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.
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.
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.
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.