Thursday, 16 May 2013

The search for a new Compact Digital Camera

I've owned a few digital cameras over the years.  My first, back in 2004 when film photography was still the norm, was the Ricoh CaplioG4.  It was well regarded at the time, and coming in at a cheap $400 (on sale), you got a 3.2MP digital camera with a 1/2.7" sensor, 1.6" view screen and a 3x zoom (35-105mm, 35mm eqivalent).  It ran on 2xAA batteries and accepted an SD card (two big selling features at the time), and the 128MB SD card I bought cost a mere $66 (it would have been $100, but you could talk the shops into giving you 33% off for buying it with the camera).  Haven't we come a long way since then?....

Anyway, my current compact (a Pentax Optio) isn't doing so well.  I've been using it a lot at work (on railways and mines) and it's taken more than a few bumps.  So before I destroy it completely, I'm looking to upgrade to a tough camera.

I've got a few priorities for the new camera:
1) Tough.  It needs to survive a drop from head height.
2) GPS.  I take photos at a huge number of locations that all look alike.  GPS tagging on the photo's will be immensly helpful.
3) Video.  The ability to take decent video would be good, but not necessarily a deal breaker.  There are sometimes awesome lightning storms up here that I would love to capture, so being able to record video at a high frame rate like 120fps (even at reduced resolution) would be awesome.
4) Zoom.  A 35mm equivalent from moderately wide (<35mm) to moderate telephoto (>100mm).

Other nice-to-haves are high-res (>12MP) so I can read small text from photos, a big aperature, decent battery life and a low weight/ small size.

The Spreadsheet

Much to my girlfriends dismay, I tend to break everything down into spreadsheets when I want to pick out the best option.  So I googled and searched dpreview for current rugged cameras with GPS, and here's what I came up with:

Manufacturer
Model
Price
($)
Mega-
pixels
Zoom
(35mm)
Aperture
Video
Drop (m)
Water (m)
Weight (g)
Battery (CIPA)
Canon
Powershot D20
 $ 244
12
140
3.9 - 4.8
1080p24
1.5
10
228
280
Fujiilm
FinePix XP150
 $ 228
14.4
140
3.9 - 4.9
1080p30
2
10
205
300
Nikon
Coolpix AW100
 $ 358
16
140
3.9 - 4.8
720p60
1.5
10
178
250
Nikon
Coolpix AW110
 $ 375
16
140
3.9 - 4.8
1080p30
2
18
193
250
Olympus
TG-2
 $ 499
12
100
2.0 - 4.9
1080p
2.1
15
230
350
Olympus
TG-830
 $ 399
16
140
2.9 - 5.9
1080p60
2.1
10
214
300
Olympus
TG-630
 $ 299
12
140
3.9 - 5.9
1080p60
1.5
5
220
270
Panasonic
DMC-TS5/FT5
 $ 499
16.1
128
3.3 - 5.9
1080p50
2
13
214
370
Panasonic
DMC-TS4/FT4
 $ 349
12.1
128
3.3 - 5.9
1080p60
2
12
197
310
Pentax
WG-3 GPS
 $ 399
16
100
2.0 - 4.9
1080p30
2
13.7
239
240
Sony
DSC-TX200V
 $ 375
18.2
140
3.5 - 4.8
1080p60
?
5
129
220

*It turns out there are a few things that all the sameras have in common.
   - Wide Zoom (35mm): 25mm-28mm
   - Sensor: 1/2.3"
   - Memory: SD/SDHC (some can also do SDXC)

*Prices are in Australian Dollars, and taken from B&M stores in March 2013


Narrowing the Field

Anyway, of the options above, I've discounted a few possibilities.

Sony DSC-TX200V
The high-res, good zoom, low weight and reasonable price are all pro's for this camera.  However, the lack of a 'drop' rating from the manufacturer is a deal-breaker.  If you need something trendy to put in your handbag this camera may be the one, but if you want a tough camera that you can throw in your toolbag I don’t think this is it.

Canon D20, Fujifilm XP150, Olympus TG-630 and Panasonic DMC-TS4
These cameras are all good in their own right.  However, they’re not quite the top-of-the-market, and I’m after the best I can find.  If you’re not too interested in the features of the more expensive models, or you just want to save some cash, these are the ones to consider.  I think the Olympus and Panasonic hold a bit of an edge over the other two, but you might need to google that a little more to be sure.

Olympus TG-2 and Pentax WC-3
These two are quite similar, and you could be forgiven for confusing the two.  Both appear to be very solid cameras, and if you’re looking for maximum toughness then they’re ideal!  However the tradeoff is a bulkier heavier camera with less telephoto zoom.

Nikon Coolpix AW100/AW110
These two look quite good on paper, but if you read reviews from owners, there seem to be a number of issues.  Nikon hasn’t been doing the rugged camera for very long, and if their DSLRs are anything to go by I’d expect future releases from Nikon to address the flaws of these first models.

So I guess the decision comes down to the Olympus TG-830 or Panasonic DMC-TS5/FT5.


Olympus TG-830 Panasonic DMC-TS5/FT5


Manufacturer Link Manufacturer Link
DP Review Link DP Review Link

I’m currently leaning toward the Olympus, as it’s cheaper and has a longer zoom (140mm vs 128mm, 35mm equivalents), but I haven't decided just yet.  I think I'll have to see them in store before I decide.

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