Sunday, September 14, 2008

Advice wanted: rugged digital cameras

I went on a lovely hike above 11,000 feet today, checking out the access for a structure field trip in a few weeks. There was a dusting of snow on the north side of some peaks, remnants of a storm a few days ago, and I took a picture of a great angular unconformity (Precambrian gneisses beneath young volcanics).

And I can't show you any pictures, because I dropped my digital camera on the ground and broke it.

(Actually, the story is more complicated, and involves a five-year-old taking photos of an artistic arrangement of hand-held radios on the tailgate of the truck, and a mother with clumsy hands reaching for the camera at the same time as he reached for it. But it doesn't matter. The camera has a dent, and the lenses won't retract.)

So I'm in the market for a new camera. And I'm curious what features the rest of you have found useful. I know I want something with macro capabilities, and with decent resolution. The old camera was very lightweight, but I would be willing to carry something heavier if it were a bit more rugged. I would also like to find something with batteries that I could replace in the field - if I'm backpacking, I can't use my charger.

I am not a great photographer, and even in the days of my entirely mechanical 35 mm, I never got really good at adjusting f-stops and shutter speeds until I got the best image. (I never got the hang of the manual settings on my broken camera, either. I don't know if that means they were poorly designed, or whether I just didn't have the patience to play with them enough.)

Any suggestions for things I should be looking for, this time around?

(And any suggestions for an inexpensive but rugged digital camera that a five-year-old can experiment with? I want to let him explore his interest in still-life images of outdoor gear, but, ummm, not with my camera.)

17 comments:

Ron Schott said...

I'm not sure it's as rugged as you're looking for but I love my Canon S5-IS. 12x optical zoom and a super macro mode that lets you focus on objects right up to the front of the lens. I bought it specifically for GigaPanning, but it's become my every day go-to camera as well. Very versatile.

Ron Schott said...

By the way, Wal-Mart usually carries USB memory-card readers. Chances are you could salvage those photos you took before the camera died... and share them with us!

MJC Rocks said...

I take lots of photos without being a real photographer, and I use a Sony DSC-H2 that is about two years old, and therefore frighteningly obsolete. It is bigger than the pocket cameras, but is also very versatile. They ran about $220 or so last time I looked. Macro is excellent. Many of the shots on my blog were taken with it. Uses AA batteries, so charger is not necessary.

Kim said...

Good call about the memory-card readers. (I didn't get any pictures of the snow, but there were some pictures of the First Soccer Game from yesterday that need rescuing.)

Callan Bentley said...

I got a Nikon Coolpix at the beginning of the summer, and I haven't been especially satisfied with it. Kind of cheap, in every sense of the word...

Silver Fox said...

Pentax and Olympus both make cameras that are waterproof - and presumably dust proof. Here's one designed to withstand a 5-foot drop. Some Olympus and Ricoh cameras here are called "shockproof."

I like my little Cannon PowerShot A620, but wish it was dustproof sometimes, and waterproof can be fun (underwater pics). I've had to tweak the camera lens on occasion to get it to close, but not the telescoping lens part itself.

If you Google rugged digital camera 2008, this post comes up 2nd, along with other camera ideas!

Elli said...

About a year ago I replaced my Nikon Coolpix 995 with a Digital SLR, mainly because I did want more control over f-stops, apertures, and so on. But, I have to say that the Coolpix I had had a few features that were absolutely wonderful. Most of the Coolpix line has the normal digital camera body, where you have to twist the whole camera to take a picture of an object below you or at an angle. However, the 995 (and currently the S4 and S10) have a two-part body with a swivel point between the parts. This means, that you can rotate the lens, while still holding the screen and buttons in what feels like a more normal position. I found that a great feature, especially when the light was a bit too dark and I wanted to put the camera either propped up on something or on a tripod, but wanted to take a picture of something not at 90 degrees to the ground. The camera is mainly automatic, which a number of things that you can override if you really want, but at least mine generated very good pictures. (I have examples, if you want...)

Once you have an idea of cameras, I would recommend checking the reviews at: http://www.dpreview.com/
The reviews can be overkill, but they at least cover almost anything you could ask about.

Arctic-mermaid said...

My Olympus 3.2 MP died recently jsut because the little door over the battery broke at one hinge. it is one of those deck of cards size pocket cameras. Great shots havebeen taken with it. And a great feature is it was water resistant to about 20 m depth I think. it wa rugged for about 7 years (arctic geology bouncing tough) so that's a pretty good run. And the one I use now is also about that old. A Fujifilm 3800. 6X Optical zoom, which I love.

But I am interested in a new digital as well, and mostly for the close up macro work. So I will follow your blog to see the recommendations. And I'm hopng the newer cameras don't have the same bloody time delay from the pressing of the button to the actual capture of the shot. I hate that.
Good luck

coconino said...

I've had several in the last few years. The first was an Olympus, then a Canon Digital Elph, and now an Olympus (shockproof, mostly waterproof) again.

I liked the Elph for the most part - it has a view finder that really helps with composition that you can't achieve with the LED screens in glare. What I didn't like about it, and what I do like about the two Olympus cameras, is the fill flash for close-up photos of flowers, hydric soil indicators, or any other close detail in okay, but not great light. I would think, especially if you're taking photos of fault movement direction indicators on a cloudy day or other such geologic details, you'd want a fill flash.

Hope that helps.

Kim said...

Coconino, that helps a lot - I do use fill flash a lot when I'm working in the woods. (But I also use the optical viewfinder a lot when I'm working in the bright sun. At least with digital cameras, I can take gazillions of pictures and then delete ones that don't come out.)

Joey said...

I currently use the Olympus shockproof / waterproof model after losing 2 digital cameras in New England field weather, and it's worked great. It's small, light, and tough...

Mel said...

Besides looking for a durable camera, I found that the camera case is just as important for field work. I use a pelican case (water proof) with a strip of foam that fits my Olympus perfectly. The case has prevented any damage in falls. Once I take it out of the case, I make sure to put on the wrist strap to prevent other falls. Using the case effectively (i.e. all the time) takes a little getting used to, but has saved me from buying new cameras every field season. After I broke my first Olympus (dropped it in the field), I bought the same model again, but refurbished this time. Buying refurbished was a way to keep the price down (and still use all the accessories I bought) and might be an option for the little tike.

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Moo said...

I have a pretty durable point and shoot. It may not be what your looking for for you, but your five-year-old may enjoy it. It is an Olympus FE-190. It's 6 megapixels, is lightweight, and has a large screen on the back. I dropped it on a gravel road and it still works (It does have a dent and a nick in the screen though). The corner it fell on was the one closest to the lens and I haven't had any problems with it. It might be worth checking it out. My hubby bought it for me for X-mas and one of my specifications was durable as I am a geology student. I think he bought it at Best Buy. It might be worthwhile to just go there and talk with the salespeople. That's what he did.

Davidson said...

Last month, I bought new digital camera through eCost... It is looking gorgeous!!

Anonymous said...

The little Canon Powershots are fabulous.