Rugged, waterproof, outdoor lifestyle cameras have evolved into a dependable, successful market segment. That’s because they’re high-style, high-performance compacts perfect to take surfing, skiing, hiking in the woods or any other extreme environment where unprotected ILCs and smartphones could get damaged.
Outdoor cameras generally feature tough, assertive styling combined with waterproof, dustproof, shockproof and freezeproof construction. They’ve been around for decades, but this engaging market sector has been steadily transformed by new and updated point-and-shoot, mirrorless, action cam and luxury models from virtually every major camera maker.
Most of the models featured here deliver an impressive array of high tech. This includes Full HD video (or even 4K) recording; high-res sensors; big, high-res LCDs; built-in Wi-Fi and GPS; and enhanced waterproof ratings. Positioned at the intersection of high adventure and high technology, they deliver a satisfying blend of performance and shooting flexibility. All of this makes them a high-value proposition for consumers who want to go anywhere, in any weather, and bring back memorable images and videos.
Many of the featured cameras sport significant upgrades and tweaks to keep them fresh. Olympus, long a major player in the tough camera category, switched its focus in the latest Stylus Tough TG-Tracker to prioritize video capture, though it can shoot 8MP stills. And Sony dropped its Cyber-shot DSC-TX30 point-and-shoot model but offers a range of all-weather Sony Action Cams.
Here are our editors’ adventure-proof, outdoor liftstyle camera picks, all of which are superb choices now that this year’s outdoor picture-taking season is in full swing.
Nikon Coolpix AW130
Sleekly styled but with plenty of attitude, the upgraded AW130 is waterproof to 98 feet, freezeproof to 14ºF and withstands a drop of nearly 7 feet. It employs a 16 megapixel, low-light CMOS sensor; a 5x, 28–140mm f/2.8–4.9 Nikkor lens*; and a 3-inch, 910K-dot OLED monitor. Helpful for outdoor shooters are its vibration reduction (VR) image stabilization system; built-in Wi-Fi with Near Field Communication (NFC) connectivity; GPS functions; and an electronic compass.
The AW130 can be controlled remotely via a smartphone/tablet and a companion app. And a unique action control function lets shooters select settings one-handed by shaking the camera! Also cool is a built-in map displayed on its monitor to track photos and points of interest. The camera records Full HD 1,920x1080p video at 60/50/30 and 25 frames per sec and has 20 scene modes, including easy auto and underwater scene. It comes in orange, black, blue and yellow, $349.95.
Editor’s Note: At press time, Nikon announced the Coolpix W300. Its newest adventure camera is waterproof to depths of 100 feet and shockproof. The connected P&S uses a 16MP, 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor and 24–100mm f/2.8–4.9, 5x optical zoom Nikkor lens. More details to come. nikonusa.com
Olympus Stylus Tough TG-5
Just announced, this handsome step-up incorporates a fast, water-repellent 4x, 25–100mm f/2–4.9 lens. The flagship of the iconic Tough line, it uses a new 12MP, 1/2.3-inch backside-illuminated CMOS sensor for improved low-light performance, noise reduction and sensitivity settings to ISO 12,800. An upgraded dual quad-core TruePic VIII processor provides RAW capture, 4K/30p video capture and Full HD 120-fps high-speed video. It also enables a 25-point AF system and a new zero-lag pro capture mode.
