With the introduction of the snazzy little Canon PowerShot D10, Canon finally ventures into the one arena of the digital camera wars where they haven't gone before. The new D10 is Canon's first underwater point and shoot, waterproof to 10 meters/33 feet. Canon has long offered underwater housings for their more popular cameras, but those contraptions occasionally leak, cost almost as much as the camera, and they're bulky and complicated in use.
One of the most impressive things about underwater digital cameras (which seem to be pretty popular right now) is that unlike the dedicated underwater cameras of the past, Nikon's venerable Nikonos for example, today's underwater cameras are simply tougher waterproof versions of general use compact digitals with all the bells and whistles of their above water siblings.
Canon's digital cameras are the dominant competitors in just about every point and shoot class, but they're starting from scratch here. The D10 isn't particularly compact, elegant, or stylish looking – rather it sports a kind of bulbous metallic industrial-chic look with lots of exposed screw heads. The matte silver and electric blue (I see a matte silver and hot pink model on the horizon) color scheme seemed a bit flashy to me, and one of my friends thought it looked like a slightly garish toy from Hasbro or Mattel.
BUILD AND DESIGN
The D10 features a very good 3x (35mm-105mm equivalent) zoom with optical image stabilization and Canon's fourth generation DIGIC processor coupled to a 1/2.3-inch 12.1 megapixel CCD image sensor. There's also a 30 fps VGA (640x480) movie mode and a new Smart Auto (exposure) mode.
I'm not really a water person, so my impressions of the D10 in "wet" mode will be limited. I did submerge the camera in a nearby creek and took several shots at the auto setting with absolutely no problems.
Water and dust seals appear to be very good – after its dunking I dried the D10 off with a small cotton towel and then checked the lens housing and battery compartment for misting, condensation, or moisture – not surprisingly everything was dry as a bone. I didn't evaluate Canon's shock-proofing or freeze-proofing claims.
Ergonomics and Controls
In hand the D10 is a tiny bit awkward because of its unconventional shape, but the control layout is standard Canon – meaning everything is familiar (to anyone who has ever used a Canon digital), easily accessed, and logical. The D10's user interface is uncomplicated and straightforward with large clearly marked buttons and a simple intuitive control array.
Operation is dead simple: all exposure options are minor variations on the auto mode theme. Along the top edge of the D10's rear deck are three buttons – the Print button which is used to select images to be printed (when the camera is connected to a PictBridge compatible printer), the Mode button permits users to select Auto, Program, one of the D10's 18 Scene modes, or movie mode), and finally the Playback button – to access review mode. Canon clearly designed the D10 to be useful in a broad range of shooting environments and to be usable by just about anyone. Most purchasers will have no difficulty using the camera right out of the box.
The D10 dispenses with the chintzy "string" style wrist straps seen on most of its competitors in favor of a heavy duty lanyard style wrist strap with a sliding loop lock. The wrist strap terminates in a locking male bayonet lug which mates with one of the four (one on each corner of the camera) sockets – allowing users (finally, something for the lefties) to place the wrist strap exactly where they want it.
Menus and Modes
The PowerShot D10 features Canon's classic menu system – the best in the business. Navigation is brutally simple since the camera permits only minimal user input. Push the menu button and the "Camera" or "Setup" sub-menus appear at the top of the menu page – most functions/options can be set once and forgotten. Even video editing, which is usually complicated and unintuitive, is easy.
The D10's compass switch (four-way controller) and FUNC button provide direct menu access to the most commonly changed/adjusted features and functions like exposure compensation, WB, sensitivity, My Colors, flash, macro mode, metering, drive mode, and resolution.
Basic shooting modes on the D10 include:
Like many current point and shoots, the D10 doesn't provide an optical viewfinder, relying instead on the 2.5 inch (230,000 pixel) LCD screen. Optical viewfinders are expensive and many casual shooters don't use them so it makes sense (especially with an underwater camera) to use the LCD screen for all framing/composition, review, and menu navigation chores. In many common shooting venues it is usually quicker to watch the decisive moment come together on the LCD screen than it is through the optical viewfinder. LCD screens are TTL (through the lens) and function as accurate framing tools, but for portraits and shooting in bright outdoor locales I prefer an optical viewfinder.
