Tough Camera Grouptest 2011 - Image Quality and Verdict
Each tough camera has the specifications to take a decent photo, offering between 12 and 16MP resolution and a 3x optical zoom lens at the very least.
Being underwater brings up a whole host of issues, as the water can provide a confusing barrier for an autofocus system. The Pentax WG1 seemed to particularly suffer from this, refusing to take an image on a number of occasions producing soft images due to overly aggressive pixel smoothing. Tonal range was also quite limited, with highlights proving to be quite a major problem as well. The Fuji XP30 seemed to suffer from an entirely different issue, being able to rapidly fire off a shot but missing an adequate focal depth. Noise was also obvious underwater, being marginally less obvious but still present on dry land as well. The Olympus TG-310 fared slightly better, showing less visible pixel smoothing and a more impressive exposure range, although the overuse of flash on the automatic modes becomes annoying when submerged.
The Sony DSC-TX10 looked the closest camera to a standard compact and the picture quality, to some extent, reflected that. Tone and exposure range were impressive, and beyond the control issues images returned underwater were sharp enough and kept pixel smoothing to a minimum. Although the tones on the Panasonic FT3 were a touch darker than the Sony TX10 sharpness and exposure range were more impressive, providing some superb results above and below water.
Pentax Optio WG1
Above ground the Pentax WG1 didn't suffer too greatly, but underwater the AF system was sluggish and unreliable with high ISO's having a negative impact on the end image quality.
Sony CyberShot TX10
Issues with controls and unreliability aside the TX10 provided some excellent images, with both the sharpness and exposure range being highly impressive.
Olympus Tough TG-310
Although favouring saturation in this image the Olympus TG-310's most prevalent problem was with noise, wlthough the pixel smoothing wasn't as aggressive as the Pentax's.
Panasonic Lumix FT3
A highly impressive end product produced by the Panasonic, with sharpness and exposure on a par with the Sony TX10 albeit with a slight bias towards the darker tones.
Fuji Finepix XP30
The Fuji XP30 had no issues in taking an image rapidly, but achieving a satisfying level of focus seemed to present an issue. Once a focal depth was found result were decent if not outstanding.
Tough cameras not only have to withstand water, ice and impact but also take a decent photo. Many standard compacts struggle with simply taking a worthwhile image, and the five tough models proved the difficulties in combining this with a water, drop and freeze proof shell.
Of the five cameras, the most surprisingly underwhelming was the Pentax WG1. From failing to show an accurate battery level in the freeze test to refusing to take video when underwater, the WG1 consistently fell under expectation levels. This was in contradiction to the Sony TX10, which took a decent set of photos when capable but had a poorly thought-out sliding front and touchscreen. Both are entirely unsuited for the task at hand, with the panel becoming jammed after both the ice and drop test and the touch screen failing to work underwater.
Although mostly impressive when traversing the tests the Olympus TG-310 failed to return a suitably decent image, a similar sentiment that could be leveled at the Fuji XP30. Without the ability to adequately mix the tough elements along with image quality the competition did little to provide a challenge to the Panasonic FT3, which easily performed to above average levels in each test. Image quality was balanced and sharp, and the body hardy enough to withstand the cold, water and being dropped. Controls were simple to understand and the video quality excellent.
The only caveat to add is that the Panasonic FT3 did sustain an amount of cosmetic damage around the lens, which left a jagged edge.
Pentax Optio WG1 3/5
Sony CyberShot TX10 2/5
Olympus Tough TG-310 4/5
Panasonic Lumix FT3 5/5
Fuji Finepix XP30 3/5