We’ve tested a whole bunch of tough, rugged and waterproof digital compact cameras. They may well be shockproof, freezeproof and dustproof too, but, truth be told, no company has got the full package quite right after many years' worth of attempts.
Can the Canon PowerShot D20, the company’s update to the PowerShot D10, with its radical, almost wave-shaped design change this?
Tough where it matters
The Canon D20 comes loaded with tough features. It’s waterproof to 10 metres deep, shockproof to withstand drops of 1.5 metres, and freezeproof to -10C. There’s not much this camera can’t withstand.
If you’re into deeper sea diving then there’s an optional accessory waterproof case that’s resistant to the water pressures found as deep as 40 metres under. However this will cost as much as the camera itself, so isn’t a budget investment.
We’ve used the D20 in the rain - thank you "British summer" - dunked it in rivers and left it to sit in a full sink, all without issue.
Yet weak in some areas
In terms of design the PowerShot D20 sure looks striking. But in use this isn’t a benefit to the user; we’d say closer to the opposite.
The wave-like shape makes it tricky to hold, and too easy to place a finger in front of the lens area. Hands feel bunched up in order to get the best possible hold without touching the screen, while the lack of any sensible grip - particularly for a waterproof camera - is an obvious gripe.
Controlling the 28-140mm (equivalent; 5x optical) zoom uses two buttons to the camera’s rear. Again they’re bunched up together and ought to be more spaced apart for comfortable use. As with any rugged camera worth its salt, a zoom-rocker would be tricky to implement, so while we understand the necessity for the zoom button type approach, as featured here, it still doesn’t mean we find it likable or easy to use.
As with all current waterproof compacts there’s also a lack of higher-spec features or user control. The Olympus TG-1, for example, got us excited by implementing an f/2.0 lens, only to then not include any kind of manual aperture control. The Canon D20 doesn’t have such an exciting lens proposition and also lacks full manual controls. Instead programme auto (P) can be selected should you wish to adjust exposure compensation, ISO sensitivity, metering and the like.
However the D20 does offer some control of its autofocus system. As well as face detection there’s a centre-point and centre-based AF tracking mode. The AF point size can be adjusted from "normal" to small, and the only real omission here is that the focus point can’t be manually placed around the screen.
Half depress the shutter and the autofocus kicks into action, but we didn’t find it to act nearly as quick as many of Canon’s compact cameras. The AF area box turns green to confirm focus, or there’s an AF Zoom option within the menus that zooms into a 100 per cent area to confirm focus. Compared to some of the more budget compacts the D20 holds its own, and we were happy enough with its focus results.
If manual focus is something you like the sound of then the D20 offers that too. It’s controlled via the up and down d-pad buttons and enlarges the centre point of the screen to help confirm focus. It’s a little slow, but here it’s possible to make the best of the close-up macro mode.
And if there’s one thing the D20 can do well then it’s definitely close-up focus. At its 28mm wide-angle setting it’s possible to focus on a subject just 1cm from the lens.
The inclusion of GPS (global positioning satellite) technology also means its possible to geo-tag images with location data. This can then be used to catalogue images by location, show shots on a map online and other similar ventures. This is at the cost of battery life, however, though the function can be deactivated from within the menu settings.
As the D20 has no external moving parts its 5x optical zoom lens has certain design compromises and limitations as a result. The screen in front of the lens can easily smudge from fingers, and it’s not uncommon for water marks either. This is a common problem for any waterproof camera, but something to pay great attention to. Although a lens cloth isn’t included, we strongly advise getting hold of a decent microfibre one.
Within the function set menu (centre d-pad) it’s possible, among other options, to select the ISO setting. By default this is set to auto, between 100 and 3200, but it is also possible to manually select these sensitivities also.
The 12-megapixel sensor produces reasonable image quality, though it’s not exceptional. It’s as we’d expect really: the aforementioned limitations of a lens cooped up in a small body thickness is the probable cause for in green and purple fringes - chromatic aberrations throughout the image - and the screen between the lens and the real world doesn’t help sharpness match up to some other non-waterproof Canon compacts. Edges can be rather mushy even at lower ISO settings.
But if waterproof is an essential feature, then this is the price to pay. Pictures aren’t bad by any means, and Canon’s well-measured exposure and bright colours straight from camera are definite plus points. There are also scene modes, including an underwater one and a built-in flash that can fill-in shots or be switched off.
As well as still images it’s also possible to capture 1080p movie clips at 24 frames per second, or 30fps when shooting at the lower resolution 720p mode. The one-touch movie activation button on the rear of the camera will add top and bottom crops to the frame and takes about one second to activate recording.
There’s a lot of choice out there when it comes to tough and waterproof compact cameras. The Canon PowerShot D20 certainly ticks the boxes when it comes to underwater use, but it’s the awkward design and the lack of the core image quality elements that leave it short of the mark.
Compared to some of its cheaper rivals, however, the D20 has preferable autofocus options, a resolute and therefore detailed 3-inch LCD screen, is most capable when it comes to close-up focusing and the inclusion of lens-based image stabilisation is a further plus point.
It’s almost there in some departments, but the current lowest £280 price point is rather steep for what's on offer, and the quirky design marks it down.