I personally own a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT1, but the newer DMC-FT2 is better (though not as good looking in my opinion). It's very good, but the lack of full manual control does irk me a great deal as I usually use a DSLR. This is a limitation common to every ruggedised compact camera I have yet come across.
Another annoyance with these cameras is that the manufacturers usually cram too many megapixels in at the expense of better low-light performance. 14MP or even 12MP in such a camera is quite frankly ridiculous.
What I really wish is that Canon would produce a rugged version of their excellent 10MP S90, but I digress.
Ranting aside, I would investigate these cameras:
Canon PowerShot D10: http://www.dpreview.com/news/0902/09021805canond10.asp
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT2: http://www.dpreview.com/news/1001/10012603panadmcft2.asp
Olympus Tough MJU 2010: http://www.dpreview.com/news/1001/10010703oly5010703070409010.asp
I suspect all would be rugged enough, but the devil is in the nitty gritty details:
The Canon anecdotally has excellent image quality and obviously a wider aperture (f/2.8 at the widest focal length), but the video mode is bad in comparison to the Olympus and the Lumix.
The Olympus has the largest zoom range and very slightly better maximum aperture than the Lumix (f/3.2 as opposed to f/3.3 for the Lumix). Both are wider than the Canon, which is often important to me.
The Lumix supposedly has a higher maximum ISO (6400 as opposed to 3200 for the Olympus and 1600 for the Canon). 3200 is already ridiculous for a camera of this size, though seeing is believing, and I haven't tested any of these cameras personally.
So it depends what you value...
- Image quality and low--light performance: Canon
- Video performance: Olympus or Panasonic
- Widest focal length: Olympus or Panasonic
- Narrowest focal length: Olympus
I don't know which I'd go with, so good luck =) over 10 years ago