Tech

The 2012 Digital Camera Summer Games

The Olympics are about to begin, and we're also halfway through 2012. Check out some of the best cameras of the year so far.

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The 2012 Olympic trials are over, and the games themselves only a few days away. Of course, here at the Digital Camera Info test labs, the trials never end. And while we assume the qualified athletes have little else to do except relax, eat some chips, and wait for their events to begin in London, there is no such rest for a camera reviewer!

The Olympic season also marks the approximate midpoint of the year, and we've spent that time analyzing a wide swath of the industry's best and worst product offerings for the first half of 2012. So, with a competitive spirit, we present our first-ever Digital Camera Summer Games, which promises the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, and many mediocre Olympic puns. Let the games begin!

100 Meter Freestyle: Best Waterproof Camera

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First off the blocks is the Olympus Tough TG-1, which is so far the best ruggedized, waterproof camera of 2012. Although this camera's body lacks a streamlined build, image quality is excellent all-around. An especially fast f/2.0 lens is what sets this model apart, allowing for crisp, clear images even in less-than-ideal lighting, as is often the case underwater. The TG-1 has a very attractive rear panel as well, thanks to a bright and vibrant OLED monitor.

Rarely are the best swimmers also the best divers, but the TG-1 is an exception. The waterproof rating extends beyond twice the depth of an Olympic diving well, and offers the best overall durability of any 2012 camera so far.

Gymnastics All-Around: Most Flexible Controls

The retrospective design of the Fujifilm X-Pro1 means it looks quite a bit older than the average gymnast. Still, the satisfying all-mechanical control scheme means the camera can contort itself into many different shooting configurations at a moment's notice. This is a camera lover's camera, though not without its share of problems. The focus system often struggles to stick the landing, and some ergonomic woes can throw handling off balance.

This camera's lens lineup was outstanding at launch though. All three primes are extremely sharp, posting better scores than some of the most expensive cameras on the market. Best of all, each lens has minimal barrel distortion, so you won't notice any uneven bars. Get it? Uneven bars....

Let's move on.

100 Meter Dash: The Fastest Camera

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The only thing quicker than Usain Bolt is the Nikon V1. It's easily the fastest consumer camera out there, owing its speed to a user-definable electronic/mechanical hybrid shutter that unlocks burst speeds up to 60 frames per second. This camera is strictly a sprinter though—at full speed, the buffer fills up after only a half second. The V1 also offers world class color accuracy and excellent dynamic range, assuming the stadium lights are bright enough.

Shot Put: Longest Zoom

For getting a shot all the way down the field, zoom is the most important consideration. Short of an expensive 700mm (or longer) lens, a superzoom-class camera is the best option for most people. Nikon's Coolpix P510 has the best reach of any camera ever, with an incredible 42x optical zoom ratio.

On a side note, this is one of the cameras that we'd recommend for entry-level photographers who will actually be in London for the games. Image quality is strong and some very impressive image stabilization should keep this model from fouling out of the circle.

Weightlifting: Most Powerful

A crowd favorite long before the Olympics, the Nikon D4 is practically in a weight class of its own, tipping the scales at more than 47 ounces without a lens attached. But with so much body mass comes incredible ability. The D4 is by far the most powerful camera we've ever tested, packing a 16.2-megapixel full-frame sensor capable of a massive maximum ISO sensitivity of 204,800. Dynamic range scores were among the strongest we've ever seen, and this flagship went on to ace nearly every exercise we had for it.

Yet perhaps the heftiest part of this camera is its price tag. $6,000 for only the body places this model exclusively in the domain of professional photographers. It also makes the camera rather inefficient as dead weight: Benedikt Magnusson's world-record deadlift would be the equivalent of more than 344 Nikon D4s.

Closing Ceremonies

Ignoring, for a minute, our opportunistic tie-in to one of humanity's proudest traditions, all of the cameras listed here are worth your attention. If you'll kindly pardon the silliness, think of this as our 2012 Half-Year Awards, and expect a few of these to hold on and take top honors in our Select Awards this December. Until then, enjoy the Olympics!