Return to the Lake District Review

Return to the Lake District - Compact Camera Review

Introduction

Some twelve months ago as three Wex colleagues and I dragged ourselves across the rugged crags of Striding Edge, down the screes of Helvellyn, up the watery slopes around Thirlmere and across the boggy marshland of Watlendath Fell, there were mutterings of "never doing this again".
But once you’ve been bitten by the mountain bug, the desire to return soon seeps back, and as such it was inevitable that we would return. Sure enough, Daniel, Damien, Tim and I found ourselves heading northwest for the May-Day bank holiday weekend once again.

From left to right: Delilah "Campertank" Delica, Ben "The Scribe" Weeks, Daniel "Lemon" McMahon, Damien "Randy Grouse" Jacobs, Tim "The Bear" Green

What was also inevitable was that we would each be taking a borrowed compact digital camera to test and review. Damien was eager to get his hands on the new Samsung WB500 with its 24mm wide angle 10x zoom, capable of both “vista gobbling” and zooming in on the details.

Daniel had also wanted to try the Samsung, but was beaten to it. Having got on so well with the Panasonic he was testing last year, Daniel went for another Lumix this time, choosing the elegant LX3. Although its optical zoom was only a meagre 2.5x, he hoped that the Leica glass in the lens would make it more than a match for the Samsung.

After much deliberation I opted for the Fuji FinePix F200EXR with its clever new sensor technology. This just left Tim. Last year, Tim dropped his camera in a rocky puddle a matter of hours into the trip. As such, we needed a camera that could stand being dropped, getting wet, and operated by someone with all the subtleness of a pneumatic drill. In short, we needed a camera that would be suitable for a child. The Olympus Mju Tough 8000 had already proved itself a match for my offspring, but would it cope with being used and abused in the Lakes? We would see, as it was decided that the Olympus, with its water-proof, shock-proof and impact resistant build, was the best camera for the decidedly heavy handed Tim.

In addition we took a collection of memory cards (SD for the Panasonic, Samsung and Fuji and xD for the Olympus), spare batteries and an appropriate Lowepro Rezo bag for the Lumix LX3, the Samsung WB500 and the FinePix F200EXR. It was decided that the Olympus Mju did not require a case. If it was going to prove itself as tough as it claimed, it would have to do so without a coat.

From left to right: Samsung WB500, Panasonic Lumix LX3, Fuji FinePix F200EXR, Olympus Mju Tough 8000

Same Old Same Old

Whether it's because the members of our little expedition subconsciously felt the need to live up to their previously bestowed pseudonyms, or because the monikers they were given were just remarkably accurate to start with, I don't know. Either way, within hours of arriving in the Lakes, Daniel "Lemon" (part lemming, part salmon) McMahon was once again leading us directly up a stream of water travelling in the opposite direction, (although it wasn't until the next day that he started falling over), Damien "Randy Grouse" (he bears a definite resemblance to a certain renowned wildlife photographer) Jacobs was eyeing up the sheep (he likes the brown ones with white faces) and Tim "The Bear" (because of what he did in the woods) Green did it in the woods (even though most of the trees had been felled and he was clearly visible to any walkers on Black Sail Pass). As "The Scribe" I was already busy making notes, albeit mental ones. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The journey up north followed pretty much the same pattern as last year; an early start, the customary breakfast stop at a Little Chef, and much derisory banter, some of it regarding the cameras.

"So why haven't you got a proper camera, Tim? Can't be trusted, can you?"

"Samsung; beautiful tellies, hideous camera."

"Yes, but, essentially, the Lumix is just a poor man's Leica."

"You went for a Fuji, hey? Interesting choice. Does it take film?"

Etcetera, etcetera.

Next stop was Keswick town centre for Damien to pick up some last minute supplies. Here is a man who is a member of the Territorial Army, due to be deployed to Afghanistan later in the year and who has been aware of this trip for the past 6 months, yet still manages to forget stuff.
Worrying.

"Hey Ben! They've named a sandwich shop after you and Tim!" - Panasonic Lumix LX3

After leaving Keswick it was time to head out into the mountains. We had a definite starting point we were aiming for, but the problem with The Lakes is that every time you turn a corner there's a scene begging to be photographed. Through sheer willpower we drove on past most of them, but after a particularly hairy mile or so of hillside driving we came across a waterfall that we just couldn't ignore. Because we were still effectively en route and the actual waterfall was some distance from the road, we were all taking pictures from roughly the same place. Although this meant that the four of us ended up with very similar pictures of the same subject, it also meant that it was an excellent opportunity to compare the results from the cameras.

Panasonic Lumix LX3

Samsung WB500

Fuji F200EXR

Olympus Mju 8000 Tough

What's immediately clear is that all four of the compacts have reproduced the scene slightly differently. Bear in mind that the images above are cropped versions of the originals, so ignore the image quality for now, but the colour variance is certainly obvious. In terms of accuracy, the Panasonic and Fuji are the closest to the actual scene, whereas the Samsung and Olympus show slightly warmer tones, albeit not unpleasant ones. This would be the only direct comparison of the cameras, so the results were certainly worth keeping in mind.

The view from the road (and yes, it is raining). Panasonic Lumix LX3.

Back in the campertank, we headed towards our destination; Gatesgarth Farm in Buttermere. Some 15 minutes later we were there, and the trip began in earnest.