Retained are sensor-shift image stabilization (IS), built-in Wi-Fi and GPS, plus eCompass and manometer functions. Its updated Field Sensor system now includes a temperature sensor and on-screen data displays that can be overlaid onto photos and video. The TG-5 is waterproof to 50 feet, shockproof to 7 feet, crushproof to 220 pound-force and freezeproof down to 14ºF. It has a 3-inch, 460K-dot LCD monitor and an impressive 20-fps burst capability. Four underwater modes include underwater macro, and four macro modes include focus stacking and focus bracketing. All this is built into a robust body with ergonomic controls, a handy zoom lever and an accessory lock button. In red or black, $449.99. olympusamerica.com
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS30
This portable P&S is waterproof to 26 feet, shockproof to handle a 5-foot fall, dustproof and freezeproof down to 14ºF. It employs a 16.1MP, 1/2.3-inch CCD sensor and a bright, 2.7-inch, 230K-dot TFT LCD for composition and image review. Its Lumix DC Vario 4x, 25–100mm zoom lens with 5-way Mega OIS (optical IS) captures blur-free images and videos even in low light. A digital intelligent zoom function extends the reach of the lens to 8x. Plus, 23-zone AF and quick AF combine to deliver fast, precise autofocus for a range of outdoor subjects.
Other features include: intelligent auto mode that automatically selects the optimum scene mode; an 8-fps maximum burst rate; creative control mode that enables time-lapse sequences in standard and panorama formats; an underwater mode that compensates for lost red tones; and 720p HD video capture in the MP4 format. Blue, red or black. $179.99. panasonic.com
The brand-new WG-50 is the lastest iteration in Ricoh Imaging’s WG series of rugged, outdoor cameras known for their tough design that can operate in extreme conditions. With the WG-50, the company achieved waterproof performance down to 46 feet, shock resistance against falls of 5 feet and the ability to operate in temperatures of 14ºF. The WG-50 is also crushproof against a weight of 220 pound-force. And it boasts a new outdoor view setting mode that instantly changes the brightness of the LCD.
All of this makes the WG-50 far more resilient when shooting outdoor activities than any other WG camera. Other specs include: a 16MP CMOS sensor; ISO 125–6,400 settings; continuous bursts of 10 fps for 30 frames; Full HD video recording; HD video recording at up to 120 fps; Pixel Track shake-reduction technology; movie SR mode; digital microscope mode; filters; and an AF-assist lamp. In black and orange, $279.95. ricohimaging.com
Fujifilm FinePix XP120
The contemporary-looking XP120 features a 16.4MP, BSI CMOS sensor and 3-inch, 920K-dot LCD with antireflective coatings to inhibit light reflection. It’s waterproof to 65 feet, shockproof to withstand a 5.8-foot fall, freezeproof to 14°F and dustproof. Its Fujinon 28–140mm, 5x optical zoom lens has a wide-angle setting to help capture sweeping landscapes. And the zoom range can be doubled to 10x with Intelligent Digital Zoom technology.
All operation buttons were designed for optimal size and position, to enable operation even while wearing gloves, and an OIS function minimizes shake effects. In addition to its outdoor specs, the XP120 has an improved grip for firm one-handed holding, a double-locking mechanism for the battery compartment and a cinemagraph mode that produces still images with moving elements. Other features include: 10-fps bursts; an advanced burst mode at 60 fps; Full HD video recording at 60 fps with a wind filter; time-lapse recording; motion Panorama 360°; artistic filters; underwater and underwater macro functions; and interval timer shooting. In yellow, blue, lime and teal, $229.95. fujifilmusa.com
Canon PowerShot D30
Canon’s D30 is a compact option for underwater snapshots even when diving, given its depth rating of 82 feet. It’s also shockproof to withstand a 6.5-foot fall and operates in extreme temperatures—from 14ºF to 104ºF. The P&S provides Full HD video capture and can record several seconds of video prior to taking a still shot. This enables the camera to create a “movie digest” overview of the day’s activities that combines stills and video. It also employs the Canon HS (high-sensitivity) system that helps provide low-light performance.
