Competition is stiff among tough-cams this year, and it's good to see Canon making an effort to stay in the conversation. The result is a typically solid PowerShot, but it's still hampered by some typical tough-cam issues. Read on to see how it stacks up.

Check out our 7-camera waterproof shootout to see how the year's best tough-cams compare.

The Canon D20 is available now in blue for an MSRP of $349.

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Box Photo

Canon D20 retail contents.

• Canon PowerShot D20 waterproof digital camera

• wrist strap

• strap mount

• USB cable

• rechargeable lithium-ion battery (NB-6L)

• battery charger

• user manual (abridged)

• CD-ROM

The D20 is built with an all-internal lens, shielded behind a glass barrier. It offers 5x optical zoom, ranging from 5-25mm (28-140mm equivalent). The maximum aperture is f/3.9-4.8, which is pretty narrow, even by tough-cam standards. The placement in the upper-left hand corner is sure to add some unwanted, wandering fingers into shots every now and then.

The sensor is typical for a current Canon point-and-shoot: 12-megapixel, 1/2.3-inch CMOS-type. Give or take a few megapixels, it's pretty similar to most other tough-cams, too.

The 3-inch, 461,000-pixel LCD is big and bright enough to be visible in bright daylight. It's a bit grainy in low-light, and there's a slight lag. Not the best tough-cam LCD we've seen, but it's about what we expect to see in this class.

The flash is built into the top-center of the front panel, out of the way of wandering fingers. It's effective to about 12 feet, give or take, which is fine for brightening up indoor shots, but not particularly powerful. Recycle time is pretty quick, almost keeping up with the D20's natural shot-to-shot timing.

Flash Photo

The Canon D20's flash is effective to 3.5 meters.

Like most cameras today, the D20 has a USB and an HDMI port (both mini, in this case). Both are located behind a rubber-sealed door on the right side of the camera, designed to keep water out.

The D20's rechargeable lithium-ion battery is rated for 280 shots per charge. That's above average, though it's significantly shorter with GPS activated, especially if the GPS logger is activated. It charges in a separate wall-charger, like most Canon batteries do.

Battery Photo

The Canon D20 is powered by a lithium-ion battery, good for about 280 shots.

Surprising absolutely nobody, the D20 records to SD/SDHC/SDXC media cards.

Media Photo

The Canon D20 records to SD/SDHC/SDXC media cards.

If we trust Canon's durability ratings (and there's no reason not to), the Canon D20 isn't the most overall rugged camera on the market, but it's competitive with the most tank-like compacts out there.

It's waterproof to 33 feet. The deepest diver in the class can survive in 40 feet of water, but 33 isn't bad. It is not designed to survive in hot water, like hot springs, and the camera needs to be cleaned after dips into salt water. And according to the manual, "waterproof performance is not ensured if the camera is dropped or subjected to impact." Canon advertises it as a shockproof camera (see below), but that confidence only extends so far, apparently.

It's shockproof to 5 feet. The hardiest camera can fall from 6.6 feet—over most people's heads. But the D20 can still live through a tumble from chest- or shoulder-height. Like we said above, Canon doesn't ensure the waterproofing if the D20 "is dropped or subjected to impact," so it's not a good idea to drop the camera for the sake of testing its durability.

It's freezeproof to 14 degrees Fahrenheit. Just about every tough-cam shares this rating. It basically means you can take it skiing.

And finally, it's dustproof. All the moving parts are protected by glass, plastic, or rubber, so the lens won't get jammed up by an errant grain of sand.

For most people, the D20 is durable enough for general underwater and outdoor use. Take it to the beach, the pool, the slopes, the state park, whatever. But serious divers will be better-off buying underwater housing for a more capable camera—it'll survive deeper underwater, and take better pictures, too.

Like most recent PowerShots built around the HS system, the D20 can work well in a variety of shooting situations, but it's best used as an outdoor camera. In bright lighting, images are crisp and vibrant—even underwater where details and colors usually look flat. Our lab scores are strong across the board, so shots can look decent in dimmer lighting. But with a slow, f/3.9 lens and unremarkable stabilization, photos blur pretty easily. A solid shooter for sure, but not an ideal all-around camera.

