Tough cameras arenu2019t just for taking to the pool when youu2019re on holiday. Their rugged design makes them useful for a variety of situations. Richard Sibley looks at seven of the latest models

When looking for the next item to add to your photographic kit, a waterproof, freezeproof, shockproof compact camera may not be the first item that springs to mind. These so-called tough cameras are often portrayed as being for those people who spend most of their time diving in coral reefs, or hurtling down the world’s toughest ski slopes. Yet while they are perfectly suitable for these extreme conditions, a tough camera will allow you to take creative images in difficult conditions far closer to home.

Waterproof cameras can be used in a torrential downpour, when most photographers would be worried about taking more valuable equipment outdoors. The same seals that make these cameras waterproof also helps to keep dust and dirt at bay, so they are fine for taking to the beach or out on a muddy hike. And should your tough camera get dirty, just run it under the tap and carefully wipe it clean.

As technology has improved, not only have the cameras got tougher, but they have also started to incorporate ever more sophisticated features. Wireless image transfer, GPS, even built-in altimeters – all can be found in current models, making these cameras useful additions to any photographer’s kit bag.

The inclusion of GPS and Wi-Fi make these cameras great compacts for travellers, too, and even more features tucked away only adds to the interest. For example, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT5 has a built-in intervalometer, which means it can record time-lapse videos. Combine this with the waterproofing and -10°C working temperature, and the FT5 can be left out in the snow to take shots and create a time-lapse video of the snow settling on a landscape.

Canon PowerShot D20

Price: Around £255
www.canon.co.uk Tel: 01737 220 000
With large, bright, plastic buttons, Canon’s PowerShot D20 is extremely easy to use with or without gloves. The buttons are also clearly visible against the black back of the camera, although the rear thumb grip should ideally be a different colour to the buttons to spare any confusion. The body of the D20 is an odd shape, with waved curves along one edge. It isn’t especially small, either, especially given its similar size to Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-FT5 and Olympus’s Stylus Tough TG-2, which both have a slightly better specification.

The 12.1-million-pixel sensor of the D20 uses the same HS system found in other Canon compact cameras. This essentially means that it is backlit, which should produce cleaner images with less noise and a slightly improved dynamic range compared to its competitors. The images are as we would expect from a Canon compact camera, with a good level of colour and contrast, and a fair amount of detail given that the resolution of the camera is less than many of the cameras on test.
Although the resolution of the 3in screen may be a little lacking, it has a good level of contrast and a pleasing colour rendition. In terms of tough features the D20 has a reasonable specification, but those photographers planning to use it for scuba diving may want to look elsewhere.

Score: Four out of five

Specification

Sensor: 12.1 million pixels

Sensor size: 1/2.3in

Screen: 3in, 461,000 dots

Lens: 28-140mm (equivalent) f/3.9-4.8, 5x optical zoom

ISO: 100-3200

Video: 1080p HD

Waterproof: 10m

Freezeproof: -10°C

Shockproof: 1.5m

GPS: Yes

Wi-Fi: No

Find the best deals for the Canon PowerShot D20

Fujifilm FinePix XP60

Price: Around £160
www.fujifilm.co.uk Tel: 01234 572 000
The cheapest of all of the tough cameras in this group, the Fujifilm FinePix XP60 has a good 16.4-million-pixel sensor and a 5x optical zoom. Images from the camera are a match for all the other cameras on test. However, the screen is disappointing, being just 2.7in with a very low, 230,000-dot resolution. This causes the screen to look very pixelated.

Its tough features are also fairly standard, with waterproofing to a depth of just 6m. That said, unless you’re likely to be venturing regularly beyond this depth it will be enough, especially for swimming pools and snorkelling. As we would expect from a camera in this price range, it lacks many of the more advanced features of the other cameras in this group, such as GPS and Wi-Fi, but there is a decent number of scene modes and shooting features.

The XP60’s body has a fairly basic design, but the uncomplicated button layout works well. The silver buttons are easily visible against the black plastic of the camera’s rear, and they protrude and are far enough apart to make them easy to press with gloves on.

While the XP60 may not be the best specified of the cameras reviewed here, the images are good, and at less than £160 it is a good choice for those who may only occasionally require a tough camera.

