Exploring Rugged Digital Cameras for Active Lifestyles
written by: M. J. Abernathy•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 9/29/2011
Looking for a camera that can keep up with unexpected weather and extreme outdoor conditions? If you're seeking a durable camera that's waterproof, shockproof, dustproof, crushproof or freezeproof, check out this image gallery of our top picks for rugged digital cameras!
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Nikon COOLPIX AW100
The Nikon COOLPIX AW100 includes all of the features frequently sought in a rough and tough camera that's ready for the wild outdoors. The COOLPIX AW100 is waterproof up to 33 feet, shock-protected from falls of up to 5 feet, and able to withstand temperatures of 14°F.
Although the camera doesn't offer any stand-out features from that of its competitors, Nikon cameras are known for their durability and practical design. With user-friendly controls, the Nikon AW100 appears to be no exception. While the camera does not dive as deep as some cameras on the market which can be submerged more than 40 feet, its exceptional performance when it comes to action shots and low-light conditions may offset this fact. The camera offers a 16-MP CMOS sensor ideal for low-light conditions, shoots three shots per second, and films full HD video in 1080p. With high-quality video and low-light performance, it is a quality high-end choice for the more discerning consumer.
Nikon's suggested retail price was $379.95 after its release in the fall of 2011.
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3 offers "quad-proof" protection from the elements of nature. The camera is waterproof up to 40 feet, and protected against falls from heights greater than 6.5 feet. The DMC-TS3 casing is dustproof and freezeproof to sustain temperatures as low as 14°F.
If you're seeking the greatest durability and versatility, the Panasonic DMC-TS3 is a personal favorite. The camera offers one of the best combinations of features for the outdoor adventurer with added protection that allows it to dive deeper and fall further. The camera includes a built-in altimeter and depth meter, barometer, GPS sensor and compass. For the occasional snorkel or shallow dive in a natural lake or spring, the depth meter and added depth protection are very helpful features.
With a 12.1-megapixel Hi-Speed CCD sensor, the camera provides users with an iA (intelligent auto) mode to prevent blur and Power O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabilizer) to enhance stability. HD video is also recorded in 1920x1080 in AVCHD format that gives users more recording time than the standard MJPEG. If you plan on recording a lot of video, this is a significant factor.
The DMC-TS3 won the 2011 award for "Best Rugged Compact Camera" from TIPA. The camera retails from $269.95.
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Pentax Optio WG-1 Digital Camera
The 14-MP Optio WG-1 offers similar protection as the previously mentioned cameras. The camera can be submerged to depths up to 33 feet, dropped from heights of 5 feet, and subjected to temperatures as low as 14°F. The body of the camera ensures security from dust, sand and other particles. The camera includes GPS functionality to record positional data and records HD video in 720p, 30 frames per second.
The Optio WG-1 is also enhanced by "crush-proof" protection, with a hard casing that is able to withstand pressures of up to 220 LBF (pound-force). For those seeking a tough camera for rock-climbing or hiking, the Optio WG-1 is an ideal choice. With a sporty contoured design, the camera is a good fit if you're one of those people who just tend to be hard on your camera - just strap it on to your backpack for your next adventures and go.
Since first becoming available on Amazon.com in February of 2011, the Optio WG-1 has retailed for $230+.
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Olympus Stylus Tough 3000
The Stylus Tough 3000 is one of the lower-end cameras offered as one of the first of Olympus' Tough product line. The 12-MP features dual-image stabilization and records video in 720p. The camera is waterproof to 10 feet, shockproof from falls of up to 5 feet, and freezeproof to the typical 14°F.
As of fall 2011, the camera's retail value was priced at $199.99 on the Olympus websites. Found online from some retailers for as low as $150, it is one of the more affordable waterproof cameras with added features in our line-up for everyday use. Despite its more limited features in comparison to more advanced models of the Tough series, the camera receives good reviews for practical functionality and durability. If you're looking for a simple camera that can easily handle photos taken in the rain or at the waterpark, the Stylus Tough 3000 is a very affordable option. Next, we will look at the newer Olympus Tough TG-810.
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Olympus Tough TG-810
The TG-810 is the more recent camera in Olympus' Tough series: waterproof to 33 feet, shockproof to 6.6 feet, and freezeproof to 14°F. Like the Pentax Optio WG-1, it is crushproof to 220 LBF (pound-force).
One or the more unique features offered by the TG-810 is the 3D photo mode. 3D image capabilities give added depth to your images (even those taken underwater) when shot in 3D mode and viewed on 3D devices. The camera offers 14-MP shooting with a 5x wide-angle optical zoom. It records HD video in 720p and includes GPS functionality. Previous owners of Olympus cameras will find the camera up-to-snuff with previous models, with added strength and durability. With one of the higher shockproof ratings and total megapixels, it's a great choice if you truly are looking for a tough digital camera and don't need the higher video quality.
Perhaps the most rugged in appearance, the rough and tough TG-810 was released by Olympus in April of 2011 at a retail price of $399.99. It is currently available from online retailers from the low $300s.
