Water is the source of all life on Earth -- unless, of course, you're an electronic device, such as a camcorder. In which case, the merest drop of the stuff could spell instant mortal doom. Normally, judicious non-underwater use of your equipment is the only way to prevent it from dying a horrible, soggy death. Recent months, however, have given rise to a new strain of camcorders that have managed to evolve their very own resistance to the fatal potential of water. The JVC Picsio GC-WP10 is one such device, and can be yours for the sum of £230.
The cam from Atlantis
We recently reviewed JVC's Picsio GC-FM2 and, since they share a great deal of their electronic DNA, it would probably be fair to say the FM2 and the WP10 are more than just kissing cousins. The main difference, of course, is that the GC-WP10 is waterproof up to 3m -- that's 10ft in olden-day terms. Though the rugged, water-resistant housing makes it somewhat chunkier than its stablemate, the GC-WP10 is still extremely portable. It has the same general approach to its design as the FM2, not to mention many other so-called 'pocket' video cameras. It's small, with a slab-like appearance that makes it look more like a compact digital still camera than a video device. It's meant to be held upright like a camera phone and, unlike many larger camcorders, there's no fold-out screen.
The GC-WP10's ample 3-inch display is built into the rear-facing side of the unit. Interestingly, the screen is touch-sensitive, although hardware buttons are provided along one edge for starting/stopping recording, switching between photo and video mode and locking the screen. Presumably this isn't because JVC has limited faith in the usability of the touch interface -- it's more likely intended to provide an alternative set of controls that are more suited to underwater use. In fact, the touch-control system is pretty easy to use, largely by dint of the fact that the GC-WP10 makes only the most basic options and settings available. The only problem with the large screen is that, disappointingly, the real-time video preview only occupies the top third of the display as you film -- the majority of the screen is given over to soft touch-buttons.
Figures at your fingertips
Inside, the Picsio has a single CMOS sensor that can record HD-quality video at 1080p and 720p, storing them on SD, SDHC or SDXC cards as MPEG-4 AVC/H.264-format files. Standard-definition and photo modes are also available. The 5-megapixel camera is able to capture still shots at up to 2592x1944 resolution. HDMI, standard-definition AV out and USB connections are available, though the WP10 doesn't feature the built-in USB plug of the FM2. There aren't many accessories included, just a wrist strap, composite video lead and a short USB cable. There isn't even a power adaptor, though the Picsio is powered via USB.
Similarly, there are few frills on board the camera itself. Zoom and image stabilisation are of the less-effective digital variety and, aside from a time-lapse feature, MP3 audio recording and support for Eye-Fi wireless, there aren't a great many options to play with. One feature that's definitely worth pointing out is the LoiLoScope EX editing and sharing software that comes with the GC-WP10. It's built into the camera and runs like a portable app when you plug your Picsio into your PC. LoiLoScope EX is a legitimate selling point. It's extremely easy to use and can hook you directly up to Facebook and YouTube, as well as help you trim your movie meisterwerkes down to size.
Compress to impress
As with most pocket video cameras, the focus is more on the pocket than on the video. Squeezing things down to trouser-friendly proportions has an inevitable effect on performance and, while the promise of 1080p video might sound impressive, the reality is that the GC-WP10 can't match up to the quality offered by full-size camcorders. In 1080p mode, there's a good deal of detail on display, but the low frame rate (25 frames per second) makes for some slightly choppy motion. Not only that, but you'll also have to put up with some picture issues caused by the rolling shutter 'jello effect'. Colours are strong, however, and the GC-WP10 works hard to keep the image clean in lower lighting conditions.
Switching to 720p provides a faster frame rate (50 fps), which works better for filming outdoor action sequences, though detail and colours both take a noticeable knock. The odd 960x540 setting is notable, mainly for its compatibility with Apple's iMovie editing program. Photos are passable for a device of this class, but their middling quality is unlikely to be a major factor in anyone's purchasing decision.
Whether you're into extreme watersports, or just the type who's liable to lose half your possessions down a pub toilet on a Friday night, the main reason for considering the JVC Picsio GC-WP10 is its resistance to the wet stuff. But when it comes down to it, waterproof or not, the GC-WP10 is rather overpriced for what it is, particularly when you consider that the non-waterproof but otherwise almost identical Picsio GC-FM2 is a whole £70 cheaper.
If you really must go splashing about with your gadgets in tow, you'd do well to weigh up JVC's water baby alongside Kodak's equivalent -- the athletically named PlaySport. It lacks the Picsio's touchscreen, but, performance-wise, the PlaySport is roughly on par with the GC-WP10.
Edited by Emma Bayly