Image sharpness is acceptable on the D20 (color fringing, however, is a different issue). It's quite good at the center of the frame, particularly at the widest setting where we measured over 2100 MTF50s. Sharpness at the periphery of the frame is decent throughout the focal range. But the in-between areas are noticeably soft and sloppy, dipping to 500 MTF50s in places at the telephoto setting. As with any point-and-shoot, the D20 applies some artificial pixel sharpening to increase contrast, but it's pretty judicious, and doesn't have a negative impact at regular viewing sizes.

The D20 earned better sharpness scores than the Pentax WG-2 and Panasonic TS4, though the TS4 is almost entirely free of color fringing, so edges and high-contrast areas in its shots usually look much sharper than in the D20's photos. The Nikon AW100 earned the best sharpness score out of this year's batch of tough-cams, almost entirely due to heinous edge sharpening. Take its score with a grain of salt, because detail sharpness isn't anything special. More on how we test sharpness.

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Stabilization is most effect with Powered IS turned on, producing 10% better edge sharpness than without any stabilization. This won't have a huge impact in terms of real-world performance—maybe enough to take the shutter one stop below 1/30s and still get a crisp shot.

The Canon D20 can produce very accurate colors. We measured a minimum color error of 2.81 (anything under 3.0 is very good) with 110.2% saturation—just a hair above what we consider to be acceptable oversaturation. The most accurate color mode was Lighter Skin (though the results were basically identical to what we measured in the default "Off" mode, and we shot the rest of our tests with that default setting). More on how we test color.

In the most accurate modes, the D20 pushes reds a bit, and shifts blues a bit toward purple. We actually think that oversaturation is fine here—it's an outdoor camera, so natural scenes will pop a bit more. It's especially helpful underwater, where colors tend to flatten out a bit.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

All of the tough-cams we've tested oversaturate their colors, and again, that's fine for this type of point-and-shoot. That said, the D20 is the most color-accurate of the bunch otherwise.

No less than 11 color modes are available. Known as My Colors in the menu system, modes include: Off (default), Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, B/W, Positive Film, Lighter Skin, Darker Skin, Vivid Blue, Vivid Green, and Vivid Red. A Custom setting is available under My Colors, with adjustable parameters for contrast, sharpness, red, blue, green, and skin tones.

Colors stay accurate and saturated at medium and high ISO settings, so low-light color is reasonably similar to the color profile in good lighting.

The D20 handles white balance very well. Long story short, the only time you'll really need to worry about your shots looking too yellow is under incandescent lighting.

Auto mode can balance daylight and white fluorescent lighting, no problem. Incandescent lighting looks way too warm, but we always expect that, with any kind of camera. With a custom white balance, whites are near-perfect incandescent and white fluorescent lighting (though light grays are about 100-200 degrees off—still not bad). In daylight, whites look the same as they do in auto mode, but grays are very accurate.

White balance presets include Day Light, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, and Underwater. Auto white balance and custom white balance are both available as well.

We measured relatively high levels of noise in the D20's photos, but Canon's clever noise reduction software keeps shots looking good through ISO 1600, if a bit smooth. The noise-to-signal ratio climbs pretty consistently throughout the entire range, starting at a reasonable 0.83% at the base ISO, and topping out at 2.17% at ISO 3200 (which we wouldn't recommend using). More on how we test noise.

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The ISO range stretches from ISO 100 to 3200 in full stops. Users can set the sensitivity, or leave it up to the camera (which seems to cap the sensitivity at ISO 1600—a smart move). In Low Light mode, the range can extend up to ISO 6400 if the camera deems it necessary, but it's recorded at a much lower resolution.

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We only recently started testing point-and-shoots for dynamic range performance, so we don't have enough data to make an accurate, numbers-driven comparison. But anecdotally, the d-range performance is about average for a compact. On gray days, the sky will be blown out a bit, or the foreground underexposed. More on how we test dynamic range.

