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Olympus Stylus Tough 6000
10.0MP | 28-102mm (3.6X) ZOOM | Waterproof 3m/10ft | $270/£200

Olympus has been successfully selling waterproof, shockproof and freezeproof cameras for over three years, and the 'Tough' branding (which is a little more immediate than the old 'SW' naming) has now gone global and actually appears on the camera body (previously having been used only in marketing materials in certain parts of the world). For 2009, there are two models; the Olympus Stylus Tough 6000 (mju Tough 6000 in Europe) and big brother the Stylus Tough 8000.

The Tough 6000 has the lower resolution of 10 MP (vs 12) and some slight differences in external looks and build materials, but shares the same user interface and wide zoom range. If you are keen to take the camera underwater, you might want to consider the more expensive big brother, as the Tough 6000 is only waterproof to 3m / 10ft, whereas the 8000 is waterproof to 10m / 33ft. Without the shiny metal finish of the Tough 8000, the tough 6000 is not quite as slippery, though it is also not quite as pretty. The Tough 6000 comes in four colors: Sunset Orange, Arctic blue, Pure white and Lemon Yellow (shown here).

  • 10.0 effective Megapixels
  • 28-102mm equiv lens with 3.6x optical zoom and up to 5x Digital Zoom
  • Waterproof to 3m / 10ft
  • Shockproof from 1.5m / 5ft, Freezeproof to -10°C
  • VGA video, AVI format
  • 2.7-inch LCD with 230,000 dot resolution
  • Dual Image Stabilizer
  • ISO sensitivity from 50 to 1600
  • Shadow Adjustment Technology, In-camera Panorama mode
  • 20 Scene modes
  • In-camera Image Retouching
  • Beauty mode which can also be applied to an image after it has been taken
  • Battery life 230 shots (CIPA standard)

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Overview

Being the little brother of the Tough 8000 the Tough 6000 is cheaper and lighter, while retaining pretty much the same dimensions as the more expensive camera. Design wise the Tough 6000 forgoes the shiny metal style of the Tough 8000 for a more subdued matt finish. This has the benefit of being more secure to hold, not requiring as much cleaning to remove figure prints and being less prone to scratching. Both Olympus cameras are designed to withstand knocks, and indeed they are the only two cameras in the group test to feature retractable lens covers. The slim and compact dimensions means that the Tough 6000 should easily fit into coat and shirt pockets.

Features wise the Tough 6000 is on a par with other cameras in the group except the W60, meaning it is not quite as well featured as the latest non-waterproof compact cameras. The internal zoom lens extends from (a rather useful) 28mm at the wide end to 102mm at the telephoto end (3.6x). There is dual image stabilization (CCD-shift and ISO boost) built in. Internally there is a 10 MP sensor which has a ISO sensitivity range from 50-1600, and offers video recording at VGA (640x480) resolution at 30 fps. The camera also features a 'beauty mode', which detects faces and blurs details in the face for smoother skin. This can be applied either when recording an image, or during playback mode to a shot you have already taken.

One of the strangest control features we have seen in a while is tap control, which allows users to tap the sides of the camera and use the whole body as a controller. It is a feature we almost immediately turned off, as it would constantly operate when we were trying to select items in the menu or just generally operating the camera. The Tough 6000 features a mode dial on the back, which gives access to the movie recording mode and scene modes, and also features a playback position. Fortunately there is also a separate playback button which can be used in recording modes, allowing the Tough 6000 to function largely as a shooting priority camera.

The user interface is icon driven to begin with, but once you drill down you get back to more conventional text menus. Some items are not very logically organized, so the menu system can take some time to get used to. Thankfully Olympus has included a function menu to allow you to access the most used shooting functions without digging through the main menus, as well as a dedicated exposure compensation button and a button labeled 'OR' which allows you to access the panorama feature, the shadow adjustment settings and the tap control functions.

Our main complaint with what is one of the better featured cameras in the group is that it still uses xD cards for storage, and while SD and SDHC cards are now available in 32 GB capacities at reasonable prices, high capacity xD cards are still difficult to find. Olympus includes a micro SD to xD card adaptor with the camera, but this is a half-way house solution to the need to drop xD altogether, something we suspect can't be too far away.