Score: Three out of five

Specification

Sensor: 16.4 million pixels

Sensor size: 1/2.3in

Screen: 2.7in, 230,000 dots

Lens: 28-140mm (equivalent) f/3.9-4.9, 5x optical zoom

ISO: 100-6400

Video: 1080p HD

Waterproof: 6m

Freezeproof: -10°C

Shockproof: 1.5m

GPS: No

Wi-Fi: No

Find the best deals for the Fujifilm XP60

Nikon Coolpix AW110

Price: Around £280
www.europe-nikon.com/en_GB/ Tel: 0330 123 0932
With built-in GPS, including a worldwide map showing points of interest, plus a digital compass, altimeter, barometer and Wi-Fi, Nikon’s Coolpix AW110 offers an impressive range of features for those who like to be outside in the extremes. Its 16-million-pixel sensor produces good images, but by ISO 400 it resolves around the same amount of detail as nearly all the other cameras in this round-up. The screen is bright and, while some of the items on the shooting screen are quite small, the menus are all large and clear, making it easy to switch settings and modes.

The body of the camera feels tough and reassuring, but the buttons are a little ‘clicky’. However, operation is simple when wearing gloves. To further ease the change of settings in cold weather, there is a large button on the side of the camera. Pressing this reveals a mode menu, and then simply shaking the camera slightly switches between the menu selections.

The AW110 has a good selection of scene modes and an impressive range of shooting features in its main menu, including the ability to shoot at 60fps, or 120fps at a reduced, 1-million-pixel or VGA resolution. Despite the reduced resolution, these fast-shooting modes will still appeal to users wanting to capture extreme sporting moments for upload to the internet.

Score: Four out of five

Specification

Sensor: 16 million pixels

Sensor size: 1/2.3in

Screen: 3in, 614,000-dot OLED

Lens: 28-140mm (equivalent) f/3.9-4.8, 5x optical zoom

ISO: 125-3200

Video: 1080p HD

Waterproof: 18m

Freezeproof: -10°C

Shockproof: 2m

GPS: Yes
Wi-Fi:Yes

Find the best deals for the Nikon AW110

Olympus Stylus Tough TG-2

Price: Around £350
www.olympus.co.uk Tel: 01702 616 333
Despite the Olympus Stylus Tough TG-2 having only 12 million pixels, image quality doesn’t fall far behind the competition. Unlike other cameras here, the TG-2 has an aperture-priority mode that will allow photographers to make full use of the maximum f/2 aperture of its lens.

The TG-2 certainly looks the part, and its body feels reassuringly solid. This is reflected in the camera’s claimed crushproofing to 100kg. Generally, changing settings in gloves is easy, although I did struggle to move the camera’s rear dial. Brilliantly, there is an ingenious tap control that takes things a step further. This works by tapping various parts of the camera to control the selection of menu items, saving the hassle of taking gloves off in cold conditions.

With built-in GPS, a barometer, altimeter and digital compass, the TG-2 is only missing built-in Wi-Fi. Thankfully, for those who want wireless connectivity, the camera is compatible with FlashAir and Eye-Fi cards. This is great all-round model.

Score: Four out of five

Specification

Sensor: 12 million pixels

Sensor size: 1/2.3in

Screen: 3in, 610,000-dot OLED

Lens: 25-100mm (equivalent) f/2-4.9, 4x optical zoom

ISO: 100-6400

Video: 1080p HD

Waterproof: 15m

Freezeproof: -10°C

Shockproof: 2m

GPS: Yes

Wi-Fi: No

Find the best deals for the Olympus Tough TG-2

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT5

Price: Around £350
www.panasonic.co.uk Tel: 0844 844 3899
Not only does Panasonic’s latest tough camera, the Lumix DMC-FT5, feature built-in Wi-Fi, but it also uses NFC (Near Field Communication) technology, allowing the FT5 to be connected via Wi-Fi to an NFC smartphone or tablet by simply touching the two devices together. As well as Wi-Fi, the FT5 has GPS built-in, and like its main rivals it has a built-in digital compass, altimeter and barometer. All this information can be overlaid on the rear screen.

With a resolution of just 460,000 dots, the screen of the FT5 can’t quite match that of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX30, Nikon Coolpix AW110 or Olympus Stylus Tough TG-2, but it is a fair size and displays a good level of contrast.

