It seems that gadgets are not only getting lighter and faster, they're getting tougher too. And while the compact camera market has seen huge gains in terms of output quality, the toughness factor has come into its own this year.
The new "tough" class asks consumers to pay a little more for a robust chassis that is beach/jungle/space-travel friendly. If you're prone to trashing your tech toys then read on for a solution. Here's a round-up of four models from the biggest manufacturers in the compact market. Are they up to the toughness test? Let's take a look.
CANON POWERSHOT D20
The D20 is an upgrade from the D10, which was a forerunner in the waterproof class. Its unsymmetrical exterior is all rubber and easy to grip, but it won't win any beauty contests. It weights 228g and the big buttons on the back are easily operated with gloved fingers.
It has been rated as waterproof to 10m depth, shockproof to 1.5m and freezeproof to minus 10C _ the standard for this class. Inside, a 12.1 CMOS megapixel sensor captures images in most lighting conditions through the ISO ranges of 100-3200. GPS, a 5x optical zoom, 1080p video recording and shooting modes for onboard processing are included.
The D20 is a workman's phone more on the tough than the everyday use side of things. It isn't so easy on the eye but will withstand the elements and the test of time while producing above average results for this class.
SONY CYBERSHOT TX20
Sony has given its Cybershot range an impressive bump by introducing the dimension of durability while maintaining the feathery weight of 133g and 18mm thickness. The slight dimensions still allow standard durability spec, although we wouldn't drop it with as much confidence as its peers.
Onboard is a 16.2 megapixel sensor, 4x zoom and 1080i video capture. Operations are done via the 3-inch touchscreen on the back, which is nice and responsive.
Sony's TX20 takes a different approach, being more on the compact than the tough side of the equation. Its tiny and petite dimensions cost it some image quality and toughness, and it's harder to operate underwater or with gloved fingers. But the slick design gives it crossover potential for use at campsite or dinner party alike. Hence it will lure plenty of punters.
OLYMPUS TOUGH TG-1
The flagship tough camera of Olympus, the TG-1 feels sturdy in the hand and the bolts on display show off its durability. All opening ports have good seals and the doors are double locking. Toughness comes at a weight of 230g and 29mm thickness. Features on board include 4x optical zoom, a 12-megapixel backlit CMOS sensor and GPS. It's shockproof to 2m and waterproof to 12m _ tougher than most.
It offers shooting modes as well as a programme mode to allow more controlled shooting. A bonus is the bright f/2.0 maximum aperture, faster than competitors. And another unique feature is the reflex operation of the camera (gestures and motions), making operation on the go more manageable.
Olympus has risen to the challenge of this new niche market with its TG-1 release. The Tough lives up to its name offering more durability than its peers. Operation in tougher conditions helps too while maintaining image quality. In terms of toughness, the TG-1 wins bragging rights.
NIKON COOLPIX AW100
The AW100 is Nikon's first attempt at a compact and offers utilitarian no-fuss design that has been kept at 23mm thickness. It offers standard durability in this class, and features a 5x wide optical zoom, 16-megapixel backlit CMOS sensor, ISO range of 125-3200, GPS and 1080p video output. Shooting is mostly automated.
The AW100 is probably the most balanced of the tough cameras here, offering true compactness, durability and image quality. Its buttons are too small for gloved use, but the design is slick enough for most occasions. The automated functioning takes the guesswork for mobile snappers _ a good start from Nikon in the toughness stakes.
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