Is there a tough, weatherproof digital camera?

I travel consistently for my job and like to hike and cp when I home. Could you recommend a digital camera that holds up to the abuse of travel and camping but still takes great pictures? I'm looking for something around the $500-mark. I have looked at some Nikon products, but what else would you recommend? Matt Minneapolis, Minnesota

Digital cameras are increasingly travel-friendly —- they’re sturdier than they were a few years ago, and with much greater memory capacity, they’re better able to store a reasonable quantity of photos. But, very few are what you might call “all-weather” cameras that can take a hard life. One that does qualify is the Kodak DC 5000 ($300), which has an armored case and seals to keep out moisture. Alas, it’s now more than a year old, and its 2.1-megapixel resolution, while adequate, doesn’t compare with most new offerings. It’s also sort of a chunky little beast.

Nikon makes some great digital cameras; the Coolpix 885 ($500) has a 3:1 zoom and 3.2-megapixel resolution. And Minolta will have available soon an amazing little camera called the Dimage X —- about $400 street price, 3:1 zoom lens, the size of a deck of cards. A perfect digital camera for traveling, but not water-resistant. You might also look at a Sony camera called the DSC-P5 ($550 street price). It’s a terrific little camera —- 3.2-megapixel resolution, very compact, 2:1 zoom lens. Plus, Sony makes a watertight plastic case for it that makes the camera truly bombproof. OK, the case is another $200, but taken altogether it’s a reasonable price for a high-end setup.

That said, I remain decidedly lukewarm on the subject of digital cameras and traveling. Unless you really, truly need and want to send pictures via e-mail while you’re on the road, I think they’re a little delicate, plus you’ll need to edit out pictures on the fly to maintain enough storage capacity. And yes, you can do that. I’ve seen people with digital cameras take a picture, then stand around for five minutes peering at it on the screen to see if they want to keep it, or walk around and show their friends a picture of something standing right in front of them, which I think is incredibly stupid.

Personally, I will continue to match my standard-film Yashica T4 ($160) —- which is water-resistant, compact, light, easy to use and has a terrific lens — against any sub-$500 camera on the market, film or digital. Oh, wait -— THAT’S the camera you ought to get…