Onwards and Upwards

There are a few things in life you can bet your bottom dollar on:

  1. If you start a walk wearing waterproofs, the sun will come out and shine with a strength that requires hosepipe bans to be immediately enforced.
  2. As soon as you stop and remove said waterproofs, the heavens will open with a deluge that would have Noah reaching for his hammer.
  3. When Daniel says "It's a brief stroll to where we need to be", he's lying through his teeth.

After the traditional team photo (see image near top of page), taken with the help of Leonard the GorillaPod and a handy post and rail fence, we headed into the mountains. The plan was to follow the path from Buttermere up towards the ascent of Haystacks (where Alfred Wainwright's ashes are scattered), then take the path from Scarth Gap back down towards Ennerdale and the Black Sail Hut youth hostel. We weren't actually intending to stay at the hut, but instead would be looking for a suitable place to set up camp somewhere near the river. However, far from being a mere jaunt up and over Scarth Gap, it was a proper slog. As before, we were carrying everything that we would need over the next few days in rucksacks on our back. On that day, at the very start of the trip before we had eaten any of the food we were carrying, our packs were at their heaviest and every step of the way an effort. On the plus side, we got to take many pictures as it offered a great excuse to stop and take a break.

Three of the cameras in use were all producing the same 4:3 ratio images; the Samsung, the Fuji and the Olympus. By contrast, the Panasonic's native ratio of 16:9, combined with the 24mm end of the zoom range, seemed naturally suited to the scenery. Of course, the Samsung also offered the same 24mm focal length and could match the 16:9 image ratio of the Panasonic, but to do so had to crop the top and bottom of the image. What this meant in practice was that for wide-angle panoramic type shots, the Panasonic would capture them at full resolution, rather than cropping the sensor. Of course, a 24mm wide-angle focal length isn't all the Panasonic lens has to offer. Being a Leica designed DC Vario-Summicron lens, the Panasonic's glass not only gathers every part of the scene in, but also keeps it all clear and distortion free throughout, recording every speck of detail on its 10 megapixel sensor.

It's steeper than it looks - Panasonic Lumix LX3

With 12 megapixels, the Fuji F200EXR offered 2 million more dots than either the Samsung or the Panasonic. However, the Fuji's new EXR function does funny things with its resolution. It has three main modes: High Resolution (HR), Dynamic Range (DR) and Signal to Noise (SN). In HR mode the camera uses all 12 million pixels to record the highest possible image quality. In DR mode the camera splits the sensor in to 2 sets of 6 million pixels, with one set recording the image and shadow details as normal and the other deliberately under-exposing the highlights to prevent them burning out. The two sets are then combined to produce an image with a high dynamic range with detail in both the shadows and the highlights. The downside of this is that the resolution is also effectively halved. The SN mode works in much the same way. It pairs pixels of the same colour sensitivity together, thus increasing the overall pixel site size. This way it can better produce noise free images under low-light conditions, although again the resolution is reduced. However, not long ago 6 million pixels in a compact camera would have been cutting edge, so to be able to capture images with high dynamic ranges or little noise at high ISOs with a 6 million pixel compact is still pretty impressive.

In EXR Auto mode the camera detects the kind of scene that is being recorded and selects the most appropriate mode for that scene; HR mode for bright, evenly lit panoramas, DR mode for scenes with dark shadows and bright highlights, and SN mode for dimly lit pictures. It was the EXR Auto mode that I chose to use the majority of the time.

Honestly, much steeper - Fuji FinePix F200EXR

After much huffing and puffing we eventually reached Scarth Gap; the saddle between the peaks of Haystacks and High Stile. Here the ground levelled out considerably and, as a result, was very wet and boggy. We picked our way through the marsh and sheep until the increasing decline signalled the start of the descent and drier footing. It was on the way down to Ennerdale that we first caught site of the next day's goal - the summit of Pillar. Actually that's not true. We couldn't see the summit because it was swathed in thick cloud, but we could tell roughly where it should be. As we descended further, the cloud high up on Pillar rearranged itself slightly, and for a brief minute one of the mountains most recognisable landmarks could be seen - Pillar Rock. Whilst we all stopped briefly to take yet more photographs, the only person able get much detail of the rock itself was Damien, thanks to the Samsung's 10x zoom which gave him a maximum focal length of 240mm (35mm equivalent) compared to 140mm on my Fuji, 102mm on Tim's Olympus, and just 60mm on Daniel's Panasonic.

Pillar Rock (top right) from the lower part of Scarth Gap Pass in Ennerdale - Samsung WB500 at 24mm

Pillar Rock from the lower part of Scarth Gap Pass in Ennerdale - Samsung WB500 at 240mm

Being in possession of the widest-angle AND most telephoto lens of the four cameras on trial was going to give the Samsung a definite advantage in The Lakes.

Still image from video - Samsung WB500

Once down on the valley floor we made our way towards the river. The only problem was we needed to be on the other side. There had been a lot of rain over the previous days and as such the river was both full and fast.

As luck would have it, we found a fording point on a farm track running across the river. However, although it would be fine for a reasonably high wheeled vehicle, the water here still looked a little too deep to be crossed without getting soggy socks.

