06 April 2011

GEAR: cameras_function follows design

I photograph a lot from the cockpit of a sea kayak. I believe in having a compact digital camera at hand to to capture dynamic shots, therefore I seek cameras that fit into the pocket of my PFD.
I understand that cameras that use a small chip (CCD) have limitations, even if manufacturers want to make the consumer believe that more megapixels will yield a better picture. Images produced from a compact will always be less sharp than a decent DSLR. I am fine with that. I seek images that depict the action of paddling, often in rough conditions. A DSLR in a waterproof housing wouldn't work for me.
For the last 5 years I have been using waterproof cameras that see a lot of exposure to the marine environment. My cameras usually get wet at least once a week, often stay wet for at least a few hours and are regularly rinsed in fresh water once back home.

Recent problems with one of my cameras ( I would like to keep the brand name undisclosed but users of that camera will recognize it) had led me to investigate a bit.
It appears that my problem is not isolated, actually quite common.
The manufacturer designed the shell to withstand water immersion and impact.
The core of the chassis is made of fibre reinforced plastic. To make the camera more appealing face plates of aluminium are covering the core.
Why aluminium? doesn't that material have problems in salt environments?
Well, aluminium comes in different grades and it seems that the manufacturer used a 7000 series that, while cheap to produce, has a terrible corrosion problem in salt water.
corrosion on rear_c
eventually stopped working; 6 months old
Different striking colors can be used for the anodizing of the aluminium plates that offer limited protection for corrosion, however bright orange, yellow, red etc. can be used to create visual appeal.
There is a prolific use of colored anodized aluminium in compact cameras these days.
The problems arise when the aluminium is used in marine environments.

While the manufacturer is very aware of the corrosion problem (on previous models) they insist in designing the new models of the waterproof camera with the same old aluminium plates.
The dirty part is that the manufacturer is NOT willing to honor the warranty when the cameras eventually fail due to corrosion.
corrosion on rear_2_c
In my case the corrosion crept into the button's contacts and, even though the camera never had water intrusion, stopped working.
I had a bit of a "heated" email exchange with the Hong Kong warranty dept. and eventually they warranteed my camera.
A reader of Gnarlydog News contacted me and had a different story.
The official Australian importer representing that brand refused warranty replacement to him claiming that the camera was not rinsed in fresh water within one hour after salt water use.
ONE HOUR!
Erin's camera_2
Erin's camera: used a couple of times, 3 months old!
C'mon. Real pictures are taken in real outdoors environments where rinsing the camera within an hour is totally impractical. To my reader I suggested to seek compensation under the "not fit for the purpose intended" claim.
The manufacturer can not expect that a waterproof camera that is designed for snorkeling should be washed within such short time.

To the manufacturer I suggest:
1)  drop the aluminium plates and use stainless steel or polycarbonate instead (other manufacturers are doing it)
2)  make sure that you design a camera that is fit for what you claim. Lab test are one thing, real world is an other
3)  honor legit warranty claims. You are doing more damage to the brand than the cost of replacing those few units that actually get used in the environment that the pretty advertising campaign suggests.

13 comments:

  1. Hi, I have already "finished" my second camera from the same brand (mine are orange) less than 18 months. Same problems. Same wonders. I have not even tried to claim the warranty.

    My problem is that right now I don't find any comparable camera that might serve as a sufficient replacement. I really like the output of this camera and especialy the battery.

    On the other hand, here is another wonder. While me and my friend use to store the camera in our PFD pocket and suffer from similar corrosion, some other 4 friends that acquired the camera with us, have not even a slight sign of corrosion. They all use the camera attached to the kayak, spending many hours in the salty sea and them immerse the camera for 20 minutes or more in sweet water. None of us rinse it after an hour, of course.

    I have no idea what is going on, but suspecting that it has to do with something that happens within the pocket...

    Take care and keep updating, --Yossi (Israel)

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  2. Timely post Gnarly. It's my birthday next week and I was just about to treat myself to a FT3 to replace my Optio, (which lives permanently in my Optio drawer). Now I definitely won't bother. I will stick to my 5DMk2 and use the money to buy a tank of diesel for the car instead. In a recession, you would think they would try a little harder.

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  3. Gnarlydog'

    i have the same camera for about six months now

    i use it mostly mounted on my kayak ,it is hardly in my pfd's pocket

    the camera "suffers" extreme use like when surfing (you can check my video on YouTube
    under "cnissimc")

    after each use i put it in water for long period of time (hours) and i must say that corrosion signs are hardly seen

    i can also say that two of my friends have it also and reporting the same as you are (both followed instructions of the manufacturer )

    i guess buying a self contained water proof camera every once in a while is inevitable

    thank you

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  4. Interesting - I bought one of those having read some good reviews by other sea paddlers. I sold it a few weeks later having found that the controls were poor, the image quality worse and it failed completely in low temperatures (within the operating range).
    I've since given up completely on waterproof compacts - just can't justify the expense for what they provide.
    Of those I have used (most on the market), the Olympus mju (one of the earlier models) lasted longest and generally gave better results.
    Cheers
    Will

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  5. Will, same experience here.
    The old Olympus 720SW had aluminum plates and faired well for nearly 3 years.
    It appears that anodized treatment varies.
    When I was in the bicycle industry we occasionally did anodize some of our aluminum frames/parts. We usually specified "hard anodized" since it offered way better scratch resistance and it was a deeper treatment. Could it be that not all face plates on the camera in question are of the same quality? Makes me wonder...

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  6. Nice post, i have similar experiences, my used camera drawer contains a sony, olympus, pentax[lasted all of two months] and now i am on the canon and holding thumbs, so far its been just about 1 year.What about the new pentax, looks tough with all that rubber ?As for the guarentee, forget about it, if you take the camera to the water the guarentee gets wet and unusuable

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  7. You either accept having to buy a new camera every year or

    Canon G12 with underwater housing is still small enough to handle in a kayak. It will shoot RAW - (you want that for extra dynamic range. Keep the gaskets conditioned.

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  8. I've had three different models from this manufacturer, and agree that the corrosion is an issue (although not on the FT10 which has a plastic rather than aluminium case). But I've taken amazing images with it every week from the water and have to say in many cases better than those I've taken with my DSLR (contrary to one of the comments above, I think the images are quite outstanding). The maker should heed the call about the Warranty and product improvements, but all in all I still love this range.

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  9. I am satisfied with the image quality of the waterproof camera in question even if it does not match the resolution or the sharpness of a DSLR or a high end compact camera (larger chip) with a proper lens that shoots in RAW.
    Most of my images are often used for e-publications and that's good enough.
    If I had to do serious work for money then probably the little pancake lens of the waterproof cameras would not cut it.
    My images most likely would not be as dynamic and probably I would not be able to capture the action "stuff" that happens without planning.
    Gone are the days of my Hasselblad quality...

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  10. I am beginning to think I have been lucky. I have had an Olympus SW 770 for about 3 years, it lives in my pfd pocket for both sea and white water. So far I have had no corrosion or leakage problems.

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  11. Is it not possible to remove the aluminium cover? Is this cover only to give a fashion colour?

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  12. Ian, I don't know if you can remove the cover without compromisimg the camera's waterproofness and warranty.
    The manufacturer certainly makes no mention of that capability.

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  13. The PCB should also be lacquered. It costs pennies and takes such a small amount of time to do, that to not do it is criminal!

    TechnoEngineer

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