A bright f2.0 lens, more-rugged-than-most specs, full feature set, and decent photos and performance make it an easy recommendation.
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.
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.
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.
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|
|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|
|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.
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.
Its larger size makes it easy to grip and shoot, even when your hands are wet or cold. Olympus kind of jams all the controls together, though; the only stuff that's on top is the shutter release and power button. Mostly it's just a bit difficult to press the top directional on the control pad, so it's not the end of the world.
There are a couple other minor annoyances like that, though, which combined might be enough to put you off buying it. The stereo mic, while good, is all the way on the left side of the body on top, making it easily covered with a finger when holding the camera. There's room behind it, and a rubber grip for your thumb down the left side of the sharp and bright 3-inch OLED display, so there are ways around it.
The camera's battery charges in camera via USB, but while most manufacturers have switched to Micro-USB, Olympus still uses a proprietary multi-input jack requiring a special cable.
Lastly, while the interface is fine and most important settings can be changed quickly, Olympus buried the power for the GPS deep in menu system, which wouldn't be so bad if it didn't continue to track your movement when you turn the camera off. Olympus used a new lithium ion battery that's supposed to handle running the GPS better, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't be able to easily turn it off.
Again, none of these are deal breakers for me, but the combination might be enough to warrant a pass on the TG-1 for you.
|General shooting options||Olympus Tough TG-1 iHS|
|ISO sensitivity (full resolution)||Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400|
|White balance||Auto, Sunny, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Underwater, Manual 1 and 2|
|Recording modes||Intelligent Auto, Program Auto, Magic Filter, Scene, Super Sport, Low Light, Custom 1 and 2|
|Focus modes||Face/iESP Auto, Spot AF, AF Tracking|
|Macro||6 inches (Wide), 4 inches (Tele); 0.4 inch in Super Macro|
|Metering modes||Digital ESP, Spot|
|Burst mode shot limit (full resolution)||25 shots|
The TG-1 iHS is geared for snapshooters. For the most part it's all about scene modes and automation, so if you're after a lot of fine controls, it's not for you. That said, the Program mode gives you control over ISO, white balance, AF, exposure, and metering, and you can set up two custom profiles for groups of settings you regularly use. Olympus' iAuto works well, too, recognizing up to 30 different scenes including underwater and backlit subjects.
For those times when you're feeling a little more creative or would just like to play with what might otherwise be a boring shot, Olympus includes 12 of its Magic Art filters. It's a nice mix including standards like Pin Hole, Fish Eye, and Watercolor as well as a few standouts such as Reflection, which mirrors what ever is in the top half of the frame to the bottom half; Fragmented, which splits your photo into a bunch of smaller tiles; and an artsy HDR option called Dramatic. (You can see examples in this slideshow.)
Worth mentioning, too, are the macro options on this camera. If you like shooting close-ups -- in or out of the water -- the TG-1 is an excellent choice.
Olympus has been making rugged cameras for a while now, and while the durability claims have been some of the toughest available, the cameras themselves have been behind competitors newer to the market like Panasonic and Canon. The Olympus Tough TG-1 iHS is out in front, though, with interesting and useful features, fast performance, and very good photo and video quality for a rugged point-and-shoot. Oh, and it's one of the toughest cameras available, too.
|Time to first shot||Typical shot-to-shot time (flash)||Typical shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim)||Shutter lag (typical)|
|Typical continuous-shooting speed|