And in that respect, though we're not exactly swimming in waterproof cameras, the Sanyo Xacti VPC-E1 has some strong competition, notably the Olympus Stylus 770SW and the Pentax Optio W30. Though the E1 incorporates a 5x zoom lens, the other models cost less, have otherwise similar or better specs and can produce better underwater credentials: you can submerge the W30 to as deep as 10 feet for 2 hours and the 770SW to around 32 feet for as long as an hour. Those make the E1's mere 5 feet of depth for an hour pale in comparison. (All are JIS Class 8 qualified, but that just means they've been certified to be submerged for a manufacturer-specified duration at a manufacturer-specified depth.)
So right out of the gate, the E1 faces both an identity crisis and the challenge of distinguishing itself from better-equipped veterans. Unfortunately, it's not really up to the task. On one hand, the vertical design makes for a solid single-handed grip; your right hand wraps around the body with your index finger perched above the lens. But the shutter and record buttons are mushy with too little tactile feedback, so it's difficult to tell if you've successfully grabbed the shot or begun recording. Unless you have very tiny thumbs, it's nearly impossible to use the zoom switch or the user-programmable left and right arrow switches without impinging upon the Set button in the middle. That makes executing a consistent-speed zoom nearly impossible. And it all becomes a bit more difficult and awkward under water, especially if your hands get cold.
Physical navigation aside, the menus are easy to read and logically arranged, exposing you to the relatively basic, camcorderlike feature set. The E1 incorporates a slowish f/3.5-to-4.7, 38mm-to-190mm-equivalent lens with a built-in neutral-density filter and a 2.5-inch LCD that gets difficult to see in harsh light and that must be viewed head-on underwater. Though it lacks aperture- and shutter-priority exposure modes, you can select from among spot-, center- and pattern metering; sensitivity settings from ISO 50 to ISO 1,600 (as high as 7,200 in the Lamp low-light scene mode); auto, manual and four preset white-balance settings; spot or nine-point autofocus; and exposure compensation. At best quality--and you don't really want to drop below that--it records MPEG-4 video at about 409K per second or 24MB per minute of video.