Until recently, unless you were a pro videomaker with the budget for a fully-fledged sealed housing, if you wanted to shoot underwater only one manufacturer's name would spring to mind: Panasonic. The SDR-SW20 and SW21 brought industrial-strength waterproofing to consumer camcorders. But Sanyo has also been offering its own underwater devices for a similar amount of time, and has now beaten Panasonic to another milestone. The Xacti VPC-WH1 can not only shoot underwater - it can shoot in HD.
This isn't the only area where Sanyo surpasses Panasonic with the WH1, either. The SW20 operates at depths down to 1.5m, and the SW21 goes to 2m, but Sanyo claims its new model can descend to 3m. In order to achieve this feat, every port and opening is protected by a door sealed by a rubberised gasket. These have all been rendered nearly impossible to knock open accidentally, using a variety of sliding catches. The locking screws on the SW21 still inspire slightly more confidence, but we tried very hard to jog the WH1's doors open, and failed miserably. However, whilst this earns the Sanyo an IPX8 waterproof rating, there's no word on what height you can drop the device from without damage, where the SW20 and 21 can survive tumbles from up to 1.2m.
The WH1's internal specification is also relatively modest. A tiny 1/6in CMOS sensor with 1.1-megapixels records the footage, although on the plus side this enables a sizeable 30x optical zoom. The resolutions on offer only extend to 1,280 x 720, not Full HD, with a non-European 30 frames per second. Alternatively, you can record with a 640 x 480 resolution at either 30 or 60 frames per second. All of these formats use progressively scanned video. The top quality mode has a data rate of 9Mbits/sec, so an 8GB SDHC card will be enough for nearly two hours of video. We also found battery life was immense, lasting over three hours on a single charge.
Still images can be capture at up to 1,600 x 1,200 - clearly with some interpolation - and you can take sequential shots. In 2-megapixel mode, you can take up to 29 photos in a row, and in 1.1-megapixel mode 30, although Sanyo doesn't divulge the frame rate in either case.