Traditionally "waterproof" and "pocketable" haven't really sat well together, with the sealing process often adding bulk to compact cameras. This isn't the case with the Fujifilm FinePix Z33WP, which offers weatherproofing whilst maintaining small dimensions.
The dimensions are small for a standard compact, let alone one that offers waterproofing down to 3 metres. At 92 x 59.6 x 20.6mm it might be slightly thicker than recent rivals, but it still slips easily into any pocket or bag. At around 120g with battery and SD card inserted it won't weigh you down much either.
The design is simple and attractive, with a good quality look and feel to the camera. Available in a range of colours, we had the black model, but if you want to take it into the water or out on the slopes, one of the brighter options might be more appealing to you. Note that this is a waterproof only model and doesn't claim the shookproofing or cold resistance you might find on other models.
On the rear you'll find a 2.7-inch LCD display, with a 230k-dot resolution, which is pretty standard. It is reasonably bright, but doesn't quite have the oomph to stay useable in brighter conditions, suffering badly from reflections off the glossy finish, so you may find that around the pool you can't really see what you are doing.
The main camera controls range down the right-hand side of the screen and form a double row of rubberised buttons (10 of them). It's a neat finish and uses all the available space: simple clean design that is practical too. A distinct click acknowledges each button press and is positive enough with wet hands, but all the controls are too small for gloved hands, so if you are thinking of taking it skiing, you'll have to remove your gloves to take a picture.
The top sees the power and shutter buttons and overall we found the placement was convenient for all the controls, giving easy access to options. The buttons give you instant access to flash, macro and self-timer options, but a neat video button provides instant video recording.
We found this to be really convenient, as you just press the button and video capture starts, saving fishing around in menus or moving dials or sliders first. It does mean, however, that one accidental press will have you filming, when perhaps you didn't intend to.
The front of the camera sees the rather small flash and the 3x optical zoom lens, offering a 35-105mm (35mm equiv.) focal length, with a max aperture of F3.7. The lens itself doesn't have a protective cover, taking instead a glass panel in front, which means it is potentially prone to scratches. One advantage however, it that it is really easy to clean should it get dirty.
The Z33WP features all the normal scene modes you find crammed into a Fujifilm camera, all accessed though the Menu button. There is an SR Auto mode (scene recognition) which claims to pick out the best of these for you. It works to an extent, with clear icons displaying what mode has been selected.
However, this system is not without problems, revealing what is potentially the biggest weakness of the camera. When it comes to low light conditions, the SR Auto mode invariably picks the "night" mode, which bumps the ISO up high and the result is a very grainy image. It's not the best approach, as a simple "auto" shot will often yield a better final image.
Unfortunately you cannot control the ISO settings in Auto either, that being an option in the Manual mode. However, you can, at least, leave everything in Manual on auto and set the ISO to a lower value if this seems a persistent problem.
Underwater gets its own shooting mode and we found few problems using the camera in the water. It doesn't float, however, so a wrist strap is highly recommended. One issue we did have was with that glass lens cover. Water tends to sit on the lens, obstructing shots if you are dipping in and out of water – not a problem if you are taking a succession of submerged shots, but worth remembering. The lens arrangement also means it is prone to lens flare.
Image quality overall, unfortunately, is not great. There can be a tendency to over-expose, with colours being rather muted in many of our test shots. The Z33WP does at times seem to struggle to grasp the detail of a scene, with shadow detail often being scarce. Contrasty scenes often result in fringing that, whilst not overly-offensive, leave you with an image that lacks overall sharpness and definition.
ISO noise and banding is present in low light shots. Noise jumps in around ISO 400, with video suffering the same fate. Even video shot in bright conditions can leave you with a very noisy result, with the max 640 x 480px resolution giving results you'd be better watching scaled down.
It can be a little slow to respond at times too. Startup seems to take longer than you'd like it too and when examining a scene in the SR Auto mode, the Z33 will omit various whirrs and clicks like something seriously mechanical is going on. Viewing your shots also seems to take an age, with the natty sliding of images taking longer than necessary.
Shutter lag isn't bad, i.e., you press the button and get pretty much what you were looking at. Buffering is a little slow however, even in the continuous shooting mode, which skips the image preview but doesn't rattle off pictures at any great rate, so forget about getting sequential images of anything moving at any sort of speed.
We've complained about Fujifilm's menus in the past and the same criticism applies here: they look as though they could use some TLC to bring them into line with a crisp appearance from rival compacts.
Battery life lasted us under 200 shots, which is a little below average perhaps, given that the battery is compact to fit the body of the camera. The battery lies under the single hatch on the bottom, which houses the SD card slot too, as well as the connection for hooking up to your TV.
There's no doubting that the Z33WP is an impressively built camera, offering moisture protection (be it from the sea or a wayward glass of wine) in a bundle you can easily slip into your pocket.
If image quality is important, if want the most out of your images, than perhaps moving to a weatherproofed model this small isn't the smartest move for you. However, the Z33WP does offer that waterproofing at a relatively affordable price so might appeal if you are prone to destroying cameras in the pub, although better image quality can be had at a lower price elsewhere.
But when all is said and done, the Fujifilm FinePix Z33WP is an easy to use and fun camera that can be easily thrown into a bag heading down to the beach, without worrying about it getting wet or filled with sand. It looks great, but doesn't quite offer the performance to match.
Thank you to Currys.co.uk for the loan of this review model.