Low-light image quality is fine—if you can manage to hold the camera steady. Even up at ISO 1600, noise performance is just dandy for sharing online and making small prints. The problem is that the f/3.9 lens is way too narrow, which forces the shutter to slow down in low light, which means you'll be taking lots of blurry pictures if you're hand-holding the camera. In that regard, it isn't an ideal indoor or low-light camera.

We measured relatively high levels of noise in the D20's photos, but Canon's clever noise reduction software keeps shots looking good through ISO 1600, if a bit smooth. The noise-to-signal ratio climbs pretty consistently throughout the entire range, starting at a reasonable 0.83% at the base ISO, and topping out at 2.17% at ISO 3200 (which we wouldn't recommend using). More on how we test noise.

The ISO range stretches from ISO 100 to 3200 in full stops. Users can set the sensitivity, or leave it up to the camera (which seems to cap the sensitivity at ISO 1600—a smart move). In Low Light mode, the range can extend up to ISO 6400 if the camera deems it necessary, but it's recorded at a much lower resolution.

Colors stay accurate and saturated at medium and high ISO settings, so low-light color is reasonably similar to the color profile in good lighting.

Focus is quick and accurate in good lighting, and reasonably quick and accurate in dimmer lighting. The only notable issue is the action on the stiff shutter—half-pressing the button requires some finesse.

The D20 crossed our threshold for low-light sensitivity at 19 lux. That's respectable for a point-and-shoot—most of the compacts we see bottom out around 30 lux.

Chromatic aberration is a problem on the D20. At the wide and telephoto focal settings, aberration is plainly obvious everywhere except the center of the frame. In real world terms, there's a lot of green and purple color fringing in high-contrast areas: tree branches, edges of buildings, and the like. Viewed at small sizes, it doesn't jump out, but it makes details look sloppier than they should. Aberration is actually worse from the Pentax WG-2, but the Nikon AW100 and especially Panasonic TS4 are much cleaner in this regard.

Distortion is not a problem with the D20. It's invisible to the naked eye at any focal length, unless you're specifically looking for problems.

The Canon D20 records at a maximum resolution of 1080p at 24 frames per second. That frame rate lends a cinematic quality to clips, though it makes moving objects stutter noticeably. There's a bit of frequency interference and trailing, but they aren't particularly problematic. Artifacting is not a problem. More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.

Despite its problems, the D20 handles video motion better than the Pentax WG-2 or Panasonic TS4. (We tested the Nikon AW100 last fall, before we began judging point-and-shoots with this test.)

Bright-light sharpness is about what we expect to see from a point-and-shoot. We measured 400 horizontal and 375 vertical lw/ph—pretty good for a camera that shoots at 24fps. More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

Low-light sharpness shows a predictable drop-off in video sharpness. We measured 250 horizontal and 225 vertical lw/ph.

The D20 crossed our threshold for low-light sensitivity at 19 lux. That's respectable for a point-and-shoot—most of the compacts we see bottom out around 30 lux.

For the most, the D20 is a straightforward, user-friendly point-and-shoot. No experience is required, though any previous PowerShot users should feel particularly comfortable. It's quick and responsive, and works great in auto mode. It isn't perfect, though. We fiddle around with settings pretty frequently, and found the button layout and labeling to be a bit obtuse; there should be one more multi-function button on the rear panel, but designers ran out of space. Handling is a bit slippery because of the smooth finish and rounded shape, but we didn't find it to be too detrimental.

Like most tough-cams, the D20 is meant to be used in auto mode—best to leave the work up to the camera while you're busy swimming or hiking. Auto mode takes over most of the camera's functions. GPS settings, the timer, picture size and resolution, and flash settings can still be adjusted, but otherwise, the shot is in the hands of D20, and it does a good job.

The D20's button layout is pretty typical of a point-and-shoot. On the rear, there's a four-way pad, menu button, movie button, and zoom controls (for waterproofing reasons, most tough-cams don't have use a traditional zoom tilter). Up top, there's a power button, shutter button, and playback toggle.

