Samsung WP10

Finished in an attractive aquamarine blue that others may call turquoise, Samsung’s durably waterproof WP10 snapper wears its creature of the deep credentials with pride. And whilst, yes, the shiny smooth faceplate is indeed nice to look at and stroke, whoever felt that a high gloss exterior would also be a good idea when inevitably trying to grip the camera with wet fingers? We can see this one being a careless slip away from Davy Jones’ locker.

For a fortified (up to a point) camera then, the WP10 is certainly one of the more fashion conscious examples. It has catwalk slender proportions of 93.8 x 61 x 18.5mm and weighs 121g not counting rechargeable lithium ion battery, nor removable SD/SDHC card. These share a compartment protected by an expectedly thicker than average cover at the base with stiff catch. With a mainly metal build the camera feels rock solid resting in the palm.

While the WP10 is able to cope with the photographer’s more usual bugbear of rain, as well as a spot of snorkelling in being waterproofed to depths of 10 feet (or 3 metres) while there is dust proofing to boot, the WP10 isn’t totally weather resistant. It’s not freeze proof to -10°C nor drop or shock proof for that matter, a la the Olympus Mju Tough series. Fujifilm’s XP10 and Panasonic’s FT10 are two obvious rivals, though the WP10 is arguably more elegant looking, and dare one say it, female friendly, than all three.

Strip away the waterproofing and glossy good looks and there is actually a rather modest snapshot camera lurking underneath, in terms of feature set at least. Pictures are composed via 2.7-inch, 230k dot resolution LCD screen, there is a 5x optical zoom with focal range equivalent to 35-175mm in 35mm terms lurking within that protective housing, and to prevent blur we get the software-based digital image stabilisation included on cheaper compacts, boosting the ISO settings rather than the more effective mechanical sensor shift variety.

For those hoping to turn off the flash when shooting underwater and avoid the phenomenon of back scatter - the light picking out particles of debris floating in the water thus partially obscuring your subject beyond - up to ISO 3200 is selectable, though at ISO 800 and above images are expectedly quite noisy/grainy.

The camera powers up from cold in just under 2 seconds, and is reasonably quick to determine focus and exposure in a further second, though you can hear the lens audibly creaking as it adjusts. AF points are highlighted in green and there’s a beep of confirmation that you’re able to fully depress the shutter button and take the shot. Full resolution JPEGs are committed to memory in around 2-3 seconds, complete with audio sample of a shutter firing. The slippery finish compounded by lack of handgrip does however mean that, practically, it’s difficult to hold the Samsung steady enough to achieve the kind of sharp results we’d like to see when conditions are less than ideal.

This is despite its manufacturer having implemented a 7-degree backward slant to the body, so it doesn’t sit perfectly square on your desktop or in your hand, but which is claimed to make for a more natural comfortable hold and shooting position. The shutter release button has also been subtly slanted in the opposite direction which Samsung likewise claims has ergonomic benefits. As we say, we just found the WP10 a slippery customer in general. For instance when holding the camera in your right hand such button positioning means that your thumb automatically comes to rest against the rocker switch for the zoom at the back - there’s no padded indentation or raised plastic nodules for a firmer grip. Perhaps because of this the rocker switch itself is quite stiff and the zoom slow to respond, so at least you won’t be altering framing accidentally.

As with most compacts boasting lenses that at no point actually protrude from the body, the positioning of the lens over at the far left also means the user has to watch out for fingertips obscuring the frame when holding the camera in both hands, especially when wearing gloves. Incidentally, you might want to opt for the fingerless variety as the buttons at the back are no larger or easier to use than those on a regulation issue compact. With ski mitts on, the only button that can be operated is the largest, logically the shutter release button. Thankfully then, Samsung has included its subject and scene recognising Smart Auto feature on the WP10 as the default setting, so all the user has to do in this mode is point and shoot.

Smart Auto snapshot mode is the fallback for shooting both stills and video - this is both an “intelligent” and “easy” mode rolled into one, in that if you press the menu button in this setting you’ll only be able to adjust image size, nothing more. For more experienced photographers there’s additionally a more extensively featured program setting for getting marginally more hands on if required.

We’re offered 1280 x 720p HD video recording at 30 frames per second (fps) utilising the H.264 compression format, with HDMI output port lurking beneath strengthened cover at the camera’s right hand flank. This also provides a means of recharging the camera, via mains adapter plug provided, as there’s no separate charger in the box. Surprisingly though, we don’t get the regular standard AV and USB output alongside it, so potential purchasers will need a separate desktop card reader. While the camera can be hooked up to your flat panel TV, it can't therefore be connected direct to your PC.

For the added convenience of saving on button presses it might have been nice to have seen included a one touch record button. Instead the video option has to be first selected from the shooting modes, given their own dedicated button on the camera back in preference to the more usual wheel or dial. It’s here that you’ll discover Samsung has thrown in an Aqua underwater mode within the additional scene mode option, sitting most prominent among 14 further options which also include Samsung’s standard issue skin smoothing “beauty” mode.

Drill further into the shooting options with a press of the “fn” (function) button and there are also some fun if limited effects filters, including our favourite of the pin hole camera style vignetting effect alongside, wait for it, fisheye. We should also point out that the commendably quiet zoom is thankfully accessible when recording video, although the built-in microphone does pick some operational noise. The camera also struggled on occasion to commit video footage to memory. We even shot a lowly 30-second 640 x 480 pixels clip and the camera locked up completely while it was apparently processing the recording. Not something you’d want to happen underwater where you can’t simply remove the battery and try again!

Located with a press of the function button which brings up a Canon-alike toolbar down the left hand side of the WP10’s screen, we further get “photo style” selection options, ranging from the default of normal through vivid colour, the more subjective cool, calm, retro and classic, along with negative and a defog effect. Again, fun options if non-essential ones.

Whilst most of what you’d expect to find on a sub-£200 snapper is here, and the buttons and menus are logically and simply presented to the user, in general we found the buttons on the WP10 a little slow to respond to each press and prod, which may be deliberate to avoid accidental activation, but for extreme sports fans could be the difference between them getting the shot they had in their mind’s eye, or not.

The WP10 is not perfect then - style seems to have won out over practicality on this occasion. We found the camera also worked best when shooting close up subjects, as there was the danger of camera shake spoiling images shot at maximum telephoto setting unless we were blessed with plenty of available light. Image quality is pretty average in not being as sharp as we’d have liked overall, though it’s perhaps a tad unfair to expect better than snapshot quality from what is a fairly basic snapper at the end of the day.

Verdict

So while the Samsung WP10 will take pictures where other compacts fear to tread or swim, on dry land it is an inevitably less impressive beast – unless all you want to be doing is taking snaps in the main. It is reasonably cheap however, so for those wanting a camera that will take still pictures that might not otherwise have been considered or been attempted – and at a better quality than competing waterproof HD pocket camcorders – the WP10 might be worth further investigation.