Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX200VAlthough we haven't had the worst weather on record, there's still been plenty of rain, wind, cold and snow. No matter the intensity you still shouldn't take your camera into nasty elements—especially if you want it to last.
Luckily there's a class of digital cameras built from the ground up to handle almost anything Mother Nature can throw at them. Sometimes called "rugged" cameras, they are typically waterproof, freeze-proof, dust resistant and shock proof, claims that will never be attached to picture-taking smartphones.
If you want to capture stills and videos in the wilds, these are the cameras for you. And if you're in sunnier climes, it's good to know you can even toss them into a pool or drop them on the patio and they'll be no worse for wear.
I've tested many of these cameras over the years and would always get a chuckle tossing the camera to friends playing in the pool, watching them scramble so it wouldn't hit the water. Yes, it was a little cruel but fun none the less.
An entire new class of rugged cameras is now available and like standard models, the megapixel count has increased and HD video is standard. In fact, most have the same basic feature set but there are enough differences prices range from $179-$499. Most have non-protruding 5x optical zooms ranging from 28-140mm which is good for everyday photography.
They'll also go underwater to at least 10 feet, handle temperatures down to 14-degrees F and handle a fall from around 6 feet. Along with stills they'll take HD video to varying quality levels. As you spend more, there are definitely cool add-ons like built-in GPS and electronic compasses, the ability to go much deeper underwater, be crush-proof (you can step on them) and so on. Let's take a look at some of newest.
Sony's new Cyber-shot DSC-TX200V is arguably the most expensive rugged camera available ($499). It also has the most megapixels of any compact camera—18—and shoots AVCHD 1080/60p video, the same as better, full-featured camcorders. It has a 5x zoom, optical image stabilization and a 3.3-inch touchscreen LCD. The TX200V is waterproof to 16 feet and dustproof but will not take a drop or handle the cold.
Although the quality drops a bit, the new 5x Olympus Tough TG820 HS ($299) lives up to its name. It's waterproof to 33 feet, freeze-proof (14 degrees), can take a 6.6-foot drop and can handle 220 pounds of someone stepping on it. Resolution is 12MP and video is 1080/30p so you're giving up sparkling results for a camera that can really take punishment.
Fujifilm's new XP 150 ($279) adds GPS as well as geo-tagging and is waterproof to 33 feet, shockproof to 8 feet, freeze-proof to 14-degrees F and dustproof. It has a 14MP sensor and a 2.7-inch anti-reflective LCD. Like most other cameras of this type it has a 5x wide angle optical zoom lens (28-140mm).
The Canon PowerShot D20 ($349, May) has a 12MP resolution, optical image stabilization, a 3-inch LCD as well as GPS capability so you can geo-tag your adventures.
Panasonic is known for their Toughbook laptops and they've always had rugged cameras that are above average for handling abuse. The new Lumix TS4 not only has a GPS and compass but an altimeter and barometer as well. It's good to 40-feet underwater plus the usual drop and cold specs. The 12MP camera captures AVCHD videos, has a 4.6x zoom (28-128mm) but goes beyond the usual point-and-shoot by offering manual shutter speed and aperture adjustments.
Nikon Coolpix AW100 ($349) came out late in 2011 but it's still a solid offering with its 16-megapixel quality, 5x zoom, built-in GPS and electronic compass.
A final note: don't get too crazy tossing your rugged camera around. Although most can take a drop of 6 feet, it's onto plywood (that's how the test is done). That said, I've dropped many of these cameras onto concrete from shoulder height and other than some scratches, they work just fine.