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Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX10
The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX10 is a 16.2-MP camera with a lot to offer. Like the other cameras in our line-up, the Cyber-shot TX10 is able to withstand temperatures ranging from 14°-104°F and is protected from falls of 5 feet or less. The "Exmor R" CMOS image sensor also offers better low-light shooting for underwater photography, with the camera approved for use up to 16 feet below the surface.
If you're looking for a camera with basic protection and a lot of bells and whistles, the TX10 may be a good fit for your needs. For users who appreciate added shooting features like photo sharing and panorama functions with 3D images, the camera offers some of the best specs available. Especially noteworthy are the much faster shooting speeds and 16.2-MP for quality large-size prints.
The TX10 includes a 3-inch touch screen for quick image previews on the go. As previously mentioned, the shooting speed is much higher at 10 images per second. Like the Olympus TG-810, the camera also includes 3D capabilities - including 3D Still Image and 3D Sweep Panorama functions. With built-in sharing features for online uploads and Full HD video capabilities in 1080/60i, it provides all of the same functionality as most other models with a quite a few added perks.
Since its release in early 2011, the camera has been priced at roughly $320.
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Canon PowerShot D10
The PowerShot D10 was released in 2009 as the first of the Canon PowerShot "D series" in digital compact cameras. If you're a fan of Canon and looking for the basics, the PowerShot D10 covers them all. The 12.1-MP camera is waterproof to depths of 33 feet, shockproof from up to 4 feet, and freezeproof to 14°F. As an added bonus, the Canon D10 also offers face and blink detection to ensure that pictures of your favorite people turn out perfectly.
As of fall 2011, the average retail price was about $280 (with an original suggested retail of $299.99).
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Casio Exilim EX-G1
The Casio Exilim EX-G1 was rated the "Best Rugged Compact Camera" by TIPA in 2010. It won awards for the best snow shots, best beach shots, and best underwater shots. Like the Canon PowerShot D10, the 12.1-MP Exilim EX-G1 was also released in 2009.
The camera offers some of the highest shockproof protection, shock resistant from up to 7 feet. The camera is waterproof to 10 feet and freezeproof to 14°F - making it suitable for those who need basic water protection and high performance in rugged conditions.
Average retail in 2011 was in the low $200s, with some refurbished models available for as low as $150.
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Fujifilm FinePix XP30
Although the Fujifilm FinePix XP30 gets poorer reviews for lagging performance and lackluster GPS tracking and geo-tagging, it is one of the more moderately priced cameras in our selection that still offers 4-way protection from the elements of nature.
The camera is waterproof up to 16.4 feet, shockproof from heights of 4.9 feet, freezeproof to 14°F and sealed to prevent entry of sand or dust particles.
As of fall 2011, the camera was priced in the low $170s.
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Kodak Playsport Zx3
The Playsport Zx3 was the first in Kodak's popular line of waterproof video cameras. Although Kodak's newer model, the Zx5, offers a few new features and enhancements, the Zx3 is still a highly-recommended video camera with an even more appealing price tag.
The Zx3 video camera is waterproof up to 10 feet and records HD video in 1080p. The camera also takes 5-MP, 16:9 widescreen HD stills. With a Glare Shield to improve visibility, the camera is a great handheld camcorder for sunny days at the beach or pool. The size of an average mobile device, it is well-protected and easy to use. For those seeking ultimate portability, the Kodak Playsport series is ideal. Intended primarily for straightforward video performance and quality (above and below the water), it is a good fit if you already have a high-quality camera for your basic imaging needs.
The Playsport Zx3 is available from some retailers for less than $100. It is currently priced on Amazon.com in the low $100s with a color selection of blue, purple, black or white. Next, we'll compare the Kodak Zx3 to the. Zx5 camera released in 2011.
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Kodak Playsport Zx5
The Kodak Playsport Zx5 offers similar features to the Zx3 with a bit of added protection for the avid outdoorsmen. Like the Zx3, it is waterproof to depths of 10 feet.
The Zx5 offers additional security with a shockproof and dustproof design that has undergone more rigorous testing to ensure its protection, compliant with Ingress Protection Rating (or IP code) standards. The camera also offers increased image stabilization, in-camera editing and effects, and the Kodak share button to post content online.
Apart from these features, the Zx3 and Zx5 video cameras are largely the same - both with 2-inch LCD screens and similar overall appearance and functionality. Like its predecessor, the Zx5 shoots stills in 5-MP and offers different video resolution options up to 1080p. The Zx5 is available in black, red/orange and aqua.
Upon release, Kodak priced the Zx5 at $179.95. Many retailers currently offer the video camera for as low as $110.
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If you're looking for a high-end underwater camera, the SeaLife DC1200 is highly-recommended by scuba professionals and guaranteed to sustain depths of 200 feet. The camera is ideal for those seeking a camera that can sustain deeper dives and won't require underwater housing.
The 12-MP camera has wide "piano keys" that are easy to navigate underwater. This is a welcome feature that doesn't restrict divers to the more limited functionality of typical, low-end underwater camera housing. The camera includes four underwater color correction settings, a snorkel mode for shallow depths, manual and automatic modes for external flash, and an easy set-up screen guide. External flashes and wide-angle lens accessories are also available.
In terms of diving equipment, the DC1200 is one of the more affordable cameras available for scuba diving. The SeaLife DC1200 is currently available for as low as $430.