Having previously used disposable underwater cameras when snorkelling, I had found the quality to be poor. I thought therefore maybe a digital camera would be better as at least I could review the photos after a dive. However, I also didn't want to spend too much. I rejected a housing for my main camera as I felt uncomfortable taking an expensive camera underwater. So by a process of elimination I discovered the Vivitar Vivicam 6200w.
The great thing about this camera is that whilst it is designed for underwater use (up to 10m deep) it is also a perfectly good camera out of the water - with no need for any housing to be put on/taken off.
The camera comes in a bright yellow colour (though I have seen Tchibo selling the identical camera in black under their own brand name) so it is not easy to miss. When you hold the camera for the first time two things jump out at you.
Firstly, the weight of the camera. This baby is heavy for its size: 230g without battery or memory card. This may seem odd as cameras seem to be getting lighter and lighter. However, I think this is partially down to its ruggedised build. It also means that while you are swimming is hangs very clearly down - no danger of it floating off. As long as you have the provided lanyard around your neck you are not going to lose it.
Secondly, the rubberised body. Again, clearly built for both waterproofing but also a good robust build. It should protect the camera from some knocks.
The camera is a 6 megapixel image and the images seem very good. Indeed on one comparison shot I did with my more expensive camera of a simple scene there was little to choose between the quality of this camera and the more expensive one.
The main thing you lose with this camera is any optical zoom. It is a fixed lens (though there is a macro function for close-up shots). You may as well forget digital zoom and actually I found this is good advice. When swimming in the sea you bob up and down and so it can be hard to line up your shots accurately. Take the snap (actually plenty of snaps - it is digital after all) and then use photo editing software to zoom in and line the picture up afterwards.
Underwater shots were good. The camera has several scene modes (including auto and underwater) and several white balance settings. Having said that I found that using image correction in some simple software such as Picassa enhanced the image and removed some remaining colour imbalance.
The camera can take pictures in four resolutions from 640x480 up to 2816x2112 pixels and pictures can only be held in compressed format, though you can choose between fine, standard and economy settings.
The camera uses standard SD cards and I bought mine as part of a package where the SD card came free. It supports SD Cards up to 2Gb in size. There is a small amount of internal memory, but you'll need a card really.
The camera can take video but it should be noted that the microphone is really geared to taking underwater video. I didn't exercise this function much so I cannot really comment except to say that it is not really an underwater video camera - the picture size is only 320x240.
The camera has a flash but that's not much help underwater - not good enough to brightly light a subject a metre or two down. It works on land though and it has a red eye reduction feature selectable.
The camera uses 2 AA batteries for power and there is a battery indicator showing how much is left (not that you'd change the batteries while swimming).
There is no optical viewfinder but this is not really a problem when underwater as you are more likely, I found, to be holding the camera as near the subject as possible and therefore away from the body. The 2" monitor is large and bright enough to review photos while swimming.
The pictures I got on holiday snorkelling in the Maldives are much better than those with the disposable cameras.
Now the down side. Twelve days into our two-week holiday, one of the buttons on the back of the camera used to control the settings and review the images popped out while we were reviewing some shots. There was no way I could put is back in and also I was concerned about water getting in. This was a disappointment especially as I had been doing exactly what the camera said in the instructions and washing in clean water etc after swimming. I sent the camera back under warranty to Vivitar and after a wait of about a month they sent me a brand new camera to replace the old one - so all credit to them for that.
As it'll probably be another year until I can road-test the replacement I guess we'll have to wait to see if this is a common problem. Until then I can at least enjoy the photos I took this year (even if I missed a fabulous photo opportunity on my final swim).
Overall, this is a good camera taking excellent pictures whilst saving on the cost of disposable underwater cameras (take into account the film processing costs). Good for someone who wants a robust camera say for general mucking around on the beach/on holiday.