Design and Key Features

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. The rear controls are cluttered, making it very easy to accidentally press a button or rotate the mode dial, especially in wet or cold conditions. The zoom controller is also on the small side.

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 kg (220 lb) 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).

Naturally, you don't want water collecting on the lens when you're out in the elements. Olympus put a water-repellent coating on the TG-2's lens to prevent that, and in our testing water rolled right off the lens in both controlled and real-world use.

A neat trick that many Olympus Tough cameras can do is Tap Control. This feature comes in handy when you're wearing ski gloves, for example. Tapping twice on the left or right side of the body opens the shortcut menu, and you can then tap on the top or bottom to navigate through the menu (using left and right taps to select an option), with a double-tap on the screen confirming your selection. Tapping twice on the top of the TG-2 enters playback mode, and you can navigate through photos by tapping left or right.

As with all underwater cameras, all of the doors have gaskets to keep out moisture and dust. Olympus makes it pretty difficult to accidentally open a door, with dual locking systems for both the battery/memory card and I/O port compartments.

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.

Like its predecessor, the TG-2 has a 3-inch, 610k-dot OLED display, with brilliant color and a wide viewing angle. 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.

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. On a brighter note (no pun intended), images on the TG-2's display are easy to see in low light.

The LED illuminator on the TG-2 is normally used as focusing aid in low light situations. You can also turn it on while shooting stills, which brightens the scene (especially when your subject is close). The LED lamp can also be used when the camera is turned off. Hold down the Info button for a few seconds, and the TG-2 becomes a very expensive flashlight.

While the built-in flash looks the same as every other camera, it has one trick up its sleeve. 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.

It's worth noting that the TG-2's flash is quite weak. Olympus quotes a maximum range of 7.9 meters at wide-angle and 3.1 m at telephoto, but that's at ISO 1600, which is a sensitivity that's best avoided. 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 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.

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.

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 pin hole feature, one of our favorites from Olympus PEN cameras, adds vignetting to an image. If you want your photos to look like an iPod advertisement from five years ago, here's the 'punk' filter.

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.

As mentioned above, the TG-2 has four scene modes for underwater shooting, plus an underwater white balance mode. 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 camera has a built-in manometer, which tells you both depth and altitude. While we didn't take the camera more than about 1.5 meters under the water, it was pretty accurate in upcountry Maui.

Panorama shooting

The TG-2 has three different ways of taking three-shot panoramic images. The first (auto) has you pan to one side or the other, and align a 'pointer' with a 'target' on the OLED display. The second option (manual) is what we might call the 'classic' approach, and requires the user to line up the edge of the frame with the next one. For both of these modes, the camera will be locked up for upwards of thirty seconds while the photos are stitched together. The final panorama method is similar to the last, except that three separate images are saved, for later stitching on your computer (the bundled Olympus Viewer software can do it, as can Photoshop and many other editing suites).

Both the auto and manual panorama modes produced satisfying results in our testing.

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.

There are quite a few options in the GPS menu (above left), including automatic time adjustment, tracking/logging, and landmark tagging.

In playback mode 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 (lower right).

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.

One neat trick the TG-2 can do is show 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).

This screen also display location, barometric pressure, altitude, and the current date and time.

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.