Damien, as is his wont, spotted a few likely looking rocks and skipped across them to the other side rather like a small girl playing hopscotch. Daniel followed Damien's route, albeit a good deal more tentatively, using his Keswick purchased trekking pole as an additional support.

Still image from video - Samsung WB500

I did not like the look of this method. The fast flowing water was swirling around the rocks with some force, and the depth there would certainly have been up to the knee had I slipped. Instead, I decided I would use the ford and a method of movement known as "Churdling".

It is essentially a kind of high-knees sprinting, the aim being to get across as quickly as possible and displace as much water as possible with each downward step. This way, the amount of time your foot is in contact with the water is minimised.

Still image from video - Samsung WB500

It was, I'm pleased to say, a complete success. So Tim decided to try it. Tim is not the most nimble of people, so I believe I should be forgiven for thinking that Tim would end up getting very, very wet.

I would love to able to tell you how, half way across he snagged his boot on a hidden branch, how he tripped and fell, his arms outstretched as the Olympus Mju he was carrying flew from his grip, skimmed across the water into a partially submerged rock, before coming to a complete stop, half in, half out of the water on the far edge of the ford. I could then have waxed lyrical about the Mju's tough build, its impact resistant body and waterproof construction. I could waffle on about how my decision to provide Tim with the most durable of cameras had been rewarded by a display of clumsiness against which Laurel and Hardy would struggle to compete. I could have pointed and laughed, and used the Mju to take pictures of Tim sprawled face down in the river, struggling to get up. Unfortunately, he made it all the way across without incident.

By the time we found a suitable camping site, the sun had come out and the evening sky was turning beautiful shades of gold. We had a fantastic spot on flat, green ground right by the river, with a couple of trees to sit up against and take in the views of the surrounding fells.

Ennerdale near Black Sail Pass - Panasonic Lumix LX3

The evening was spent building a fire, taking photographs, lighting a fire, taking more photographs, relighting the fire, chatting, relighting the fire, taking more photographs and relighting the fire. Through out it all we were watched by a low, fluffy cloud sitting in the pass between two summits. It didn't move, it didn't change, it just floated there. Bathed in the glorious evening sunshine and drinking campsite hot-chocolate, we all felt good about the journey ahead and sat watching the little cloud watching us. If only we had known...

A harmless little cloud - Olympus Mju 8000 Tough

No Way Out

As we were packing up our campsite the next morning, ensuring that we left it exactly as it was found, the cloud was still there, only it looked a lot bigger, considerably more agitated, and had been joined by several of its cloud friends. Still, there was some blue sky on the horizon and, being the hardy adventurers that we are, we pulled on our rucksacks and headed up the Black Sail Pass towards Pillar.

See that cloud? That's where we're going. Great. Fuji FinePix F200EXR.

For some strange reason, I always find the low slopes of the mountain the hardest going. It's as if my legs need an hour or so to remember that they're in the mountains and get used to the idea. Frequent stops to take photos of the amazing scenery gave us all a chance to take a break every so often, but it soon became clear that if we stopped for every photo opportunity we would never make our destination, the summit of Pillar. So, after a pause for a waterfall here or a stunning view there, we headed on up Black Sail Pass towards Windy Gap.

With hindsight, the mountain really didn't want us there that day. Windy Gap, with its lone isolated metal gate in the middle of nowhere, turned out to be a particularly apt description, although Hurricane Hole may have been more accurate still.

The temperature had dropped significantly, mainly because of the biting wind, so another brief pause to take some photos of the landmark also saw us dropping packs to put on fleeces and jumpers before heading down the main pass towards Looking Stead which is said to offer some of the best views of the Ennerdale valley.

Leave gates as you find them - Fuji FinePix F200EXR

As we stood on Looking Stead taking in the breathtaking view over Ennerdale, Scarth Gap Pass and Haystacks, we all started snapping away. Apart from Tim, that is. It turned out that Tim wasn't getting on all that well with the Olympus. He was finding the controls a little fiddly, particularly when wearing gloves, and wasn't entirely happy with the images he was getting. Despite having a 28mm wide-angle zoom lens, Tim felt that the little Mju wasn't really doing the scenery justice and that the lens on the Tough 8000 just wasn't up to the same "vista gobbling" standard as the other cameras.

To be perfectly fair, the Olympus Mju Tough 8000's main selling point is not its lens, but rather the conditions in which you can use it. With the spring sun of the previous day and the overcast, windy but mild weather on Looking Stead that morning, the Olympus really had nothing special to offer. But that would soon change.

Soon after we'd dropped down to the High Level route towards Pillar Rock, the clouds started to unload. It was a reasonably light drizzle and had a pleasant cooling effect as we picked our way along the winding, undulating hill side path.

The High Level Route; strong nerves and knees essential, vertigo optional - Panasonic Lumix LX3

As we approached Robinson's Cairn, the weather grew steadily worse. We made the decision to try and get some shelter and have lunch here before making the ascent to the summit via Shamrock Traverse and Pillar Rock. Pointless. The shelter was minimal and the rain started to hammer down on us as we climbed in to waterproofs. I say we, Tim had managed to leave his waterproof trousers in Norwich, a mistake that would soon have him borderline hypothermic from the waist down. We had a decision to make. Did we press on to the summit in the hope that the weather would improve, or make our way back along the High Level path, down Black Sail Pass and along the valley floor in Ennerdale? It's just possible that we made the wrong choice in heading for the summit.

