Olympus Tough TG-2 iHS
Category: Waterproof / Rugged Compact Camera
What We Like
- Very sturdy body is one of the most rugged on the market
- Fast F2.0 maximum aperture at wide-angle (though it's just average at the telephoto end)
- Good photo quality; no color cast underwater
- Responsive performance in all areas
- Generous GPS feature set, with manometer, landmarks, tracking and (very limited) maps
- Aperture priority mode (using ND filters)
- Wireless flash control
- 1080/30p video recording with stereo sound
- Supports fish-eye and telephoto conversion lenses
- Unique 'tap control' feature lets you adjust settings when wearing gloves/underwater
- Very good battery life
- Optional underwater housing lets you take camera even deeper
What We Don't Like
- Images slightly soft, with mushy details
- Tends to clip highlights; chromatic aberrations can be strong at times
- Display very difficult to see outdoors and underwater
- Fairly weak flash
- Movies are wobbly/choppy when panning
- Landmark database is limited (and camera often picks the wrong one); no way to remove a landmark attached to a photo
Olympus was one of the pioneers of 'rugged' cameras, and its latest flagship, the Tough TG-2 iHS, is one of its best. The TG-2 is able to take a beating, whether it's underwater (up to 15 meters), dropped (from to 2.1 meters), frozen (as cold as -10C), or crushed (up to 100 kg). In other words, this is a camera you can feel comfortable taking outdoors. We had one incident of condensation build-up inside the lens - moisture got in there somehow - but we couldn't replicate the problem during our extended shooting.
The TG-2's other big claim to fame is its lens, which has a maximum aperture range of F2.0-4.9. At wide-angle, that's at least a full stop faster than most of the competition. Since more light is coming in, you can use faster shutter speeds, and won't need to crank up the sensitivity as quickly. However, the lens' maximum aperture at the telephoto end is less impressive, and more in-line with the competition. The TG-2 is also unique in that it supports telephoto and fish-eye conversion lenses - and yes, they're waterproof too.
The camera has a LED illuminator, which serves as an AF-assist lamp, video lamp, and flashlight. Another neat trick the TG-2 can perform is controlling an Olympus external flash wirelessly, via the company's RC flash system. Speaking of flashes, the one built into the TG-2 is on the weak side, which requires considerably increasing the sensitivity. Photos are composed on the TG-2's 3-inch OLED display. This display looks great indoors, with 610k dots, vivid colors, and a wide viewing angle. However, once outdoors (or underwater), visibility is very poor, even with the brightness turned all the way up. Not exactly what you'd want on a camera made to be out in the elements.
The TG-2 has the usual features that you'll find on most point-and-shoot cameras. They include an 'Intelligent' auto mode, special effects ('Magic Filters'), and a large selection of scene modes (cat mode, anyone?). There are three ways to create panoramic images (two of them are stitched together right on the camera), and the results are satisfying. Olympus has taken things a step further on the TG-2, providing an aperture priority mode to go along with all those auto modes. While the Av mode isn't perfect, as it only gives you three choices at any given focal length, it's more than you'll find on other compact cameras and can prevent overexposure in exceptionally bright conditions (as well as allowing you to use long shutter speeds for light-trails, waterfalls etc).
Another big draw on the TG-2 is its elaborate GPS system. In addition to locating you, the camera will tell you your altitude or depth (using a manometer instead of the usual GPS method) as well as which direction you're facing. There's also a database of landmarks, though it's not very 'deep', and if the camera picks the wrong landmark, the only thing you can do is choose another, as there's no way to remove that tag. One interesting use of the landmark database is to display a sort of compass on the display, showing various destinations in the vicinity. In other words, the TG-2 can literally guide you to landmarks. The camera also has a map view, though the scale of the map makes it essentially pointless.
You won't do a lot of waiting on the Olympus TG-2. It starts up in less than a second, focuses extremely quickly (even in low light), and has minimal delays between shots. In continuous shooting mode, the TG-2 can take up to one hundred images at over 5 frames/second. If you're in an open area (and have used the GPS-A function), the camera can locate itself in just fifteen seconds (though you won't be so lucky in the big city). The TG-2's battery life number of 350 shots per charge (without the battery-sucking GPS turned on) is excellent for a compact camera.
Photo quality isn't fantastic on the TG-2, but it's more than good enough for purpose and target audience. While the camera exposes accurately, like most compacts it tends to clip highlights. Colors have a vivid look that has become a trademark of Olympus cameras. Photos are a little soft, but your favorite photo editor can take care of that. Underwater, we were very pleased that there were no color casts to be found, unlike most of the competition. At low ISOs you'll find both luminance noise and detail smudging, though that's par for the course on compacts. Photos taken at sensitivities as high as ISO 800 are usable for most purposes, with the two highest settings saved for desperation only. Occasional CA can be a problem, around high-contrast edges, but in normal shooting it isn't a big issue.
Overall, we really enjoyed our time with the Olympus Tough TG-2. It's very solidly built, performs well, has lots of bells-and-whistles, and produces satisfying images for nearly all purposes. The only things that keep this rugged camera from earning a gold award are its weak flash and poor visibility, and we hope Olympus addresses both of those on the next TG-series model.
Ergonomics & handling
Exposure and focus accuracy
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Movie / video mode
Outdoorsy people who want a camera that can take good photos underwater or in the mountains.
Not so good for
Those who take low light flash photos or shoot frequently in bright sunlight.
The Olympus TG-2 offers a very rugged body combined with good image quality, a fast lens, superb performance, a full-featured GPS system and plenty of fun extras. Downsides are few, which include issues with panning in movies, highlight clipping and chromatic aberrations in photos, and difficulty seeing the display outdoors.
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