Olympus TG-1 £359.99
20th Jul 2012 | 10:00
Tough compact with f/2.0 lens
Olympus has a long-running reputation for being at the forefront of 'life-proof' compact camera development, frequently being the first to implement new technologies and lead the way in terms of the amount of punishment its cameras can take. Yet again – with the launch of the Tough TG-1 – Olympus has excelled itself.
With the recent increased level of competition in this niche sector of the digital camera market, Olympus has pulled out all the stops with its latest development, to ensure that its Tough series of camera remains at the top of the pack. Setting a new precedent with its impressive specifications, the Olympus TG-1 raises the bar with its tougher-than-ever adventure-proof features.
The new camera boasts significantly improved waterproofing features, being capable of resisting water ingress and coping with the pressure right the way down to a depth of 12m (40ft). It's also freezeproof to -10C (14F), crushproof to 100kg (220lbs) and shockproof if dropped from a height of up to 2m (6.6ft).
The Olympus TG-1 is also dustproof, incorporates an Electronic Compass, a Manometer and boasts built-in GPS too.
Sensor: 12MP 1/2.3-inch BSI-CMOS
Lens: 4x optical zoom (25 - 100 mm equivalent), f/2.0-4.9
LCD Screen: 3-inch, 610,000-dots, OLED
Focus modes: Contrast Detection: Face Detect AF, iESP Auto, Spot AF, AF Tracking
Dimensions: 111.5mm x 66.5mm x 29.1mm (4.4 x 2.6 x 1.1 inches), 230g (8.1oz)
On paper, the Olympus TG-1 certainly looks to have the potential to be a market leader in terms of its ruggedness. But Olympus also claims to have taken steps to ensure that image quality, which – as we've seen in the past – can sometimes become a secondary concern in the development of these types of compact cameras, was of equal significance when developing the new camera.
To that end, the manufacturer promises "DSLR image quality" from the 12MP BSI-CMOS sensor and bright f/2.0 lens. We'll see how these claims stand up in our tests.
Build quality and handling
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The Olympus Tough cameras we've tested in the past have all lived up to their name, and the Olympus Tough TG-1 continues this tradition. It may have a plastic outer shell, but the camera feels very solid, reassuringly weighty and nicely balanced in the hand.
A plethora of exposed bolts and touches such as the double-locking mechanisms on the hatches that protect the memory card/battery compartment and the various ports are all reminders of the Olympus TG-1's superb level of build quality and protection.
Buttons are well proportioned and logically positioned, with the fact that each one is raised away from the camera body making it simple to locate and operate each one.
The only criticism we might have made in this respect is that perhaps the controls on the back panel are a little too closely clustered together. This didn't present any issues for us during normal use, but it has the potential to make the camera a little more difficult to operate with accuracy while wearing thick gloves, or underwater, for instance.
With this in mind, Olympus has thankfully incorporated its innovative Tap Control feature into the Olympus TG-1's menu options, enabling you to perform certain tasks – including altering some settings and navigating through menus/images in playback mode – by gesturing with and/or tapping the sides/top/bottom of the camera.
Olympus seems to have tightened up the reflexes of this feature, making it a pretty effective alternative method of operation.
One of the Olympus TG-1's headline features – its f/2.0 lens – proves to be a considerable asset when it comes to image quality and low light performance. Unlike many of its rivals, which tend to be equipped with slower lenses, the Olympus TG-1's lens proves its worth when the light begins to fade, enabling faster shutter speeds and lower ISO sensitivities to be maintained, and producing better quality images as a result.
Unlike a DSLR or CSC, however, the Olympus TG-1's fast optic doesn't offer the same scope to produce shallow depth of field effects; a trait that remains difficult to achieve with smaller compact camera sensors.
You can, however, create a similar effect by employing one the Olympus TG-1's creative Magic Filters: select the Miniature option and you can generate shots that look convincingly like they've been taken using a tilt/shift (perspective control) lens.
While we wouldn't exactly describe the image quality from the Olympus TG-1 as 'DSLR-like' we can report that it is very good indeed. Shots taken at low ISOs are generally sharp, detailed and noise-free, with this continuing up to around ISO 800. Beyond this point things get softer and noisier, with ISO 3200 being about as far as we'd recommend pushing it in an emergency.
It's worth noting, however, that the need to shoot at higher ISO sensitivities is minimal in most low-light situations: that superb f/2.0 lens is a saving grace when it comes to helping to keep the sensitivity range at the lower end of the scale.
Videos shot with the Olympus TG-1 are pretty pleasing for the most part, although the sensor-shift image stabilisation doesn't manage to keep things as smooth as we'd like when shooting at telephoto settings.
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Sound recording is good, although you will pick up operational sounds such as focusing and zooming while filming in quieter environments.
Another marked improvement over previous Olympus Tough models is evident in the Olympus TG-1's operating speed. It's quick to start up, and shot-to-shot times are noticeably quicker than those of its predecessors.
Action enthusiasts will also be pleased to see the inclusion of a dedicated sports mode on the camera's mode dial, which enables continuous capture of full resolution stills at up to 5fps (reduce the resolution to 3MP and you can achieve speeds of 15fps or 60fps).
Shooting close-ups with the Olympus TG-1's Macro shooting mode enables you to capture an excellent level of crisp detail.
The Olympus TG-1's waterproofing means that you can expose it to situations where other compact cameras would be vulnerable, enabling you to capture some unique and interesting shots.
When you're taking a break from your adventurous outdoor activities, the Olympus TG-1 performs brilliantly in everyday situations too, delivering sharp, faithfully coloured images with plenty of fine detail.
The Olympus TG-1's Pin Hole Magic Filter adds an atmospheric vignette to your shots: perfect for moody scenes and low-key portraits, for instance.
Another of the camera's Magic Filters creates an artificial reflection of part of your scene, enabling you to add a convincing water-like effect to your shots.
The Olympus TG-1's 5fps Sports mode enables you to track and capture fast-paced subjects with accuracy, freezing them in motion.
Sensitivity and noise
Full ISO image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.
Compact, robust and burgeoning with features, the Olympus TG-1 has a lot to offer the adventurous photographer. Its fast f/2.0 lens is a real asset when it comes to low-light shooting, keeping shots sharp and noise-free when shooting under dim conditions – whether you're on dry land or underwater.
The camera's Tough credentials are certainly impressive, and offer a marked improvement over its predecessors – particularly with respect to the depth at which the model remains waterproof.
The Olympus TG-1's fast f/2.0 lens comes into its own when the lights go down, while the camera's robust body provides peace of mind when out in inclement conditions. Great colours, a good level of detail and accurately metered shots are also easily achievable.
The GPS capabilities of this camera are useful. However, it really drains the battery if left to track when the camera's powered down. Options to turn this feature off are also initially difficult to locate in the menu system.
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No-nonsense styling and useful additions such as an AF-assist lamp and removable lens surround to enable the attachment of optional accessories add further to the Olympus TG-1's appeal, along with its easy-to-operate interface (including Tap Control) and the decent range of shooting modes on offer.
Olympus' Magic Art filters make it more than just a rugged camera for straightforward photography, offering additional scope to get creative with your shots. The range of filters on offer varies in their likelihood to have universal appeal, but we're particularly taken with the Pin Hole, Miniature and quirky Reflection options.
The Macro shooting capabilities of the Olympus TG-1 are also particularly noteworthy, with Olympus continuing to set the standard for close-up image capture with its compact cameras.
If you want a camera that you can rely on to take great shots under tricky conditions and put up with an unprecedented degree of punishment, the Olympus TG-1 is – in our opinion – one of the best in its class.