Cameras For a Rough World

olympus tough
The Olympus Tough TG-810 is waterproof to 30 feet, shockproof from six feet and has built-in GPS support - by Olympus

It’s not easy being a small electronic device sometimes, the world can be a rough place. Some of you might be looking for a camera for the kids that can stand up to the rigors of the playground, the park and the back yard water slide. Others may need a camera that can get bounced around in the glove compartment and may be called upon to work in any weather conditions. Or perhaps a camera that can survive a bruising climb up a mountain trail in a backpack or road trip in bicycle panniers.

For those situations, you need a tough camera. No sissy electronics will do, you need something that can take it and still deliver decent photos.

Luckily there are cameras engineered for a rough world.

Olympus Tough TG-810

Capable of being dropped from a height of 6 feet, can survive underwater to a depth of 30 feet, and can even take being stashed in a snowbank.

The 13.8-megapixel CCD chip does yield great results underwater or in low light, but overall the camera will survive the rigors of being dragged around in the field. The Tough TG-810 has built-in GPS so you’ll know where the pictures were taken.

Video specs are okay, but not great. You’ll get 720p at 30 fps.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3

This rugged compact not only sports built-in GPS, but also a compass, barometer, and altimeter. It’s dust proof, waterproof down to 40 feet, and shock resistant to falls up to 6 feet. And, oh yeah, it takes pictures.

Again this camera has a 12.1-megapixel CCD type sensor, which means you’re giving up a little in low light performance, but you gain full 1080 HD video at 60 fps.

Nikon Coolpix AW100

With the Nikon Coolpix AW100 you step up to a 15.9-megapixel CMOS sensor in a camera that still has an integrated GPS transceiver, but this time coupled with internal mapping software. Video is 1080p at 30 fps.

The Coolpix AW100 is shockproof to a height of 5 feet, waterproof to a depth of 33 feet and, like the Olympus, can survive an extended period in a snowbank. Which begs the question of how much time people are spending in snowbanks? Because that seems to be a big selling point for camera manufacturers.

Life is hard, but with one of these tough customers, you’ll at least be able to get good photos while buried in snowbanks.


Olympus Tough TG-810 to Nikon Coolpix AW100

Nikon Coolpix AW100 to Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3

Olympus Tough TG-810 to Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3

Fixed Lens or Interchangeable?

Point shoot cameras with built-in superzooms offer an alternative to long lenses

At this point in the development of digital photography, there is a camera for every buyer . In selecting which camera is right for you, one of the basic considerations will be whether to get a fixed lens or camera that lets you change lenses.

These days the question is not as clear cut as it was a few years ago. In the old days, you wouldn’t think of taking portraits with a zoom lens. You would have had a case of prime lenses and probably picked one in the 85mm-135mm range. Today zoom lenses are much better. Computer controlled milling machines, advanced optical coatings, and robot assembly means zoom lens quality is no longer an issue.

Now there are “superzooms”, also sometimes called “travel lenses” with incredible zoom ranges that make changing camera lenses a rare event. A few years ago you might have been carrying a small case full of lenses, today, even for a commercial shoot, you’ll likely only be packing two or three.

Modern consumer cameras with fixed lenses are still able to offer an impressive zoom range and most will work for 90 percent of the shots you will probably ever want to take. It’s that last 10 percent that separates photographers. Specialties that positively need to change lenses are serious bird watchers, sports, and wildlife photographers.

If you’re taking pictures for a living, or think you will, interchangeable lenses will be a capability you want. You may not have a lot of lenses at first, but you’ll pick them up over time.

Even if photography is just a serious hobby, I’d still get interchangeable lens capability if it’s in your budget.

But if you’re getting a camera to take pictures of the kids, for a family vacation, or occasional get together then the zoom range in most point and shoot cameras are just fine.

If you’re thinking about your kid’s soccer game, cameras like the Canon SX30 IS, the Nikon CoolPix 500, and Fujifilm Finepix HS20 with a built-in long zooms can put you right in the action, even from the sidelines at a price less than you’d pay for a decent long lens.

JVC Fields Video/Still Hybrid GC-PX10

The JVC GC-PX10 offers powerful hybrid functionality - by JVC

It’s hard to tell if the JVC GC-PX10 is a video camera with more convenient still image capability, or a still camera with video on steroids.

Either way JVC has loaded an interesting blend of features at a camera apparently aimed at the advanced consumer segment of the market.

The GC-PX10 features a 12.75-megapixel 1/2.3 BSI-CMOS sensor behind a Konica Minolta HD 19x dynamic zoom lens with optical image stabilization. The advanced chip technology gives it a stated ISO rating of 6,400.

