Pocket-sized waterproof mini Full HD camcorder that’s ideal for travel without a smartphone
Want a gadget for taking on short trips where you want basic video and stills, but where you don;t want to take a smartphone? OK, so Sony’s Xperia Z1 and Z2 smartphones may be waterproof, but most aren’t. For frolicking in water, the W200’s rugged ‘multi-proof’ build and underwater option will come in handy, though we’re not sure that’s enough given its fairly average stills and video.
Measuring 60x113x20mm and weighing 130g, it’s slightly heavier than fellow pretender to the Flip’s throne, the Kodak PlayFull we reviewed last week, though it does have a much larger LCD screen at 2.3in. It’s well armed for its core tasks: shock (drop) proof from two metres and waterproof down to three metres, this is one tough little camcorder – and it looks it.
That it can be used for snorkeling as well as on land could broaden its appeal to globe trotters who are after something a little more versatile and sturdier than a smartphone or compact camera.
Choice of HD
Armed with a BSI CMOS sensor, the W200 is resolutely an HD camcorder, recording video in two resolutions; 720p or 1080p, though only at a speed of 25 frames per second. Videos can be output straight to a HDTV via mini HDMI. Still images can be shot at 5.5, 3 or 2-megapixel resolutions, the last of these in the Full HD resolution of 1920×1080 pixels, so with widescreen proportions of 16:9. That top resolution of 5 megapixels may not seem like much, compared to the ten or more often quoted for dedicated still cameras – but as most of us know, five-or-so megapixels is absolutely fine for the kinds of picture most of us want to take. There is an option to take pics in VGA 640×480 pixel quality, while the aperture of the lens is fixed at f2.2.
The W200’s user interface is simple. Icons are set in blue along the top of the LCD screen, with a short drop-down menu of options for each that can easily be scrolled through. A D-pad is the nerve centre, which thankfully works quickly and easily; it’s as responsive as it is intuitive, with a high quality feel. The nearby View/Menu/Trash and Back buttons are similarly hard-wearing and of excellent construction. A Smart Filter dropdown applies effects to both video and stills, and includes vignetting, fish-eye, retro, classic and negative, while the camera also has face detection technology onboard. There’s also a useful storage info section that presents a pie chart of what’s been used on the SD card – though once again it depends on what mode the W200 is in; we’re only told how long we’ve got on either video or photo terms, not an either/or calculation.
Sadly the camera comes with no storage built in, meaning the W200 won’t operate at all without a card inserted – and removable memory is oddly restricted to the slightly inconvenient MicroSD card format. There ought to have been plenty of room for a more versatile SD card, but at least the foldout USB arm that gave the superior Flip Video its name is present, here under a flap along the bottom of the W200 – meaning you won’t need to carry around any extra cables to charge or download your pictures or videos. A 2GB microSD card provided either 17 minutes of Full HD video, 33 minutes of 720p video, or 1,263 still images at the maximum 5.5 megapixel quality.
Another thing we found irritating about the W200 was its bias towards the camcorder function. Switch the thing on and it’s automatically in video mode. That’s fair enough – and perhaps a plus for those wanting to capture something immediately (the W200 takes just a second or two to wake ‘n’ take) – though casual users wanting to take just one gadget on holiday could find this frustrating. The central button of the W200’s D-pad acts as the camera’s shutter release, but it’s sticky and needs too firm a nudge for our liking – videos start with a wobble, while still photos can easily blur purely because of this (though the W200’s undercarriage does sport a tripod screw).
Stills are bright, natural in colour and reasonably sharp – though the latter isn’t always easy to achieve on account of our difficulties with the shutter button, despite the camera having anti-shake technology built in. Colours are vibrant and benefit from loads of contrast if the W200 is used in bright, outdoor conditions. Sky and peak whites can look overexposed, there’s often some picture noise and softness in backgrounds, and we found the 3x digital zoom absolutely worthless.
Poor in low light
If you’re not ambitious (rainy shots tend to blur, and anything remotely detailed in a shot – such as mist, smoke or almost anything moving – isn’t handled well), the W200 does just enough to take the place of a compact camera in your backpack, and will match a budget point-and-shoot model on the image quality of its stills. For video, the W200’s core duty, files are encoded using the H.264 codec and saved in MP4 format. Almost uniquely, the W200 has a pause button, which may be a good reason for some people to choose this over a rival since video quality is as expected: great outdoors in sunlight, and a terrible mess inside in low light (which includes underwater – don’t expect Blue Planet-style results). As such it’s as good as rivals, but no better.
Fair battery life
The microphone worked reasonably well, and the built-in speakers for instant video playback are pretty good, too. Battery life is fair; we used the W200 exclusively for stills for a couple of days on one charge (replenished only via that USB arm), though it can only shoot video for around 40 minutes in one go. Still, we love its rugged build and usability, as well as its quick-draw operation.