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Canon D10 - Dive in!
Canon PowerShot D10 Compact Digital Camera
Camera supplied by and reviewed for Warehouse Express
This is one camera which web pictures don't do justice. In fact this was the first time for ages when I was taken in by the packaging. From the online material I was expecting something pretty big but the box was tiny... and heavy. The D10 feels smaller than it looks too, as soon as you pick it up the bulbous curves fit into your hands the way a cuboid just can't. A very tactile device... it's easy to get carried away.

The D10 is Canon's first waterproof digital camera, way back in the last century they had a popular range of APC snorkelling models but its been a long dry spell. They haven't toyed with more conservatively rated models, the D10 is rated to a market leading 10m (i.e. Olympus matching). It sits at the top of a range of one! Price and size wise it's top of the market too. The choice of name is odd, fitting into the scheme Canon uses for its SLRs but to be fair there's absolutely no chance of confusion in the flesh.

Shaping up

Appearance and physical appeal dominate a first encounter with the D10. There's plenty of shiny bits, exposed stainless fasteners and all those curves to play in the light as you handle it. That obscures the thickness of the two waterproof hatches – one for power and USB connection the other for battery and SD card. It also takes a while to realise that while there is metal, the vast majority of the body is painted plastic, so the beautiful finish may suffer from bumps and scrapes. The camera is impressively heavy, the internal frame is clearly metal allowing the most extrovert flourish on the D10, a big lanyard fixing point at each corner. These are real statement pieces of machining which allow the camera to be attached by an amazing cast, locking 'nipple' in three ways more than necessary. The D10 is trying hard to justify its premium over all its competitors. You can also see that the tripod mount screws straight into the internal metal frame.

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Our annual Dutch trip is an ideal test, most of the dives are shallow

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Dawn really took to the D10, though it's tricky to use in gloves
The 10m rating puts it head to head with Olympus top Tough model, the 8000, which is the only other current camera with this depth rating. Olympus have quite a track record here with the 8000 being their third at 10m and a fleet of 3m models. It seems quite clear that Canon have taken note of this experience and the D10 seals look very impressive, and are actually effective beyond what is probably quite a conservative rating. The waterproofing of the D10 takes a slightly different tack from the Olympus. Both have two hatches and on both the smaller one is just a lipped gasket but the larger one is fitted with a real dive housing style 'o'ring where Olympus stick with a larger lipped rubber gasket. Both seem to work fine and by coincidence we can confirm that both are perfectly effective to double their rated depth. The 'o' ring will be more fiddly to clean and should be lightly greased, which makes debris stick to it... which means it needs more cleaning. The Canon worked fine at the 'test' depth and is calmer about the experience since it doesn't have the Mju's depth gauge to warn you.


Glassware

The use of a conventional lens has both strengths and weaknesses. Folded systems weren't as good but they have improved hugely. So the Canon lens is brighter, at f2.8, than any competitor but has more limited range and less effective macro. Close up the protruding lens can cast shadows on small subjects, flat cameras don't suffer this indignity. The risk of this vignetting is increased by a stout aluminium ring which secures the front glass but could so easily have been threaded for filters and extra lenses. In favour of this system there is no delay on start up, the Olympi have a metal shutter to move out the way. The two companies have also taken a different track with the basis of their designs with the D10 quite conventional within its Faberge egg casing and the Olympus using folded optics, lots more exterior metal and more of a Rolex motif. The Olympus 8000 Tough is more grown up and perhaps better able to mix formal events with rough and tumble.


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The protruding lens masks the flash very close up


As the outer case must rigidly cover the lens in all positions it cannot retract so the D10 isn't a true pocket camera, unless you want to enjoy some Carry On humour of course :-) The 3x zoom starting at the equivalent of 35mm is the least flexible lens in this part of the market with many competitors starting at 28mm – which is very useful underwater where all flat ports cause a 25% magnification.

