Tough Camera Grouptest 2011
- Wed, 15 Jun 2011
The tough camera has been a relatively recent sub-genre addition to the standard compact group, offering users the ability to abuse their camera in ways that would normally break it. Dropping, dunking underwater and freezing these cameras is all fair game, making them perfect for those into extreme sports or are likely to expose the camera to dangerous situations.
We've taken five recently released models to see if the claims relating to their toughness are substantiated and if the other important elements, such as design and image quality, are up to scratch.
Each camera in this test should be capable of surviving freezing temperatures to allow them to stand up to the likes of skiing holidays and trips to colder climates. To replicate these conditions, and ensure the temperature was maintained, each camera was placed in a domestic freezer overnight in a few cm of water. This kept a sustained amount of cold surrounding the camera, also testing the seals as any moisture able to infiltrate will cause issues within the camera.
Each camera was submerged in water to the point of being entirely covered within an individual container, and then placed within the freezer for 8 hours. On retrieving the cameras from the freezer each model was taken out of the container, with any excess ice removed, then an attempt was made to both activate the camera and take an image. In order to insure the cameras didn't have a differing amounts of time to defrost each was removed individually rather than as a group. The behavior of the LCD screen was also of interest, as the extreme cold had the potential to shatter the display when impacted.
For the most part each camera performed extremely well when retrieved, although a number of issues afflicted a couple of models. The Pentax WG1 suffered from an exhausted battery when initially removed from the freezer in spite of being fully charged 8 hours prior and turned off for the duration. A few minutes later, and after being dried and left outside, the battery regained full power and was fully operational. Lithium ion batteries are susceptible to severe temperature changes, although less so than the likes of Nickel Cadmium options. The fact that a change in temperature can both virtually drain and restore a significant amount of battery life shows how important it is to keep a battery warm. The Sony TX10, which was the only camera to feature a touchscreen, had a major problem when the sliding front panel became frozen shut.
Although the impact of the cold had implications on the internal workings of the camera there were also issues to be raised with the controls being difficult to operate with cold fingers. In this instance the Panasonic FT3 and Olympus TG-310 came out at the top of the class. The Fuji XP30 neither failed nor exceeded expectations, placing it firmly within the middle ground.
Pentax Optio WG1 3/5
Although the buttons worked perfectly well, and the camera initially powered up without issue, the battery displayed as fully exhausted. Although the camera regained charge and operated perfectly well, having a display indicated a lack of power doesn't inspire confidence. Whether this is an issue with the seals or the battery itself remains to be seen, and is worth monitoring for the remainder of the test.
Sony CyberShot TX10 1/5
One of the better looking cameras of the group had some serious failures due to those aesthetic advantages. The sliding front panel became frozen in place so, although the camera would turn on it was unable to take an image as the lens was completely obstructed. The touch screen was difficult to use with any moisture remaining on the screen, and only became truly useful when dried off.
Olympus Tough TG-310 4/5
The Olympus Tough TG-310 has rubberized controls at the rear, which actively disperses the moisture making it far easier to control after being in contact with water once it had defrosted. The TG-310 turned on in a timely fashion and was simple to use, although the screen wasn't the highest quality of the group making it difficult to frame up an image and pick out any particular detail.
Panasonic Lumix FT3 5/5
With a solid construction obvious from the aesthetics the Panasonic FT3 seemed perfectly suited to the freeze test from the offset. The buttons were large enough to use with cold fingers, the camera powered on virtually instantly and there were no issues with the battery failing to work. As the FT2, the FT3's predecessor, won the last group test it seems history may repeat itself on early evidence.
Fuji Finepix XP30 3/5
The Fuji XP30 looks a touch lightweight on first inspection, and buttons appeared a bit too small, but in usage every element worked perfectly control element worked perfectly fine in the freeze test. Although the XP30 turned on immediately it also switched itself off again, inferring a battery issue, but after a few attempts managed to take an image without any problems.