By the time we were on Shamrock Traverse the weather had closed in good and proper. The rain continued to hammer down and the descending cloud had reduced visibility to a matter of feet. We had scrambled part of the traverse on hands and knees up a rocky gully so by the time we realised just how bad the weather was, we had no desire to try and navigate the slippery rocks in the opposite direction. We weren't even sure we were still on Shamrock Traverse! Needless to say, photography had taken something of a backseat by this point. Even if we had wanted to take photographs, there's no way that Damien, Daniel or I would risk getting the Samsung, Panasonic or Fuji out in such wet conditions. Only the Olympus was designed to function in these conditions and for the most part Tim was too busy trying not to keel over to operate the camera. But as the only model on test that could be relied on in these conditions, we took it in turns using the Olympus to capture the gloom.

"I spy with my little eye something beginning with G" - Olympus Mju Tough 8000

By some amazing stroke of luck, we managed to reach Pillar Rock, even though this 500 ft stone monolith remained completely invisible in the mist until we were almost upon it and I'm pretty sure the path we took was not the intended route. Guide books and online information will tell you how impressive the rock looks from Shamrock Traverse but how it's not actually possible to get on to the rock from the path. We were certainly never going to attempt that, but in the rain and cloud, the view was non existent and the rock just a large, dark, looming shape in the mist.

Pillar rock in the mist. I think. Olympus Mju Tough 8000.

If nothing else, at least the Olympus was justifying its place on the trip. In these conditions the other three cameras would have been ruined within minutes. If it had not been for the Olympus we simply would not have had any photographs of this part of the trip. We continued the scramble towards the summit, the driving rain getting into every crevice. Pockets left even slightly open were filling with water and Tim's trousers had reached saturation point and his boots were beginning to fill. When we finally reached the summit the feeling of celebration and achievement was greatly outweighed by the desire to get off the mountain as quickly as possible, although not before the requisite "Team at the Trig Point" photo, and a couple to show the folks back home the view.

Team at the Trig Point (Trig Point just out of shot) - Olympus Mju Tough 8000

It was at this point that we got our first real impression of how easy it would be to get lost on a mountain under these conditions. Having taken a couple of photos and had a quick look to see if there was anywhere we could shelter for a few minutes to get our breath back (there wasn't - the stone shelters were ankle deep in water) we decided to cut our losses and head back down. The only problem was we had no idea where we were. Sure, we knew we were at the top of Pillar and we even knew which path we wanted to take down, but the thick mist and non-descript landscape meant we had all lost our bearings completely.

Now, under good conditions, Pillar is not the hardest of mountains to climb and I'm sure many people set off up Pillar without simple things like a map and a compass and manage to get up and down without any problem. However, on that day, at the top of Pillar surrounded by thick cloud and very little else, if we'd been without either we would have been well and truly scuppered. As it was, Daniel retrieved the map from his bag and Damien pulled his compass from his pocket. Between the four of us we managed to hold the map still on the trig point as the wind tried to tear it from our grasp and hail attempted to punch small holes in it. We figured out the route, and set off, desperate to get down and feeling more than a little nervous. After a false start, a couple of wrong turns and several consultations of the map, we found ourselves on a path heading in the right direction; down.

The Trig Point on Pillar (Team just out of shot) - Olympus Mju Tough 8000

Mother Nature's Sense of Humour

Two things happened on the way down that changed my thoughts on walking in the mountains and increased my respect for both the landscape and the weather. They were only two small things that, looking back, really don't seem so bad, but at the time really had my heart in my mouth.

Damien and I had descended a short slope looking for the way down. Tim and Daniel were following, the extra weight of the water in Tim's clothing slowing him down and Daniel doing his best to help him. Damien and I soon found the ground levelling out and then sloping steeply upwards again. We had clearly come the wrong way, so turned around to let Tim and Daniel know. They weren't there. We peered into the mist, looking for some sign of movement. Nothing. Damien and I looked at each other, and then looked back towards where Daniel and Tim should be. We waited for what can only have been a few seconds but felt like much longer. Still nothing. Without saying anything, we set off in the direction we expected them to come from. We had only gone about 10 yards when we caught a glimpse of orange ahead. The bright rain-cover of Daniel's rucksack was all that could bee seen at first, but as we got closer we could make out Daniel and Tim picking their way through the rocks towards us. Although nothing was said, a huge sense of relief was felt by both Damien and me.

The second incident was, for me at least, even more frightening. While negotiating a particularly loose and sodden scree, the ground gave out from under me and I lost my footing. I fell to the ground and started to roll. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew that if I kept rolling I was in real trouble, but had almost resigned myself to the fact that I would just have to wait for a boulder to break my fall. And my ribs. As luck would have it my large, heavy rucksack wedged between two rocks and stopped my tumble, leaving me lying on my back, staring up into the cloud and checking I could still feel and move everything. I was fine.

We continued the descent with even more care than before, ensuring we were all constantly insight of each other and that every footstep was a solid one. Eventually the air seemed to clear slightly and we realised we were descending below the worst of the cloud. Continuing down the now gentler and grassy slopes, we soon came out of the cloud altogether and could now see the valley floor. It was even dry enough now that the Panasonic, Samsung and Fuji could be retrieved from where they had been stowed and the Olympus was no longer the only camera in use.

