Olympus has been on the tough and waterproof camera tip for a long time now. Its range of mju and Tough cameras has often delivered in the rugged stakes, but lacked higher spec features to make for a really attractive prospect.
Can the latest Olympus Tough TG-1 change that? With its f/2.0 wide-angle lens, even dark and underwater conditions should prove no problem.
When we first pulled the Olympus TG-1 from its box it felt like a blast from the past. This Tough camera may have a bunch of attractive features – most of which we’ll come to later - but its exterior is somewhat pedestrian and bulky, akin to a camera from years ago.
Waterproofing and shock resistance may require some bulking up, as shown by the TG-1’s metal body, but other competitors’ models - such as the Casio EX-G1 (now discontinued) - prove bulk isn’t always a necessity.
The TG1’s camera’s lens is tucked behind a window-like structure that, when touched, can easily smudge and ruin the final picture quality. While lens glass of any camera can suffer similar issues, the kind of light-bouncing achieved by the TG-1’s plastic-like window is potential cause for significant blemishes on images - so keep an eye on where your fingers are.
However, as the lens doesn’t protrude from the camera body, fingers can occasionally get in the way. We found a number of shots to have a stray finger creeping in on the right-hand side of the shot.
Surrounding the lens is a detachable ring that can accommodate the optional fisheye converter accessory, codename FCON-T01. You’ll also need a converter adapter, which is packaged up as yet another accessory. Both should really have been boxed up in one single package, to make things that bit easier.
Once attached the fisheye is huge, but it gives the camera a more professional look, and that super-wide-angle field of view is great for underwater shots and a bit of fun.
Features & Performance
The TG-1’s headline feature is that it has an f/2.0 lens. But don’t be over-sold: it’s f/2.0 at the 25mm wide-angle, reduced to f/4.9 at the 100mm equivalent, which is the full extent of the TG-1’s 4x optical zoom.
But the aperture is often irrelevant. There’s no aperture priority or manual control to select, so it’s always down to the camera whether or not f/2.0 is used or not. Why include features that can’t be used to their fullest?
Furthermore the zoom mechanism, which is positioned on the rear of the camera, is slow to zoom and its position is awkward in use. A traditional zoom toggle would have been nice, though such mechanisms are tricky to protect from dust and moisture, hence its exclusion here.
The camera’s autofocus system is reasonably quick but, frustratingly, we found it would often ignore the main subject and focus behind. The iESP system is designed to check both centre and surrounding areas for contrast to focus on the most relevant subject part - but this often failed to deliver in our practical tests. It may have a fancy name, but it’s far less fancy in use.
There are other options that include Face Detection, Centre Spot and Tracking, the spot we found the most effective of them all.
Instead of using an LCD screen, the TG-1 opts for a more technological 3-inch OLED panel. It works well, the 610k-dot resolution is reasonable and it does a good job, although bright sunlight makes it difficult to see.
The camera also includes GPS (global positioning satellite) and an electronic compass, but lacks the alitmeter and barometer found in the highest spec tough cameras, namely the Panasonic Lumix FT4. Granted not all those features will be desirable to every buyer, but a small point worth making nonetheless.
Waterproof cameras have to protect their precious innards, so protruding lenses aren’t commonplace in any standalone models. This means the optics have to make best use of a confined space, but this is at the expense of image quality.
For example, the TG-1’s 25mm wide-angle setting is fine, but edge softness is apparent as are purple fringes from scenes with backlighting.
The TG-1’s 12-megapixel sensor can capture images from ISO 100-6400, but quality takes a dive from the mid-ISO settings.
ISO 100 can capture acceptable images, but the aforementioned lens protector window must be absolutely clean and clear to avoid light-bouncing flare and inconsistent sharpness.
Processing is rather crude, and fine detail areas often lack finesse.
We struggled to get the camera to shoot upwards of ISO 800 (when set to auto) even in the darkest of conditions, though even at this setting colour is far more muted and detail lacks compared to the lower ISO shots.
So while the camera will do just fine to capture images for online or small-scale use, its optical partnering and overprocessing make it nothing to write home about.
Beyond standard stills there’s a 1080p movie mode, 23 scene options and a batch of "magic filters" to spice up shots - whether pop art, pinhole, miniature or one of a handful of other settings.
However, "P" (programme) is the most control a user has available to them, which can be rather limiting, particularly for more demanding users.
The Olympus Tough TG-1 does sell itself on the usual waterproof, dustproof, shockproof and freezeproof features, but it comes up a little short as a standalone camera.
The f/2.0 lens may sound great but the lack of aperture priority or manual control detracts from its use.
Zoom performance is also slow, and while autofocus is quick it’s often inaccurate, while image quality is nothing to write home about.
Then there’s the £300 price tag. Add the adapter and fisheye converter and you’ll need to add another £150 to the bill. It’s not a cheap option and there’s not a whole lot here that sells itself above and beyond the cheaper models out there.
We had high expectations from this flagship model, but instead we’re flying the flag half-mast with an extra half star for its specialist users that will find some good from this camera.
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