The D10's 2.5 inch wide viewing angle TFT LCD screen with glare coating is bright, hue accurate, relatively fluid, and automatically boosts gain in dim/low light. The LCD screen is more than sharp enough for most compositional tasks and captured image review. The user-enabled LCD grid-line display is a nice (and very useful) touch as well.
Timing is one of the two most important considerations when assessing digital camera performance (the other is image quality). The D10 comes in about average in terms of operational speed. The D10 needs about 1 second for the boot-up cycle (camera on to the first image capture). Based on results from the test lab, the D10's shutter lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused) is 0.08 seconds, which is a bit slower than average.
Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700||0.02|
|Nikon Coolpix S230
|Pentax Optio P70||0.05|
|Canon PowerShot D10||0.08|
|Casio Exilim EX-Z150||0.22|
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus) is 0.36 seconds which is a bit quicker than average.
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700||0.23|
|Canon PowerShot D10||0.36|
|Nikon Coolpix S230||0.51|
|Pentax Optio P70||0.87|
|Casio Exilim EX-Z150||1.15|
The D10's continuous shooting mode (which allows users to capture several images in quick succession) is 1.2 fps – a bit better than Canon's claim of 1.1 fps. Shot to shot times averaged out to around two seconds between shots (flash off). The D10's flash recycles in about 6.5 seconds (after a full-power discharge) – a bit slower than average for cameras of this class.
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX37
|Nikon Coolpix S230
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700
|Casio Exilim EX-Z150
|Canon PowerShot D10
* Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.
Even though the D10 doesn't look like above-water Canon cameras, under the hood it utilizes the same practical and easy-to-understand exposure system that made its siblings so popular with consumers. Exposure is automatically managed by the camera's DIGIC IV processor that combines most primary camera functions (auto exposure, image processing, and power management) in one chip to improve efficiency and processing speed.
The D10 is powered by a Canon NB-6L 3.7v 1000mAh lithium rechargeable battery pack that Canon claims is good for 220 exposures. I do a lot of shoot, review, delete, and re-shoot so I rarely keep track of exposures numbers, but this time I was able to watch the numbers. After the first full charge I shot 214 exposures before I ran out of juice. This is about what Canon claims and noticeably below average for cameras in this class. The supplied rapid charger plugs directly in the wall and fully charges the NB-6L in about 90 minutes.
The D10's built-in multi mode flash provides an acceptable selection of artificial lighting options, including Auto (fires when needed), On (fill flash), Red-Eye Reduction, Red-Eye Correction, Slow Sync, and Off. Canon claims the maximum flash range is about 10 feet, and that appears to be a fairly accurate claim based on my very limited flash use.
The D10 features the same 9-point AiAF (Advanced Intelligent Auto Focus) TTL Contrast Detection system found on its "A" series and "SD" series siblings. In all exposure modes the camera analyzes the scene in front of the lens and then calculates camera to subject distance to determine which of the 9 AF points is closest to the primary subject (closest subject priority) and then locks focus on that AF point.
The D10's Optical Image Stabilization system reduces blur by quickly and precisely shifting a lens element in the zoom to compensate for minor camera movement. Image stabilization allows users to shoot at shutter speeds up to three f-stops slower than would have been possible without IS. Image stabilization can also be very useful when shooting in dimly lit indoor venues where flash is inappropriate. The D10 provides three IS modes: Continuous (IS on full time), Shoot only (IS is only activated when the picture is taken), and Panning (only stabilizes up-and-down motion) for horizontally panned exposures.