Out of the worst of it - Panasonic Lumix LX3

The remainder of the day's journey was, by comparison, a walk in the park. Even when we were pushing our way through a tightly packed fir plantation, or down an ankle-threateningly potholed area of deforested hillside, it really didn't seem so bad. What's more, as is often the way in the Lakes, the weather had changed completely. The sun was shining and even Tim was beginning to dry out. It was as if, having chased us off the mountain with all that she had to throw, Mother Nature was now cutting us a break. Or more likely, taking the Michael. This opinion was given more weight when, after stopping for an evening meal on the rocky banks of River Liza, we glanced up to see what Pillar looked like from below.

A glorious looking evening on Pillar - Samsung WB500

"Looks quite nice up there" chirped Tim, a comment which was met with a stony silence and stares from the rest of us.
We found the flattest, driest area we could to camp that night and, having spent the best part of 13 hours walking that day, abandoned the idea of a campfire and crawled into sleeping bags, the nightmare of Pillar still in our heads.

A Better Day All Round

We were woken the next day by the sound of rota-blades low overhead. Not sure if we had camped somewhere we shouldn't and were about to be evicted by an irate farmer in an attack helicopter, or whether mountain rescue had somehow heard of our plight and had come to check we were ok, we clambered out of our tents to see what was going on. A helicopter with something suspended underneath appeared to be making repeated trips from Ennerdale Water up to the area near Black Sail Hut and then back again, either dropping off or picking up something at either end. Naturally, we all took some pictures of this unremarkable event, but Damien also opted to film it.

One of the great things about the Samsung WB500 is the fact that you can utilise its full zoom in movie mode, something that none of the other cameras on test could do. With the Panasonic LX3, the Fuji F200EXR and the Olympus 8000, you had to choose your focal length in advance. Once the shutter was pressed and the video recording started it was not possible to change the zoom. This made the Samsung the most well equipped compact camera for movie making.

A more convenient method of Lakeland travel. Samsung WB500.

Still aching and slightly damp from the previous day's efforts, we packed up and headed off into the hills once more, this time heading over towards Crummock Water. We set off on the path to the summit of Red Pike, but veered off around half way up to follow a small stream to the crest of the hill between it and Great Dodd, and area charmingly known as Little Dodd. The sun was out, there was a cool breeze and the air was clear. Perfect walking weather and the scenery much improved for being able to see it. In fact, so clear was it that we could see the Solway Firth and the Scottish hills of the Dumfries and Galloway region beyond. This took some getting used to as the previous day we had been limited to views of around 10 yards or less. We found a great spot to get out of the breeze behind some rocks, whipped out the gas stoves to brew some tea, and sat and enjoyed lunch while taking in the view north.

Clouds where they should be - Fuji FinePix F200EXR

If the journey up had been pleasurable, the trip down to Crummock Water was an absolute joy. We were almost completely out of any breeze and the sun was beating down. It would have made for an uncomfortable ascent, but on the descent towards Scale Force, the highest unbroken waterfall in the Lake District, the warmth and the sun was exactly what we wanted. Anyone who's spent any time in the Lakes will tell you the same thing, but following the stream down towards the waterfall on a beautiful spring afternoon, it was hard to believe we'd had such drastically different weather in two days.

The sun did indeed have his hat on, which meant we didn't have to - Samsung WB500

The good weather must have recharged our batteries considerably because we made excellent time. So, when we reached Scale Force, we had plenty of time to take photos and even chill out on the banks of the river. Daniel is usually the most prolific photo taker on these trips, and this one was no different. While Tim, Damien and I took a few moments to take off our packs, relax, enjoy the scenery and absorb the warmth, Daniel was straight up towards the waterfall to photograph it from every conceivable angle. However, disaster soon struck.

Despite being tucked within its case during the downpour on Pillar, the Panasonic had still managed to get a little moist. The screen on the back was vignetted in a ring of condensation, although the actual images didn't appear to be affected. We can only guess what happened, but it would seem that as Daniel leapt from rock to rock, getting ever closer to the impressive Scale Force, some fine spray from the plunge pool must have worked its way into the Lumix, because the camera switched itself off. Hoping for the best, Daniel replaced the battery, but to no avail. The camera, to all intents and purposes, was dead.

One of the last from the Lumix - Panasonic Lumix LX3

Boys don't ever really grow up - they just become older boys. No surprise then that Damien and I decided to ignore our mothers' advice and set off to clamber up the rocks of the lower falls so we could get a better view of the main drop. We were shortly followed by Tim while Daniel tried to figure out if his camera was fixable. The rocks were green, wet and very, very slippery, but no match for three hardy explorers! With cameras tucked safely away, we scrambled up and up until we were at the same level as the main plunge pool, the height of the primary drop now very appreciable. The spray from the fall was quite dense here, so Damien and I were careful to only briefly expose the Samsung and Fuji when taking photos.

The full scale and force of Scale Force - Samsung WB500

Tim had no such worries with the Olympus and could continue taking photos even when the camera was being drenched with spray. In fact, we decide to see exactly how much the Olympus could take.

