Jumping on two bandwagons at once, and balancing between them like a tiny man wearing giant rollerskates, Panasonic's HX-WA10 boasts both a pistol grip design and a waterproof body. It's certainly an eye-catching product, and water resistance could be a boon for your holidays -- but should you splash out £200 for one?
Pistol grip design
Our initial thought upon meeting the HX-WA10 for the first time was how much it reminded us of Sanyo's Xacti line -- specifically the Xacti VPC-CA100, to which Panasonic's pistol-shaped camera is all but identical. It's no coincidence, since Panasonic bought Sanyo a couple of years ago.
You can see why Panasonic was happy to reuse Sanyo's design virtually wholesale -- the HX-WA10 is a natty-looking device with an angled trigger-style handle, an upwards-slanting lens and a toughened two-toned exterior that's available in orange, blue or black.
Resistant to the wet stuff up to depths of 3 metres, the HX-WA10 battens down the hatches against fluid infiltration with a pair of lockable, rubber-sealed doors hiding the sensitive memory card slot, battery compartment and HDMI/USB sockets.
Unfortunately, Panasonic's engineers have failed to address a number of inherent flaws in Sanyo's original design and these are ported across along with all the good things. The memory card slot, for example, is tucked away underneath the battery pack, meaning you have to power down the camcorder whenever you want to pop in fresh SD storage.
As with the VPC-CA100, we also found ourselves holding the camera with the lens pointing slightly upwards. Angling the unit to film your subjects properly takes a bit of getting used to.
Worse, perhaps, are the controls on the side of the unit, underneath the fold-out LCD. The menu and cursor buttons are built into the body and it's almost impossible to use them without turning the whole camera sideways, which inevitably means you can't see what's on the screen as you press. This starts off being mildly irksome but quickly becomes utterly infuriating the more you use the device.
Video quality tested
The similarities with Sanyo's camcorder continue when you start to explore the HX-WA10 on a technical level. Both cameras can capture still photos at up to 16-megapixel resolutions (with interpolation) and movies at up to 1080i (60 frames per second) or 1080p (30fps). A fast (60fps) 720p mode is available too.
In our tests we found the 1080p mode was better for shots where there's not a great deal of movement going on, while the 720/60p was better for fast-moving action.
A 12x zoom is on offer. Only 5x of this is optical, though -- the rest is an 'Advanced' zoom, which uses the sensor's extra pixels to magnify electronically without the quality loss associated with digital zooms. It works well, though there's no way of turning the non-optical magnification off.
Overall, we found the camcorder's performance was a little hit and miss. The HX-WA10 isn't able to compete with models further up Panasonic's product line, mainly because it uses a lower-quality H.264 video recording format, rather than the superior AVCHD standard. In practice, this means there's much more in the way of picture noise and artefacting to contend with.
We also found that contrast levels were rather unpredictable, often erring on the dark side, particularly when filming in the 1080p mode. That can make some colours look garish and unrealistic. A brown wooden fence we filmed during our tests turned out looking distinctly purple, for example.
When it comes to still photography, the HX-WA10 fares reasonably well. Colours can, again, sometimes prove fickle and we noticed quite a bit of purple fringing in some of our test snaps. Overall, though, shots taken in daylight were high in detail and free from grain.
Both still and moving pictures take quite a knock in quality when you bring the device indoors or shoot in low light, where noise, blurring and orangey overtones rule the day. This isn't too surprising with a camcorder of this type, however, and a built-in flash is available to help illuminate the situation.
If you're gunning for glory, picture quality-wise, then Panasonic's HX-WA10 will probably fall short of your expectations. What we would say, though, is that the HX-WA10 is fantastically easy to use. Operation boils down to two main buttons -- the one with the big camera symbol on it takes still photos and the one with the movie camera on captures video. Menus are straightforward and options are uncomplicated.
There aren't many creative options available but as an all-weather casual-use camcorder, then the HX-WA10 is definitely worth a shot.