Cool-Icam Aqua 2100 Review
Used outside of its waterproof case, the Cool-iCam Aqua 2100 is a basic two megapixel point-n-shoot digicam. Its lens is fixed, both in terms of focus and focal length, and has a macro mode activated by a mechanical control on the side of the camera body. Both LCD and optical viewfinders, a built-in auto flash and movie mode complete the cameras features. The inclusion of a waterproof (to 30 meters!) housing sets the Aqua 2100 apart from its entry-level competitors, providing a go-anywhere in-any-weather digicam at a price point that others offer an underwater housing alone.
The Aqua 2100 is designed for the Point-n-Shoot user who wants to bring a camera along without concern for the weather or proximity to water. Its user controls are adequately minimal, well labeled and logical. The Mode switch on the top changes between the Manual Capture, Automatic capture, Movie and Playback modes. The camera is an automatic exposure type with a Manual exposure mode, allowing the adjustment of only White Balance and exposure compensation (+/-2EV). From power-on to capturing your first frame is under nine seconds and frame to frame capture rate is about three seconds. Shutter delay is about 3/10 second; because the lens is fixed-focus, there is no autofocus delay. These times are based on 1600 x 1200 images without the flash on. For flash pictures add three or four seconds. There is also a continuous "Burst" drive mode that allows shooting up to three consecutive frames in under three seconds. The performance of the Aqua 2100 is not robust, but it's adequate for an entry-level digicam.
Outdoor shots were well-exposed in our test shots, with good color saturation. The images were a bit soft, probably a result of compromises in the design of the fixed-focus lens which has a claimed focusing range of 60mm to infinity. Indoor flash shots produced pleasing portraits, and covered the lens field of view without any noticeable dropoff in illumination at the corners. Make sure that you remove the camera from its underwater case when using the flash; firing the flash through the plastic case will result in undesirable rainbow-like effects in your pictures. As with the outdoor results, indoor images were soft.
The underwater housing, called the Aqua Pack, is a fairly impressive piece. It's claimed to be waterproof to a depth of 30 meters, and features actuators for every camera control except LCD on/off and the macro mode selector. The window directly in front of the camera lens appears to be constructed of optical glass, which should minimize distortion. The housing remained water tight during our testing, although we used it no deeper that five feet. Unfortunately, the case proved to be of higher quality than the camera when shooting underwater; the Aqua 2100 was simply not a match for the limited ambient light found there. Shooting in a artificially-lit indoor aquarium pool at a depth of 1 foot, the Aqua 2100 could do no better than 1/4 second shutter speed - inadequate even for hand-held shots of inanimate objects. The deeper you dive, the less ambient light is available; at 30 meters the camera will be dry, but unable to capture an image because the available light will be inadequate for its image sensor. Why not use the flash, you ask? You'll find that firing the internal flash will cause the plastic camera case to reflect and refract light to a degree that your shots will be ruined by what appear to be concentric circles of rainbows. In addition, the flash will illuminate tiny particles suspended in the water, creating the effect of an underwater snowstorm. One bright spot in underwater use is movie mode; at a frame rate of 15fps, you'll be able to capture motion, but perhaps a bit underexposed.
While the Aqua 2100 is challenged underwater, it's at its best combined with the Aqua Pack case in water sports environments. Take it to the beach, boating, kayaking, swimming, or snorkeling on bright days; you'll have a weatherproof camera capable of bringing home snapshots that you would not attempt with another camera for fear of damaging it.
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