Rugged or waterproof compact cameras allow you to take photographs in places that you wouldn't dare use a normal camera. They are a great choice for beach holidays and ideal for families with children that might want to have a go at taking a photograph. Here are some of the best around.

Panasonic FT5/TS5

Price: £300/US$398/AU$400

Specs: 16.1MP 1/2.33-inch High Sensitivity MOS sensor, 4.6x optical zoom (28-128mm equivalent), 1080p HD video, 3-inch screen

Best compact camera panasonic FT5

Best compact camera 2013

One of the higher-priced rugged compact cameras, the Panasonic FT4 is a feature-packed compact with a superb level of protective attributes. Waterproof to a depth of 12m, the Panasonic Lumix FT4 enables you to explore greater depths than with many if its competitors, plus it's shockproof if dropped from a height of up to 2m, and freeze-proof down to -10C (14F).

Built-in GPS, plus a compass, altimeter and barometer all add to the Panasonic Lumix FT4's appeal for adventure-bound photographers, while Full HD movie recording and a respectable all-round image performance makes this a decent choice for active families in search of a reliable camera, with the ability to take more punishment than your average compact.

Read our Panasonic FT5 review

Sony Cyber-Shot TX30

Price: £280/US$350/AU$450

Specs: 18.2MP 1/2.3-inch Exmor R™ CMOS sensor, 5x optical zoom (26-130mm equivalent), 1080p HD video, 3.3-inch touch-sensitive OLED screen

Best compact camera Sony TX30

Believe it or not, the TX30 is waterproof and shockproof to the tune of 10-metre depths and 1.5-metre drops. It's also freeze and dustproof, yet you get all this toughness in a case with around half the bulk and twice the style of your average rugged camera.

However this super-sleek styling also means it's tough to hold on to when underwater or wearing gloves. In these scenarios the touch-sensitive screen is another irritation as it'll only work when dry and operated by bare hands. Thankfully the camera's advanced automatic modes do a great job of capturing decent shots without your help.

Despite its diminutive dimensions the TX30 is big on image quality, with good detail and dynamic range. Close-up shots also look the part thanks to the nifty Magnifying Glass macro mode with LED illumination.

If you're after a high-performing tough camera that doesn't sacrifice style, look no further.

Nikon Coolpix AW110

Price: £240/US$270/AU$400

Specs: 16.0MP 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor, 5x optical zoom (28-140mm equivalent), 1080p HD video, 3-inch screen

Best compact camera Nikon Coolpix 110AW

Divers and mermaids rejoice, as this new Nikon will handle underwater excursions as deep as 18 meters. Freeze it to -10°C or drop it from up to 2-metres and it'll also pull through unscathed.

And the features keep on coming. There's GPS equipped with a world map to chart your snaps, as well as a landmark database and compass to help you take more. Wi-Fi with remote camera control is present too, as is an altimeter and barometer to keep you posted with height and depth data.

It's not all plain sailing though, as the AW110 falls short where it matters most. Image detail is prone to smoothing at all sensitivities, and when you ramp up the ISO, expect some grain and colour speckling.

Fortunately the quality isn't significantly lower than similar cameras, yet the AW110's price tag is, making it great value if you avoid pixel-peeping too much.

Olympus TG-2

Price: £280/US$380/AU$500

Specs: 12.0MP 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor, 4x optical zoom (25-100mm equivalent), 1080p HD video, 3-inch screen

Best compact camera Olympus TG-2

The TG-2 takes its toughness seriously, with well-sealed, double locked access points and an exceptionally rugged casing that's waterproof down to a respectably deep 15m.

It packs plenty of features too, like GPS, a nifty super-macro mode and also the ability to mount a separate teleconverter or fish eye lens up front. But it's the lens' impressively large f/2.0 aperture and aperture priority modes that really give the TG-2 an edge over the competition.

Image quality doesn't disappoint either. The camera excels in producing rich colours with accurate exposure and contrast. Whilst detail is also impressive from close-range subjects, some smearing is evident in out of focus areas, which can show up in larger prints.

Other annoyances include fiddly controls if you're wearing gloves and a pathetic panorama function. It's also a bit bulky, but otherwise the TG-2 is a good balance of features, image quality and toughness.

Read our Olympus TG-2 review

Fuji XP200

Price: £200/US$250/AU$375

Specs: 12.0MP 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor, 4x optical zoom (25-100mm equivalent), 1080p HD video, 3-inch screen

Best compact camera Fuji Finepixe XP200

Fuji's latest ruggedised offering has a lot in common with the Nikon AW110. It's nearly as waterproof with its 15-metre depth rating and features a similar knob and locking button arrangement to seal its battery card compartment without resorting to fiddly clips.

The XP200 is far easier to cling on to than the Nikon though, thanks to a rubberised back panel and grippy, ribbed edges. The controls are also large and the screen exceptionally crisp and bright. It all comes together to make this the easiest camera of the bunch to use when you're in the thick of the action.

It's a pity image quality isn't as impressive, with slightly more noise and detail smoothing than some rivals, but it's not the XP200's biggest issue.

That honour goes to the downright dire 9cm macro mode, which is the only major flaw in what's otherwise a well designed and capable camera.

Pentax WG3/WG3-GPS

Price: £300/US$350

Spec: 16.0MP 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor, 4x optical zoom (25-100mm equivalent), 1080p HD video, 3-inch screen

Best compact camera Pentax WG3

The WG-3 GPS sits atop Pentax's tough camera hierarchy, sporting a maximum ISO 6400 sensitivity and sensor-shift image stabilisation. Allied to the rapid autofocus system, it's easy to capture low light and action snaps free from motion blur.

However, image quality could be improved, as it suffers from high ISO image noise and detail smoothing throughout the sensitivity range.

Optically the camera fares better, with a wide-aperture f/2.0 lens meaning you won't have to resort to high sensitivity settings too often. Circling the lens are 6 small LEDs to illuminate extreme close-up shots in Digital Microscope mode.

Put the WG-3 through some rough and tumble and it should survive intact thanks to reassuringly rugged build quality and well-secured openings. Wireless Qi charging on the WG-3 GPS further reduces the chances of dust or water ingress.

Better finger and thumb grips wouldn't go amiss though, for when the going gets frantic.

Canon PowerShot D20

Price: £260/US$290/AU$300

Specs: 12.1MP 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor, 5x optical zoom, 1080p HD video, 3-inch screen

Best compact camera

Canon's rough-and-ready PowerShot provides a good range of beginner-friendly photography features, as well as advanced camera technologies. Along with intuitive point-and-shoot modes, there's a selection of underwater shooting options to make aquatic photo capturing a stress-free experience.

Some handling issues – both underwater and on dry land - take a bit of the shine off this camera's overall performance though. General operation can be sluggish, with relatively slow focussing, shutter lag and recycle times. But what this compact lacks in speed, it makes up for in image quality.

The camera produces consistently well-exposed, detailed images, which combined with substantial build quality and additional features such as built-in GPS and Full HD video mode broaden the Canon D20's appeal.

The D20 certainly has a lot to offer, but if you're after an everyday rugged all-rounder, some similarly priced rivals may offer a more comprehensive package.

Read our Canon PowerShot D20 review