Canon Powershot D20 Review
The Canon Powershot D20 is a rugged and waterproof digital camera. It is only a little thicker than an ultra-compact. As Canon's second waterproof digital camera, the D20 can reach a maximum underwater depth of 10m (33') and is both shockproof to 1.5m (5') drops and freezeproof to -10C (14F). Plus, to cater to adventurous types, it includes GPS as well.
A 12 megapixels CMOS sensor lets this camera capture full 1080p HD videos. This is paired with a non-protruding wide-angle 5X optical zoom lens with image stabilization. The durable body has reinforced glass covers in front of the lens and on the rear LCD which has 460K pixels to make it rather sharp.
The Canon Powershot D20 is a almost entirely a point-and-shoot camera. It features MF, Spot metering and custom white-balance which are rarely available on waterproof cameras. Its simple feature and design make it easy to operate for beginners.
Canon Powershot D20 Features
- 12 Megapixels High-Speed CMOS sensor
- 5X Optical zoom, 28-140mm, F/3.9-4.8
- Built-in image-stabilization
- ISO 100 to 3200 sensitivity range
- 1/1600s to 15s shutter-speed range
- ±2 Exposure-Compensation, in 1/3 EV steps
- Multi-Segment, Center-Weighed and Spot metering
- Automatic, Custom and 6 Preset White-Balance
- Autofocus, Macro Autofocus and Manual Focus modes
- Optional Manual Focus assist
- Optional autofocus-assist lamp
- Focus Drive: Single-Shot or Continuous
- Focus Area: Center, Face-Detection and Subject-Tracking
- Auto, On, Slow-Sync and Off flash modes
- Optional redye-reduction
- Single-shot and Continuous drive modes
- 1.1 FPS Unlimited Continuous Drive
- 2s, 10s and Custom1-10 Shots at 0-30s intervals. Self-Timers
- 1920x1080 @ 24 FPS 1080p HD Video capture
- 640x480 @ 120 FPS High-Speed video
- 320x240 @ 240 FPS High-Speed video
- Optional Wind-Filter
- 3" LCD with 460K Pixels
- Waterproof to 10m
- Shockproof to 1.5m
- Freezeproof to -10C
- Built-in GPS
- Secure Digital Extended Capacity (SDXC)
- Lithium-Ion Battery
Usability - How easy is it to use?
The Canon Powershot D20 has a rectangular shape with rounded corners and edges. This makes it difficult to hold securely, which is generally the case for ultra-compact cameras. As usual, a wrist-strap is given. The one provided with the D20 is extremely sturdy with a tightening element for added security. Oddly though, it attaches to the wrong side of the camera, opposite from the gripping side, which makes it slightly annoying.
A standard two-stage shutter-release with a very soft halfway point is found at the top of the camera. This is the only serious usability issue of the D20 and causes accidental shots rather frequently, particularly when wearing gloves. Since the camera is not so fast, an accidental shot prevents the desired moment from being captured.
The shutter-release is flanked by two flat buttons: Power and Playback. Both are slightly recessed to prevent accidental activation, yet are large enough to use with gloves on. Both buttons work exactly as expected.
The front of the camera shows a tiny flash unit and the non-protruding lens on one corner. The lens is protected by a glass cover which remains exposed at all times. Users must be very careful not to dirty it and not to obstruct it while shooting. This latter point is particularly hard to do while shooting with both hands.
The remaining controls are all found on the back of the camera which is dominated by a large 3" LCD with 460K pixels. Visibility is excellent and resolution is sufficiently high to confirm focus. Buttons are crammed to the right of the LCD and around a textured thumb-rest. Above the rest is the two-part zoom controller which moves the lens quickly and quietly through its range. There are a lot of steps to the zoom but increments are rather coarse.
To the right of the rest is a Video-Record button because this camera sadly lacks a dedicated Video mode. Not only you cannot preview framing for video like this since the display is showing the 4:3 image preview, the D20 also takes a whopping 2½s to start recording.
There is 4-way controller with center-button made up of five separate buttons below the thumb-rest. The center FUNC/SET button activates a vertical Function menu. Unlike the classic Canon Function menu, the one here is less efficient since menus and items are both vertical. Pressing the button once activates the menu, pressing it again enters into the sub-menu. The vertical directions are used to navigate up or down on any list.
Each direction of the 4-way controller is assigned a function:
- Up: Brings up the mode-selection menu. Up and Down select the major mode while Left and Right select a variation, if available. Details below.
- Right: Cycles through 4 flash modes: Auto, On, Slow-Sync and Off. Pressing Menu brings up a simple menu to enable Redeye Reduction and Redeye Correction.
- Down: Toggles information overlay in Capture mode. Cycles over display modes in Playback mode.
- Left: Cycles through Macro, Autofocus or Manual Focus. Once MF is selected, Up and Down set the focus distance.
Notably absent here is Exposure-Compensation which is found in the Function menu.
The Canon Powershot D20 has an unusual arrangement of camera modes. There is an automatic Auto mode and a Program mode. The former prevents changing ISO, EC, WB and Metering. There is an Underwater mode which comes in Standard and Macro variety. The remaining options hide 17 more photography modes plus 3 specialized video modes. A useful Panorama mode in Left-to-Right or Right-to-Left variety is included.
The final control is a triangular Menu button. As expected, this one enters and exists the camera menu which is rather short considering the automatic nature of this camera.
