Olympus Tough TG-2 iHS

12.0MP | 25-100mm (4X) Zoom | $329/£275/€336
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Olympus, along with Pentax, is one of the pioneers of the underwater/rugged camera. Its first camera, the Stylus 720 SW, was introduced back in 2006, and the rest is history. Many, many generations of rugged cameras later, the Tough TG-1 iHS arrived, and it brought something new to the genre: a fast, F2.0-4.9 25-100mm (equivalent) zoom lens. This was a significant improvement over the slow lenses normally found on tough cameras. Two other notable features were support for conversion lenses, and limited manual exposure control.

The Tough TG-2 iHS, which arrived in early 2013, builds on the TG-1's already impressive feature set and is even more waterproof and rugged, with a better-than-average depth rating of 15 meters (50 feet). The other hallmark features, listed below, remain the same.

Specification Highlights

  • 12.0 effective megapixel BSI-CMOS sensor
  • F2.0-4.9, 25-100mm lens (4X)
  • Sensor-shift image stabilization
  • Waterproof to 15m, shockproof from 2.1m, crushproof to 100 kgf, freezeproof to -10C
  • 3.0 inch OLED display with 610,000 dot resolution
  • Aperture priority mode
  • Built-in GPS with landmark tagging, compass, manometer, and logging
  • 5 fps continuous shooting
  • 1080/30p movie mode with stereo sound
  • 'Tap Control' for (limited) camera control when wearing gloves
  • Support for fish-eye and telephoto conversion lenses
The highlight of the TG-2's specification is undoubtedly its relatively fast 25-100mm lens. At wide-angle, the maximum aperture is F2.0, which is at least a full stop faster than what you'll find on most other rugged cameras.

A 'fast' maximum aperture lets in more light, which allows you to keep the ISO sensitivity down, which in turn keeps noise levels low (at least in theory). The Canon D20, for example, offers a longer zoom than the TG-2, at 28-140mm, but it is considerably slower at its wide and middle focal lengths, offering a maximum aperture of F3.9-4.8. So in the same shooting conditions, at wide-angle, the TG-2 will be able to correctly expose shots using lower ISO settings than the D20, which means less noise and better image quality. At the telephoto end of the lens, the TG-2's maximum aperture is a slightly more pedestrian F4.9.

Another unique feature of the TG-2 is the ability to add conversion lenses. The camera supports both telephoto and fish-eye lenses. As you'd expect, both of these lenses are waterproof.

The conversion lens adapter that comes with these lenses (and can be purchased separately) also allows the use of 40.5mm filters.

The only other rugged camera on the market to support a conversion lens is the Pentax WG-3, which supports a wide-angle lens, but lacks filter support.

Unlike some of its peers, which have - shall we say - rather unique designs, the Olympus Tough TG-2 is about as plain old rectangular as a camera can get. The only protrusions are the 'hump' on the top for the GPS receiver, and the large metal strap mount on one side. The camera lives up to the 'Tough' name that's emblazoned on its front plate, with a body made almost completely of metal. The TG-2 is available in black and and red colors, and those prone to losing their cameras may want to choose the latter, which is a lot more visible.

The TG-2 fits well in the hand, though the grip is small and a bit slippery.
Like its predecessor, the TG-2 has a 3-inch, 610k-dot OLED display, with brilliant color and a wide viewing angle - at least indoors.

While the TG-2's OLED display looks beautiful indoors, outdoor performance was lacking. It's nearly impossible to use in bright light, even with brightness cranked to the maximum setting. It was also very difficult to use when snorkeling.

Here you can see the TG-2's LED illuminator and built-in flash. The flash has a range of up to 7.9 meters, but that's at ISO 1600 - a sensitivity that you want to avoid.

One of the downsides of the TG-2 is that its flash is quite weak. Olympus quotes a maximum range of 7.9 m at wide-angle and 3.1 m at telephoto, but that's at ISO 1600, which is a sensitivity that's would result in noisy images. At the more reasonable sensitivity of ISO 400, the range is just 2 meters at wide-angle and 0.8 meters at telephoto, which isn't far. That's not to say that other compact cameras will be a lot better, but it's something to keep in mind if you take a lot of flash photos.

