Waterproof camera group: Underwater Testing

What would be the point of testing waterproof cameras if we didn't at least try them underwater? So we went along to the Nuffield Health City Fitness & Wellbeing Centre and jumped into one of their pools to see how the cameras would perform in this environment.

Even in an indoor swimming pool light levels drop pretty quickly as you get more than a couple of feet below the surface, so cameras will need to user higher ISO settings, and IS will come into play for shots without flash. All the cameras worked in the water, and they all continued to work after their wash. Despite the light weight of the cameras in this group test, none of them will float if you are not supporting them (not even the lightest camera in the group: the Z33).

Underwater Portrait Shot Comparison (with soggy test chart)

For this test our model was asked to stay underwater and attempt to hold a color chart still. the following settings were used:

  • All the images were taken from approximately 1 m away from the subject
  • Underwater scene mode used for all cameras
  • All cameras set to their widest zoom setting except the W60, which was set to approx. 35mm
  • Flash was used on all cameras
Canon D10 (ISO 250) FujiFilm Z33 (ISO 400) Olympus Tough 6000 (ISO 100)
Olympus Tough 8000 (ISO 100) Pentax W60 (ISO 400) Pentax W80 (ISO 400)
Panasonic TS1 (ISO 100)    

It is not easy to stay underwater in a shallow pool, let alone take a picture while you are underwater, so you will have to excuse not all the images being perfectly straight, as well at the color chart not being in the same position on all these shots. This shot was taken just under the surface of the water with flash forced on.

All the cameras do a pretty good job and at normal viewing magnifications (for small prints or on-screen) the only important differences are the color (which is best on the Canon D10, closely followed by the Pentax cameras). Look a little closer and the differences are more obvious, with both Pentax cameras and Fuji both jumping straight to ISO 400, which introduces noise and, in the case of the W60 and W80, very smeared output. The Canon D10 is the best of the bunch here, but it's nice to see the Olympus Tough 8000 winning back some points with a pretty sharp result.

The most mixed result of the bunch is the TS1. Like on the flash test it insisted on selecting ISO 100 and then trying to bash the subject with as much flash as possible. The trouble is that while it managed to produce a fairly sharp and noise free result, the color balance is far too warm, and the subject is not illuminated very well. If you were to look at the result in isolation then it might not seem bad, but compared to cameras like the D10 or even the W60, the results start to look decidedly average.

Underwater Portrait Shot 100% crops:

Canon D10 FujiFilm Z33 Olympus Tough 6000
Olympus Tough 8000 Pentax W60 Pentax W80
Panasonic TS1    

Close up Self Portrait ISO 1600 (Pentax W60 at ISO 400)

As a tribute to the self portrait, and as a way of testing how ISO 1600 works underwater, we turned off flash, set all the cameras to ISO 1600, and moved over to near one of the lights in the pool. We then set each of the cameras to the widest zoom setting and held them at arms length to see how they would perform.

One thing to note with the W60 is that by default any time the camera goes to sleep or is turned off and then back on it will default to auto ISO (this can be changed in the menu under the memory function), whereas all the other cameras in this group remember the ISO setting when they are turned off. While performing this this test the W60 somehow managed to reset itself to auto ISO, which is why it is the only example here with an ISO setting of 400.

Canon D10 FujiFilm Z33 Olympus Tough 6000
Olympus Tough 8000 Pentax W60 Pentax W80
Panasonic TS1    

Underwater Video

We have also made a simple video of swimming underwater. Click the links to download the video. The W60 and W80 were set to their underwater movie modes, while all other cameras were set to their movie modes for this test.

Canon D10 FujiFilm Z33 Olympus Tough 6000
Olympus Tough 8000 Pentax W60 Pentax W80
Panasonic TS1    

The image quality of the underwater footage reflects what was seen in the normal video test, in that with only VGA resolution the results don't look fantastic, especially when the swimmer is at the other end of the pool.

One thing to note about this test that does not show in the results is that the Z33, despite having a dedicated movie recording button, took 3-4 seconds to start video recording (this is also the reason why it has a much shorter video clip than the other cameras) which made it frustrating to use in this situation.