Olympus Mju Tough-6000 digital camera review

So you think you're hard? Well that's what Olympus believe with its Tough range of digital cameras. But are they? And more importantly do they take good pictures? We get rugged to find out.

Cased in metal, as you might expect, the Olympus Mju Tough-6000 is thicker and heavier than your average compact camera but by no means large. With a rough tough exterior the design follows the same ethos. And yes there are plenty of screws to give you that tough feel.

So there isn't a protruding lens on the front (wouldn't want it to get broken) nor are there any flimflam rubber covers for the USB or battery, they are hinged shut. The top sports on/off and shutter buttons while the rest of the controls are left to the back of the camera, left of the 2.7-inch HyperCrystal screen that works a treat in bright sunlight.

Here you get a d-pad, four buttons, a mode dial and the zoom toggle switch all packed in a space that's just about suitable for three buttons let alone 12. The result is that it's all very fiddly to control. Perhaps understanding this, you can opt for a rather unusual operating interface - Tap Control.

Press a button and when you tap different parts of the camera the interface reacts accordingly. Tapping the right hand side gives you flash control, the left macro modes (there are three), while tapping the actual screen loads up the playback option. Once in playback the taps control forward and backward picture movement or start a slideshow.

We aren't really sure why you would want this feature, especially as you still have to use the buttons to accept the changes when it comes to the flash and macro settings. Are you supposed to use it underwater when you can't reach those fiddly buttons because you've got slippery hands? Beats us, but what we do know is that it seems a pointless bit of tech that has no real rhyme or reason to it.

Get past the Tap Control, which you'll be pleased to know you can turn off, and you can get to using the camera in conditions you won't find in the office.

For those who enjoy the more active lifestyle the Mju Tough-6000 is waterproof, shockproof and freezeproof. On top of its freezeproof attributes, it is waterproof to 3m and can resist falls of 1.5 metres.

Just for you we've dropped it, we've stamped on it, we've even given it to our 15-month and 3-year-old kids to see what damage they could do and just like the TV adverts it's still standing up to the job. The waterproofing means this will be great for the beach, canyoning, or that outward bound hiking your no doubt planning, while the -10 degrees capabilities mean you can hit the slopes with it without the fear of it breaking.

Get past all that toughness and you still get a 10-megapixel sensor with a 3.6x wide zoom lens spanning a focal length of 20-102mm. The wide angle lens is ideal for those massive vistas you might be taking in on your treks while the 3.6x zoom will allow to get closer, but not close enough if you're after a spot of wildlife.

Other features include dual image stabilisation, face detection and different shooting modes. Aside from the usual array of portrait, landscape, self portrait, fireworks, sunset (you get the picture), there is even a beauty mode featured on the mode dial suggesting that while you might be the rugged type you still want to look good. Here, like other cameras from manufactures like Casio, Olympus will take two pictures and then add subtle enhancements to the image to make you, well, look more "beautiful".

The results are subtle, the camera saves both so you can see the difference and it's more of a smoothing of the skin rather than cosmetic surgery, but it's enough to scare you and make you look like you've lived in LA for a couple of years.

In our tests we found that images where a little soft (no we didn't have the beauty mode on all the time) which isn't a problem if you are printing at standard sizes, but something worth bearing in mind if you are opting for big A3 prints of your work. Colours and tone on all subjects we shot were well balanced (see boy in red buggy) with little bleeding of colour and detail. The beatification process is a nice touch for the "lady" in your life but I'm not sure "blokes" will be all that bothered with it.

Overall we are very pleased with the camera's performance although it can be a bit slow to react from pressing the button to capturing the shot. Taking a picture of the office dog was almost impossible.

Verdict

With a price to match your average 10-megapixel compact camera, the Olympus Mju Tough-6000 offers a good rugged approach without trying to sting you for it.

That rugged approach lives up to its name, giving you a camera that you can happily give to the kids or take to the beach without the fear of breaking it.

However those looking for a rugged camera to match their even ruggedier lifestyle might to better in opting for the Olympus Mju Tough-8000, the 6000's older brother. It sports a 12 megapixel sensor and the ability to go down 10m in the water, making it a better fit if you want to go beneath the surface.

If rugged is your thing, you don't want to print your pictures too large and you can put up with some fiddly controls, this might just be the camera for you.