The flash can be used to wirelessly control an external flash - something that even some high-end compact cameras can't do. The TG-2 can work with Olympus' own RC wireless flash system, which transmits exposure information to the external flash (Olympus or Panasonic-branded). If you're using a third party flash, then it becomes a 'dumb slave' system, where the built-in flash simply triggers the external unit.

The TG-2 is one of the most rugged cameras on the market. It can go up to 15 meters (50 feet) underwater, can be dropped from 2.1 meters (7 feet), and can be crushed with up to 100 kgf (220 lbf) of force. It's also freezeproof to -10C (+14). If you want to take the camera even deeper underwater, Olympus's PT-053 housing supports depths of up to 45 meters (148 feet).

As with all underwater cameras, all of the doors have gaskets to keep out moisture and dust.

It's worth mentioning that during our shooting, the TG-2 was the only camera with which we had issues with condensation. We cleaned and checked the seals in an indoor, air conditioned environment. When the camera went into the ocean, the inside of the lens was totally fogged up for about half an hour, before finally clearing. While we don't know how it got there, clearly some moisture had entered the camera. We should note, too, that we only had this problem once.

Shooting Modes

As we'd expect from a a consumer-level compact in 2013, the Olympus TG-2 has an 'intelligent' Auto mode, where the camera selects the correct scene mode for the situation. If you want to select scene modes yourself, there are plenty to choose from. There are four scene modes dedicated to underwater photography: snapshot, wide 1/2, and macro. Unlike most of the underwater cameras we've tested, there isn't a bluish color cast in our photos, which earns the TG-2 some points.

The TG-2 also has Magic filters (variants of the Art filters that can be found in its higher-end cameras), which lets you compose photos with special effects such as fish-eye, pop art, reflection, 'punk', and miniature.

The TG-2's main menu is packed with options, and Olympus smartly added descriptions of each of them at the bottom of the screen. The Function menu is your shortcut menu, and allows you to quickly adjust white balance, ISO, the self-timer, and more.

One of the nice features on the TG-2 is an aperture priority mode - something that's unusual on compact cameras. At wide-angle, you can select from F2.0, F2.8, and F8. At telephoto, your choices are F4.9, F6.3, and F18. Before you get too excited, though, the actual aperture of the lens is fixed at F2. Confused? Well, like many compact cameras, the TG-2 'fakes' its smaller apertures with the use of filters, which basically cut out light equivalent to shooting at smaller aperture settings. This is not a bad thing at all, since shooting at genuinely smaller apertures would result in lower sharpness due to diffraction.

Other manual controls include custom white balance and exposure compensation. You can also save your favorite settings to two spots on the mode dial.

GPS

The Olympus TG-2 has one of the more fully-featured GPS setups on the market. It'll record your location, your altitude or depth, direction (thanks to an e-Compass) and nearby landmarks. It can also track your path as you travel (at the expense of battery life, since the camera turns on every few minutes), which you can import into Google Earth. It also has a cool landmark locater, which is pictured below, and can display your location on a very zoomed-out map.

In playback mode (above left) you'll see your location and the landmark that the camera thought you were near (above right). If you keep pressing the zoom out button, you'll see your very-approximate location on a map (above right).

The TG-2 also doubles as a landmark locater. Select the landmark (which is Seattle's Space Needle in this case) and the camera will point you in the right direction (literally).

While landmark tagging is a nice idea in practice, in reality the camera often picks the wrong place (its small database doesn't help matters). While the TG-2 lets you change the landmark associated with a photo, you can't just remove it entirely if there's no match.

With GPS Assist data (which is loaded using bundled software), the TG-2 was able to figure out that it was on the roof of the DPReview headquarters in a very impressive 15 seconds. However, as with all cameras with built-in GPS, it struggled when in the big city. As you'd expect, the GPS doesn't work underwater, but at least the built-in manometer (pressure meter) will tell you how deep you are.

Movies

The Tough TG-2 can record 1080p video at 30 frames/second for up to 24 minutes, which is when the camera hits its 4GB file size limit. There are also 720p and VGA options available, with the former having a 29 minute time limit. Sound is recorded in stereo, and you can adjust the mic level (with low or normal settings). A wind filter is also available, though in practice it wasn't very effective.

The TG-2 can also record high speed video at 60 or 120 fps, though the resolution drops to 640 x 480 and 320 x 240. When played back at normal speed, everything appears to move in slow motion.

You'll find sample videos on the following page.