It was a beautiful day and we were still very hot from the walk down so, after scrambling up the rocks to see Scale Force up close, it seemed a shame not to jump on in to cool down. Damien and I did just that, stripping down to our boxer shorts before wading in like men with no fear. OK, so that's rubbish. We did wade on in, but certainly not like men. We tiptoed tentatively in the ankle deep water which was very, VERY cold. I had the Olympus Mju in my hand with a video running which, in hindsight, was a mistake. Tim had the Samsung and was filming and zooming in to capture our macho exploits, which was also a mistake. Why were they mistakes? Because as we got closer to the bottom of the waterfall, the water got deeper and colder. When it reached above our thighs, we started to squeal like girls. Proper, high-pitched, squeals of discomfort, all of which have been captured for posterity on video. Tim filmed from a distance as we waded all the way into the pool and stuck our heads under the raging torrent, the Olympus Mju still along for the ride. It wasn't at all like those shampoo adverts. The water was very, very, VERY cold and extremely heavy. We scampered back out of the water to dry off and collect our clothes. The Olympus had certainly proved itself to be tough. Damien and I hadn't.

I suppose I should have included the videos at this point, but frankly the sight of Damien and I shrieking in soaked boxer-shorts is not the sort of thing that Wex Photographic as a company wishes to associate itself with. But Tim will certainly vouch that the events above did take place and were not a pretty sight to behold.

Fond Farewells

The fine weather stayed with us all evening and as we set up camp near the shore of Crummock Water it was with a degree of sadness as this would be our final evening under canvas in the Lakes.

We hung still slightly damp clothes in the trees to dry, got a roaring campfire going and sat on stones around the fire discussing the past days. Comparisons were drawn with the trip the year before. That too had involved a trek to camp on the first night, a difficult climb up and a complicated descent down on the second day, a more leisurely stroll ending near a waterfall on the third day, and on the fourth day we had finished the trip by walking round a lake to our final destination, a journey we would be making again the next day. After ensuring the fire was out and that there were no remnants of our evening meal left lying about (this was just in an effort to keep the place tidy, but Damien was convinced it would attract bears), we turned in for the final night.

The view over Crummock Water - not so bad really? - Olympus Mju Tough 8000

The next morning it was just a short stroll back to the farm we had started from at the eastern end of Buttermere, but even the scenery here was as beautiful as ever with waterfalls tumbling through the trees and towering peaks reflected in the water.

Back at Delilah it was great to be able to take off the rucksacks we had carried for the past four days and get changed into clean, dry clothes. We packed up and set off for the relative civilisation of Keswick for a pub lunch, before leaving the Lake District altogether and heading back to the flatlands of Norfolk. It had been another great but thoroughly exhausting trip and, as we left the hills behind us, we all had no doubt we would be back soon.

The beautiful banks of Buttermere and beyond - Fuji FinePix F200EXR

Opinions


Daniel McMahon
Name: Daniel McMahon
Position: Technical Sales Advisor
Expertise: Camcorders
Camera: Panasonic Lumix LX3

"Yes it's that time of year again when we all fight over which camera we should be taking on our little trek in to the mountains. Tim didn't have a lot of say in this, based on last years' demonstration of his slug like agility and failure to catch his camera before washing it in a puddle. I'd had my beady eye on the Samsung WB500 for some time but it turned out that Damien had already made a request for this, so I was left searching for something that would last the trip but still give me a chance to get some impressive wide angle shots and hopefully some nice video as well.

"How about the Panasonic LX3?" Ben suggested. Well, it had a wide angle lens (24mm), shot full hi-def video, was not the bright pink and frankly girlie camera that others had put forward and was from the Panasonic stable that I had had a lot of success with last year. "Sounds good to me!"

The first thing you notice when using the Panasonic LX3 is that it is a fairly chunky little number and the lens is not flush with the camera body as with most compacts. This it turned out to actually be a benefit, as it helped keep the camera steady for some smooth pan shots when shooting in video mode.

Much like the Panasonic TZ5 that I had taken last year, the camera had lots of different program modes to suit any kind of photography situation; landscape (quite important for us), portrait, sunset, etc. They even had a setting for shooting food, although based on the "food" that Damien was serving up it was not a mode I felt the need to use. The results as before were fantastic and allowed me to whip out the camera at any time, change mode and get a great shot within seconds, handy when using the other hand to cling to a mountain!"

The Panasonic LX3 compact digital camera has a nice function that allows you to switch the ratio of your video and images from 16:9 to 4:3 depending on what your final output will be. I chose to keep it in the 16:9 widescreen mode as this seemed to suit our subject matter best. Overall the video from the camera was of a very high quality and the sound certainly adequate to give you a feel of the location considering the size of the camera and its mic. The only slight niggle I had was that the camera would not allow for zooming or focusing whilst filming. I have since read that this is so that the viewer is not subjected to a constant sea sickening viewing experience as the camera user constantly zooms in and out on everything of interest in frenetic 70's chopsocky movie fashion! So probably a good idea.

Overall this was shaping up to be a great little camera and giving me some fantastic results when… disaster struck! Due to a small (not) amount of precipitation on top of Pillar rock the day before, my little LX3 conked out on me just as we reached the extremely impressive Scale Force waterfall! It is fair to say that the LX3 isn't marketed as an outdoor, rugged or even mildly splash proof camera, so that fact that the LCD screen had gone white with condensation and the lens had water drops on the inside led me to believe that I had killed the camera and any chances of "reviewing" anything else!

