One thing's for sure: we're utterly thrilled with the direction that ruggedized cameras are heading. Canon's PowerShot D10, while impressive, was more like a small stone than a bona fide P&S, but it wouldn't take much convincing to make someone believe that Fujifilm's FinePix XP30 was just another run-of-the-mill compact. Our pals over at Photography Blog already ran this thing through the wringer earlier in the year, but we couldn't resist the opportunity to take it to a few other places for testing. Namely, the Big Island of Hawaii. We spent a solid week with the XP30 and Samsung's W200, and while neither ended up impressing us from a visual standpoint, they both shared one common lining of the silver variety: price. At just $184, the XP30 is quite the bargain given its neatly trimmed exterior, but was the performance enough to warrant a recommendation? Head on past the break for out thoughts, as well as a heaping of sample shots and even an underwater video taken... after dark.
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Fujifilm FinePix XP30 hands-on


Design
Design wise, we didn't have too many qualms. It managed to survive a couple of falls far more easily than our W200, and while there's no visible "armor" per se, the slimmed chassis definitely proved capable of taking a beating. Unfortunately, the rear LCD was tough to see in direct sunlight, and as with every other Fujifilm compact, the UI was dreadful. Graphics appeared as if they were concocted in the pre-Y2K era, and while the basics were there, tinkerers should know that you won't find any manual settings here.

We also found it somewhat troubling that we had to close the SD / battery door and then flip a "lock" switch for it to fully seal off. Forget that little order of business, and you'll be dealing with a lot worse than a blurry photo. The GPS function was certainly nice -- folks who prefer to journal their travels by longitude and latitude will have a field day -- but it took well over five minutes in many instances for a lock to be found. No real shock there -- GPS has been slow on in-car navigators for eons -- but it's still frustrating, particularly on a device with "point and shoot" in the description.

Image quality
As for image quality? Frankly, it's pretty poor in almost every scenario. It's painfully easy to craft a beautifully blurred photograph (just wait for a few clouds to come out, or step indoors without flipping on all of the lights), and even the "sharp" photos look dull and muted. It's par for the course with waterproof cameras, but the XP30 took "lifeless" to another level in all but the most ideal of outdoor situations. We managed to spruce a few personal shots up with the help of Adobe's Lightroom, but the stock output is decidedly ho hum. Don't take our word for it, though -- there's a couple of galleries below as proof.
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Fujifilm FinePix XP30 outdoor sample shots


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Fujifilm FinePix XP30 ISO stress-test and indoor samples




Underwater performance
Underwater performance wasn't much better. We had to hope for clear, sunny days and cloud-free water in order to get much of anything worth remembering, and even those photos didn't do the aquatic life any justice. We even tried to fire off a few shots at night while on a Manta Ray dive, and the results were simply heartbreaking. Not that we expected anything different from a $184 camera, but the fact still stands.

On the video front, things were somewhat more respectable. The jelly effect, while present, wasn't enough to seriously annoy us, and the underwater captures were actually quite impressive. We managed to snag a couple of Manta Ray clips with only the light from nearby flashlights, and the results were markedly better than the underwater photographs. Have a look for yourself and judge.
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Fujifilm FinePix XP30 underwater sample shots





Wrap-up
All in all, the XP30 is a camera that looks better than it actually is. Even at $184, it's hard to recommend to all but the most cash-strapped of vacationers. Despite being adequately rugged and capable of handling a few feet of water, the lackluster image quality, lethargic GPS module and hit-or-miss video captures don't exactly inspire confidence. You're better off spending your dough on a more capable interchangeable lens camera and a case; outside of the drink, the XP30 is truly tragic, so unless you live under the sea, it won't do you much good to have around in the majority of circumstances.