Olympus Tough TG-1 iHS review: Olympus Tough TG-1 iHS

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The Good The Olympus Tough TG-1 iHS is water-, dust-, freeze-, shock-, and crushproof; has fast shooting performance for its class; and has a fast lens with the capability to add on converter lenses for more shooting flexibility.

The Bad The TG-1 iHS has some minor design issues, such as a proprietary charging cable, that might turn some buyers off.

The Bottom Line The Olympus Tough TG-1 iHS combines a bright lens, a high-sensitivity, high-speed sensor, and some nice extras to make it a top rugged compact camera.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 8
  • Image quality 7

Instead of producing just another really rugged camera (which it is), 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.

That's because the smaller the aperture, the more you're relying on slow shutter speeds that can cause blur and on high ISO settings, which lead to more noise or image softness when you're not shooting in full sun. You won't get a shallow depth of field like you'd get with an f2.0 lens on a digital SLR or mirrorless compact system camera outside of macro shots, but it does get you better photos with less light.

The TG-1's generous feature set doesn't end with the f2.0 lens, though; thanks to a high-sensitivity, high-speed sensor and fast image processor, its photos and shooting performance are much improved over previous Tough models.

Photo quality
The Olympus Tough TG-1 iHS is capable of taking very good to excellent photos for a rugged point-and-shoot camera. Don't expect the photo quality of the XZ-1 in a rugged body, though.

At its lowest ISO settings, the TG-1 seems to drift between oversharpened or soft and smeary when photos are viewed at 100 percent. And really it continues that all the way up to ISO 800; above that things just gets soft and noisy. I would stay away from ISO 3200 save for must-have photos, and ISO 6400 should be avoided entirely. However, unless you're a pixel peeper, typically do a lot of enlarging and heavy cropping, or need to make prints larger than 9x12, you should be happy with its results below ISO 400.

This might sound contradictory to what I said two paragraphs ago, but the fact is that this is the case with many point-and-shoots. The TG-1's edge is the f2.0 lens, which keeps you from having to use higher ISOs when you have less light.

Video quality is good, too, but it's best suited for Web sharing; it's basically like the video from a pocket video camera or higher-end smartphone. Audio quality is much better than you'd get from those devices, however. The zoom does function while recording, though you will hear it moving in quieter scenes. Also, though the camera does have image stabilization, it's sensor-shift IS, which is more prone to jitter from hand shake with the lens extended.

Shooting performance
Past Olympus Tough models were never very fast. Not only was shooting performance slow, but the interface would be sluggish, too, generally making them frustrating to use. That's not a problem with TG-1.

From off to first shot is 2.1 seconds, but from shot to shot the time drops down to 1.2 seconds. Turning on the flash only increases the wait to 1.8 seconds. Shutter lag -- the time it takes from pressing the shutter release to capture without prefocusing -- is brief in bright conditions at 0.3 second and 0.6 second in low light, which is on par with rugged models from Sony and Panasonic.

If you're trying to capture action, the TG-1 has strong burst-shooting options. At full resolution it can capture at up to 5 frames per second, but if you don't mind dropping to a 3-megapixel resolution, it can shoot bursts at 15fps or 60fps.

Design and features
The TG-1 iHS looks like a rugged camera, but not extreme like the Pentax WG-2. It's definitely got some heft to it, though, which makes sense given its durability claims. It is rated to survive drops of up to 6.6 feet, temperatures down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit, dives in water down to 40 feet for up to an hour, and up to 220 pounds of crushing weight.

The TG-1 has two sliding locks on its compartment doors and larger than usual gaskets. Sarah Tew/CNET

While it survived my informal testing that included three 1-hour stints in 2 feet of water and five 6-foot drops onto 2-inch plywood, this doesn't mean your results won't be different. Rugged cameras are tested to survive very specific things, and even using them within those parameters can cause damage. Regardless of a camera's ratings, make sure you read the user manual for caution and care instructions.

Key specs Olympus Tough TG-1 iHS
Price (MSRP) $399.99
Dimensions (WHD) 4.4x2.6x1.1 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 8.1 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 12 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch BSI CMOS sensor
Screen size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch OLED screen, 614K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 4x f2.0-4.9 25-100mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/H.264 linear PCM (.MOV)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 3,968x2,976 pixels/1,920x1,080 at 30fps
Image stabilization type Mechanical and digital
Battery type, CIPA-rated life Lithum ion rechargeable, 350 shots
Battery charged in camera Yes; by computer or wall adapter
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXC
Bundled software Olympus Viewer 2 (Windows, Mac), Olympus [ib] (Windows only)

In case I wasn't clear earlier in this review, the f2.0 lens is one of the big reasons to pick this camera over other rugged models. You can run out of light pretty fast when you go underwater, so having the large maximum aperture can make a difference.

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 attach an adapter for converter lenses. A fish-eye lens for dramatic wide-angle shots as well as a telephoto converter lens are available to extend the optical zoom from 4x to 6.8x. Both lenses can be used down to 40 feet.

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