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Olympus Tough TG-810
14MP | 28-140mm (5X) ZOOM | $349/£221

Olympus released three rugged cameras this year, The Stylus Tough TG-810, TG-610, and TG-310. Although the 2011 bodies look very similar to the 2010 designs, they have received upgraded sensors, (from 12.7 to 14MP), as well as a bump from 2.7 inch 230K LCDs to 3 inch 920k LCDs for the TG-610 and TG-810. But only the TG-810 has has been given GPS capabilities, and as the flagship waterproof model this year from Olympus, we decided to focus on it for this group test.

Weighing in at just under half a pound the TG-810 is the heaviest camera we tested this year, and there is no doubt looking at the body that Olympus wanted this camera to look 'tough'. In terms of its specification, the TG-810 sits towards the top of the pack, with a 5X zoom lens, 720p video, built-in GPS and impressive waterproof, shockproof, and freezeproof abilities. One area where the TG-810 stands out from most of the cameras in this field is its screen The TG-810 boasts a 3in, 921k-dot LCD, and (unlike the identically-equipped Sony TX10) the entire screen area is used for image composition and display.

Click here for full product information including reader reviews and image samples (opens in new window)

Design / Key features

In the hand, the Olympus TG-810 feels very sturdy, and like the Fuji XP30, its handstrap attachment bar doubles as an effective thumb grip when holding the camera in your right hand. Olympus has moved away from the 4-way control button used in the previous-generation Stylus Tough 8010, in favour of a chunky 4-way joystick. However, the joystick is rather sensitive, and it is very easy to accidentally register a left/up/right/down input when you are simply trying to press down to select something on the menu.

The battery, memory card, and connection slots all sit behind a sturdy, lockable dust and water-sealed door on the right hand-side of the camera (when viewed from the rear).

 A characteristic feature of many previous cameras in Olympus' waterproof range is a brushed metal shutter that protects the lens when the camera is turned off. When the camera is powered on, the shutter opens.

Users of the TG-810 have the ability to make several edits to captured images, including resizing, cropping, saturation, as well as the somewhat ambitious 'Beauty Fix', which comprises three optional fixes - 'Clear Skin', 'Sparkle Eye', and 'Dramatic Eye', which all provide minor pixel-level smoothing. Along with the standard 'P' and auto shooting modes, the TG-810 features 8 art filters and 21 scene modes, including 4 different underwater modes. There is also an automatic panorama mode, which, although not fully automated, provides the user with an alignment target for ease of composition. All of these shooting modes can be accessed easily in a vertical menu on the right side of the screen using the joystick, along with other settings like flash, macro, self-timer, exposure compensation, and white balance.

Panorama
Panorama
The TG-810's panorama mode requires you to capture three images, and align them using an on-screen target indicator. The camera then stitches them together automatically. Despite our best efforts, we found that stitching errors are very common when using this function. In the top panorama above, notice the vertical line of blurring where images have been stitched on the right side of the picture. In the second panorama the stitching areas are even more pronounced due to the TG-810's somewhat clumsy handling of exposure levels from frame to frame. Ideally, exposure would be locked for all three frames.

In addition to recording GPS information, the TG-810 is also equipped with a manometer, which provides depth information, and an electronic compass which is accessed by pressing the '?' button when the camera is turned off. The GPS can be set remain off (we observed much shorter battery life with the GPS turned on), but the compass remains on at all times.

As we've already mentioned, one feature that makes the TG-810 stand out from its competitors is its large, high-resolution LCD screen. At 3 inches and 921k-dots, the TG-810 offers the largest and highest-highest resolution screen of this group. Sadly, our experience of actually using the TG810's LCD isn't as positive as its specification might suggest. Although the screen is lovely, and text and menus look very crisp, the TG-810's live view feed simply isn't contrasty or sharp enough to make the most of it, and in both image composition and review modes, the screen image simply looks flat and slightly soft.

  • 14 effective Megapixels
  • 28-140mm equiv lens with optical stabilization
  • 3.0 inch LCD with 930,000 dot resolution, micro-HDMI port
  • 720p 30fps HD video
  • ISO sensitivity up to 1600
  • Waterproof to 10m (33 ft)
  • Freezeproof to -10 °C (14 °F)
  • GPS with Compass and Manometer
  • 3.4 fps continuous shooting mode with 3mp images (0.7 fps standard)
  • Sensor Shift IS
  • Extended macro lighting
  • 36 shooting modes
  • 8 filters

Performance and image quality

In terms of operational speed, the Olympus TG-810 is a mixed bag. It powers on quickly, but it takes around four seconds from power-up before the camera is ready to take a photograph. We like how easy the vertical quick menu is to access using the joystick, but it is far too easy to mash the controller and make an accidental input when performing certain operations. In bright and contrasty scenes the autofocus speed is decent, but slows down to about a second of hunting before locking focus in dim lighting. After you take a picture, there is a 2 second lag (and screen blackout) before you can begin focusing again. And after the movie record button is pressed, there is 3.5 second delay before recording starts.