Working with the camera’s 12.1MP sensor, 4x digital zoom augments its 28–140mm, 5x optical zoom lens—perfect for wide-angle underwater shots or capturing relatively distant subjects on land at the telephoto end. And its 3-inch, 461K-dot LCD offers a wide viewing angle. An underwater macro mode focuses as close as 0.4 inch. In bright blue, $299.99. usa.canon.com
This ultracompact Full HD action cam features a water-resistant design and comes with a dedicated underwater housing that’s waterproof down to 16.4 feet, dustproof and shockproof. Its Exmor R CMOS sensor and Bionz X processor capture Full HD 1080p and 720p video in XAVC S and MP4 (H.264) formats, as well as 8.8MP stills with 10-fps bursts. And it offers interval mode and loop recording mode at durations of 5 to 120 minutes. Its ultrawide-angle Zeiss-Tessar lens covers a 170º field of view.
The action cam also provides: stereo audio recording; AE compensation; manual white balance settings; automatic in-camera editing; slow-motion video at 120 fps at 720p and 240 fps at 480p; GPS; and built-in Wi-Fi for remote monitoring and operation, including remote camera settings, video start/stop and shutter release. It comes with an adhesive mount and a tripod adapter. $299.99. The HDR-AS200V paired with Sony’s optional watch-style, water-resistant RM-LVR2 live remote is $399.99. sony.com
Nikon Coolpix W100
Nikon’s perky, new compact is tougher than it looks. It sports a rugged body that’s waterproof to a depth 33 feet, freezeproof down to 14ºF and is capable of handling a 6-foot drop. Its 13.2MP, 1/3.1-inch CMOS sensor and Nikkor 30–90mm f/3.3–5.9, 3x optical zoom lens deliver satisfying performance. The zoom can be extended to 6x with built-in Dynamic Fine Zoom technology. And the W100 employs a contrast-detect AF system with an electronic VR (vibration reduction) IS system.
Other features include: a 2.7-inch, 230K-dot LCD monitor; Full HD 1080p video capture at 30 fps with stereo sound; a built-in flash; and Nikon’s SnapBridge with full Wi-Fi connectivity, NFC and Bluetooth. It even offers a friendly welcome screen, cartoon and neon effects, and glamour retouch effects. In blue or white, $159.95. nikonusa.com
This tough action cam is about 40% smaller and lighter than previous WG models. It’s waterproof to 66 feet without a housing and is shockproof and freezeproof (14ºF), too. With its 14mm f/2.0 lens, the WG-M2 offers an ultrawide 204º angle of view for movies or narrow mode to minimize shake. In addition to 8MP stills—with a burst mode of 8 fps—users can capture video in 4K UHD, Full HD, HD, slow motion or time lapse. There’s also a special underwater movie mode. Movies can be captured with more than a half dozen effects, including monochrome and bleach bypass.
The WG-M2 provides ISO settings to 6,400 and a shutter speed of up to 1/24,000 sec. A couple of cool functions include the automatic rotation of video and automatic camera vibration when recording is started/stopped. With built-in Wi-Fi, the WG-M2 works with a free app for remote operation and sharing on smart devices. In orange or silver, $299.95. ricohimaging.com
Olympus Stylus Tough TG-Tracker
This freshly styled action camera can record 4K UHD video at 30 fps, Full HD 1080p video at up to 60 fps and HD 720p video at up to 240 fps for slow-motion effects. It also captures 8MP still images. It’s waterproof to a depth of 100 feet, withstands a 7-foot drop, is freezeproof to 14ºF and crushproof to 220 lbf. Its fast, water-repellent, ultrawide-angle 13.9mm f/2 lens covers a 204º angle of view. A built-in LED headlight above the lens lets users shoot underwater or in dark environments. Shots can be framed on the 1.5-inch, 115K-dot, tilt-out LCD.
The cam connects to mobile devices using built-in Wi-Fi to monitor the camera, share remotely and transfer files using Olympus Image Share and Track apps. Plus, in log mode, users can record data from the camera’s GPS, compass, accelerometer, thermometer and barometer, and view them on the monitor or download them for later use. Other features include: 0.5–60 sec interval capture for time-lapse photography; 5-axis electronic IS; and support for microSD and SDHC/SDXC cards. In black or green, $299.99. olympusamerica.com
* All focal lengths are given in 35mm equivalents unless otherwise noted.