It seems it’s not enough these days for a digital compact “just” to be able to withstand a fumbled drop onto the pavement, a dip in the ocean, a spell in the deep freeze, or having sand kicked in its, um, fascia.
The latest generation of toughened cameras are now shoehorning in additional gimmicks, such as in the case of Fujifilm’s 14.2-megapixel, 5x optical zoom (28-140mm equivalent in 35mm terms) XP30, there’s a GPS antenna.
GPS is a first for the FinePix range, and also features in the new F550 model. Here thanks to an embedded location list it tags place names as well as displaying both longitude and latitude coordinates. The camera further offers Photo Navigation - as it sounds, being able to trace your steps via a trail of images - plus Photo Logging functionality. The latter records your location in 10-minute intervals, allowing a map of your route to be generated when back at base via Google Maps. If you’re worried about GPS draining the battery it can be switched off (and on) via the setup menu. We had to hunt around a bit to find this though, so GPS might be made more obvious still via a dedicated button, and also the camera failed to pinpoint our location when we were using it indoors.
While the inclusion of GPS is icing on the cake of this particular camera - on paper at least - it has to be said that most rugged models to date have proved less robust when it comes to image quality. Will the XP30 be any different?
Available in five colours (we had the eye-catching dark blue), with rivets to the front plate and bulging body design, first impressions are favourable: the camera resembles a metallic puffer fish as imagined by Jules Verne or more likely Gerry Anderson circa Stingray - complete with large round eye-like lens. Overall proportions of this cute contender are 99.2 x 67.7 x 23.9mm and the XP30 weighs 165g with provided battery and optional (yet essential) SD/SDHC/SDXC card. So it will slip easily into any pocket, ski suit or diving bell.
The XP30’s nigh indestructible qualities are standard stuff for its pocket-sized ilk. Here we get the promise of waterproofing to 5 metres, shock proofing so it will withstand a drop from 1.5 metres in height, dust and sand proofing as mentioned, plus it’s freeze proof to minus 10°C. As we say, no great surprises here - and it misses out on the “crush proof” ability recently showcased by the Olympus TG-810.
That said, the XP30 does feel rock solid when squeezed in the palm, the only thing immediately giving away its £199 budget status being the plastic-y controls on the backplate. In fact, given that this camera features both toughened build and GPS - “extras” that usually command a price premium - the cost here, again on paper, comes across as something of a bargain. Battery and card compartment are theoretically protected from ingress from undesirables by a chunky flip-out cover that has not one but two catches to make sure it’s locked firmly and securely. However we had to wrestle to shut the cover on a couple of occasions as it kept springing open, so wouldn’t like to vouch for how efficient it will be with repeated use.
Pictures and video are composed via standard 4:3 ratio LCD screen, here 2.7-inches in size with the regulation issue 230k pixels resolution. It’s adequate, though no star performer, and we did have to cup a hand around the screen when viewing in strong sunlight. As there’s not much in the way of a grip provided, image stabilisation courtesy of CCD shift is a blessing. But this also is obviously not infallible, so expect occasional blurred shot due to camera shake even when photographing in broad daylight.
Fortunately, in terms of general operation the XP30’s top plate controls are large and obvious - the biggest being the shutter release button that one wouldn’t struggle to operate with either wet or gloved hands.
Either side sit a much smaller on/off button and a lever for operating the zoom, which is slightly chunkier than usual and features a ridged surface for added purchase
With a firm press required the XP30 powers up in 2 seconds. A further firm press and the camera determines focus and exposure after a second’s adjustment. Take the shot and a full resolution IPEG is written to memory in just over a second - so no speed complaints here. A toggle of the zoom switch and the camera moves through the entire focal range in just under 3 seconds. As isn’t always the case, the optical zoom can also be utilised when shooting video, with the headline spec here 1280 x 720 pixels at 30fps with mono sound. Due to folded lens elements, at no point does it protrude from the body so there’s an added layer of built-in protection there.
Though plastic-y the backplate controls do include the essentials of familiar four-way control pad with central OK/set button and separate playback and display/back buttons sitting just underneath.
Top right of the backplate there’s also a useful dedicated video record button (AVI, Motion JPEG format), so you don’t otherwise have to try and find said feature among on-screen options. Just as well as there’s no separate shooting mode dial or relevant button featured to distract you.
On the plus side this is a camera you can pick up and immediately start shooting with: just what you want when balancing on a snowboard, pair or skis or even an inflatable lilo.
Though stills picture quality has a softened feel to it, particularly at longer focal lengths, colours are flatteringly well saturated, so it’s well suited to portraits and landscapes. Even if familiar bugbears such as barrel distortion at maximum wideangle, pixel fringing and burnt out highlight detail emerged when shooting in strong sunlight, this is a camera that pretty much delivers straight off the bat, and did survive the odd tumble from tabletop to carpeted floor.
In the interests of thoroughness however - and to provide more than a safe challenge - we also opted to take the XP30 down to our local pond for a quick dip with the ducks. By the time of the second “dunk”, lasting all of 10 seconds, the camera was displaying an error message. Flicking open the battery compartment we could see signs of moisture, which although alarming somehow wasn’t a complete surprise.
A quick wipe dry with a lens cloth, and the old failsafe of turning the camera on and off seemed to initially right the problem. However we still hadn’t got the shot we were after, so a couple of further submergings followed, at which point the LCD display had a burnt out appearance. On closer inspection it immediately became obvious that water had got under the screen glass. Not only had droplets formed, there was now also an executive’s toy-style wave-like effect present when we tilted the camera from side to side; and this from submerging it to a heady depth of a couple of centimetres. The camera had clearly got the bends.
Considering that with a manufacturer’s asking price a penny shy of £200 the XP30 can be picked up for a bargain £150, this has “active young family camera” written all over it.
Whilst it’s not the most sophisticated compact in the world, and on dry land appears well built, unobtrusive and cutely designed, going by the basis of our test sample at least it is rather more challenged when in the wet, and the fact that we occasionally had trouble shutting the battery cover prior to this didn’t inspire confidence. In that respect this is one tough camera that benefits from kid glove treatment. The XP30 is best viewed therefore as your average happy snapper that will take the odd accidental drop or knock, rather than intentional punishment.