Published on September 3rd, 2011 | by Greg0
Outdoor Research and Samsung Keep Us Dry And Filming
Labor Day- fast approaching, it will mark the unofficial start of fall and the end of summer. But in the Bay Area, the seasonal change is for the warmer, as one of our nicer periods rolls around and the weather gets lovelier. In Hawaii, where some of our staff ‘work’, the start of September doesn’t mean much in terms of weather- but does mean that the heavy tourism season is coming soon and everyone can enjoy a sort of lull between peaks. Some of our mainland staff visited the Pacific Islands recently, and came back with plenty to say about two particular pieces of gear, both lightweight and fairly inexpensive.
The Outdoor Research Helium Jacket is appropriately named. Weighing under seven ounces, this storm shell is super-compressible, allowing you to cram it anywhere- in a camera bag, small purse, or the smallest area in your carry-on. We couldn’t quite fit it into our pockets, but it can fold into it’s own, making for an easy-open and quick-wear piece of outerwear perfect for rapidly changing weather like that in Hawaii. Rain comes and goes, and this jacket held off even large squalls- we went so far as to try it in a waterfall to test the seals, and though it was a bit hard to tell for sure thanks to spray, the seam tapes seemed solid and zippers properly water-resistant.
We missed having front hand pockets, though a napoleon (upper chest) pocket is easy-to-reach if a bit small. Available in four colors- avocado, black, and blue, ours was a pretty neutral mushroom which looked great with most other clothing. Elastic cuffs and a nicely firm hood lip make for a cozy, dry, and warm experience in the Helium. And it felt fairly breathable as well- certainly a bit less so than some lighter layers, and it felt a bit humid in the armpit and rear back regions. It might not look like much, especially when crumpled into a tiny ball, but it holds up well and holds out water. At around $140 or so MSRP and online for under $100, it’s a great buy.
And if you’re heading into Hawaii or anywhere with clear waters, you’ll be foolish to travel without a waterproof camera. Sure, you can buy a case for your DSLR- but it’ll cost you a fortune and double the weight of an already heavy item. We prefer to travel a bit lighter when snorkeling or scuba diving, or even just at the beach. The image quality isn’t as good, but we were still impressed by the Samsung W200. It’s similar to a sturdier Flip- one of our favorite lightweight video cameras- and features a flip-out USB arm for easy transfer of images and video. Unlike most competitors, though, it’s waterproof, shockproof, and dustproof, and has a nifty antifog lens that keeps images clear even in high humidity. And it does full 1080p or 720 high-definition video or 5.5 megapixel photography and helpfully includes an HDMI port, though offers only auto-focus, a fixed frame rate of 30fps, and a 3x digital zoom.
We tried it both in regular conditions, as well as underwater. The above-water shots, both video and still, are unimpressive- our iPhone 4 cameras were a bit better in color, clarity, and much better in sound quality. Underwater, or in mixed environments, it’s a solid contender- our only real issue was the unfortunate shakiness of most videos. There is some limited stabilization, but we would’ve preferred something better. A wider lens might’ve been optimal as well for action shots. A MicroSD card is needed, and not included unfortunately, but they are available widely and cheaply. A 16GB card can hold something around 2 hours of video at 1080p. The LCD screen was only so-so, as it was a bit hard to see in sunlight, but did hold well against drops and some contact with the elements. Controls and grip were only OK- a side record button and a more textured surface would be helpful for instance, but the W200 has a nice weight and form factor. Available in two colors, the W200 runs about $130 and has some nifty features which we do hope to see on other cameras (the pause and continue ability is excellent, allowing you to briefly cut without starting a new file). All in all, this is a solid performer for inclement conditions, though we wouldn’t recommend it for day-to-day use.