Review: Dive deep with 3 underwater cameras

These digital cameras from Olympus, Panasonic and SeaLife don't mind a dunking.

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Panasonic SDR-SW20

The Panasonic SDR-SW20 may be one of the ugliest camcorders you'll ever see, but what it lacks in beauty, it makes up for in great video quality and the kind of ease that you typically won't find in other devices. With a red outer shell and black accents, the camcorder is much too big and bulky to be to be carried around in a pocket with any ease.

Like the Olympus, the Panasonic is rugged and designed to withstand some punishment, although it can't hold out in all the environments the Olympus can.

According to Panasonic, the SDR-SW20 can survive in 5 feet of water and withstand a drop of 4 feet. Its plastic outer shell doesn't seem rugged enough to withstand any major shock and the hearty CRACK! I heard after dropping it made me think twice about doing it again. However, after the drop, there were only a few scratches on the side and it worked fine.

underwater cameras
Panasonic SDR-SW20

As far as the user interface is concerned, though, the Panasonic stands out. It can sometimes be difficult to get to all the buttons you're looking for and capture the right angle for the perfect shot while underwater. But with the help of a flip screen and just a few simple buttons underneath the flip screen, the SDR-SW20 makes it easier than any other device.

In fact, when I was capturing video underwater, I only needed to slide the mode wheel to video, press the Underwater button and press Record on the back to start rolling. And with just the zoom buttons on top, it made for an easy experience that left me more time to watch the action and less time fiddling with buttons.

Video quality was well above average. I was impressed with how well the SDR-SW20 was able to reproduce what was happening in front of the lens. The multicolored rings were shown accurately and the sides of the pool were displayed in detail.

I was also pleased with the camcorder's ability to capture minute details of the submerged shark toy and even show the eyes and smallest scales, which the Olympus was incapable of displaying. And with the help of stereo sound, any major noise underwater was captured in surprisingly high fidelity.

The Panasonic SDR-SW20 is also capable of taking still shots, but doesn't do it nearly as well as it captures video. In fact, I was displeased by how grainy the pictures looked and how little detail they featured. Keep in mind, however, that the SDR-SW20 is a camcorder first and foremost.

Although it may be the ugliest device in the group and it doesn't offer the kind of ruggedness I liked from the Olympus 1030 SW, the Panasonic SDR-SW20 is a fine camcorder that does a great job of capturing video underwater. And with an ease of use that easily eclipses the others, it's certainly the kind of device your kids would understand when they're underwater.

underwater cameras
The Panasonic SDR-SW20 is a camcorder first and foremost; it is capable of taking still shots, but is better at capturing video.
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