Panasonic’s HX-WA2 consumer camcorder allows users to shoot video in places few consumers have ever gone before, places like swimming pools, lakes and other bodies of water. The days of placing your camera in a dry fish tank and pushing it down into the water to get those cool underwater shots are gone. The HX-WA2 is submersible and able to get those shots without the fish tank – and without having to buy a separate waterproof enclosure.
Intended for stable, one-handed shooting with less fatigue, the HX-WA2 has a pistol grip design that fits the palm well and allows for a firm and comfortable grip. The camera has controls for zooming and recording within easy reach of the thumb. Although designed for right-hand use, we observed that it works fine for left-handed individuals as well if need be, leaving the one hand free for dog-paddling or side-of-pool grasping.
At the front of the camera is the built-in flash and 5x optical zoom lens to either better or match other waterproof camcorders in this price range. It also has a 15x zoom setting, which uses Intelligent Zoom technology to enhance the zoom digitally, without degrading the image quality.
Light passing through the lens falls on a 1/2.33-inch, 14-megapixel CMOS sensor. The HX-WA2 records in full HD at either 60i or 30p using the MPEG-4 format. Other options include lower resolution progressive modes and a voice record mode for audio-only recording. Still photo options are plentiful with nine different sizes to choose from, options in either a 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio, a burst mode, four panorama modes, photo image stabilization and a built-in flash.
The left side of the camera body houses the built-in speaker with the stereo microphone built into the back of the display. The flip-out LCD screen measures 2.6 inches. Especially handy for this type of camera is the articulating display, which tilts and turns as far as 285 degrees. Behind the display are four buttons: power on/off, menu, camera/playback/mode and Intelligent Auto.
The joystick sits at the back of the unit and is used for navigating the menu and making adjustments, zoom buttons, video record and photo shutter buttons, zoom range button, status indicator light and the port/battery compartment. A cover lock and release switch is used in conjunction with a waterproof membrane beneath the port cover to keep water out. The HDMI Micro and mini-USB ports, battery and SD card slot are kept safe and dry here. Internal memory is present, but minimal, so you’ll really want to use a separate media card of the SD/SDHC/SDXC variety.
No ports or controls exist on the top or the right side, but a tripod mount is located on the bottom. Did we mention that your choice of colors are blue or orange?
Worthwhile or All Wet?
After a number of tests, both in and out of the water and under various lighting conditions, the HX-WA2 could be a worthwhile purchase, depending on one’s intended use and tolerance for complexity. This model has quite a few features, more than most in its category. This can be a plus, but it also makes optimum operation more difficult to master than your typical grab-it-and-go camera. It does have manual focus and exposure options but their use is neither intuitive nor terribly accurate. Also, while it has two electronic image stabilization settings, neither results in any noticeable improvement compared to not using them at all.
On the other hand, color reproduction, both in the water and out, is good, considering the price, with colors that are rich and vibrant with excellent saturation. Low light performance on this camera is quite good as well, producing very little noise.
Of course, the standout feature is that the HX-WA2 is waterproof at a depth of 9.8 feet. After a couple hours of frolicking in the pool and drying ourselves, we found no water in the battery compartment whatsoever. Underwater images were realistic with good color and noise qualities. The ability to go in and out of the water, without putting the camera in separate housing, is a plus. Being designed almost entirely for handheld use, the HX-WA2 is not designed to be a sports or adventure cam. If you want something to strap to your surfboard, you’ll want to look elsewhere.
Tough Design: Waterproof 3m/9.8ft
Image Sensor: 1/2.33″ MOS Sensor
Total Pixels: 14.4 Megapixels
F Value: F3.5 (WIDE), F3.7 (TELE)
Optical Zoom: 5x
Focal Length: .3″-1.3″ (6.8 – 34mm)
Monitor: 2.6″ wide LCD (230,400 dots)
Minimum Illumination: 9lx (Scene mode off: 1/30), 3lx (Low Light Mode: 1/15)
Image Stabilizer: Active E.I.S. (Electrical Image Stabilizer)
White Balance: Auto/Manual (Sunny, Cloudy, Indoor1, Indoor2, Whiteset)
Shutter Speed: Motion Image: 1/30 – 1/10000; Still Image: 1/2 – 1/1500
Media: SD/SDHC/SDXC Memory Card; Built-in memory
Recording Format: MPEG-4 AVC/H.264
Recording/ Playback Mode: 1920×1080 (60i or 30p); 1280 x 720 (60p or 30p); 640 x 480 (30p); 960 x 540 (30p)
Microphone: 2ch stereo
Still Image Recording Format: JPEG
Power Supply: DC3.7V (Battery) / 5.0V (USB)
Weight: w/o Battery and SD Card approx. 0.5lb; with Battery and SD Card approx. 0.6lb
Dimensions (W x H x D): approx. 3.7″ x 5″ x 1.7″
Interface: AV output; micro HDMI; USB 2.0
Standard Accessories: AC adaptor; rechargeable battery pack (min. 880 mAh / Lithium-Ion); AV Cable; USB Cable
Included Software: HD Writer VE2.0
- Waterproof to 9.8ft. (3m)
- 5x optical zoom
- 2.6″ articulating LCD display
- Full HD recording in both 60i and 30p
- Many features
- Buttons seem flimsy
- Some manual options are difficult to find and adjust accurately
If you’re looking for a small camcorder, with lots of features, that you can take with you next time someone tells you to go jump in the lake, then the HX-WA2 may be just what the mermaid ordered.
Contributing Editor Mark Holder is a video producer and trainer.