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Cameras

Olympus Tough TG-1 iHS

Olympus' first rugged camera aimed at serious snapshooters, the TG-1's unique lens for its class sets it apart from the pack.

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Instead of producing just another really rugged camera, the Olympus Tough TG-1 iHS has something no other model currently offers: a bright f2.0 maximum aperture.

In fact, the other rugged compacts on the market -- including those from Olympus -- have fairly slow lenses with maximum apertures from f3.3 to f3.9 -- not what you want when you're going to be shooting underwater or in low light.

While the TG-1's lens probably won't give you a shallow depth of field like you'd get with an f2.0 lens on a digital SLR or mirrorless compact system camera, it will let in more light, so you're not relying on slow shutter speeds and high ISO settings when you're not shooting in full sun.

Even with the lens zoomed in, though, the TG-1 is brighter than some competing models at f4.9. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS4, for example, has an f3.3-5.9 aperture range. Canon's PowerShot D20 starts at f4.8 in telephoto, but its maximum aperture is f3.9.

There's more to the lens than just the big aperture, though. Around the 4x 25-100mm zoom lens, Olympus built in a removable surround that allows you to screw on an adapter for converter lenses. A fisheye lens for dramatic wide-angle shots as well as a telephoto converter lens will be available to extend the optical zoom from 4x to 6.8x. Both lenses can be used down to 40 feet.

What I also like is that the lens is centered on the camera. With only a couple of exceptions, the internal zoom lenses on rugged cameras put the lens in the top left corner (right, if you're facing the camera) of the body, making it all too easy to end up with fingers in your shots.

The rest of the camera is similar to -- though slightly tougher than -- Olympus' other high-end rugged compact, the Tough TG-820 iHS. It can survive drops of up to 6.6 feet, temperatures down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit, dives in water down to 40 feet, and up to 220 pounds of crushing weight. Inside is a 12-megapixel BSI CMOS sensor, and on back is an ultrahigh-res 3-inch OLED display.

It can shoot photos at up to 10 frames per second at full resolution or 60fps at 3 megapixels and capture 1080p full HD videos (1,920x1,080 pixels) with stereo audio recorded in Linear PCM for higher-quality sound than you'd get from other compacts.

Lastly, there'll be an underwater housing designed specifically for the TG-1 iHS that'll let you dive with the camera down to 135 feet. I'm not sure you'll have enough light to get a usable photo at that depth, but it at least means you can dive deeper without fear of damaging the camera.

The Olympus Tough TG-1 will be available in June for $399.99 with the underwater housing to follow in July.

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