls. The most interesting is buried in the scene mode menu, and is called Long Shutter. Here, you'll be able to select shutter speeds ranging from 1 to 15 seconds. Other manual controls are custom white balance and exposure compensation.

GPS

Probably the most notable feature on the PowerShot D20 (aside from the fact that it can go underwater) is its built-in GPS - something not found on its predecessor. This is a no-frills GPS that will locate you and track your position, and that's it. No landmarks, maps, or compass here. Location data can be embedded into both stills and videos.

The GPS Logger function will turn the receiver on occasionally (even when the camera is switched off), to update your location. These logs can be imported into Canon's Map Utility software, which will show your route, and where photos were taken. This feature puts a considerable strain on your battery, though.

The GPS menu on the PowerShot D20 is very simple. You can turn the receiver on or off, and decide whether you want the battery-draining logging feature active. In playback mode you can display your coordinates and altitude (which is provided by the GPS and not a manometer).

On the relatively open terrace outside DPReview headquarters, it took the D20 about 90 seconds to acquire its location. Down on the ground, surrounded by mid-rise buildings, the camera struggled to figure out where it was, and eventually gave up. This is not usual for cameras with built-in GPSs. As expected, the GPS does not work underwater.

Movies

One of the big differences between the PowerShot D10 and D20 are in the movie department. The D20 can record videos at 1920 x 1080 (24 frames/second) with monaural sound. Video length is file-size limited to 4GB, so the camera will stop recording after 15 minutes at the 1080p setting. You can also record video at 720/30p or VGA, with 30 and 60 minute time limits, respectively. You'll find movie samples on the next page.