Canon D20 – Lifeproof!
If looking the part is anything to go by, Canon’s take on the take a bruising and keep on cruising genre sure does look the part. It practically screams dunk me! Subtlety was given its marching orders and is quivering, quite alone, in the farthest corner of Canons basement with a failing torch. This is Canons second stab at the rough and tough, take on the world sans a care camera after its 2009 waterproof D10. Its no update to the D10 mind you, the D20 is a complete redesign and a whole bag of brand new fun.
Pentax was the first to bring to the consumer a waterproof compact camera in the form of the 6 megapixel Pentax WP which was something of a novelty at the time that came with a hefty price tag. It wasn’t even particularly well specced but it was the first of its kind and i just had to have one.. the possibilities were endless. It went beyond the physical limitation that held back the average consumer without the use of a dedicated, usually mind bogglingly over priced waterproof case. Supremely pocketable, yet stoutly defiant of the elements. No longer need i fear the bane of every camera i had ever use thus far. I was also saving the planet is some small way by no longer needing the occasional ziploc bag and no longer needed a camera case that could brave the elements. Oh, and most importantly i could on a whim do this!
Things have changed considerably since then and just about all the major players have joined the fray. My WP is positively arthritic compared to the new offerings and since it finally after several years of heroic service, malfunctioned to the point of no return, i scoured the market for its replacement. Waterproof tough cameras are more useful that one might think, apart from simply rinsing it off under a tap after a romp by the beach, a muddy camp site or the local pool, the new models also tout themselves to being able to take a knock or two and not cough up its spleen. While my WP was never rated to take a fall, most of the current models claim to be able to. After narrowing it down to between Olympus’s TG1-iHS and Canon’s D20, i decided on the Canon purely based off my miserable experience with my Olympus E-PM1. Not the most scientific way to go about things, but i wasn’t all that happy with Olympus’s color rendition – weird reds, so thought id try my luck with the Canon instead.
The D20’s appearance is a love it or hate it kinda of thing… and im somewhere it in the middle. This thing screams look at me as much as a bright green Lamborghini. It wears its purpose on its sleeve and is not ashamed to look its part. Which is all fine and dandy but the d20 will make itself conspicuous in more gentle non threatening surroundings. I would not be comfortable toting this along for a wedding or other similar situation. Some may say, care a damn… but in my mind, its akin to choosing cufflinks or a tie. If this matters to you as much as it does me, then this cant be your only camera. My main use for this is to chase the kids around in the pool/beach and to tote along in situations where i dont have to worry about babying it from the elements. Water, dirt, mud, the D20 laughs in the face of it all. If it can, as advertised, take a 5 foot drop and keep on clicking, im pretty confident that my pocket will hardly prove to be a challenge to its sensibilities.
The D20 is built very well, and feels like a solid chunk of high quality plastic in your hand. Its got heft to boot, this is no lightweight. I’m not entirely sure what purpose the blue metal plate on the front actually serves,.. except as a accent trim piece. Theres all kinds of screws visible form the outside giving the appearance that its ready to take on the Mariana trench all the way to its 33 foot maximum rated depth. 10 meters is way more than i will ever need. The deepest i’ve taken it to is 10 feet at my local pool with no problems. I can’t comment on its shockproofiness as i can’t seem to bring myself to actually drop it from arms length just to see if it will take the fall and come out unscathed. I’m going to take Canons word on this, but will update this opinion piece if by chance i do get to accidentally verify Canons claim of it being shockproof up to a height of 5 feet.
The button layout is pretty straightforward although it would make more sense to swap the movie and playback buttons. The buttons per say are a little stiff, no doubt from all the waterproofing but provide good tactile feedback, much better than cameras sporting rubber buttons. Half pressing the shutter button to acquire focus without taking the shot can be a bit fiddly. The camera strap is is attached to the lower right corner and is removable by a stout looking attachment. It requires depressing both sides of the locking mechanism to disengage it from the camera body. The down side to this he-man attachment is that the camera cannot sit flat on its base, to lets say.. oh, use the self timer option. But then again, its not at all that difficult to take the strap off for instances when the camera is required to sit flat on its base,.. two fingers, depress, twist and off it comes. The lens sits off center to one side using a folded optical path to give it a 5 times zoom yet keeping the body as compact as possible. The lens is unfortunately not particularly sharp and has distortion on the corners. It punches a hair above average. The D20 is positively an outdoorsy sunshiny camera with its wide end starting at a pedestrian F3.9. Not at all a problem for its intended use.. but when its time for the bonfire later in the evening once the sun goes down, it does rear its ugly head. The D20 manages low light with a combination of its HS technology and image stabilization. Its a crutch, and is merely acceptable. The Olympus on the other hand sports a fast F2.0 lens… something to consider when deciding on this type of camera.
