Affordable Waterproof Cameras Make Waves

Fun, tough options are now available for less than $180.

Oct. 21, 2010— -- People may love splashing around in the pool, but most electronics do not.

If you want to capture those water-filled memories, there are two choices.

The first is a waterproof enclosure designed for your digital camera or camcorder. The second is a waterproof digital camera or camcorder.

Enclosures allow you to take advantage of the features and image quality of higher-end cameras and camcorders. But if they're not used properly, you risk damaging the camera.

A wide range of companies, including Canon, Sony and Panasonic, offer tough, waterproof digital cameras and camcorders, but with list prices generally around $400.

Recently, however, rivals from the days of film have brought to market waterproof imaging products that break the $200 barrier and can even capture full high-definition (1080p) video.

Their main differences lie in their still-capture capabilities, form factor, and ease of use.

The $179 Fujifilm Finepix XP10 is a 12 megapixel (MP) digital camera with features taken for granted in a low-end digital still camera. It includes a flash and 5x optical zoom. It also boasts an "auto-intelligent" setting for picking the proper scene mode, depending on what it's seeing.

The new camera is a successor to the company's first waterproof cameras, the Z33WP series. And with it, Fujiflm has upped the image and video capture resolution, but retained its somewhat toothy shape. The camera is also shockproof and dustproof.

NPD Research: Sub-$200 Camcorders Account for 56 Percent of the Camcorder Market

The $149 Kodak PlaySport follows a number of hit camcorders, such as the Zi6 and Zi8, introduced to compete with the Flip camcorder (now owned by Cisco).

(According to NPD's Retail Tracking Service, sub-$200 camcorders like these now account for 56 percent of the camcorder market.)

Like the XP10, it has a distinctive (although more traditional) design, with a rounded top and bottom, and a playful two-tone color scheme of white and purple. Like the XP10, the PlaySport is rated to be used in depths of up to 10 feet.

Unlike the Fujifilm digital camera, it can capture only five-megapixel stills and they are shot in the same widescreen format as its video. However, while the pictures may be a bit soft, they have better color saturation than the Fujifilm's. And Kodak's user interface makes it easier to switch between video and stills.

Camcorders Capture Underwater Memories But Not Without Limitations

The PlaySport also captures video at full HD -- 1080 lines of resolution versus the Fujifilm 720. While the PlaySport produces bright, beautiful video outdoors, low-light performance - even outdoors - was a bit grainy.

The PlaySport also beat the Fujifilm for connectivity. A mini-HDMI port provides convenient playback to HDTVs, and a standard micro-USB cable means that the PlaySport can be charged with the same cable that is compatible with more cell phones.

But both the XP10 and PlaySport require that you keep expectations in check.

Those include limited or no optical zooms, screens that can get washed out in bright sunlight and image quality that falls short of the best delivered by higher-end compact digital cameras.

Video also may shine in the summer sun, but it can fill with noise in low-light situations.

Still, for those who may not want to risk sending their high-end camera or camcorder down to Davey Jones' locker, both products make for carefree capturing of underwater memories.

Ross Rubin (@rossrubin on Twitter) is executive director of industry analysis at The NPD Group (@npdtech on Twitter). He blogs at The NPD Group Blog as well as his own blog, Out of the Box.