Now that many Canadians are planning trips south for the winter, it's worth checking out some of the cameras in the "tough" category. The current models are waterproof to a depth of 10 or more meters, so they're ideal for use in a pool or while snorkelling in the ocean. But even if you never get below the surface, a well-sealed camera is great, because it will withstand splashes while boating, or hiking in rain or during a safari drive through a dust storm. And most of these cameras are equipped with a GPS receiver, for geo-tagging the location where you take each of your vacation photos.
The tough models are also resistant to shock, and to drops, so there's less need to worry if you bang one against a rock or drop it while trying extreme sports. And they're freeze-resistant too, just in case your destination is in the Arctic. The number of very rugged, waterproof cameras has expanded rapidly and now you can find dozens. The most recent models are the most desirable, since they employ the newest technology and offer the latest features for taking still photos and HD movies. Let's take a look at the full-featured cameras in this category.
Canon PowerShot D20: This small 12.1-megapixel (MP) camera with a high sensitivity sensor and DIGIC 4 processor, features big buttons. It's very easy to use in general, with its convenient operating interface. The D20 is equipped with a scratch-resistant 28-140mm f/3.9-4.8 zoom, an intelligent image stabilizer with six modes, and a 3" LCD with 460,000-dot resolution. $340
Fujifilm FinePix XP150: A solid 14.4MP camera with a rubberised coating and a metal handgrip, the XP150 is equipped with a stabilized 28-140mm f/3.9-4.9 lens and a 2.7" LCD with 230,000-dot resolution and an anti-reflective coating. A new image processor provides quick start-up and fast autofocus. $250
Nikon Coolpix AW100: One of the thinnest in its category at 23mm, this 16MP camera (shown at right) features a stabilized 28-140mm f/3.9-4.8 ED glass lens and a 3" 460,000-dot LCD with anti-reflective coating. An accessory (included) allows for using a 40.5mm filter over the lens. Its EXPEED C2TM processor was designed to provide great speed and image quality. $330
Olympus Tough TG-1 iHS: This high-end 12MP camera features a 610,000-dot 3" OLED screen, with a scratch/glare resistant coating, and a stabilized 25-140mm f/2-4.9 aspherical lens. The wide maximum aperture at short focal lengths is important if you take pics underwater, because you'll most often shoot at wide angle. Its TruePic VI processor was designed for quick response and fine image quality and autofocus is provided by the FAST AF system developed for the E-P series of cameras. $400
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS4: A full-featured 12.1MP model with a stabilized Leica DC 28-128mm f/3.3-5.9 aspherical lens, the TS4 and employs a fast LSI Venus Engine for very fine image quality. The 2.7" LCD provides a display with 230,000-dot resolution. It boasts an unusually versatile GPS receiver. It can display and records full location data in 203 countries and can recognize a million landmarks located in 82 countries. $350
Pentax Optio WG-2: Whether you choose the model with or without GPS, this 16MP camera features a stabilized 28-140mm f/3.5-5.5 lens, a 3-inch 460,000 dot LCD with anti-reflection coating. It's equipped with a new image processor with "super resolution" technology for fine quality and speed. There are six LED lights around the lens for illuminating the subject in macro photography. $300; $330 with GPS feature
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20: A high-end 16.2MP tough camera that offers all the capabilities you'd expect from a conventional Cyber-shot, this one is equipped with a 3" 921,000-dot touchscreen and stabilized Carl Zeiss 25-100mm f/3.5-4.6 lens. It benefits from Sony's Exmor R sensor and BIONZ processor for great speed and image quality. However, it's not equipped with a GPS receiver. $400
Some of the ads for "tough" cameras suggest that they're suitable for SCUBA diving. That's true in theory but it can get very dark when you go down beyond a few meters and that calls for a high-powered external flash. And none of these compact cameras accepts an accessory of that type. So, for the best results, use them in a pool or when swimming in open water at depths of two to three meters. Move as close to the subject as possible, and use the built-in flash for nice, bright photos.