In an Instagram world, the smartphone has become the primary camera for any amateur photog. But on the bike, in the water or up in the air, it’s time to forget the filters and grab a camera that’s tough enough to take on an adventure.
For many of us, smartphones are our go-to camera, but there are still places they just can’t go. Underwater, for one, or buried under a pile of sand. Fortunately, you don’t have to risk your precious iPhone or Android the next time you hit the beach or hiking trail. Take along one of these rugged companions instead. They’ll not only survive whatever it is you can throw at them, they’ll snap better pics and videos than your phone ever could.
GoPro Hero HD 2
No other camera is so single-handedly responsible for populating YouTube with amazing first-person shots of the hairiest BASE jumps and death-defying outdoor stunts than GoPro’s Hero line. Outside of a nuclear apocalypse, there’s not much that can dent the Hero’s enthusiasm. The HD Hero 2 ($299.99) is an 11-megapixel still camera that’s capable of recording 1080p high-def video. It comes with waterproof housing that can survive up to a depth of 197 feet underwater; you can spring for an optional dive housing ($49.99) for improved underwater clarity. Dirt, dust, mud – none of it will harm the Hero.
The glass lens offers a wide-angle field of view (170 degrees) and is very bright with an aperture of f/2.8. You won’t find an optical zoom on this camera, though, since the Hero is designed to be used mostly hands-free. You can shoot stills at 10 frames per second, or use the time-lapse operation to fire off a still photo every 0.5 seconds. There are a variety of video frame rates available for capturing smooth motion.
The HD Hero 2 is sold in three kits with varying accessories and mounts based on need: There’s an outdoor edition, plus motor sports and surf kits. All carry the same price tag, but the activity for each edition may result in different hospital bills.
Fujifilm FinePix XP50
If you’re not interested in plumbing the deepest depths, the Fujifilm FinePix XP50 ($179.95) will get you under five meters’ worth of ocean waves and is shockproof and dustproof to boot. The camera can survive falls up to five feet, and it also is freezeproof, capable of enduring temperatures as low as 14 degrees F. Simply put, the camera will probably survive longer than you will.
The XP50’s 2.7-inch display has an anti-reflective-glare coating for easier viewing in bright light and a rubberized grip to help you maintain your hold, even if you’re wearing gloves. Beneath its brawny exterior you’ll find a 14-megapixel CMOS image sensor for HD movie recording at 1080p and a 5x optical, 28mm wide-angle zoom lens with image stabilization. A Motion Panorama 360 mode lets you sweep across a scene while the camera automatically stitches together multiple images into a single panoramic image. Additional scene modes, such as underwater, night, sunset and snow, will optimize your image based on the shooting environment. You can fire off bursts of up to 12 images at 10fps.
Finally, no outdoor camera would be complete without an eye toward style and the SP50 doesn’t disappoint with a selection of five bold hues: orange, green, blue, silver and black.
Nikon Coolpix S30
Nikon’s Coolpix S30 ($119.95) is capable of plunging up to 10 feet underwater with a sturdy body that resists dirt and dust. Clumsy? The S30 can survive falls up to 2.6 feet high. It’s been designed with glove-wearers in mind with large buttons and a simplified interface that makes it easy to access the menus or camera settings quickly.
The 10-megapixel sensor can record HD movies at 720p resolution at 30fps. The S30 packs a 3x optical zoom, 29mm wide-angle lens with electronic image stabilization and a 2.7-inch LCD. You can focus on objects as near as two inches away for those interested in macro photography. You’ll also have the option to create slideshows with animated effects or make albums with clip-art style effects that can be added to images in the camera.
You’ll have a choice of silver, blue and bright pink body colors.
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The NEX-F3 ($599.99, including a 18-55mm zoom lens) offers you the flexibility of interchangeable lenses without the size and bulk of a traditional d-SLR. The 16-megapixel F3 can record high-def video and features 3-inch display that can be tilted 180 degrees for framing shots at difficult angles. Sony pushed the limits on the battery, too: The NEX-F3 is capable of a whopping 470 shots before needing a recharge.
Canon PowerShot Elph 320 HS
Thin and wide are not attributes normally associated together, but Canon’s PowerShot Elph 320 HS ($249) manages just that. It’s thin – measuring in at 0.82 inches thick – and it packs a 24mm wide-angle lens, allowing you to swallow up more of the scene in front of you. It offers built-in Wi-Fi for wirelessly sharing images far and wide. The 16-megapixel Elph delivers a 5x optical zoom, 3.2-inch touchscreen display and HD video recording. It’s available in your choice of silver, red, blue or black.
If you need a bit more optical punch on a budget, the Panasonic SZ7K ($199) packs a 10x optical zoom, 25mm wide-angle lens in a compact camera body. Panasonics’s on-hand, optical-image stabilization keeps your photos blur-free. It records HD video in both the AVCHD and MPEG-4 formats, so you can switch between the higher-quality video of the former or the memory-saving, computer-friendlier movies of the latter. Rounding out the SZ7K’s feature set is a 14-megapixel image sensor and a 3-inch display.