I carry a digital SLR when I travel. It's one of the most expensive and highly valued things I own, and I constantly worry about damaging it.
If it rains, the camera goes away. I rarely take it near large bodies of water or onto sand, and it's always securely strapped around my neck.
Trouble is, this severely limits vacation picture taking. What I need is a second camera, tough enough to withstand the rough and tumble of more casual or adventurous travel situations.
Luckily, there are scads of shock- and water-proof digicams now, all point-and-shoot style. But are they any good?
I recently had a chance to try out the 14MP, 5X-zoom FinePix XP150 (about $280), a new "water/shock/dust/freeze proof" model from Fujifilm that also shoots 1080p 30fps video.
The XP150 is certainly rugged enough, at least on paper.
It'll survive a drop from 2.0 meters. You can take it 10 meters underwater. It can withstand cold up to -10 Celsius. And the rugged body, with its double-locking battery/memory card compartment, keeps dust out too.
I confess I'm squeamish about putting claims like this to the test. I would hate to prove them wrong. Plus, I never go that deep in the water.
I'm willing to trust the stats. What I'm much more concerned about is how it performs as a camera.
The XP50 is not too bad. That may sound like damning with faint praise. But coming from the SLR world, some things are bound to suffer by comparison.
The lens is not as good as most SLR lenses so image sharpness and detail suffer. But you're probably not going to want to enlarge snapshots taken with the XP150 beyond 8x10 anyway.
And point-and-shoot cameras, especially models with sensors this high in resolution, cannot control electronic noise as well as SLRs. When viewed at full size, especially at mid- and high-ISO sensitivity settings, images are very noisy - grainy-looking.
On other performance metrics, the XP150 acquits itself fairly respectably - again, with allowances made for the fact that it's not an SLR.
Shutter response is 0.2 seconds, for example. Start-up time - from hitting the power button to taking a picture - is two seconds. Time between shots: 1.5 seconds.
The auto exposure system produced consistently good results in my testing. And the XP150 has some nice little shooting features.
One of the auto settings, for example, lets you take, and process in the camera, multi-shot HDR (high dynamic range) photos.
The feature that distinguishes the XP150 from slightly less expensive models in the XP line is its high-sensitivity GPS antenna, which means you can record your location with each shot - and later plot them on a map if you want.
Recommendation: do your homework. While the XP150 is impressive and Fujifilm is a leader in the rugged digicam segment, every major manufacturer has models now. Check ‘em out.