The Canon PowerShot D20 is one of a growing choice of rugged, waterproof cameras designed for extreme travel and activity photography.
It can sustain a drop of 1.5m, freezing to -10C, and can be submerged in up to 10m of water. If you need to take it deeper than that, there's an optional housing that will let you go down as far as 40m.
You can pick one up from around £300 online.
Design and build
It's a cliché, but you'll either love or hate the design. Personally, I love it. The body is two-toned in black and either yellow, silver or turquoise. It's garish, but if you were to drop it in mud or murky water, those colours would help you find it easily.
I had no such problems when putting Canon's claims to the test, submerging it in a vase of water and then dropping it from a height of 1.5 metres. It survived both tests, although on the second drop it did blank the screen and ask to be restarted. This isn't something I can criticise as it's unlikely you'd want a video of it being dropped, so a safety measure of that kind won't spoil your footage.
The lens is entirely captive, which means it can only zoom to 5x. That's the price you pay for buying a body with no protruding parts to knock off, but it still delivers a range equivalent to 28-140mm on a 35mm camera. The aperture spread runs from a conservative f/3.9 in wide angle to a very respectable f/4.8 at maximum telephoto.
There's a 4x digital zoom option that you can disable through the menus. When combined with the optical zoom, the result is equivalent to 20x magnification. As you'd expect, there's some deterioration in the results caused by the camera cropping and enhancing the central portion of the image using an algorithm. But Canon deserves credit for producing an acceptable result.
The image below shows the same scene fully zoomed out, zoomed to the maximum optical zoom, and them zoomed again to the full extent of the digital zoom.
Its native resolution is 12.1 megapixels, delivering 4,000x3,000-pixel images, at sensitivities between ISO 100 and ISO 3,200, which you can extend by +/-2EV in 1/3 stop increments.
Maximum shutter speed in auto mode is 1/1,600 second, slowing to 1 second at best. If you want anything longer than this you'll have to switch to an alternative shooting mode, at which point you can push it to 15 seconds. Unless you have a sturdy surface on which to rest it, you'll need to use the standard quarter-inch tripod mount to hold it steady.
In common with most non-dSLR shooters, there's no viewfinder, so all framing and reviewing is done on the rear-mounted 3-inch screen. This was bright enough on the default setting to be clear and easy to use throughout my tests. You can switch between five brightness settings.
This is one of two rugged, waterproof models in Canon's current PowerShot line-up. The more conventional-looking D10, which shares the D20's resolution, has a shorter zoom and narrower sensitivity range. What really sets them apart is the inclusion of a GPS chip in the D20, which automatically geotags your photos as they're shot. This additional metadata allows applications like Adobe Lightroom and Apple Aperture to plot them on a Google Map so you can see at a glance where each was captured.
The D20 has five primary shooting modes and 17 scene modes. I performed my tests using auto mode to replicate the conditions under which most users will shoot with this class of camera.
There was evidence of chromatic aberration in the corners of some images when shooting at wide angle. This is an unwanted effect that fringes sharp contrasts in an image with pink or turquoise edges, and is caused by the lens not quite focusing each wavelength of visible light in precisely the same spot on the sensor.
This can clearly be seen in the image below, where it has resulted in a pink fringe on the pebbles on the beach and the crossbar of the boat winch.
Again, it's visible on the legs of this pier, where the pink fringing to the left of each one is accompanied by a matching turquoise fringe to the right.
Detail resolution was generally very good, even in areas with little tonal variation. The steps in the image below are of a very similar colour, yet even as they get close to the top, where the distinctions are increasingly fine, it's easy to make out the tread of each one.
However, in some instances, the results displayed more grain than I expected. When zoomed to 100 per cent, the windows and facing wall of the hotel below clearly show this effect, despite being shot at a fairly low camera-selected sensitivity of ISO 160.
This hotel was shot in bright light at a fairly low sensitivity of ISO 160, yet the result still contains grain (click image to enlarge).
Naturally, it displayed the most noise when forced to expose a shot at its maximum sensitivity of ISO 3,200. While the noise was too pronounced to clearly make out fine detail within the image, such as ingredients lists on the back of a food can, more obvious contrasts such as the grain in wooden shelves were easy to make out. The colours were also true to their originals despite the very low light level.
Colour reproduction was excellent, with the D20 consistently rendering an accurate representation of the original subject, both in direct sunlight and under overcast skies. Areas with narrow tonal variation were particularly well handled, with smooth transitions between similar colours helping it to pick out fine detail without fudging them. This was the case with the rose below, where the subtle changes within the yellow gamut make each petal easy to identify.
The D20 shoots HD video at 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution, at 24 frames per second, or 1,280x720 pixels at 30fps. There's also a regular 640x480-pixel shooting option and two high-speed modes, recording 640x480-pixel footage at 120fps and 320x240 pixels at 240fps.
I used the 1080p option in my tests and achieved very impressive results. Motion was smoothly captured and colours were as true in movies as they were in stills. The sound of the zoom motor was well suppressed, but wind noise was very loud on the test footage, despite the wind filter being activated.
Aside from this, the soundtrack was well handled, delivering clear results and cleanly capturing quiet noises.
The PowerShot D20 is the best rugged, waterproof camera I've tested. Canon has made very few compromises and paired good -- although not perfect -- performance with a striking design.
You'll shoot better pictures with a more conventional camera, such as the IXUS 510 HS, but that's not going to serve you very well if you want to take it in the pool or out to sea.
With the D20, you don't need to think too much about how you'll be treating it, so long as you live within Canon's fairly generous parameters. If you need a go-anywhere snapper and you live an extreme lifestyle, this is the one to buy.