The video features are impressive. Full 1080 HD at 24/30/60p backed up by JVC’s K2 sound system that allows for manual control. On the back it features a 3 inch touch panel tilt monitor.

Linked to the imaging hardware is JVC’s FALCONBIRD high speed imaging engine which is also found on their full HD 3D camcorder, the GS-TD1. The high-end electronics let the GC-PX10 do a lot of neat tricks like record full HD video while simultaneously shooting 12-megapixel stills without interrupting the video.

The most compelling features of the GC-PX10 may be the hybrid shooting capabilities. It can pump out 8.3-megapixel still at a rate of 60 shots per second in 130 shot bursts or 12-megapixel still at 30 shots per second. Impressive.

In VGA mode the GC-PX10 can shoot 300 frames per second for up to two hours. You could record your kid’s entire soccer game in super slow motion.

Prices at $799 the JVC GC-PX10 is an interesting hybrid video camera.

Ricoh GDR Digital IV – No Problems With Availability

Ricoh GR Digital IV
Ricoh GR Digital IV - A very expensive 10-megapixels

It’s an understatement to suggest the Ricoh GR IVs are not exactly flying off the store shelves. Announced last month, the GR Digital IV seems a bit over-priced considering the feature set.

The GR Digital IV starts off with an anemic 10-megapixel, 1/1.7-inch CCD chip behind a 28mm F/1.9 GR lens. Not only a small chip with weak resolution but a dog in low-light as well. Video is limited to VGA.

Some of the redeeming features include the GR Engine IV image processor, the 190-point AF system that includes an external AF sensor, and image sensor shift image stabilization. Ricoh claims the hybrid AF system can focus in as little as 0.2 seconds.

The GDR Digital IV has a built-in electronic level, a feature usually only found in more expensive cameras and a handy addition for a point and shoot.

On the back the GR IV sports Sony’s WhiteMagic LCD screen which delivers greater luminance while drawing less power.

On the software side the GR Digital IV has some interesting tricks that include in-camera dynamic range compensation and it’s one of the few digital cameras to offer multiple exposures, which is accomplishes by layering up to five images together inside the camera. There is also a new Interval Composite mode for taking long, night-time exposures

While the features are interesting and the build quality is impressive, the bottom line is you’re still paying over $740 for a 10-megapixel camera. I’m not entirely certain what Ricoh was thinking here, but the GR Digital IV does not compare well to other cameras in the same price range.

I don’t think availability for this camera is going to be any problem at all this holiday season.

Compared to:

Ricoh GR IV vs Fujifilm X10
Ricoh GR IV vs Olympus XZ-1
Ricoh GR IV vs Ricoh GR Digital III

Fujifilm X-S1 Long Range Superzoom

sx1 photo
The Fujifilm S-X1 Superzoom can put you right in the middle of the action - by Fujifilm

Fujifilm has fielded the Fujifilm X-S1 superzoom, what some are calling a “bridge” camera that falls in between point-and-shoot and full size DSLRs.

While the Fujifilm X-S1 is a fixed-lens camera, it sports an impressive 26x zoom range with a lens that has a 35mm equivalent of 24mm to an impressive 624mm. With a range like that how often would you really miss having interchangeable lenses? On top of that Fujifilm has layered Intelligent Digital Zoom which takes the telephoto end out to an eye-popping 1248mm (35mm equivalent).

If the long range doesn’t lure you in, you can get in as close as 1cm by selecting Super Macro Mode for monster close up images.

Inside the X-S1 packs a 2/3 in 12-megapixel EXR CMOS sensor, the same one in the X10, which yields much better low light performance. The EXR CMOS technology allows the user to switch between automatic modes such as High Resolution, Wide Dynamic Range, and High Sensitivity with the flick of a button and Fujifilm claims a shutter lag of just 0.01 sec in high speed continuous shooting mode.

For video the X-S1 offers full 1920×1080 video, with stereo sound, at 30 fps.

On the back the X-S1 has a tiltable 3 inch LCD screen with a special daylight mode to make it easier to see during the day, a feature I wish Canon would emulate.

The Fujifilm X-S1 offers an impressive array of automatic shooting modes along with a full range of manual controls.

Priced at just under $1,200, the Fujifilm X-S1 is an ambitious offering, giving consumers the option of paying a little more for full DSLR functionality without the DSLR weight and need to carry separate lens.

It’s for sure, with the zoom capability, that parents on the sidelines of their kid’s soccer game will find this camera can put them right in the action all the way from the bleachers. It should also appeal to weekend nature photographers and bird watchers.

Compare to:

Fujifilm X-S1 vs Canon SX20 IS

Fujifilm X-S1 vs Pentax X90

Fujifilm X-S1 vs Nikon Coolpix P100