The control layout of the D10 will be familiar to anyone who has tried a Canon Powershot, bar the use of buttons for zoom control and mode switching - instead of hard to seal dials and sliders. Thus the ergonomics are easy to figure out and the two button for the two level – picture and system – menu is a treat after digging through some others.

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Some of the reef residents are quite feisty

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It was good going for a compact to catch these arguing fish

Putting what seems to be a Powershot chassis into a case instantly benefits from the development of that very successful line and the D10 is fast and logical to use. Like the Olympi it assumes you will probably use Auto or Program and keeps its welter of scene modes accessible but compact. Shooting video is given top level status rather than relegated to being one of the modes which is a good choice given the likely use of the D10 on the beach for family holidays. Its a shame that macro is always its second focus choice after landscape as I'm a fiend for small stuff and I'm not sure I've ever been so surprised by a mountain that I needed that option first under my trigger finger.


Day to day practicalities

Unlike a lot of compacts these days the D10 has no internal memory available for pictures, which is no real loss. Surprisingly there's no small card in the box either, again not a big deal, though bear it in mind if you plan to present one as a gift. It takes SD, the cheapest and fastest of the mainstream cards, via adaptors that can include the smaller versions of them too.

The battery is smaller than one might expect given the outer dimensions of the camera but the thick, well secured hatch and reinforced outer skin dictate that, although it's of a slightly higher capacity than its competitors. As we went on we had to keep lowering our expectations on battery life, days underwater really do seem to drain it when you use flash and have the screen on for long periods. In use which included quite a lot of menu hopping and flash use we managed 140-160 shots per charge, not very impressive. Lifespan may be longer in warmer climes where batteries work better but perhaps that bulbous body does help to keep the internal workings insulated and the battery doesn't have great capacity. As usual with a small camera a spare battery is part of the kit you'll want for a day out.

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This crops shows the excellent low ISO detail

There's no case or bag supplied, which is a shame as that groovy paint job deserves protection. I assume other colours will become available as the current splash of blue is a separate panel. Given the price a neoprene slip case would have been a great addition to the package. I'm sure they will be available and it would be a sensible way to carry and coddle this toy so it's ready for use when you're out on the water. Neoprene is eminently ideal as it will help the camera float if it falls out of reach, it would sink on its own! Best keep it tied on!

The emphasis of this review is in-water but remember that the toughening process makes this, and cameras like it, great for the beach, skiing, enduring the British summer and hot and humid foreign climes. It is rated proof against drops from 1.2m and -10oC frost which makes it a good choice for any family day out. Children will love its looks and you don't have to worry, too much, about them hurting it.

Underwater

In the water it's very strange to handle a 'naked' camera, much easier to see the control markings than one which is housed and much smaller. With bare hands the cluster of small buttons isn't a problem but in colder water any gloves make it hard to feel those which are recessed beside the screen. The soap like shape is also predictably slippery in gloved hands. Depending how you want to hold it the lanyard 'nipple' can be moved to suit your grip but can't be said to make a vast difference. The contours of the body make this a slightly easier proposition to use than the flat Olympi but as with all underwater gear bare hands work best!


I'm pleased to say our photo optimism was rewarded and the D10 returned some good looking results from its first dive. The default underwater setting allowed it to use a fast enough shutter and strong enough flash so that the vivid underwater world of the Dutch oyster beds lit up in all their surprising glory. What was more surprising was that the D10 didn't struggle to focus in the cloudy, albeit bright shallow waters. Deeper down it might hesitate but even at macro distances it was quite straightforward to get sharp results. The one fly in the ointment is that with the projecting lens surround and flash set well back, subjects less than 15cm away are masked from the flash. However as the working distance stays at 30cm throughout the zoom range (the minimum 3cm minimum distance is available only at fully wide) it is still practical to photograph quite small animals although focus is more ponderous at telephoto. Flat, folded optic cameras avoid this problem but even so it seems Canon could have reduced the problem and may have chosen styling over practicality to place the flash so close to the lens – which will also increase the risk of red eye.

