When you pick a tough camera, you’ll find so much high-tech finery is protected by a thin plastic case. These cameras share core features—underwater capability, shock and cold resistance, basic internal memory. These cameras fit in your pocket and they can hang with you in more genteel settings, then turn right around, without expensive housings or adapters, and shoot in conditions into which most cameras (or people) won’t go. Rugged models are shockproof if you drop them, can operate in extreme temperatures and are sealed against dust, dirt and water. Hiking and backpacking requires a lightweight and durable camera that captures great images. Depending on your budget, the options abound in categories from compact point-and-shoots and mirrorless cameras to full-frame digital SLRs.
Fit is a key issue with bigger internal and external frame packs for multi-day hikes and it’s the most important issue you’ll face. It is all about the “suspension system”, which is the part of the pack responsible for bearing the weight and connecting it to your body: the shoulder straps, the hipbelt, the frame, the back padding, and the lumbar area.
What to Look for
Let’s look at some deciding factors before picking a camera:
Today’s tough outdoor cameras are designed to withstand some serious abuse and this is achieved by stronger, heavier materials in the camera body, plus impact-resistant electronics and lens designs.
This rating can vary significantly based on the camera (and price), from as little as 3 feet to 40 feet or more.
A good outdoor camera must be small enough to keep somewhere that provides you with instant access, whether it’s in a pocket or some other accessory pouch within arm’s reach. Great shots come and go in seconds. With a camera always at the ready, you’ll capitalize on many more great photo opportunities.
Ease of Use
It should minimize the amount of time you have to fiddle with the buttons, menus, or settings. Also consider how the camera performs in low-light conditions, such as in shady forest or at sunset. Look for wide lens apertures (indicated by a low f-stop) to maximize the amount of light the camera lets in. (The best compacts today come in at around f/2.0.)
Video recording, high definition, fast-burst shooting (multiple frames per second), an integrated GPS receiver, good battery life and super-secure (yet easy-to-open) locking mechanism for both the battery and memory card cover.
5 Best Rugged Cameras for Outdoor Activities
Pentax Optio WG-3 GPS
The Pentax WG-3 features an eye-catching design which makes it stand out from the crowded life proof camera market. It comes with a 4x optical zoom (25-100mm), behind which lies a 16MP CMOS sensor that offers a sensitivity range from ISO 125-6400.
The WG-3’s lens has a maximum aperture of f/2, allowing you to shoot faster in low light without having to increase the ISO sensitivity. The WG-3 has a rubberized finish and the textured buttons at the rear prevent your fingers slipping off them when they’re wet. The Pentax Optio WG-3 GPS can take over 200 photos on a single battery charge and comes with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery.
- A backlit 16-megapixel sensor coupled with the new-generation imaging engine delivers a top sensitivity of ISO 6400
- 6 LED macro lights for macro illumination
- Triple shake reduction with sensor shift shake reduction, shockproof for drops up to 6.5-Feet, cold resistant to 14 degrees F, dustproof
- Waterproof construction allows for depth of 45 feet
- Poor underwater performance
- The screen at the rear is susceptible to light scratches
With a 16MP resolution and water-resistant depth of 45 feet, this camera is a smart pick. The Pentax Optio WG-3 GPS is a good camera to bring on any outdoor adventure since it’s sturdy, durable, and water-resistant to a depth of about 45 feet and has a unique design that makes it look more like a handheld radio than a digital camera.
This is the latest in a line of water-proof rugged compacts that have been a popular favorite with outdoors enthusiasts for many years. The Olympus Tough TG-4 is water-proof to a depth of 15m, shock-proof to 2.1m and freeze-proof down to -10C. Olympus also boasts of a crush-proof figure of 100Kg, so you don't have to worry if you sit on it while it's in your back pocket, or worse.
It features a bright f/2.0 lens, aperture control, raw support, and full HD video recording. The TG-4 is waterproof to 15 metres, shockproof from a height of 2.1 metres, as well as crushproof, freezeproof, and dustproof.
- 4X wide-angle optical zoom with fast f2.0 high speed lens
- Waterproof to depths of 50 feet, Freeze proof to 14 degrees F, Shockproof to 7 feet, Crushproof to 220 lb.
