I recently purchased and tested out the Sanyo Xacti VPC-E1 (I love Amazon’s Free Shipping!) waterproof camcorder to determine if it was going to be a workable solution for snorkeling around a coral reef on an upcoming trip to Hawaii.
In playing with the camera at home I determined that the video quality was much better than I expected, and photos were decent quality for a 6.37 MP camera. I guess I had been expecting to give up some quality in order to gain a waterproof form factor, but apparently Sanyo didn’t think that was necessary!
Before we move on, there are two other waterproof cameras which are the Xacti’s main competitors. The Pentax Optio W30, and the Olympus Stylus 770 W. Here is what the Globe and Mail had to say about those two:
The other two drenchable devices are both 7-megapixel digital still cameras. Pentax’s Optio W30 ($237) and Olympus’ Stylus 770 SW ($270) are both the third-generation attempts by those companies to create waterproof cameras.
It’s not clear what specific aspect of making a camera waterproof requires some companies to use cheaper, lower-quality components Ã¢â‚¬â€ but both Pentax and Olympus have done exactly that. They take pretty poor photos, at least compared with other $300 cameras.
The Pentax’s colors are off, the Olympus’ details are soft; both cameras are slow to fire and almost useless in dim light. The burst modes are very slow, too Ã¢â‚¬â€ the Pentax’s is measured not in frames per second, but in seconds per frame (1.2); the Olympus’ speed is only slightly better.
So, both of these were out of the running for me from the start.
Now, the Sanyo Xacti has several excellent features which initially caught my eye. Although I’m not sure if I’m a fan of the trigger grip style of camera, that gut feeling is only due to the fact that I have no experience with them whatsoever. What the camera does have that caught my eye are:
- Shoot 640 x 480-pixel video clips and 6-megapixel still images simultaneously
- 5x optical zoom; 2.5-inch LCD screen
- Built-in image stabilization
- Up to 80 minutes recording time per 1GB memory card (not included) @ 30 Frames per second.
- Records in the excellent MPEG4 video format.
Now, C-Net has a full review of this camera and gave it fairly mixed reviews. Their opening comment is:
The bottom line: If underwater YouTubing were a market segment, the Sanyo Xacti VPC-E1 would be the camera to get. But the awkward design and slow performance make it hard to recommend for landlubbers.
Still, despite what they had to say, after playing with it for only about 30 minutes I shot the following sample video of Murmur the Cat:
I actually found that the form factor of this camera was not so bad. It’s different, but in a way it was actually much easier to hold it and shoot the video than if I were trying to do it with a standard rectangular digital camera. Plus, with the screen folded out to the side, it made the unit a little wider and gave me a better hand hold to stabilize the unit.
Before I go any farther, I must give credit to Ryanne Hodson (check out her awesome video blog) for her excellent video review of the Xacti a few months ago. Honestly, without this review I would never have chosen this oddly shaped little camcorder. So its fitting to share her review with you right here and now:
Also, there are some really nice sample photos and video over at the Sanyo site.
There were two things that I didn’t like about the Xacti VPC-E1:
- There is absolutely no lens cover. This really worries me. You do NOT want a scratch on that lens, or you’ve just ruined the unit. So it will have to be stored in the holster all the time. This is just sad. It should have a built in retractable lens cover.
- The image stabilization is only digital, not optical. This means that hand shake is not actually stabilized, but digitally altered, and this is sub-optimal.
All in all, if you want a digital camera that can also take very good video footage, I’m not aware of many that can do a better job than the little Xacti E1. The fact that it’s the only possible choice for underwater shooting is just a really big bonus.
- Sanyo’s page on the VPC-CA65, which I believe is the exact same model with a different number for some reason.
- Laptop Magazine’s Xacti E1 Review
- Swim with the fishes from the Globe and Mail