I have been researching and writing about consumer electronics for over 13 years.
Do You Need an Outdoor Digital Camera?
The average consumer purchases a point-and-shoot camera because they don't want to have to deal with too many manual adjustments—they want something simple. They also want something affordable.
Of course, many of those same consumers want to take their digital cameras outdoors to shoot pictures that preserve memories of their many outings and excursions. The problem is that digital cameras, like most electronics, can be poorly suited to outdoor environments and the many hazards found there. Things like moisture, cold temperatures, bright sunshine, or an ill-timed fall can ruin your camera.
A True Outdoor Camera
Some digital cameras are designed specifically for the rugged outdoor environment. They are built to withstand the shock of being dropped from a height of 10 feet or even more. They can survive exposure to freezing temperatures and are often waterproof. In fact, they may shoot photos and video in water, allowing users to go snorkeling with their cameras. They also won't be damaged due to dust, dirt, or sand, as these things won't penetrate the outer housing.
Some of these cameras are fairly affordable. Many of them are in the $200–$450 price range for consumer-level cameras. Olympus, Panasonic, Casio, Sony, Fujifilm, Pentax, Nikon, and Canon are among the well-known manufacturers that have some of these devices.
For those who want to know how to use their current camera outdoors or how to select a more affordable model that might work well in such conditions, I'll make some suggestions.
How to Protect Your Camera
If you don't purchase a digital camera made specifically for outdoor use, then it is at risk for suffering damage due to falls, including everything from merely scratching the lens, which happens to be the most critical and expensive part of your camera, to crushing it entirely.
But there are a couple of things that can help reduce the risk of such damage.
Many compact point-and-shoot cameras have an automatic lens cover. It will cover the lens anytime the camera is powered off. Obviously, this helps reduce the risk of damage. Some cameras allow you to place a lens cap over the lens manually. This works well, too. The lens cover can also help shut out dust, sand, and dirt, although it only protects the lens. A camera without an automatic lens cover or the ability to have a cap put on the lens is a less attractive choice as an outdoor camera.
Another bit of protection that can be importantly related to damage from falling or a drop is a camera bag. I've dropped my point-and-shoot camera a few times while out hiking. Luckily, it was in a camera bag at the time. The bag fits it snugly and offers good padding. There was no damage at all; the camera bag saved the day.
If you choose to carry your camera without a bag, it's risky. Personally, I would choose to put it in a lined pocket that zips to avoid a drop. However, you would need to be sure there was nothing else in the pocket to rub, scratch, or otherwise damage the camera. You would also need to be very careful not to sit on it, lean against it, or anything like that.
Protect Your Camera From Moisture
Of course, another risk of using a camera outdoors is related to moisture. Electronic devices and moisture don't mix. Moisture can come in the form of rain, fog, condensation when going from cold to warm, or a drop into a puddle, stream, or other bodies of water.
A waterproof camera bag can help avoid exposure to rain and possibly a drop in a puddle.
If you want to use the camera underwater, there are waterproof cameras. If you don't have one, the only other choice is to use some type of waterproof housing. These aftermarket housings won't tolerate much pressure, so the water depth it can handle is quite limited. These housings can also make the camera difficult to operate but do allow you to take a few photos underwater.
If a camera does get wet, it's best to set it aside, remove any batteries/memory cards, allow it to dry out for a day or two, and then power it up to see how it does.
Extreme temperatures are another problem you'll encounter with a camera outdoors. When going out in colder temperatures, it's best to either keep the camera close to your body—perhaps under a coat—or in an insulated camera bag. In addition, cameras should never be left in a car where the sun can create excessive temperatures.
Other Features for a Better Outdoor Camera
Based on my experiences using my point-and-shoot camera outdoors, I would suggest some features that you may want to consider when making a purchase:
I use the LCD screen to frame shots, and most people do. However, they are extremely difficult to see in bright sunlight. A screen with adjustable brightness and/or a screen that can be pulled out, swiveled, or tilted might be best. I would take the camera outside and see how it looks in the sunshine before making my selection.
Another feature that can help is a viewfinder. Despite bright sunshine, there is no glare when you peer through a viewfinder.
Types of Shots You Want
Know what types of shots you'll want to take outdoors. I love to take close-ups of flowers, insects, and other small items. Therefore, I selected a camera that had a good macro mode. Without it, I would have to buy a high-priced macro lens for my camera.
If you want to take shots of landscapes, a panorama mode might be good, and a wide-angle lens might help, too, by allowing you to fit more in the picture.
If you will be trying to shoot animals (with your camera), then you will want a good optical zoom so that you can get more detailed shots even if you can't step up closer to them.
If you think you'll want to capture fast action, then a burst mode or sequential shooting mode will allow you to take multiple shots in rapid succession. Having a high-speed memory card to do this is often necessary as well.
Optical Image Stabilization
Most good digital cameras will offer some form of image stabilization. Optical image stabilization is preferred. This will help the camera capture a blur-free image even if you have a little bit of handshake when holding the camera. This is true, of course, for both indoor and outdoor camera use!
If you plan on being outdoors for an entire day (or more), then it would be advisable to have a camera that will accept higher-capacity memory cards. I would recommend 2GB as a minimum. You may not be where you can easily download your shots, and you don't want to run out of storage space halfway through the day. You can carry more memory cards, of course, but that's just one more thing you can forget to do.
Digital cameras use a lot of battery power, and that's another thing you don't want to run out of when you're outdoors and away from a place to recharge. You want a camera that sips rather than guzzles battery power or, at a minimum, one that provides features that help it conserve. Auto shut-off and the ability to turn off the flash and other automated functions can help. Carrying backup batteries or a portable battery charger can be wise too.
GPS is a feature that might also be useful for some people. A camera with GPS can geotag your photos, but some now offer mapping/location functions as well.
Some Rugged Digital Cameras to Consider
There are many options out there, but the following cameras are great devices for the average consumer.
- The Olympus TG4 is waterproof to 50 feet and can withstand a fall from seven feet. It is a 16 mp camera with a CMOS sensor and a great macro mode and can film 1080p/60fps video. Their TG5 is another great choice.
- The Nikon Coolpix AW130 is a 16 mp camera that is waterproof to 100 ft and can handle a fall from seven feet. It has a dedicated WiFi/GPS button and captures 1080p/30fps video. The W300 is another great piece of outdoor gear and offers 4K video.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2010 Christine Mulberry
Holle Abee from Georgia on May 10, 2010:
Great review - I'll pass it on to my hubby, the shutter bug!
prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on May 09, 2010:
Very useful information. Thanks for share your advice for us. I believe we can learn something from this hub. You have many tips here. I want to buy an outdoor camera like this.
Sam from Tennessee on May 08, 2010:
very good hub, and interesting. Good to see you on HP & RG. Feel free to 'holler' back here and join the family of friends.
Ultimate Hubber on May 08, 2010:
You did mentioned some important things to consider before buying an outdoor digital camera. Thanks for this useful hub!