I tried frantically to revive it with a new battery, a wipe down with a towel and plenty of swearing, but it was clear that it was gone and with it any chances of taking anymore pics on the trip…

…Four days on and with the camera sufficiently acclimatized to a dry environment it switched back on without a problem! Lens and screen were clear and the great pictures were back (as were my chances of borrowing more kit)!

Overall this is a great camera that gives great results in both its still images and video considering its small size. Given the chance (and if allowed!) I would gladly take this camera out with me again. It comes highly recommended… as does a waterproof bag to put it in!"

Damien Jacobs
Name: Damien Jacobs
Position: Technical Sales Advisor
Expertise: Astronomy
Camera: Samsung WB500

The day that Michael from Samsung brought the new WB500 in to show us, I knew that it was the camera I wanted to take to the Lakes with me. 10 million pixels plus 24-240mm lens equals a very capable camera, and that's before you even begin to look at the other features it offers, like the 720p HD Movie Recording.

Once in the Lake District it soon became clear that I'd made an excellent choice. The 24mm end of the zoom was fantastic for squeezing as much of the scenery as possible on to the sensor and, although it was getting less use, the 240mm telephoto end was great for picking up distant details and scenery that the other cameras couldn't hope to match.

When it comes to these trips, Daniel is very much my sparring partner. Last year when I had the fixed lens Ricoh and he had a super-zoom Panasonic he wouldn't stop going on about how great it was to have a zoom and how flexible it made his camera. This year was my turn, with Daniel's Panasonic only able to reach a focal length of 60mm, 4x less than the Samsung. Obviously I took every opportunity to rub it in.

Like the Ricoh last year, the Samsung is not a great looking camera. Sure, bits of it glow blue when you turn it on, which all looks very sci-fi, particularly in a pitch black tent in the middle of the night (don't ask what I was taking photos of), but it still looks a little clumsy compared to some of the sleeker looking compact cameras. I'm sure this is mainly because it has to house the stonking great 10x lens and besides, I'd trade good looks for zoom length any day.

The WB500 was easy and intuitive to use and I thoroughly enjoyed using it. What surprised me most though was how much I enjoyed using the movie mode on it too. Turns out the ability to zoom in and out whilst filming is not something you should take for granted on a compact digital, but the Samsung could do it. As a dedicated movie man himself, this made Daniel particularly green.

All in all I thought this camera was great. The only downside was that the sensor ratio is 4:3 rather than the 16:9 on the Panasonic. I don't suppose this would normally matter, but combine the magnificent scenery with a 24mm lens and it just would have put the cherry on the cake. That aside, it really is an excellent camera for this kind of environment and I thoroughly recommend it.

I wonder if they'll let me take it to Kabul?

Tim Green
Name: Tim Green
Position: Finance Supervisor
Expertise: X-Box 360
Camera: Olympus Mju Tough 8000

"Well, one year on from the last trip and I was eagerly waiting to find out what camera I would be given to test out. A Leica? A Panasonic? Another Canon? Even a Nikon, perhaps? Nope. None of the above. It was the Olympus Mju 8000 Tough.

Now don't get me wrong, I am not an Olympus hater, it's just I have never really gotten on with them.

"Why an Olympus?" I whinged, only to be told that they wanted to test the ruggedness of the Mju Tough 8000 and what better person to give it to than the one who dropped his camera within half a day of the last trip? Well, I can't argue with that, so off I go, slightly dejected, but happy in the knowledge that I could do the Tough's design and abilities justice.

One of the first things you notice about the Mju is that, for its size, it's a relatively weighty piece of kit. "Oh dear!" you may think, but the solid build is actually quite reassuring considering that the Mju 8000 is designed to withstand a fall of 6ft 6in (I'm 6ft) and can be submerged down to a depth of about 33ft (I had no intention of getting that wet). Indeed, the Mju's sturdiness left me feeling safe in the knowledge that I could do serious damage to any attacking rogue squirrel without fear of breaking the camera.

The Olympus has a 2.7inch screen and 3.6x optical zoom which, combined with the 12 megapixels, is nothing spectacular, but is perfectly adequate and up there with the majority of compacts, with the added bonus of being built like a tank.

The Olympus has many scene settings which are quite handy, including the night settings (night portrait, candle, firework etc) which were easy to use in the low light of the great outdoors. However, the slightly fiddly layout of the controls could prove to be annoying to those whose hands are not built for delicate massaging like mine (Daniel's sausage fingers for example).

I found the auto-focus of the camera a little slow and only marginally faster than Damien's brain in the morning (which, suffice to say, couldn't be any slower). When pressing the shutter button it would often not focus fast enough at times, preventing me from taking a quick grab-shot. Alternatively, it would fire off two in one go with only the slightest of presses of the shutter button. These occasional issues resulted in Daniel having to re-film a few video clips due to my cursing spoiling the otherwise tranquil natural Lakeland soundtrack.

Once I'd had enough of the picture taking it was time for a blast with the ol' video option which is easily selected on the circular options dial. The recorded movies are of reasonably good quality considering it's a compact camera. Recording is easy to start and stop and the sound is clear, the only downside being the inability to zoom whilst videoing, but hey, you can't have everything.

