Olympus is no stranger to the waterproof compact camera, and from what we've seen the Stylus Tough TG-850 not only looks to be its best effort yet, but also comes with a number of firsts.
Principal to the TG-850's design is a tilt-angle screen that can flip up to face forward for selfies or waist-level work. It's a great idea that we're seeing more in compact cameras, but one that no waterproof compact camera has featured until now. Adjust that screen by 45-degrees (the maximum being 90 for forward-facing) and we can imagine it being particularly useful for casually dipping into a pool of water - not that there was any of the wet stuff to hand when we got to preview the camera ahead of the announcement.
The screen hinge sees a smooth movement with just the right amount of resistance. It's a shame it's not possible to angle the screen in the opposite direction for overhead work, but creating such a hinge that was also waterproof would probably be tricky.
The second key feature is a 21mm equivalent wide-angle lens, again wider-angle than anything we've seen in a waterproof camera before. Most compacts offer a 24mm equivalent lens, and while 21mm doesn't sound that much wider in number terms, it's a significant difference in the frame. And as the camera is waterproof down to 10 metres that ultra-wide angle of view will be very handy if you're a snorkeler or casual diver - or even just in the pool.
At this wide-angle setting the macro mode works very close up to subjects too - we were able to get the lens to focus around 1cm away from a subject. Very dramatic.
The 5x optical zoom can extend that zoom to a 105mm equivalent, and like other Olympus waterproof cameras the TG-850's lens does not protrude from the body. With no moving parts to worry about, single handed use is no problem and the relatively slim profile - for a waterproof camera, anyway - will make it easy to slip into a spare pocket or clip on to equipment.
One feature we're not so keen on is the placement of the TG-850's zoom toggle. It lies on top of the camera body, rather than the typical lever around the shutter button. Just feels a little out of place to us, as per previous Olympus waterproof models.
Beneath the fetching aluminium body - which delivers a metallic sparkle to the eyes - there's a 16-megapixel back-side illuminated sensor to record those snaps or capture 1080p video. We didn't get to venture into the outside world with this pre-production model so don't know how well it will handle. Given the lens types found in waterproof cameras there is typically a compromise to quality, but until we've tested it in full we can't pass judgement.
What we can say is that the autofocus system was certainly no slouch. It was snapping subjects into focus in the blink of an eye - far better than some of the entry-level waterproof models we've seen over the years.
As is the norm these days the Tough TG-850's waterproof feature is matched with shock, freeze and crush-proofing. Elsewhere there are Art Filters for in-camera adjustments, the latest TruePuc VII processing engine, lens-based image stabilisation and speedy 7.1 frames per second burst shooting.
When it comes to waterproof compacts we've seen none as impressive as the Olympus Stylus Tough TG-850. It successfully adds to the usually vanilla feature set of this type of camera, and with an anticipated £270 price tag at launch it's not outside of affordable.
Fancy winning one? As part of our OM-D Challenge series we've got a competition open from now until the end of February: enter here.
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