- RAW capture, Live Composite, Underwater modes with Underwater HDR
- Wi-Fi / GPS / Compass
- 1080P HD video
- Poor photo quality in dim lighting
- Short battery life
A unique feature of the TG-4 is its ability to attach fisheye and telephoto conversion lenses - both of which are waterproof. While serving to protect on an array of adventures, these features are also well-suited to use in everyday circumstances. Additionally, it adds RAW shooting to the series for enhanced post-processing capabilities.
Panasonic DMC-TS6D Lumix
The Panasonic DMC-TS6D Lumix is a rugged camera that has been stuffed with virtually every feature imaginable. Features include a higher resolution MOS sensor (16MP CMOS vs. 12MP CCD), Wi-Fi with NFC capability, faster burst shooting, true 1080/60p video recording, and much more. Battery life has also been improved by 20% from its predecessor, due to the use of a more powerful battery, which is always helpful in cameras with battery-draining features like GPS and Wi-Fi. It comes with built-in Wi-Fi links to a Smartphone for remote control and on-the-spot mobile sharing & records super-clear stills and Full HD 1080p video in and out of water
- 16.1MP MOS Sensor
- LEICA DC Lens with Folded Optics Technology
- 3.0" LCD Display
- Quad Indicator
- Creative Panorama
- Time Lapse Shooting
- Torch Light
- Low Screen Resolution
- Low Max Shutter Speed
The LUMIX DMC-TS6 is an adventure-ready, rugged body waterproof, dustproof, shock and freeze-proof camera.
Canon PowerShot D30
The tough and sporty PowerShot D30 is the ideal choice for intrepid types who often find themselves outdoors, underwater or in extreme situations. The PowerShot D30 dives to a full 82 feet; the camera is shockproof to 6.5 feet, and temperature resistant all the way from 14° to 104°F. The camera's built-in GPS tracker records the location and time of all the images and videos you capture, and the new Sunlight LCD mode makes it easy to see the monitor even on bright, sunny days. The D30 is built around a 12MP CMOS sensor, and a 28-140mm F3.9-4.8 lens.
- 12MP 1/2.3" BSI-CMOS sensor
- 28-140mm F3.9-4.8 equivalent lens with optical image stabilization (5x optical zoom)
- 3" fixed LCD with 461,000 dots
- 1080/24p HD video plus super slow motion video at 640x480 (H.264)
- Waterproof to 25m / 82'
- Shockproof to 2m / 6.5'
- The D30 lacks wireless sharing—over WiFi or any other standard
- Images on the noisy side
The PowerShot D30 isn't the most feature-packed rugged camera, with basic GPS functionality, dated movie mode and no Wi-Fi. Importantly though, it takes good photos in nearly all situations, including underwater. It’s also ‘childproof’ and can withstand the rough handling that children might subject it to on family adventures.
Fujifilm FinePix XP90
The new Fujifilm Finepix XP90 is one tough cookie, waterproof up to a 50 foot depth, shockproof from 5.8 feet, freeze proof to 14 degrees Fahrenheit, and dustproof. It comes with a 16.4-megapixel 1/2.3" CMOS sensor coupled to a 28-140mm equivalent optical zoom lens (5x optical zoom). Sensor-shift image stabilization minimizes the appearance of camera shake while features such as an Action Camera mode and a 320 fps Slow Motion mode provide additional creative options when recording video.
- Water, Shock, Freeze, and Dustproof
- Full HD 1080p Video Recording at 60 fps
- Sensor-Shift Image Stabilization
- Action Camera Mode & Motion Panorama
- Built-In Wi-Fi Connectivity
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Even if you aren’t necessarily always putting it to the test, having a super durable camera like the Fujifilm FinePix XP90 can be a rewarding experience.
When choosing a camera for hiking, make sure to pick an option that will be accessible. Professional photographers are willing to stop and take the time to take out their DSLR’s for a shoot, but having a complicated set-up can equate to fewer photos. Regardless of your hiking camera choice, make sure to have it accessible enough that you’re using it. The best photos often aren’t anticipated.