A helping of scene modes and picture effects are available. Notably, it's missing a sweep panorama mode.

The D20 uses the same menu system that PowerShots have had for a few years. It's geared for hands-off users, but even folks who prefer to shoot in program mode and adjust some settings here and there should find it to be approachable and easy to wrangle. The Function Set button brings up a quick menu with commonly adjusted settings (ISO, white balance, and so on), while more specialized settings are in the full menu system. It's a good system, and any returning Canon users should feel right at home.

The D20 comes with a thin start-up guide, covering basic camera functions and proper care and maintenance (make sure to read this section if you plan to use the camera underwater). A full version is available in PDF format on the CD included with the D20. This is a common setup these days, though we occasionally see some point-and-shoots with full, complete manuals.

The D20's smooth, rounded body can be a bit difficult to hang on to, especially when it's wet. There's nothing to grip on the front of the camera, and while the camera looks like it's wrapped in rubber or some other kind of textured material, it's actually just plastic. But thanks to the curves, it's comfortable to hold, and the textured thumb-rest on the back provides leverage. It's not perfect, but not so bad overall.

Handling Photo 1

The Canon D20 is slightly larger than a typical pocket-cam, and with such a smooth finish, is a bit slippery to handle.

The added bulk makes it a little too beefy for pants pockets (though with its rounded corners and smooth finish, it could fit). Cargo pockets, jacket pockets, and purses can all hold it easily.

Handling Photo 2

The D20's button layout is pretty typical of a point-and-shoot. On the rear, there's a four-way pad, menu button, movie button, and zoom controls (for waterproofing reasons, most tough-cams don't have use a traditional zoom tilter). Up top, there's a power button, shutter button, and playback toggle.

Buttons Photo 1

Rear panel of controls on the Canon D20.

It feels like it's exactly one button short of a full set. An extra multi-function button would've been great. The lack of a delete button threw us off most often, and we wish that there was room on the four-way selector for an exposure compensation button. But otherwise, it's a fine control set, laid out logically, and it mostly stays out of its own way.

Buttons Photo 2

Top panel of controls on the Canon D20.

The 3-inch, 461,000-pixel LCD is big and bright enough to be visible in bright daylight. It's a bit grainy in low-light, and there's a slight lag. Not the best tough-cam LCD we've seen, but it's about what we expect to see in this class.

Stabilization is most effect with Powered IS turned on, producing 10% better edge sharpness than without any stabilization. This won't have a huge impact in terms of real-world performance—maybe enough to take the shutter one stop below 1/30s and still get a crisp shot.

Auto and Program modes are available. Scene modes include Underwater, Underwater Macro, Snow, Portrait, Handheld NightScene, Low Light, Fireworks, Long Shutter, and two Stitch Assist settings for shooting panoramas

The closest that the D20 comes to manual control is a manual focus mode. Since the LCD is relatively low-res, and there's no dial with which to control the focus, the utility is limited.

Focus is quick and accurate in good lighting, and reasonably quick and accurate in dimmer lighting. The only notable issue is the action on the stiff shutter—half-pressing the button requires some finesse.

Maximum resolution is 12 megapixels in a 4:3 aspect ratio. It's JPEG-only (no RAW) and there's just one quality level (we're assuming that it's the best they can muster). Other aspect ratios include the standard 3:2, 16:9, and 1:1. Four sizes are available in each aspect ratio, for a total of 16 shooting resolutions.

The D20 is responsive, though not particularly fast compared to some of its peers.

Aside from single-shot mode, just one drive mode setting is available. It shoots at full resolution. While capture slows down after about 7 or 8 frames, there doesn't appear to be a cap on the number of shots captured per burst.

We clocked the D20 at a shade under 2 frames per second. That's not bad for a point-and-shoot, but with plenty of cameras hitting 10fps, it feels slow.

The usual 2-second and 10-second options are available, as well as a custom timer with interval shooting.

