For all the modern miracles that digital photography has brought us – free photos, instant sharing with anyone, built-in HD video, and an ever-expanding gallery of cute cats and celeb nip-slips – our favorite development for sure is the ruggedized waterproof camera. Our current obsession is Olympus' latest abuse-shirking shooter, the Tough TG-1 iHS, a point-and-shoot with an added twist, thanks to its ability to use optional interchangeable lenses.
Like a few of the higher-end models of the class (Lumix's also great T4 is a notable one), the TG-1 is a solid camera regardless of its extra capabilities. It snaps gorgeous 12-megapixel stills in daylight or even in low light, and can capture full 1080p video at 60fps. One spec worth highlighting is its ultra-bright f2.0 lens, which enables excellent performance in dim lighting as well as shallow depth of field for zoomed shots. The TG-1 has a bevy of smart scene modes that auto adjust to suit the occasion (night, indoors, watching fast-motion sports, and so-on). The controls are basic, with a dial you thumb through to switch modes, a standard four-position pad with center button to adjust settings, and then menu and playback buttons. There's also the addition of a few nifty modes placed on the rear control dial such as low-light, sport, and a fun, if gimmicky, "magic" one that converts photos to look like a pretty impressive pencil drawing (so you can shoot your own 'Wall Street Journal'-style author portrait). Adjusting modes and settings is perfectly simple, and almost unnecessary for the uninitiated or uninterested, who can rely on the iAuto mode.
In terms of the TG-1's relative ruggedness, it's also at the top of its class; it can go down to 40 feet below (which is comfortably in the low end of scuba), is freeze-, shock-, and crush- proof (to 14 degrees, a 6.6-foot drop, up to 220 pounds, respectively) and its double-locked rubber seals repel fine dust as well. And extra fun techie bits include a built-in GPS to geo-tag your photos, and a manometer with alarm (for checking water depth).
What really makes the TG-1 a standout, though, is its ability to work with a couple of add-on lenses, while still retaining its waterproof abilities. For an extra 100-and-change apiece, you can buy a fish-eye or teleconverter lens that thread right onto the front of the camera (using a $20 converter ring). It's the first time we've ever seen this capability on a fixed-lens camera, much less a waterproof one, and it's a real boon for the hobbyist shooter who wants to maximize the capabilities of what is otherwise a pocketable camera.
As a solid point-and-shoot, the TG-1 would seem a bit pricey, but would still be a solid player. With its rugged housing, though, the TG-1 is a must-have for families who treat equipment like ours (read: near criminally rough), or really anyone who ventures to the outdoors regularly with a camera. After all, if you're in the market for a point-and-shoot, why wouldn't you want it to be ready and able to accompany you no matter where you go? [$400; olympusamerica.com]