In terms of handling, the camera feels a lot like the Olympus TG-2. It is solidly built with a decent-sized handgrip compared to a few of the other cameras. The buttons are neatly laid out, but they are a little small and can be fiddly to operate when wearing gloves. The menu makes up for this by providing large bright icons and text. There are a good number of features available in the FT5, including a manual-exposure mode and a time-lapse video option. The latter could prove fun when combined with the water resistance and low working temperature of the camera.

Score: Four out of five

Specification

Sensor: 16.1 million pixels

Sensor size: 1/2.3in

Screen: 3in, 460,000 dots

Lens: 28-128mm (equivalent) f/3.3-5.9, 4.6x optical zoom

ISO: 100-6400

Video: 1080p HD

Waterproof: 13m

Freezeproof: -10°C

Shockproof: 2m

GPS: Yes

Wi-Fi:Yes

Find the best deals for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT5

Pentax WG-3

Price: Around £280
www.pentax.co.uk Tel: 0870 736 8299
The largest tough camera in this group, the Pentax WG-3, is capable of withstanding a drop of 2m and a load of up to 100kg, which makes it one of the toughest models around.

While the 4x zoom range is not a match for some of the other cameras on test here, it does have the advantage of an f/2 maximum aperture at its 28mm (equivalent) focal length. Images produced by the 16-million-pixel sensor are good, matching detail from the other cameras, but with perhaps a little more noise at ISO 400. Sadly, the live-view image is the smallest in this round-up, occupying very little of the 3in widescreen.

Textured surfaces cover the WG-3 body, making it easy to grip, and there was no problem operating the camera with gloves on. A karabiner strap is included and can be attached to
the side of the camera, which is useful for divers and climbers.

Ingeniously the WG-3 has six LED lights placed around the lens to aid macro shooting, which will be useful when shooting such things as underwater coral reefs.

Although the WG-3 lacks more advanced features, there is a companion model, the WG-3 GPS, that includes a digital compass, altimeter, barometer and, of course, GPS. The more advanced camera also includes Qi wireless charging and costs around £330.

Score: Three out of five

Specification

Sensor: 16 million pixels

Sensor size: 1/2.3in

Screen: 3in, 460,000 dots

Lens: 25-100mm (equivalent) f/2-4.9, 4x optical zoom

ISO: 125-6400

Video: 1080i HD

Waterproof: 14m

Freezeproof: -10°C

Shockproof: 2m

GPS: No

Wi-Fi: No (available separately)

Find the best deals for the Pentax WG-3

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX30

Price: Around £300
www.sony.co.uk Tel: 01932 816 000
Of all the tough cameras in this round-up, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX30 is the smallest, lightest and best-looking. In fact, there is a lot to like about it, including its 18.2-million-pixel sensor – the highest pixel count in the group. This produces images with good resolution at low sensitivities. Image colour and contrast are very good, and the screen is also excellent, with plenty of detail and a good level of contrast. There is a catch, however – to maintain its slim profile, the TX30 forgoes physical buttons in favour of a touchscreen. While the touchscreen handled superbly, it cannot be used with gloves on, which may be annoying if you want to change settings in the cold.

Another plus point of the TX30 is the 26-130mm Carl Zeiss lens, which is the fastest in this group when zooming in and out.

In terms of the TX30’s tough features, the waterproofing, freezeproofing and shockproofing are average, with GPS and Wi-Fi not present. Another consideration is that the camera uses MicroSD cards, which may be an additional purchase for many enthusiast photographers.

Overall, the svelte design of the TX30 means it is recommended for those who want a good all-round camera that they can feel confident taking into the swimming pool.

Score: Four out of five

Specification

Sensor: 18.2 million pixels

Sensor size: 1/2.3in

Screen: 3.3in, 1.299-million-dot touchscreen OLED

Lens: 26-130mm (equivalent) f/3.5-4.8, 5x optical zoom

ISO: 80-12,800

Video: 1080i HD

Waterproof: 10m

Freezeproof: -10°C

Shockproof: 1.5m

GPS: No

Wi-Fi: No

  • luke

    No mention of video quality or how they handled underwater, or what the best/favorite one was