Olympus Tough TG-3 ($350/£350/€400)

Key Features

  • 16MP BSI-CMOS sensor
  • F2.0-4.9, 25-100mm equiv. lens
  • 3" LCD w/460k dots
  • Waterproof to 15m
  • GPS with compass and manometer
  • Wi-Fi w/smartphone app
  • 5fps continuous shooting
  • 1080/30p video
  • Optional conversion lenses

Olympus has been making rugged for a very long time, and it turned a lot of heads when the TG-1 was released in 2012. The main reason was its lens, which HAS a maximum aperture of F2.0 at wide-angle at a time when other cameras were at least a stop slower. The TG-3 continues to offer the lens and travel-friendly features of its predecessors (which includes the Silver Award winning TG-2), with Wi-Fi being the most notable new feature.

Handling

You can tell that the TG-3 is a 'tough' camera just by looking at its front plate. Its exposed screws give it a sort of industrial look, and as soon as you pick it up you can tell that it'll handle a drop or three. Ergonomics are a mixed bag. The camera is easy enough to hold and operate with one hand, but the hand and thumb grips can be slippery. The zoom lever on the top is especially awkward. While the TG-1 and TG-2 models had OLED displays, which could be difficult to see outdoors, Olympus has thankfully switched to a traditional LCD on the TG-3. The difference is striking, which is great news, since these cameras will be spending most of their day outdoors.

While it can't go as deep as some of its peers, the TG-3 has more 'proof' features than those cameras, thanks to its ability to be crushed. It's waterproof to 15m/50ft, shockproof from 2.1m/7ft, crushproof to 100kgf/220lbf, and freezeproof to -10C/+14F. There are two sealed doors on the camera: one for the battery and memory card, and the other for I/O ports. Both have dual locks, which makes it pretty difficult to accidentally open a door.

One of the two sealed doors on the TG-3. Both doors have dual locking systems. The $40 LG-1 LED Light Guide can be used as a ring flash.

On paper, the TG-3's lens - which is shared by the Pentax WG-4 - is the best in its class. At its 25mm wide end, the maximum aperture is F2.0, which makes it great for low light and underwater photography. The lens becomes a lot more conventional at the telephoto end, where the aperture is a F4.9. A unique feature of the TG-3 is its ability to attach fisheye and telephoto conversion lenses - both of which are waterproof. Also available is a $40 LED Light Guide, which can be used for macro photography (the minimum focus distance on the TG-3 is 1cm).

You adjust settings on the TG-3 via shortcut and main menus. Both are responsive, though the main menu can be a bit overwhelming for beginners.

Features

The TG-3 has a wide-ranging feature set that includes point-and-shoot, manual, and creative controls. The camera has the requisite scene-selecting iAuto mode, as well as Program mode which loosens the leash a bit. An aperture priority mode is also available, though you can only choose from three values at any given time, due to the camera's use of an ND filter. 

In terms of creative shooting, the TG-3 offers the usual Art Filters, an HDR mode, plus a nice tool for creating collages. A microscope mode lets you take super-closeups from 1cm away, and also offers focus stacking and bracketing functions. An interval shooting feature is also available.

"You can shoot 100 images at 5fps - which is very impressive"

In terms of GPS functionality, the TG-3 is fully-loaded. The camera records your location and direction, air pressure, and altitude or depth. You can also use the camera as sort of a navigation device. By pressing the Info button a few times, you'll see a compass along with current GPS data. The TG-3, as well as its three competitors, can keep a log of where you've been, which you can later import into Google Earth or other software.

One big difference between the TG-3 and its predecessor is the addition of Wi-Fi. While the camera cannot connect to an open access point and send photos, there is a fair amount of control available via Olympus' Image Share app. You can remotely control the camera, download photos (at which point they can be shared), edit photos already transferred, and transfer location data back to the camera. Pairing a smartphone with the camera simply requires 'scanning' a QR code on the LCD. An additional app, known as Olympus Image Track, can be used to update A-GPS data (which can also be done on your computer) and import GPS track logs from the camera.

Performance

The TG-3 starts up extraordinarily quickly, in well under a second. Autofocus performance is excellent in good light, and the fastest in the group in low light. It was also quick-to-focus underwater. Shot-to-shot delays are minimal, so you can keep firing away.

The Tough TG-3 can shoot up to 100 images at 5fps, which is very impressive for a compact camera, waterproof or otherwise.

Battery life is the best in this group, with a CIPA rating of 380 shots per charge, which does not include GPS usage. We could shoot for a few days without having to worry about charging the battery. The battery is charged using an AC-to-USB adapter, and you can also connect the camera directly to your computer.