The menu system isnt the most intuitive either. It is not all that hard to figure out, but it also isn’t hard to tell just how Canon intended for the d20 to be primarily used. Manual control is limited to iso and exposure compensation. Exposure compensation is thankfully easily accessed with just two presses of the center button and gives control of plus or minus 2EV. As good as any meter in any camera is, the world is not always rendered in mythical 18% gray, and the EV compensation allows getting the exposure set just right with a real time preview of the scene on the rear LCD. A very useful feature indeed. I have said it before and i’ll say it again, exposure compensation is your best friend. With digital SLRs, its shoot, review, adjust and shoot again. With cameras that can provide a real time preview, getting the exposure set to capture a scene as its visualized in your minds eye is as easy as pie. The meter in general is pretty reliable. The D20s firmware uses face and scene recognition to get the exposure pretty much spot on most of the time rendering pleasing results. Although it handles very similarly to its cousin the SX230HS, the D20 is nowhere as snappy which is a bit of a let down. The SX230HS is simply a faster and better camera and overall much better value as a general purpose family camera if waterproofing is not a concern. Cost less too.
Shooting modes include auto, program – which allows some control over shooting parameters and dedicated scene modes for underwater and snow. The rest of the scene modes are lumped together which include the usual suspects and a smile shutter mode. I like smile activated shutters, it comes in useful for that at arms length self portrait. Its awkward enough to hold as it is, and not having to press the shutter button is just one less thing to do. Unfortunately, while is does work, it is a little arthritic in operation. Noise is fairly well controlled till iso 400. Anything above can be used in a pinch and will look just fine in a blog, facebook or a 4×6. Just don’t pixel peep, trust me, you wouldn’t want to. The rear screen is bright punchy and works reasonably well in most situations i’ve used it in. I did not have problems using it even in bright sunlight. Video is surprisingly good and bears no complaint. It even has a nifty super slo-mo mode where the camera captures 240 frames per second and plays it back at normal speed.
All image samples below were shot in Auto mode and straight out of camera to give you an idea of what the D20 is capable of. No adjustments expect resizing.
Image quality is decent. Colors are punchy and the camera makes the most of its strengths. Considering this is a point and shoot camera with all its caveats clad in a he-man shell, i suppose its on par of what’s to be expected. That said, i have been in the recent past been particularly impressed with certain cameras that shatter the mold set by its stereotyped brethren For example, Fujis fabulous X100 and Sonys brilliant compact RX100 are cameras that have reinvented what is possible in their respective class and set new bars for excellence in various different aspects. While these cameras may command a premium at the present time, i dare say it won’t t be long before all the major players bolster their offerings to compete. And the technology will trickle down the model lines and i soon expect the stereotype image quality of small sensored compact cameras will well be a thing of the past. It certainly won’t come too soon.
The D20 when viewed as a whole seems to come off as a compromise of the sum of its parts required to make it what it is. I cant help think that it can be better for its asking price. Imagine the guts and processor of a Canon S100 housed in a waterproof polycarbonate housing… it would be brilliant. The D20 costs currently the same as Canons premium S100 on Amazon.com. And while the output of the D20 is decent considering its a point and shoot, the output from the S100 is just that much better. So unless waterproofing and shock resistance is a priority, Canons remarkable S100 is much better value that will get you better images in every occasion, and afford full manual controls to get creative with at the same price of $300,.. plus $30 for a Dicapac waterproof case for when it occasionally needs to brave the elements. Hmmmm, tough choice this….. If getting wet and dirty is not the exception, the D20 wins hands down, otherwise there are alternatives.
It all boils down to just how much you expect from your choice of camera. I expect a lot, so i resign myself to having more than one camera and use each one most suited to its intended purpose. But if throwing caution to the wind and to have a camera that can take a licking and keep on clicking after going 9 rounds with all the wet and wild fun that life has to offer, the Canon D20 certainly merits looking into.