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If there’s anything tougher than defining the ‘perfect’ camera it would have to be defining the word ‘perfect’. For some folks the perfect camera is small. For others the perfect camera has ‘’lots of pixels’. And for some it simply boils down to ‘Can I stick it in my pocket, sit on it, and then go diving in sub-freezing water with it… and oh… is it available in red?’
If I made your whiskers twitch on that last note you’d be interested in knowing about the following cameras, because each of them can be dunked, dropped, frozen, and afterwards tucked nicely away in your pocket. And cameras you can easily tuck away in your pocket (or dangle from a carabiner) are more likely to be within reach when you need them most… especially if you plan on mountain climbing during a nor’easter. And yes, most of these tough minis are available in a choice of colors.
Panasonic was among the first companies to introduce tough point-and-shoot digicams, and their latest ‘Photo/Movie Hybrid Tough Digital Camera’ is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS2. The DMC-TS2 features a 14.1MP CCD imaging sensor, a Leica DC Vario-Elmar 4.6x (28 - 128.8mm equivalent) optical zoom, a 2.7” (230,000-dot) TFT LCD, and the ability to capture AVCHD Lite hi-def video.
In the ‘tough’ department, the TS2 is waterproof down to 33’/10 m (IEC60529 IPX8" standard), drop-proof from 6.6’/2 m (MIL-STD 810F Method 516.5-shock test standard), freeze-proof down to 14°F /-10c, and dustproof according to IEC60529 IP6X standards.
Other features found on the Panasonic DMC-TS2 include a built-in ‘fill-flash’ LED light for shooting close-up video under murkier lighting conditions (even underwater!), and Power O.I.S. optical image stabilization. When planning your summer wardrobe, do keep in mind the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS2 is available in silver, blue, orange, and yellow.
Tough digicams are available in 3 flavors from Olympus, and they are named accordingly. The toughest of the three is the Olympus Stylus Tough-8010, which is waterproof to 33’/10 m, shockproof to 6.6’/2 m, freeze-proof to 14°F /-10c, and crushproof to 220 lb.
Available in black or silver, the Olympus Tough-8010 features a 14MP (1/2.3”) CCD sensor, a 5x (28 – 140mm equivalent ) zoom, 1-touch 720p video capture, 2 gigs of internal memory (very cool!), a 2.7” LCD, dual image stabilization, in-camera panorama stitching, a slew of creative filters, and a very useful tap control system that allows you to control many of the camera’s basic functions by simply tapping the top and side panels. If you’ve shot with gloves or underwater you’ll find this feature to be a welcome one.
Slightly less bullet-proof (and slightly lighter) is the Olympus Stylus Tough-6020, which like the Tough-8010 has a 14MP sensor, a 2.7” LCD, a 5x (28 – 140mm equivalent) zoom, tap-control, dual image stabilization, and 1-touch 720p video capture. The differences between the cameras have to do with waterproof ratings (16’), shock-resistance (5’), internal memory (1GB vs. 2GB), and weight (6.3oz (178g) without batteries and media card for the Tough-6020 versus 7.6oz (215g) for the Tough-8010). The Olympus Tough-6020 is available in black, pink, blue, and green.
A third dunk-able from Olympus is the Olympus Stylus Tough-3000, which contains a 12MP CCD, a 2.7" LCD, a 3.6x (28-102mm equivalent), 1GB of internal memory and the ability to capture JPEGs and MP4 video. In the abuse department, the Stylus Tough-3000 is waterproof down to 10', shock-proof from 5', and freeze-proof to 14°F. The Olympus Stylus Tough-3000 is available in blue, red, green, and pink.
Canon PowerShot D10
The Canon PowerShot D10 stands out from the crowd because it’s one of the few ‘dunk-ables’ that’s not a squared-off rectangle. Resembling a rounded, blue and silver bar of soap, the odd-looking shape of the Canon PowerShot starts to make good sense when you start using it underwater, where it's bulbous shape makes it easier to grasp, especially when wearing gloves.
Even on terra firma, the Canon D10 is an easy-to-use digicam that can withstand the abuse of grandchildren, who are naturally attracted to the camera’s playfully-unorthodox design. The Canon PowerShot D10 features a 12.1MP CCD, a Digic4 image processor, a 2.5” (230,000-dot) PureColor II LCD, ISO ratings up to 3200, image stabilization, and a 3x (35-105mm equivalent) optical zoom. You also have a choice of ‘ports’ to which you can attach the D10’s wrist strap. The Canon PowerShot D10 records JPEGs and AVI video.
Fujifilm FinePix XP10
Also non-traditional in design is the wedge-shaped Fujifilm FinePix XP10. Easily pocketable, the all-metal Fuji XP10 is waterproof down to 9.84’/3 m,shock-proof down to 3.3’/1 m, freeze-proof to 14°F /-10c, and sealedagainst dust and other airborne intruders.
Features-wise, the 4.9 ounce, all-metal Fuji XP10 has a 12.2MP CCD, shoots JPEGs & AVI video, and has a 5x (36-180mm equivalent) optical zoom that focuses down to 3.5”/9cm, and digital image stabilization. Most importantly, the Fujifilm FinePix XP10 is available in black, silver, and an irridescent interpretation of green.
Pentax Optio W90
The Pentax Optio W90 is easily recognizable by its wraparound rubber bumpers that protect the edges of the camera body. It's one of the more visually adventurous of the tough digicams discussed in this rough-and-tough digicam review. A particularly unique feature found on the Optio W80 are the 3 LEDs that allow you to light close-lying subjects when shooting stills and video in macro mode, which should prove to be especially valuable for shooting underwater close-ups.
As for toughness, the Optio W90 is waterproof down to 16’/5 m, shock-resistant from falls 3.3’/1.0 m from the ground, and freeze-resistant down to 14°F /-10c. As for the specs, the Pentax Optio W90 features a 12.1 MP CCD, a 5x (28-140mm equivalent) optical zoom, a 2.7”(230,000-dot) LCD, 720p video capture @ 30fps, HDMI connectivity, Advanced Pixel Track Shake Reduction, and a super macro mode that focuses down to 0.39”/1 cm from the front element of the lens. The Pentax Optio W90 is available in a choice of black or Pistachio green, and there’s a handy carabiner included with each camera to facilitate dangling the camera from your belt, bag, dive suit, or for nights out on the town in a beltless gown, your hoop earrings.
Pentax Optio W80
Sony Cyber-shot TX5
The last dunk-able digicam on our list contains a few neat attributes of its very own. Sony’s ¾”-thin Cyber-shot TX5 is the first of the Cyber-shot cameras that’s waterproof (down to 10’), shockproof (from falls up to 5.5’), and freeze-proof (down to 14°F). Inside, the TX5 contains a 10.2 megapixel “Exmor R” back-illuminated CMOS image sensor that works with a BIONZ image processor to bang out up to 10 full-res stills per second as well as 720p HD MP4 video.
The lens on the TX5 is a 4x (25-100mm equivalent) Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar zoom that captures dramatic landscapes as easily as tight headshots, and you can compose your pix on the TX5’s 3” (230,000-dot) touch-screen LCD.
As for the Sony TX5’s unique features, this little honey can produce in-camera panoramic images up to 226° (even underwater!) and the camera’s Hand-held Twilight mode and Anti-motion Blur modes make taking hand-held night-time (or underwater) pictures a piece of cake. Sony’s Cyber-shot TX5 is available in black, pink, red, silver, and green.