Olympus Tough TG-2, £310
Where Nikon is a relative newcomer to the tough compact market, Olympus is probably one of the most experienced manufacturers. The Olympus Tough TG-2 is the second generation of Olympus's high-end 'TG' series of tough cameras and, owing to said high-end nature, is the most expensive of the group.
It's waterproof to an impressive 15 metres, and shockproof up to two metres.
Although the 4x optical zoom of the TG-2 is less than some of its competition, it has a generous wide-angle of 25mm and a maximum aperture of f/2 at the wide end, placing it some way ahead most of the group.
The lens is paired with a 12MP CMOS sensor and TruePic VI image processor, inherited from some of the TG-2's non-tough companions. The processor promises to control high ISO image noise across the 100-6400 ISO range.
The TG-2 also features its fair share of technology for the adventure photographer. It benefits from GPS functionality, which in turn allows the camera to feature an e.compass, while a 'Microscopic Macro' mode allows for focusing at a distance of as little as 1cm.
Performance wise, the TG-2 has the fastest AF speed out of all of the cameras on test, while its 3-inch, 610k-dot OLED screen is one of the most impressive out of the group.
The model's build quality is also impressive and the body feels assuredly solid and up to any tests presented to it in challenging shooting environments. Despite this sturdy build, it still easy to use thanks to intelligently designed buttons.
Panasonic Lumix FT5, £300
Panasonic's 'FT' range of tough compacts has built a reputation for featuring some of the very highest specifications of any of tough camera on the market, and the FT5 looks to continue this tradition.
It's waterproof down to 13 metres - a little less than the Nikon and the Olympus, but impressive all the same. It's shockproof up to two metres.
As well as featuring all manner of advanced gadgety features, the FT5 has a 16MP high-sensitivity MOS sensor which, combined with Panasonic's Venus engine image processing technology, should allow for good noise management across the 100-6400 ISO range. The lens has a 4.6x optical zoom that covers an equivalent focal range of 28-128mm and had built-in optical image stabilisation.
It’s the extras where the FT5 really shines, though. There’s GPS for geo-tagging photos; navigation features to help find your way; Wi-Fi for wireless photo transfer and remote operation using a smartphone or tablet; and NFC for wireless transfer of photos with other NFC devices. It’s a veritable who’s who of tech features.
The FT5 is a hardy-looking camera, but it’s still comfortable to hold thanks to the grip that extends around to the front. The exposed metal front and back covers aid this sense of solidity, while the large buttons also aid operation. The compact is also no slouch in operation, springing to life in an instant and offering good AF and shot-to-shot speeds.
Pentax WG3, £260
The final of our tough compacts is the Pentax WG-3. The WG series has always bucked the design trend, and the WG-3 continues this trend.
It has a 4x optical zoom and a decent 25mm wide-angle that matches the TG-2, while the maximum aperture of f/2 matches the higher-priced Olympus TG-2. There’s built-in optical image stabilisation and the 16MP sensor supports HD videos as 30fps and an 125-6,400 ISO range.
It's waterproof down to 14 metres, shockproof up to two metres and is the only 'crush resistant' camera here - it can withstand 100kg.
One interesting feature of the WG3 is the presence of six LED lights around the camera's lens. These lights serve as a ring light should the need arise, whether shooting underwater or simply wanting to make the most of the camera's 1cm 'digital microscope' macro mode. There’s also a digital level that displays an electronic horizon for guaranteeing a level shot in difficult conditions.
This version doesn’t have GPS, but there is a 'WG3-GPS' model available that features a slightly higher price tag should you need it.
As mentioned, the WG3 features a distinctive design, one which makes it the largest of all of the tough cameras on test. It has a rubberised finish and textured buttons, as a result it feels great in the hand and secure in harsh conditions.
While the WG3 is no slouch in operation, the model's zoom is the slowest of the group on test to travel through the focal range. It's not the fastest to start, although AF performance is good.