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.
The Coolpix P90
On the civilian side, an obvious choice is the Olympus Stylus Tough 6000. Its 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, youve got New York Times photographers (and others) covering combat there, and theyre using off-the-shelf digital SLRsnothing 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). Its 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 Id go with one of those, get a good case, and set him loose. Hope his tour goes well!
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