Overall, usability of the Canon Powershot D20 is reasonable. Way too many out of focus shots got captured during the review period as the halfway point on the shutter-release is easy to miss while wearing gloves. The remaining buttons are easy to use and the display stays clear. Exposure is simulated reasonably well. One mystery with the review unit is that some settings occasionally got reset. Most of the time, settings remained exactly how they were left, just not always.
The freezeproof construction undoubtedly works. The camera managed to keep running with normal battery-life down to -25C for over two hours until the photographer could not take it anymore! In contrast with the Powershot D20, another standard ultra-compact stopped working within 8 minutes under the same conditions. Given this weather, the waterproof construction could not be tested deeper than bathtub depth.
Performance - How well does it take pictures?
This rugged camera produces 12 megapixels images throughout its entire sensitivity range. This is sufficient to make nice 9"x12" prints. Typically, 8 megapixels would be enough for larger output but there is softness due to noise-reduction even at base ISO.
Both ISO 100 and 200 are very similar and produce images with a no noise but general softness already. Fine details are difficult to make out when viewed at 100% and local-contrast is low. This is most likely caused by aggressive noise-reduction. The darkest image areas are uniformly grey with virtually no blacks which suggests that noise is being smudged around.
ISO 400 shows even stronger softness and a miniscule amount of noise. At this point a 9x12" print is possible but can look a little dull. ISO 800 pushes softness some more, while noise starts being more readily apparent. A mid-size prints looks obviously blotchy at this point and remains acceptable.
The highest ISO 1600 and 3200 border on useless. This is higher than any such smaller sensor should go, so we would reserve this for emergencies at best. A small 4x6" print renders its subject recognizable. This is better than nothing under some circumstances.
Color accuracy is reasonable with slightly too much red, resulting in warmer colors than reality. There is also a bit of oversaturation but nothing too disturbing. White-Balance performs quite well in good light. In low-light, both indoors and outdoors, this digital camera often leaves a noticeable color-cast. While preset WB improve things, custom white-balance takes care of most issues.
The Multi-Segment metering system, called Evaluative by Canon, produces generally well-balanced exposure. Given the limited dynamic-range of the Canon D20, it tends to give slightly more over-exposure than usual. This happens mostly in images with small bright highlights. It rarely under-exposes except for high-key subjects.
There is surprisingly little optical distortion for such a small lens. There is some very slight barrel distortion from wide-angle to at least the middle of the zoom range. This turns into measurable pincushion distortion near the telephoto end. A slight amount of vignetting occurs at wide-angle but becomes negligible after zooming in.
The performance of the Canon Powershot D20 can characterized by the following measurements:
- Power On: 1½s. Good
- Focus: ¾s in good light, closer to 1s most times. Below average.
- Shutter-Lag: Instant. Very good.
- Shot-to-Shot: 3s. Slow.
- Playback mode: 1s. Average.
- Capture mode: 1. Below average.
- Power Off: ½s. Very good.
- Video Record: 2½s. Very slow.
While the Canon Powershot D20 has a fast shutter-lag and controls generally remain quite responsive, its performance is clearly lagging. Shot-to-shot speeds are slow and focusing is sluggish at best, making this camera unsuitable for action photography. The final number is a battery-life of 280 shots-per-charge. This is slightly above average and actually impressive considering the built-in GPS.
Video quality is reasonable. Both exposure and focus are continiously adjusted during filming. While exposure follows well, focus can easily lag behind, resulting in seconds of out-of-focus video. There are two more highly problematic aspects of video which were mentioned above in the Usability section: a 2½ second delay to start and the incorrect framing being shown in the LCD.
The Canon Powershot D20 is a rugged camera designed for use in extreme environments. Its waterproof build can be submerged to depth of 10m, withstand drops of 1.5m and be taken outside down to -10C. Needless to say, this camera can handle any type of weather. Given its compact-size, the D20 can easily be taken anywhere while the buttons are sufficiently large to make it quite usable.
Evaluating image quality depends on the basis of comparison. While typical compact cameras are capable of capturing higher-quality images, the Canon Powershot D20 compares well with other rugged cameras which require internal optics and small sensors. With this camera, Canon chose a strong noise-reduction process which keeps noise low until ISO 800 while obliterating fine details, this limiting maximum print sizes to medium print sizes in good light.
The performance of this digital camera falls below average. The autofocus system is sluggish while both shot-to-shot speeds and the video-recording delay are rather slow. For still subject, this remains adequate but action photography would be difficult. Still, the D20 has a fast shutter-lag and is quite responsive. The zoom is fast and very quiet.
The bottom line is that the Canon Powershot D20 is capable of capturing reasonable quality images under conditions accessible to very few cameras. It works well, simply and intuitively. For adventurous photographers or simple people who do not to worry much about their camera, this one will do the job.
Canon D20 Facts
Compact digital camera
|12 Megapixels Fixed Lens||ISO 100-3200|
|5X Wide Optical Zoom||Shutter 1/1600-15s|
|Built-in Stabilization||Custom white-balance|
|Waterproof to 10m||Spot-Metering|
|Weatherproof down to -10C||Lithium-Ion|
|1.9 FPS Drive, Unlimited Images||Secure Digital High Capacity|
|1920x1080 @ 24 FPS Video Recording|
|3" LCD 460K Pixels|
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