Waterproof, shockproof compact cameras have become very popular over the past couple of years, with several of the main manufacturers fielding “ruggedised” models in their ranges. I took a look at a few of the more popular waterproof compacts last year, and there are a few other recent models that can be added to the list, such as the Casio EX-G1 and the Pentax W90 which I'm hoping to review soon. While all these cameras live up to their adventure-proof claims, most of them could hardly be described as attractive. Most waterproof compacts are designed to look like military hardware, with exposed bolt heads (often merely cosmetic) and aggressively chunky lines, no doubt to appeal to the outdoor sports enthusiasts, who in the eyes of camera designers are apparently all macho men with three days of stubble on their chins.
The problem is that even the most hard-core adrenaline junkies don't spend all day every day throwing themselves off mountains. Sometimes they like to go out in the evening, and may even own a few shirts that aren't made out of neoprene or Gore-tex. For those social occasions they don't necessarily want to be toting a camera that looks like it fell of the back of a Land-rover, so Sony has come up with the Cyber-shot TX5, a slide-front ultra-compact 10-megapixel camera with a big touch-screen monitor and Carl Zeiss 4x zoom lens. It looks just as elegant and stylish as any of the other cameras in Sony's range, but it is fully waterproof to a depth of three metres for up to 60 minutes, shockproof against drops of up to 1.5m onto a hard surface, and freeze-proof down to minus 10 centigrade. That's the same degree of ruggedness as some of the better-known waterproof compacts, such as the Olympus mju-Tough 3000 and 6010 or the new Panasonic FT10, and tougher than the Fujifilm Z33 WP, possibly it's closest competitor in the “tough but stylish” stakes.
The TX5 really is a very pretty camera. It is not only smaller and lighter than other rugged cameras, it's smaller and lighter than most other ultra-compacts, measuring 94 x 56.9 x 17.7mm and weighing just 144g including battery and memory card. The build quality is of course fantastic, with a body that is a combination of aluminium and high-strength plastic. Like most of Sony's compacts it's available in a range of colours, including pale green, pink, red, silver or the black (actually more of a slate grey) seen here. Unsurprisingly it's not a cheap camera, and is available direct from Sony's website for a rather pricey £329, £40 more expensive than the TX1 with which it shares most of its features. However shopping around online it is possible to find the TX5 for a much more reasonable £240.