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You can even see eggs inside this prawn

We were very pleased with the crop of pictures we brought back and I suspect for many people using exactly the same camera underwater, with no housing to confuse the layout of buttons, might get them past the mental block some have about submerged photography and ease them into this hobby. The 10m depth limit is going to cramp your style for a lot of diving but the top 10m can be very rewarding and this is certainly a camera a tropical snorkeller could get great use out of. With most dives going to 20m or more, a housed camera is the way to take this hobby deeper but the D10 gives you a great, fun package and a camera you can use on the shallower dives which are often the most relaxed and rewarding. The screen itself is bright and contrasty making use in the shallows quite practical and sharp enough that the option to enlarge the screen centre as focus confirmation was genuinely useful. Being able to set the camera to enlarge the centre when focussed was clearer than a plain coloured square and also confirmed (as far as a small LCD can) that it had done its job.

The easy access to video shooting makes it very simple to capture clips to show friends. The clips are fine but with a lot of cameras offering HD capture its a shame that the D10 only offers VGA. Still camera video is still a bit of a novelty feature but this is great for uploading to YouTube to show the lobster that went for you! Each 1 minute of video takes the place of about 40 full size photos, so even with just a 1 GB card you have room for about 12 minutes of video (or 340 pictures).

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Note the highlights allowed to keep the picture bright

Technicalities

At low ISO the pictures are very good but some noise reduction does creep in fast as film speed increases. The image stabilisation does mean that the D10 can hold low ISO longer and it controls what noise there is well, though detail is reduced. Shots at ISO50-160 are really very sharp, beyond ISO200 you won't enjoy all your 12 Megapixels as clever techniques are used to smother noise. This is done well and for most uses the high ISO still turns out attractive results. The modest lens works well and perhaps because it's a little brighter, maybe because the camera is 3 years newer, it was faster to focus in murky water than our equally watertight Mju770. On the surface the D10 seemed slightly too liberal in handling highlights, by which I mean it was quite willing to burnout even central detail to keep the overall exposure on track. For the most part that produced punchy vibrant pictures but occasionally bright faces would get the treatment and spoil a picture.


My girlfriend, who abhors all things technical, found the menus easy to master but was annoyed that after every power cycle the D10 had dropped her settings for macro and zoom. Some people may want these reset but it would be simple to offer the choice to hold these. Another aspect which riled her was that the camera can be set to power off after a period, to save power, but the longest it can be set for is 3 minutes which is just a touch too short. 5 minutes would seem a better compromise and still mind your battery after each snatched shot of a gnarly tube run (or whatever young people do with their time :-) This feature can be turned off but then you might risk finding your camera flat just as you needed it.

The lanyard nipple system offers plenty of choice, which is marvellous of course, but why make it like a bar of soap to start with? Maybe I'd have been happier if there was a pair of them, not just for anatomical symmetry and humour but then it could be slung round your neck. A few bumps or some rubber on the right hand side would have worked wonders and also protected the case. In common with an awful lot of cameras it would also have been sensible to raise or dimple the shutter button to make it easier to find with cold and/or gloved hands.


Conclusion

It's very, very easy to be taken in by the looks of the D10 and assume it's just a good time Charlie, a toy. Underneath its sexy skin is a nice, amenable camera of the kind you would have been very happy to use a year or so ago before everything had to be complicated. That's not to say it isn't capable, the 12 Megapixel sensor produces clean sharp pictures on the surface and underwater which you could make into posters and the user interface is the best kind of simple which means you can take advantage of those moments you bought a waterproof camera to capture.

Pros: Great looks, good results straight away underwater, easy menu ergonomics and flexible modes

Cons: Protruding lens bulky and masks macro flash, no case, easily scraped, extrovert nipple! Below average battery life. Auto power off short.

Marks out of ten - Canon D10
Build quality    8/10    Fisher Price Frankenstein, in a good way!
Image quality    8/10    Excellent and attractive at low ISO
Handling              9/10    Easy menus
Overall mark        8.5/10    Fun for all the family


Camera supplied by and reviewed for Warehouse Express
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