A most impressive adventure camera with WiFi, 1080p/60 HD video, 50-foot depth rating (by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer and Carol Cotton)
Rugged cameras have come a very long way since the first toughened-up models appeared a few years ago. Anyone wanting to know just how far they've come need only look at Fujifilm's new FinePix XP200, introduced March 22, 2013. The progress since those early days is almost unbelievable, both in terms of ruggedness and in terms of features and technology.
What happened, in essence, is that over a period of six years or so, "tough" cameras went from being a small niche market covered by two or three camera manufacturers to being a rather lucrative business appealing to a modern outdoor lifestyle. At a time where compact cameras are increasingly replaced by smartphones, the burgeoning segment of tough cameras is offering something those sleek, slender smartphones can't: survive the great outdoors where it gets wet and cold and things get dropped and bopped around. Smartphones can't handle that. Cameras like this new Fuji FinePix XP200 can. And impressively so.
But what makes this camera so special, apart from its snazzy good looks? The way it holds up to extreme environmental conditions. I know a thing or two about that because in my capacity as editor-in-chief of RuggedPCReview.com, I analyze and test the toughest and most rugged computing equipment money can buy. Stuff the military uses, and the police and firefighter and first responder. In that demanding field, there are few devices, regardless of cost, that can survive drops from more than four or five feet. The XP200 can survive drops from two meters (6.6 feet). That's impressive.
Equally impressive is the camera's ability to function in a very wide operating temperature range from 14 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit, which means it's freezeproof. And we're actually pretty sure you can use this Fuji at temperatures much higher than 104 degrees (we frequently get more here in Sacramento, California).
But the environmental spec that's even more impressive is that the XP200 is waterproof down to 50 feet. Since you're reading this review in scubadiverinfo.com, the significance of this class-leading depth rating is obvious: you can actually take this camera on many dives. For a good number of years, the depth rating of such cameras was limited to ten meters, or 33 feet. As every scuba diver knows, few dives are that shallow, and so those cameras were mostly left behind. 50 feet is an entirely different story. Looking at my dive log, only 15% of all my dives maxed out at 30 feet, but 45% were less than 60 feet. What that means is that the 50-foot depth rating would have been able to accompany me on two to three times as many dives as a 33-foot class camera. That's easily the difference between a waterproof camera that's truly useful, and one that really isn't.
You could argue, of course, that even 50 feet isn't quite enough for the majority of dives, and that most serious divers will use a camera in a divehousing anyway. True, but divehousings are bulky and add quite a bit of cost. To be able to dive with a little 8-ounce camera that doesn't need a housing is wonderfully liberating.
But there's more, and I am framing this in the sense of how very far we've come with cameras like the FinePix XP200, and less about how it compares to contemporary competition. During the early years of digital cameras, there was this quest for ever higher resolution, quickly obsoleting everything that didn't measure up. That era is gone, and as long as it's enough, the number megapixel has become almost irrelevant. The FinePix XP200 has 16.4 megapixel, which is four more than my brand-new go-to compact, a Canon G15. What matters more is that most digital cameras, including the XP200, have now switched from CCDs (charge coupled devices) to CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor) imagers. I won't go into the technical details other than to say that CMOS is more flexible in making possible onboard video, imaging tricks, buffering and, one might say, treat the imager as sort of a scratch pad where different things can be done in different places rather than using the entire imager area for just images and nothing else.
As a result, the XP200 can not only take 16-megapixel stills, but also record full 1080p high defintion video, and at a blistering 60 frames per second. It can even record at 240 frames per second at lower resolutions for slow motion playback. And, again thanks to CMOS, it can shoot up to nine full resolution frames in burst mode (it even has a special button for that). Imagine how nice it is to select the best from nine full-res shots when something happens, rather than hoping that the one shot came out well. So you have a conventional shutter, a dedicated burst-mode button, and a dedicated movie button. Talk about versatility.
Now what about design and ergonomics? We haven't had hands-on yet, but from the looks of it, Fuji really thought this one through. The hardware controls are large enough, in the right place, and they are about as standard as it gets these days. The learning curve should be minimal. The display measures 3.0 inches diagonally and offers high 920k pixel resolution as well as anti-reflective coating. All that said, note that the FinePix XP200 is a fairly large camera, certainly larger than you'd think judging by the pictures on this page. A footprint of 4.6 x 2.8 inches, 1.2 inches thickness, and half a pound is considerably more substantial than a slender little pocket camera. In fact, it's almost as large as my compact Canon G15.
Zoom isn't as important underwater as it is on dry land, but I still appreciate that Fuji packed a nice 5X optical zoom into this camera, and that it starts slightly wide at 28mm equivalent. Underwater that matters because you want to get as close as possible and see as much as possible in a frame. There's also a 2X digital zoom multiplier, but this is "intelligent" digital zoom without the reduction of image quality of conventional digital zoom that simply enlarge each recorded pixel. In macro mode you can get as close as 3.5 inches. Good enough.
And there are some neat tricks. There's a wireless image transfer feature that lets you copy pictures and movies to smartphones and computers. There's also remote camera browsing so you can peruse your pictures on the much larger screen of a tablet. About the only thing I'm not crazy about is the measly 40MB of internal memory In an era where every phone has at least 8GB of storage, a camera ought to have than just a few meg. Why? Because sometimes you forget to put a card in, or the card gets full, or it goes bad. That's when you need internal storage.
With the 16-megapixel FinePix XP200, announced in March of 2013, Fujifilm adds a most impressive offering to the rugged/waterproof camera space increasingly crowded by products from Canon, Panasonic, Pentax, Nikon, Sony and a number of specialty manufacturers. The attractively styled camera is on the large side, but that's because it's tougher and can handle deeper depths than most of the competition. Its 50-foot depth rating makes the camera truly useful for many dives, and is a definite and much appreciated step up from the 33 feet that was the maximum for these types of cameras for several years. And it's freezeproof as well and can handle drops from more than six feet.
On the tech and spec side, we like the large, sharp 3-inch screen with its reflective coating, the large and logical controls, the separate burst mode and video buttons, and the impressive array of video recording features. Being able to record full 1080p high definition video at 60 frames per second is terrific. As is recording at 240 fps for slow motion playback at lower resolutions. Available in yellow, red, blue and black for a list price of US$299, this FinePix camera is a downright bargain and offers an awful lot for the money.
Waterproof to 50 feet!
Freezeproof and shockproof to 6.6 feet!
Bright 3.0-inch LCD
1080p/60fps HD video
Four colors and attractive styling
A bargain for a waterproof camera this competent
One-touch movies and special burst mode button
5X optical zoom that starts wide
Not so much:
Only two underwater modes and no separate underwater white balance