Looking for the a rugged camera to take on the trail with you? We asked gadget fanatic journalist Jon Bentley to name his top 5 rugged cameras you can buy right now…
Nikon’s latest rugged compact camera, the new Coolpix AW120, has a better lens than its popular predecessor, the AW110. The 5x zoom now starts wider at 24mm, and it’s considerably brighter. As before, you can shoot slow motion or fast video at from 15 to 240 frames per second and it’s a waterproof camera down to 18 meters. There’s Wi-Fi, GPS and world maps on board, and you can display atmospheric pressure, depth and altitude readings on screen or on your images. Available in red, black, blue, or the ever-fashionable camouflage, it’s undoubtedly one of the best rugged compact cameras you can buy.
The Olympus Tough series of rugged compact cameras offers excellent value. This year’s star is the brand new mid-priced TG-850. Its 5x zoom starts at an ultra-wide 21mm. Plus, it’s a waterproof camera, making it great for underwater seascapes. Even better, it features a tilting screen – a first for a rugged point-and-shoot camera. You can spin it through 180 degrees for self-portraits, though a 90-degree angle is particularly useful when dipping the camera into water, or while using the excellent macro mode. Prices are currently quite high but expect them to drop soon after launch.
Panasonic’s Lumix TS5 is one of the older rugged, waterproof compact cameras – it was launched in 2013, but it’s also one of the best. It has a great range of features including GPS, Wi-Fi, and NFC, and has a reassuringly impressive waterproof depth of 13 meters. For stills, the performance is fine but the TS5’s great strength is the quality of its sharp, high-resolution 1080P 50fps AVCHD video. Prices have fallen significantly and the TS5 is now priced at a supreme value for a point-and-shoot camera, or video camera.
If you want a rugged point-and-shoot camera that’s easy to use with better image quality than a compact and the flexibility of interchangeable lenses, try Nikon’s new AW1. This rugged addition to the 1-series compacts is a waterproof camera to 15 meters, shockproof to 2 meters, and freeze-proof to 14°F. The pop-up flash is waterproof, too. Though, with its limited manual controls, it’s not quite an alternative to a full-blown DSLR in a ruggedized housing.
An Ikelite Housing for your camera
The above will all be fine for most of your needs, but for the best quality underwater shots you need to move beyond rugged point-and-shoot cameras and invest in a waterproof housing for a DSLR or other high quality camera. You’ll be able to dive deeper, to 60 meters and more, and enjoy more rapid focusing and better image quality, particularly in low light conditions. Unfortunately housings aren’t cheap. Some camera manufacturers make their own, but there are also specialist companies like Ikelite because they design and manufacture high performance housings for a massive range of cameras.
Jon Bentley is a British technology journalist and television presenter, best known for The Gadget Show.