When I first saw the Sanyo Xacti WH1 I was very excited. I’ve wanted a good underwater camcorder for a very long time and there’s no sense getting something that’s not HD these days, but price is a huge factor when you’re talking about underwater electronics. The cases alone for some cameras can cost thousands of dollars, never mind a camera built to go underwater right out of the box. But that’s exactly what the Sanyo Xacti WH1 does- and at a consumer price point you can appreciate.
The Sanyo Xacti WH1 is the world’s first waterproof HD camcorder, and it’s come with credentials. The WH1 was the first camcorder awarded with IPX8 certification, which requires the devices to operate when fully submersed in water, and it can do so up to 10 feet deep. Though it is recommended that you only keep the camera submerged at that depth for up to 60 minutes. All this of course means that the WH1 has the ability to shoot where the action is in any weather and even marine sports.
The camera is marketed as a “Dual Camera” in that it shoots video and stills. I really hate this terminology. It’s a crappy feature on every other camcorder, and it’s no different here, except they feel the need to point it out. The still camera is only capable of shooting at 2 megapixel (1600×1200) or about the same as your less than average camera phone. The WH1 even includes a flash, but sadly it’s only for the still camera and cannot be activated when shooting video. Perhaps “Dull Camera” was actually what they were after.
The software on the camera is decent at best, and menu system is pretty scattered and annoying too. The best thing to do is find the best settings for your use and don’t change them. Because the camera is so light you’ll probably want to turn on the image stabilization, though it is digital stabilization so if you like editing your videos you’ll likely notice some frame tearing and jittering.
Repeat after me. “Waterproof is not shockproof.” Even though the WH1 is tough enough to go up to 10 feet underwater the case is not shockproof, if you drop it hard enough and damage the outer casing or one of the seals you can be in for a world of trouble. It’s also noteworthy since this is an underwater camera, that the WH1 does not float. I assume this is why they created them in bright colours like white, yellow and blue? But water is blue and so is the sky reflecting off the water…
The camera comes with a proprietary Sanyo battery that is capable of 3.5 hours of recording. This is great because you’ll know it won’t cut out on you halfway though the day, in fact 3.5 hours was enough for some weekend trips without a single recharge and sometimes that still left battery to re-watch clips in the car. The camera can be configured to power up as soon as the 2.5″ LCD screen is opened, and that’s how I kept it. This meant the camera was on and shooting before missing much of the action.
Underwater up to 10 feet, 3.5 hour battery life, & 720p video! But mediocre software and silly marketing.
Camera Features and Video Quality
Nevermind that stupid still camera, let’s get down to video. The Sanyo Xacti WH1 is capable of shooting in 720p High Definition (1280×720 @ 30fps), standard definition (640×480 @ 60fps and 30fps). The standard definition mode of 60fps is great for high action shots like fish jumping and slow-motion shots, but we’re tired of shooting in standard definition so this mode never really got any use. All videos are shot in H.264/MPEG-4 and are available on the cameras SD card and over USB in the form of .mp4 files. The camera also has an internal memory of about 40MB so you can shoot a short video with no card at all, which is great for testing the camera in store.
The WH1 packs in a 30x optical zoom lens in to a handheld package, though I can’t help but think a wide angle lens would have been more useful in my case, and due to the construction you cannot affix an additional lens or filter. The 9 point autofocus is pretty slow, and even slower underwater. I recommend setting the center or spot focus mode for the fastest focus time. In a lot of my work with the camera underwater I found that it liked to focus on the surface of the water, which meant the objects I was trying to film were often blurry. Setting the camera to macro mode before filming underwater helped, but once the camera was pulled out of the water and my subject was 5 feet away they were out of focus. Trying to get a seamless shot of a fish underwater and the angler above water was very difficult.
The biggest complaint I have with this is that it’s horrible in low light. Shooting indoors or at dusk can produce grainy/noisy video, even some underwater shots during overcast days were quite noisy. Freshwater visibility depths can also be a problem if you’re looking to shoot more than 3 feet deep. The camera is probably more suited to the clear waters of the ocean or a pool filming your kids, not an angry fish. All that said, if you’re just looking to shoot fun videos of your friends and family or document your aquatic adventures and share them on youtube or vimeo, it’s not a bad camera.
Poor low-light performance. Wide angle lens would be better in a lot of scenarios.
This video was shot outdoors at the CNE here in Toronto of a water torture escape artist. Ironically the first video is takes place underwater, but not the camera. The audio has been removed because they were playing music detected by youtube’s copyright protection.
A simple test of the WH1 in macro mode, shot in my backyard.
A compilation video for Rockstar Lures featuring several underwater shots of the lures in action. Only the underwater shots were filmed on the WH1.
Right now you can get a Sanyo Xacti WH1 for about $300-400, and you’ll also want to pick up an HD capable SD card (class 6 or higher) depending on the size you get it can be anywhere from $40-100. When $500 is still less than an underwater housing for your regular HD camcorder I’d call that a deal! But in order to keep that low price the WH1 has had to make some serious sacrifices internally to bring you a package in an underwater housing. Unfortunately those cuts came down to the image sensor.
A great price for a camera with these features, though some sacrifices were made to keep the price down.
I can’t say that I didn’t like the Sanyo Xacti WH1, but I also can’t say that I loved it. The camera performed all of its functions admirably and exactly as advertised. The Sanyo Xacti WH1 is perfectly suited to the fisherman, and any family that enjoys swimming, snorkling, kayaking, and other sports where you want a camera that can be totally submersed in water and keep on filming. But the WH1 missed out on a lot of features I think would have made it better, like a wider angle lens and better low light performance. I look forward to seeing the improvements Sanyo and other manufacturers can make in the next line of underwater HD camcorders.
Great camera, shoots HD video at 720p at up to 10 feet deep- but you better bring a light!