The Olympus Mju Tough 8000 was as good as its word in that it was tough. Proper, hardcore tough. Whilst up on Pillar mountain when the heavens fell then opened (in that order) with the other more expensive and luxury cameras falling to the wayside, the Olympus kept on ticking whilst being absolutely soaked. When we found Scale Force waterfall it was subjected to the horrifying sights of Ben and Damien in their pants...sorry did I just say that? What I meant to say was that the Mju was taken into the waterfall and submerged whilst recording a video and performed as well in the water as out of it.

The battery life was great - I didn't have to swap batteries until the third viewing of the pictures and videos by my friends and family when I got home (they DID like them and DID want to see them that many times).

All in all, the Mju surprised me. The Olympus Mju 8000 was indeed a tough little cookie. It had its flaws but if I was going back to hell (or Pillar to be more precise) this camera would be the one I choose to take, the others not going when the going got Tough.

A final note: throughout the trip I did not drop this camera once or have any mishaps with it whatsoever. So nah-na-na-nah-nah."

Ben Weeks
Name: Ben Weeks
Position: Technical and Training Manager
Expertise: Quirky yet informative reviews
Camera: Fuji FinePix F200EXR

"When I was deciding which camera I was going to take on this trip there were some specific things I was looking for. I wanted a camera with a wide-angle lens and some manual control, but I didn't want anything bigger than a regular sized compact digital camera. As such, any camera with a lens that didn't go as wide as 28mm, point and shoot compacts with no manual override and larger bridge-cameras were immediately ruled out. This left surprisingly few options, and given that the Panasonic Lumix LX3 and the Samsung WB500 would already be in use, the Fuji looked like an appropriate and interesting choice.

I'll get the negative stuff over and done with first. The 28mm wide-angle zoom lens is great, but looking back over the pictures that were taken, it just doesn't compete with the 24mm lenses on the Samsung and Panasonic in terms of dramatic landscapes. The manual overrides are there, but not particularly intuitive and as someone used to the Manual, Program, Aperture and Shutter Priority modes found on SLRs, I struggled to make use of this side of the Fuji and left it in auto for the most of the time.

That said, the new EXR sensor on the Fuji F200 still gave the camera something special. Designed to get the best out of any scene, when in Auto EXR mode the camera would change how the sensor worked depending on the lighting conditions. For the vast majority of the pictures this was the High Dynamic Range setting, hardly surprising when you take into account the dark brooding landscape of the Lakeland Fells in contrast with the brightly lit sky. The low light Signal-to-Noise setting rarely got used, but when the light was good and reasonably even, the High Resolution mode got every bit of detail from the 12 megapixel sensor.

Battery life was ok but nothing impressive. It eventually died halfway through the third day and needed replacing, so it was a good job that I was carrying a spare. I tried the video mode on a few occasions which no doubt decreased the battery life significantly and found it to be perfectly adequate, but the ability to zoom whilst filming (as on the Samsung) would have made it better. But to be honest, I'm not all that interested in the video I'm really a stills man and it's the photographic ability of the F200EXR that I would be judging it on.

And the result? Well, not bad is the answer. In places and on occasions the Fuji was superb, particularly when the DR mode came into its own. Some of the images are truly stunning when viewed on a decent colour calibrated monitor. The amount of detail recorded in the shadows and maintained in the highlights is excellent and not something I've seen from any other compact digital camera. Take the image of Buttermere in the above review, for instance. I do not believe that any other camera could have recorded all the tones so beautifully, with the darker areas in the trees and on the path to the right of the image still showing detail alongside the bright sky still having cloud definition; most others would simply have burned the sky out. When the Fuji F200EXR performs well, it performs brilliantly.

Unfortunately, there just aren't enough of these moments and the rest of the time the images are simply adequate. The auto-focus is not reliable enough unless you are prepared to constantly be changing the focus modes and points and, perhaps as part of the high dynamic range process, it has a tendency to under expose images. I might be being too hard on the little Fuji - like I said it often produced brilliant images. But if I'm honest, it simply wasn't consistent enough for my liking and if I was going back to the Lakes tomorrow, it probably wouldn't be the Fuji F200EXR I'd be taking with me."

The Verdict

Last year was quite straightforward with four cameras that all performed differently but were equally up to the task. This time it was slightly different.

With 24mm wide angle lenses and excellent image clarity and colour reproduction, the Samsung WB500 and Panasonic Lumix LX3 came out on top. The Samsung offers a whopping 10x zoom lens which can also be used in video mode, while the Panasonic produces the more natural colours and has a natural image ratio of 16:9, ideal for the Lakeland scenery.

The Fuji FinePix F200EXR was fantastic some of the time, but not so hot the rest of the time, with its auto-focus and exposure letting it down on several occasions. Great things were anticipated, but only average things forthcoming.

The Olympus Mju Tough 8000 also performed ok, but simply couldn't compete with the Panasonic and Samsung in terms of image quality. That said, its build quality is indeed "Tough" and if the weather had stayed like it was on Pillar, it may well have been the only camera we could write about.

Rating:

 Panasonic Lumix LX3 - 9/10
 Samsung WB500 - 9/10
 Fuji FinePix F200EXR - 8/10
 Olympus Mju Tough 8000 - 7.5/10
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