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In scenes with a lot of relatively low-contrast, fine detail like the landscape on the left above, the TG-810 has a difficult time describing details (look at the shoreline housing and foliage on the left side of the picture). Like all digital cameras, the TG-810 does much better when presented with high contrast targets like the scene elements in the image of a brightly lit wall shown (above-right).

Despite its 14MP sensor and new Olympus 'TruePic III+' processor, the TG-810 delivers mostly average image quality at lower ISOs. Our primary gripe is the overly aggressive processing being applied, which gives images a somewhat plastic look (we observed this in Sony TX10 images as well, but the Sony manages to retain more detail). Even so, in outdoor lighting at low ISO sensitivities, the TG-810 images have a pleasant 'pop', with rich colors and strong contrast. White balance, metering, and dynamic range are all respectable as well, and thanks to relatively strong default sharpening, images from the TG-810 look great when viewed on a computer screen and in moderately-sized prints.

The TG-810 renders accurate colors underwater in both natural and flash lighting. The image on the left was taken in direct sunlight about 2 ft underwater, and the image on the right was taken in a relatively dim indoor pool with flash turned on. With both subjects, the TG-810 has delivered reasonably contrasty, saturated images, although exposure is a little dark in the image on the right. This is consistent with our experience of close-range flash images above water too, as you can see in this page.

With flash tuned off, in indoor low-light conditions, images from the TG-810 exhibit accurate color and even exposure, but become fairly noisy once ISO sensitivity gets above ISO 400. As you increase the ISO, the impact of noise and noise-reduction becomes more severe, with images at ISO 800 and above lacking any real fine detail. Noise aside, like all cameras in this group, slight chromatic aberration can be seen along bright edges in images shot with the TG-810. Head over to our sample galleries to see a wider set of examples.

Video Samples

Video out of the Olympus TG-810 is quite usable, with saturated colors and decent sound quality. But a problem we faced with the TG-810 was its tendency to refocus every few seconds while recording, regardless of whether the scene was really changing much at all. In both clips below you can see the camera refocusing often, which can be distracting. But also in both samples the camera captures clear sound without too much background noise. Another gripe we have is with the LED illuminator, which, whilst it would be very useful for capturing underwater scenes, is unavailable during video recording.

1280 x 720 30 fps, .MP4 file, 42 sec. 28 MB Click here to download original .MP4 file

1280 x 720 30 fps, .MP4 file, 26 sec. 17 MB Click here to download original .MP4 file

Summary

As the highest priced camera in our test, we had correspondingly high expectations for the Olympus TG-810. Olympus definitely pulled out all the stops in releasing a camera that is well prepared to weather just about any conditions you could probably put it through, and its chunky control points and distinctly utilitarian body design certainly aid the impression of a camera that is intended to take some hard usage.

It would be a shame though to hike to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro in a blinding snowstorm and be rewarded with a mediocre panorama, or a distant landscape so smudgy that it might as well have been painted with watercolors. Perhaps we jest too much - the TG-810 is actually capable of producing some decent images in the right conditions, and compared to the competition, it is not that far behind the pack when it comes to critical image quality. Ultimately though, after reviewing our studio and real-world samples, and looking in detail at the shooting experience offered by other cameras in this group, we can't help but feel the TG-810 is overpriced, and bettered by some of its competitors.

Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean.

Olympus TG-810
Category: Waterproof / Rugged Compact Camera
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Exposure and focus accuracy
Image quality (jpeg)
Flash performance
Low light / high ISO performance
Optics
Performance (speed)
Movie / video mode
Value
PoorExcellent
Good for
Go-anywhere photography and videography - the TG810 is one of the toughest cameras around
Not so good for
Critical image quality and fast operation - two areas in which the TG-810 is only average.
Overall score
62%
The Olympus TG-810 is one of the heftiest 'rugged' cameras available in 2011, with a distinctly utilitarian body design that includes some chunky controls ideal for tougher shooting situations. However, in terms of image quality, the TG-810 is a little behind the top performers in this class and, for the price, there are better options available.
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Comments

SixOfNone
By SixOfNone (8 months ago)

Really 39ft ... you call that waterproof... LOL ... in my first Padi open water dive I went to 60ft.

0 upvotes