1) PENTAX OPTIO W30 ($300)
THE LOWDOWN Housed in a waterproof case, this 7.1-megapixel camera has a 2 1/2-inch viewing screen. The lens stays inside the camera when zooming, to prevent damage should you drop the camera. The ISO–the digital equivalent of film speed–extends to 3200 (extremely fast for low-light and action shots). There’s an image-stabilization feature and a macro focus.
HITS This camera should never suffer from water damage. The aluminum construction held up very well in the drop test.
MISSES The smooth finish makes this awkward to grip.
WHO SHOULD BUY Anglers and hunters who want clear, fog-free photos in sloppy conditions.
2) NIKON COOLPIX P5000 ($400)
THE LOWDOWN With a resolution of 10 megapixels, the Coolpix offers a number of professional-grade features, as well as 16 auto modes. The P5000 has vibration reduction for sharper images in low light, a macro control, and an in-camera red-eye fix. The ISO values range from 64 to 3200.
HITS This is practically a pro-quality point-and-shoot, able to take tack-sharp, publishable photos. It passed all the tests and withstood a waterfall of misting before it shut down. The rubber exterior was easy to grip.
MISSES Many functions means many menus; you’ll need time to figure out how to operate the camera.
WHO SHOULD BUY Anyone who is serious about taking quality images with few compromises.
3) CANON POWERSHOT SD750 ($250)
THE LOWDOWN The 7.1-megapixel SD750 has a quick, intuitive autofocus. Its macro mode lets you get within 1.2 inches of your subject. The LCD screen is a generous 3 inches, and the ISO ranges from 80 to 1600. An exposure compensation setting helps you get good shots in tricky lighting conditions.
HITS Thin and easy to retrieve from your pocket, it shoots sharp photos even in dim light. It passed the drop test without problems.
MISSES Much slower shot recovery than the Nikon. It lasted one more spray than the Casio in the mist test.
WHO SHOULD BUY** Outdoorsmen who hunt or fish but not in the rain forest.
4) CASIO EXILIM EX-Z77 ($180)
THE LOWDOWN At 7.2 megapixels, the EX-Z77 has an ISO range from 50 to 800 with image stabilization. Once locked onto a game animal, an auto-tracking focus system remains sharp and maintains the proper exposure even if the subject moves.
HITS Crazy easy to use. Just insert a card and you’ll shoot sharp, well-exposed photos right away. It’s trim and comfortable in a pocket, and it has a big screen. It survived when dropped onto a carpet but not when it hit concrete.
MISSES The camera lasted three dousings before shutting down in the mist test. The time between shots was the slowest of the four.
WHO SHOULD BUY Any hunter or angler in a relatively dry climate who wants an easy-to-use camera for a reasonable price.