Focus is quick and accurate in good lighting, and reasonably quick and accurate in dimmer lighting. The only notable issue is the action on the stiff shutter—half-pressing the button requires some finesse.

Durability is the main feature of the D20. It costs $349 because it can withstand bumps, bruises, and splashes. Like most of this year's tough-cams, the D20 comes with a GPS antenna for geo-tagging photos. It works pretty well. Otherwise, the feature set is basically standard for a point-and-shoot, if a bit on the sparse side.

A helping of scene modes and picture effects are available. Notably, it's missing a sweep panorama mode.

Durability

Durability is the main attraction on the D20—that's why an otherwise average point-and-shoot costs $349. See our Durability section for more.

GPS

The D20 comes with a GPS antenna for geo-tagging photos. For some adventurous photographers, it’s a must-have feature. They can map out their photos and figure out exactly where they took their favorite shots—and share that info with friends and other outdoor enthusiasts.

GPS works best in wide-open areas, but we could get it to sync with the satellite even in relatively dense urban settings. The GPS can be disabled entirely; used only while the camera is turned on; or with the GPS Logger activated, it pings the satellite every few minutes to track its movements. This last setting really kills the battery life, especially if left on overnight.

If GPS is a critical feature for you, the D20 works well, but the best in-camera GPS system we’ve seen is in the Panasonic TS4.

The D20 can shoot 1080p video at 24fps in motion JPEG format. It can also shoot in 720p/30fps or VGA formats. Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content

Auto Controls

Video mode is entirely automatic. Scene modes and picture effects do work in video mode.

Zoom

Optical zoom works during video recording.

Focus

Focus is always accurate when clips begin filming, and from there, it’s entirely out of the user’s control. It can handle scenes with some motion (swimming underwater, for instance), but autofocus isn’t quite quick or accurate enough to handle quick action.

Other Controls

Exposure compensation and white balance can be adjusted prior to filming.

Audio records in mono, and aside from a wind-cut setting, there aren't any other audio controls.

By our count, there are no less than 15 new waterproof cameras in the 2012 model year. We've never seen the pool so crowded before. The industry is counting on these adventure-ready cameras to close the sales gap left where cheap point-and-shoots used to be. With so much competition, most manufacturers have to make a tough-cam that can survive some abuse and take a decent picture.

The Canon PowerShot D20 is a worthy option within the class. Image quality is very good by tough-cam standards. Outdoors, colors are realistic but still vibrant, and details are crisp enough for sharing online and making regular prints. Underwater photos are rich and punchy. The design and interface are approachable, it's responsive, and works reliably in any situation. And of course, it'll live through most outdoor adventures, or even just a day at the beach.

The crummy lens is the weak point. There are noticeable resolution problems at larger viewing sizes, and since the aperture starts at a sluggish f/3.9, it's more difficult than usual to take a crisp shot in dim lighting. The smooth, rounded design can be hard to handle, especially when it's wet. And while the GPS works pretty well, the feature set is missing some of the coolest extras offered in other tough-cams.

As we said, competition is stiff this year. The D20 is a solid outdoor camera, particularly well-suited to casual photographers who want a hands-off, user-friendly experience. Otherwise, there isn't much here to separate the D20 from the herd of tough-cams. It feels like Canon wrapped a regular ELPH in a waterproof, shock-resistant case, rather than designing an adventure-ready camera from the ground up. And with hit-or-miss indoor performance, it can't be an all-around shooter like a regular ELPH. We still recommend the D20 as a good beach camera, but it's worth considering other options.

Check out our 7-camera waterproof shootout to see how the year's best tough-cams compare.

Meet the testers

Liam F McCabe

Liam F McCabe

Managing Editor, News & Features

@liamfmccabe

Liam manages features and news coverage for Reviewed.com. Formerly the editor of the DigitalAdvisor network, he's covered cameras, TVs, personal electronics, and (recently) appliances. He's a native Bostonian and has played in metal bands you've never heard of.

See all of Liam F McCabe's reviews

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We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.

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