The D10 features a 6.2mm-18.6mm f/2.8-f/4.9 (35mm-105mm equivalent) 3X zoom (Nine elements in seven groups with one aspherical element). Closest focusing distance (in macro mode) is 1.2 inches/3 centimeters. Zooming is fairly quick and relatively smooth. Zoom operation is absolutely silent – since the zoom is fully enclosed in the camera's waterproof body shell.
The D10's zoom is sharp in the center and soft at the edges. Barrel distortion at the wide-angle end of the zoom range is slightly above average, but there is no perceptible pincushion distortion at the telephoto end of the zoom range.
Chromatic aberration (color fringing) at wide-angle end of the zoom above average. At telephoto end of the zoom chromatic aberration is about average.
The D10's 30 fps VGA (640X480) movie mode won't compete with a dedicated video camera, but it will do nicely for generating e-mail video attachments for friends and family – especially if you can get some interesting underwater video. Like most cameras, the D10 can't be zoomed while in video capture mode.
The D10's video mode doesn't record sound – obviously Canon's engineers couldn't figure out a way to allow sound to reach a microphone that wouldn't also allow water to seep into the waterproof body shell – so at least users don't have to contend with those annoying videos where the white noise and extraneous sound picked up by the built-in microphone sound like a bar fight in a wind storm.
The image files produced by Canon's point-and-shoots are optimized for the bold, bright, colors and balanced contrast that many shooters refer to as Canon Color – the D10 doesn't deviate much from this "family" identity. Default color is fairly accurate with most colors coming close to neutral. Reds are a little warm, blues are a bit bright, and greens are a bit too vibrant, but most casual shooters probably won't consider this a fault.
Center sharpness is pretty good overall, but at the wide-angle end of the zoom corners are noticeably soft. At the telephoto end of the zoom corners are still soft but not as noticeably so.
Although there is a slight tendency toward overexposure, outdoors in good light the D10 generally produces well exposed almost noise-free images with hue-accurate colors and slightly harder than average contrast.
The D10's Auto white balance setting did a pretty good job across a wide range of lighting conditions including bright daylight and overcast, but shot quite warm under incandescent light in the studio. In addition to auto there are Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Underwater, and Custom WB settings.
Auto White Balance, 3200K incandescent light
ISO 80 and100 images are essentially indistinguishable – both show bright colors, slightly hard edged native contrast, and very low noise levels. ISO 200 images were also very good, but lacked some of the snap of the lower sensitivity images.
ISO 80, 100% crop
ISO 100, 100% crop
ISO 200, 100% crop
ISO 400, 100% crop
ISO 800, 100% crop
ISO 1600, 100% crop
At the ISO 400 setting noise levels are noticeably higher and there's a perceptible loss of minor detail. ISO 800 images are noisy, but they should be OK for email, web use, or non-critical 3x5 prints. ISO 1600 images are way too noisy to be useful for anything beyond record shots, however. ISO 3200 images are better than expected – but my expectations weren't very high given the reduced resolution and detail loss at this highest capture setting. ISO 800, 1600, and 3200 images looked flat and slightly blurry with no fine detail.
Additional Sample Images
There really isn't much to complain about with the D10. It's cheaper than the closest competitor from Olympus, it goes a little deeper than many of the other underwater cameras in its class, and it has the toughest wrist strap ever to grace a compact digital. I've been using Canons for more than 10 years and I've only been disappointed once. That's because Canon seems to know what consumers want and they deliver cameras that are affordable, easy to use, feature rich, fairly compact, relatively quick, and capable of consistently producing excellent images.
The D10's competition will come primarily from Olympus and to a lesser degree, Pentax and Panasonic, but I believe the D10 will prove itself very well in this new arena. If consumers like the D10 and its successors Canon may eventually try for a hat trick and challenge Olympus' top-dog status in this growing niche market.
In addition to the ability to slip beneath the waves, the D10 can endure extended exposure to rain, mist, jungle-like humidity, and dusty desert venues. Not only is the D10 a super general-use camera, it is also a great outdoor adventure camera because it will take pictures in conditions where other cameras can't.