Gear Shed

Q:

What's the best digital camera to use on a tour of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan?

My son will leave for Iraq or Afghanistan to serve in the army sometime this fall. What camera would be best for him to take along? He'll be carrying far more in his rucksack than you or I would on a month-long backwoods trip, so it must be compact and lightweight. Electricity is a problem on long patrols, so AA batteries are a must. And ruggedness? There is nothing more physically challenging than combat. Muted-color case would help (no pink or lime green!), and waterproof would be a plus. And of course good photo capability is a must. William Pittsburgh, PA

The Coolpix P90     Photo: courtesy, Nikon

The Coolpix P90

A:Pretty tough list, William. But I am ready to stuff this one in my ILBE (Improved Load Bearing Equipment) rucksack and hump it over that hill yonder.

On the civilian side, an obvious choice is the Olympus Stylus Tough 6000. It’s shockproof (can take a five-foot drop), waterproof to ten feet, and compact, yet it offers ten megapixels of resolution and a 3.6x zoom lens for $299. Alas, it requires a specialized rechargeable battery. So, it fails the confidence course. Ditto for the Pentax Optio W60 ($300), another tough-built camera.

The thing is, you’ve got New York Times photographers (and others) covering combat there, and they’re using off-the-shelf digital SLRs—nothing designed to be combat-proof. That has been the case since the Vietnam War and the millions of shots taken with the Nikon F. So I think a well-made camera, and a good case for protection, will do the job.

One vote might go to Canon's PowerShot A2100 IS ($250). It’s a super-affordable camera yet has 12 megapixels of resolution, an excellent 6x lens, and even image stabilization. Comes in black (good). Ruggedly made. And… takes AA batteries. Lowepro's Apex 30 AW case ($24) is designed for all-weather use. Also keep in mind that some of the newer cameras out there have a pretty long battery life, even for a rechargeable, which could let you get more camera for your buck. Nikon's P90 ($400) is a great example, and a step up from the typical point-and-shoots.

So I’d go with one of those, get a good case, and set him loose. Hope his tour goes well!

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