Key Features

The Tough 6000 has a shallow hand grip on the front right side and, along with the matt finish, this helps to keep the camera relatively stable in your hand. This is still a rectangular compact camera however, and it can slip out of your hand. Good thing it is tough on top of being waterproof.
The controls on the back of the camera are all on the right side for easy one handed operation. Top right is the zoom rocker, below that is the mode dial with a dedicated movie recording position, then the multi controller (which allows you to set exposure compensation, flash, macro and drive mode) with the menu, playback, a quick access 'OR' button arranged around it. The Olympus features the standard (in this group) 2.7 inch 230K pixel LCD.
The top of the camera features only the on/off button (on the left) and the shutter release button. The shutter release is a little on the spongy side, and it is quite easy to accidentally take a picture when you are only trying to focus.
There are no controls on the sides or front of the camera. From the profile you can see that this is a rather slim camera with no front or back protrusions. Slip into your breast pocket? No problems.
The USB/AV connector is situated on the right side with rubber seals to stop water from getting through.
The batter compartment, like the connector door, is sealed with rubber. The battery is rated to 925 mAh. The Tough 6000 uses xD cards, but thankfully Olympus has included xD to micro SD card adaptors in the box (micro SD cards are generally cheaper and easier to find in large capacities than xD cards).
While we are not huge fans of the icon driven menu system used by Olympus compact cameras, it certainly looks pretty. Once you select an icon you are greeted by a more conventional scrolling menu.
Taking a page out of the Canon playbook, the Tough 6000 also has a function menu that allows you to quickly check and change common shooting parameters without having to dig through the menu system.

Image quality and performance

The Olympus Tough 6000 was operationally one of the slowest cameras in the group test. It took 1.6 seconds to acquire focus in our test (the worst in the group), though the lens took only 1.3 seconds to zoom from the widest to the most telephoto setting which (along with the Tough 8000) ranks as best in group. The Tough 6000 took 3.0 seconds to turn on (partly due to the time taken to move the lens protector out of the way), and the 2.8 seconds to write a file out to card is the slowest of all (no doubt due to the fact that it uses xD cards). One other thing to note is that the flash on the Tough 6000 took a long time to recharge before it was ready to take another shot, especially when underwater.

Taking a closer look at the output of the Tough 6000 revealed that, while it is not on par with the D10 or the W60, it is marginally better than the Tough 8000 and Z33 at producing sharp and detailed images. In good light there is noticeable noise in the shadows and up close the images look more blurry than those out of the D10 or the W60. Exposure was generally good, with not many clipped highlights visible, and Olympus provides the option of a live histogram to judge exposure. The exposure compensation function also allows you get a simulated view of what any adjustment will look like. Auto white balance and color reproduction were all quite good in good light, and at smaller magnifications on screen the images looked just fine.

Both the Tough 6000 and Tough 8000 produced similar flash results that used quite a bit more flash than the other cameras and resulted in an image that lacked much of the ambient light mood, and looked obviously flashed. At higher ISO settings the noise reduction on the Tough 6000 took a more subtle approach compared to some other cameras, and while noise and noise reduction artifacts are visible, there is also more detail in the image than the D10 at ISO 1600. Up to ISO 400 the Tough 6000 actually puts in a good performance almost equaling the W60, but like all cameras in this group, noise and detail retained quickly gets worse as ISO settings rise.

The underwater performance of the Tough 6000 correlated well with its out of water performance. It was quite usable, but there are better (and worse) cameras to use in the water. The slow flash recycling times represent the major problem during underwater use, as it sometimes took 6-8 seconds to recharge.

While exposure, white balance and color reproduction are good, the image quality is not quite as good overall as either the D10 or the W60, with more noise in the shadows and less detail in the images. At smaller print sizes and web resolutions the Tough 6000 is still a competent camera, and is worth a closer look.

Summary

If you somehow fall in love with the package that is offered by the Olympus Tough series of cameras, then the 6000 is the one to consider over the 8000. The Tough 6000 has essentially the same features as the 8000 but with a lower resolution sensor, it has better image quality overall - which falls into the middle of the pack in the group as a whole. But if you want a compact camera that can also be used underwater with a wide lens that starts at 28mm, then the Pentax W60 is a better choice than the Tough 6000.

  • We like: Compact design, reliable colors, metering and white balance, wide angle zoom lens that starts at 28mm, robust shockproof design, good user interface with all shooting functions easy to access.

  • We don't like: One of the slowest cameras in the group operationally, slow flash recycle times, image sharpness and detail not the best in group, tap interface, uses xD cards.
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