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In Praise of Waterproof Pocketable Cameras

In Praise of Waterproof Pocketable Cameras

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If you are overly worried about barrel distortion or very high ISO performance with waterproof and tough cams, you just might be missing the point.

By Jack Howard

August 6, 2010

A few days ago, my neighbor, Eddie, invited me to go kayaking at a local lake on a very hot morning. I jumped at the chance and grabbed my river shorts, shoes, sunscreen, and we headed up to Round Valley Reservoir to do some paddling. Then I grabbed a camera that I knew would survive the day.


 A carefree morning paddling around the lake. And worry-free shots because I had the watertight Pentax Optio W90 along for the ride.


There was no doubt in my mind what camera I'd be taking along for this adventure: The Pentax Optio W90, the newest camera in the long line of waterproof compacts by Pentax. This pocketable waterproof camera was made for adventures involving lakes, streams, oceans, ski slopes, and other situations where non-rugged cameras dare not tread. I was able to slip this into my pocket, hop in the kayak and paddle away with no worries about the camera getting drenched and then dying a digital death because of some errant water droplets while out on the lake.

I've been a fan of the Pentax W series ever since 2005 when Mason asked me to do a field test in Negril, Jamaica of the Pentax Optio WPi. (Perhaps I should point here out that I was going on the trip anyways, and then Mason asked me if I'd like the WPi for a field test article.)  I had so much fun snorkeling and shooting underwater shots around Pristine Bay right off the cliffs at the Rockhouse Hotel with this camera, and I've been hooked on the concept of the pocketable waterproof camera ever since.

Since then, I've always packed a Pentax Optio W camera and/or a tough Olympus camera in my bag for trips and adventures to the tropics, to the rivers and beaches, or to the slopes. I've made fun shots for our photo albums ocean kayaking and snorkeling in St. Lucia, snorkeling and walk-swimming to a reef a half kilometer offshore at Pompano Bay Beach Club in Bermuda, jet-skiing and swimming in St. Martin, snorkeling in the Bahamas and Hawaii, swimming in rivers and lakes with my dog, swimming in the Atlantic in Jersey and South Carolina, and skiing at Stratton and Breckenridge, among other adventures where non-watertight compacts simply wouldn't survive.


Pompano Bay Beach Club in Bermuda. The water stays shallow enough to walk/swim half a kilometer offshore to a reef. Of course I had a Pentax Optio W60 in the pocket of my swim trunks for this adventure!


But recently there's been some chatter on gadget blogs and by some users complaining about and bemoaning some of the shortcomings of the rugged class of cameras in general that usually comes down to two main points: high ISO performance and lens distortion due to the internal focusing elements to keep the camera watertight. I think these people are really missing the point. The tough class of cameras is all about getting out there into the sun and sea and snow and making pictures all the while!


The last things I think about when I see this shot taken inside a giant ball of fish is barrel distortion. I recall the moment and my excitement and am psyched that I have a shot to remember this adventure!


If I were taking a tour of the castles and cathedrals of Europe, would I pack a Pentax Optio W90 or a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS10 as my only camera? Probably not! But when it comes to beach and mountain escapes, I can't imagine not packing a pocketable tough camera like one of these to document our adventures. And when I play back the underwater videos of swimming amidst schools of fish in clear, warm tropical waters and dream about my next tropical escape, the last thing I'm thinking about is a little bit of barrel distortion at the edge of the frame.


Are you a fan of the tough class of cameras? What adventures have you taken with your waterproof and shockproof camera? Let us know!


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