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These days if you want to take print-quality photos on the go, you've got all sorts of options. There's the smartphone in your pocket, ever-cheaper interchangeable lens cameras, and a slew of high-end point-and-shoots. All of these options are capable of taking great photos, but especially as the summer rolls around you may want to take photos somewhere these devices weren't meant to travel.
Maybe you're heading to the beach, going scuba diving, or simply handing the camera off to the kids while on family vacation. For instances like these, a toughcam is the way to go. These cameras are built to survive short drops, long dives underwater, and all the abuse that a child can inflict on an electronic device. While we've already checked out Nikon's newest toughcam entry, Canon has also updated its lineup with the new Canon PowerShot D30 (MSRP $329.99).
The D30 replaces the D20 (released back in 2012), bringing with it enhanced survival skills an a new physical design. This new camera can survive treks underwater as deep as 82 feet and drops of up to 6.5 feet—more than enough to get through casual use. Other than that, however, it doesn't do much to change up the D20's formula. With the waterproof camera market as competitive as ever, is it worth paying full price for yesterday's tech?
Though point and shoots are hardly flying off the shelves these days, it's always a little disappointing when we see an updated model bearing the same exact hardware as its predecessor. That's exactly what Canon did with the D30—looking at the spec sheets of both this camera and the one it replaces, the D20, you'll see a lot of similarities.
The chassis is a lot different however. A refreshingly improved outer grip and less radical design means a camera that isn't going to squirt out of your hands at the first sign of moisture. A beefier hand strap and more substantial controls also add a reassuring chunkiness to the camera. If there's one hallmark to the D30's design, it's keeping things basic, but functional.
On the back of the camera is a 461k-dot LCD, flanked by some very thick controls. The buttons are big and easy to use, but the waterproofing lends them a gummy feeling. Otherwise the control cluster is basically the same as Canon's cheaper point and shoots. On the bottom of the camera, a sealed battery door protects the SD/SDHC/SDXC card slot and the NB-6L rechargeable lithium-ion battery. Protecting a miniHDMI port, USB, and DC-in ports is yet another sealed door, this time on the side of the camera.
Once you get past the outer design and the waterproofing, the D30 is basically the same as the existing D20. The D30—like the D20—has a 1/2.3" 12.1 megapixel sensor behind a still-mediocre f/3.9-4.8 5x zoom lens (5-25mm). Having two years to catch up to offerings like the Olympus TG-2, Pentax WG-3, and the latest refresh to Nikon's waterproof toughcam, it's a bit odd that the D30 has such a narrow aperture when most of its other competitors have f/2.8 or wider.
The main issue with the Canon's lens is that it doesn't open as wide as the competition, letting in less light. This means that it has to rely on upping its sensitivity in low light, giving you the same grainy, blurry photos you get from your smartphone. The D30 may be able to survive dips down the 82 feet, but you'll need to bring a lot of extra light if you expect to take photos at that depth.
Much of the appeal for buying Canon's PowerShot D30 lies in its rugged exterior. Like other toughcams on the market, the main draw is that it can go places even high-end DSLRs can't go without investing in super-expensive waterproof housings. Even then, carrying all that equipment won't be fun when you're trying to travel light. Though Nikon's 1 AW1 is a good compromise if you want interchangeable lenses and underwater shooting, tough point-and-shoots like the D30 are simply more portable.
If you're looking to shoot some video, the D30 offers the ability to shoot in full HD, but audio will sound strange with its linear PCM mono audio recording—only one channel will be recorded. The option exists to shoot in .mov or AVCHD video, in resolutions of 1080p, 720p, and 640p. Should you like the included filters in the Auto mode, you can use them in your videos—but definitely remember to change your settings if you don't want all your videos to have the last filter you used.
Beyond that, though, this is a very basic camera. Though it has a GPS antenna to add location data to your images, it's not as fleshed-out or useful as the maps and points of interest you can access on the Nikon AW120. Additionally, the D30 lacks wireless sharing—over WiFi or any other standard. If you want to share your snaps online while on the go you'd better have a laptop and a wireless card handy.
The D30 does include an HDMI port for sharing photos when hooked up to a television, but practically every one of its competitors has the same functionality. It offers far less in the way of sharing with mobile devices and in this day and age, that's a non-starter for the Facebook and Instagram crowd.
Once we took the D30 for a spin in our labs, we found a camera that performs well for a point-and-shoot but fails when compared to its more advanced tough peers. And if you're ignoring the durability and just comparing the D30 on price alone, it really falls behind contemporaries like the Sony HX50V. Even Canon's PowerShot 340 HS handily outpaces this updated camera. It may cost $350, but it performs like a camera that costs about half as much.
That said, the D30 isn't all that bad. Despite relatively low sharpness and high noise, the camera does keep its color reproduction in check. However, that sharpness loss is severe enough to really set it back. Subjects in the very middle of the frame look okay, but the corners are soft and image quality leaves a lot to be desired.
Of course, if you're looking at this part of the market you're probably willing to sacrifice a bit of image quality for durability. And for most casual applications the D30's shots will be fine. But the D20 wasn't the best camera when it was released in 2012 and two years of advances in this part of the market haven't done the D30 any favors. If Canon had included its newest Digic 6 processor in the D30 things might have been improved, but relying on the same Digic 4 as the D20 just feels like Canon is mailing it in.
Video suffers from the same sharpness issues as still shots do, making for iffy quality. Though the videos are captured in full HD, we're seeing the same issues now that we saw in 2012 with the D20. You can expect things like strobing and blurring to show up in most settings, and if objects are moving at more than a snail's pace video quality is smartphone-quality at best. In low light, focusing problems and severe noise issues only make things worse.
Though point and shoots are a dying breed, the one thing rugged cameras offer over smartphone cameras is the ability to go places a phone can't. Though there's only a select few rugged point and shoots on the market, they bring a lot of useful features to those looking for a vacation camera that can withstand kids and adventures. Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax, and Nikon, in particular, have done a lot of work in the past two years to produce great point-and-shoots that happen to be durable, and not simply cheap point-and-shoots that won't keel over if they fall in the pool.
However, despite Canon's focus on updating the outside to improve the durability ratings, it didn't do much to make the guts of the D30 any better. The competing tough cams from Nikon, Pentax, and Olympus are simply better cameras. Worse, most of the competition costs the same or less than the D30. The D30 is easy to use, but it's tough to justify more money for a worse camera.
That's not to say that this camera is terrible—it's not—but you're paying a premium for the Canon name, and little else. If you're looking to save money, get a more feature-laden camera, or both, shopping around will almost assuredly land you a better piece of equipment. You could even pick up the D20 itself (where available) and get practically identical image quality for less money.
To wit, this year's Nikon AW120 ($349.95 MSRP) offers a wider aperture, GPS navigation, WiFi sharing, a metal exterior, better image quality, and remote shooting with Nikon's mobile app—for only $20 more. That should put things into perspective as to how much you're sacrificing when you buy the D30. Additionally, this year's Olympus TG-3 offers just about everything on that lists sans app— for the same amount of money as the D30. You may just be looking for a camera to fit the bill and not care about extras, but it's better to have tools and not use them than not have features and need them, right?
If you want to pay less for a comparable camera, you can always pick up one of last year's cameras at a deep discount. Panasonic's TS5, as well as the Pentax WG-3 are both below $300 online, and offer a bit more than the D30 brings to the table. For a full breakdown on 2013's best waterproof models, check out our waterproof roundup from last year. We'll have a 2014 version soon, but you can bet the D30 won't earn high marks.
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