It’s waterproof, dustproof, shockproof and freezeproof. If your kids can find a way to break the Olympus Tough TG-6, they’re either animals or computer hackers.
Last night, I had an hour or so with this rugged compact camera inside the Sea Life aquarium in Brighton, giving me a chance to put that waterproof claim to the test. Is this a camera you can hand to your sprogs on holiday and be reasonably sure it’s going to come back working? It might just be.
Olympus Tough TG-6: the specs
Before we get to cool, underwater pics of starfish and such like, let’s examine the raw specs of this camera.
|Still photo resoluton||12 megapixels|
|Video||4K at 30 frames per second or Full HD at up to 120 frames per second|
|Lens||25-100mm with 4x optical zoom|
|Other features||Wi-Fi, GPS, compass|
So let’s start with that very top spec – 12 megapixels is a paltry resolution by today’s standards and actually a downgrade from previous models of this same camera. Why has Olympus taken a backwards step? To help improve low-light performance. Cramming fewer pixels onto the sensor means each has a little more light to play with, which is crucial for a camera that’s designed to shoot in dank, underwater situations. I’ll come back to low-light performance later.
That said, if you’re looking for a compact camera that offers the richest possible detail, this is definitely not the droid you’re looking for.
The rest of the specs are up to snuff, although the low frame rate on the 4K video means I’d prefer to stick to Full HD footage.
Olympus Tough TG-6: the more robust specs
So what about all those ‘proofs’ mentioned at the start? What exactly do they mean?
|Dustproof||To JIS/IEC protection class 6|
|Shockproof||To 2.1m by the MIL-STD810F standard|
The only one of those I got even halfway to verifying during my brief hands-on test was the waterproofing, although the tanks of water we dipped the cameras in were closer to 15cm than 15m.
Nevertheless, you can be reasonably confident that you can take this camera to the beach, use it in the swimming pool, or have it knocking around your rucksack on a damp climb up Ben Nevis and it won’t suffer any ill-effects.
What’s it like to use?
The Olympus Tough TG-6 has everything in the right place. There’s plenty of room to grip the camera without fingers creeping in front of the lens; the buttons are sensibly placed; there’s nothing obviously wrong with the design of the body.
Making the camera all but bombproof does come with some trade-offs, though. The most damning of those is the LCD display on the rear of the camera. It’s not touchscreen, which just feels wrong these days. I constantly found myself pawing at the screen to flick through photos or adjust settings out of sheer habit.
The screen is also quite low-res and the protective, anti-fog glass makes images look mottled. I was never quite sure at first glance whether an image I’d just taken was out of focus or not.
One other minor criticism: there seemed to be a wee bit of shutter lag – a short gap between pressing the shutter button and taking a photo. This might be because we were in testing, low-light conditions and the camera’s autofocus was struggling to lock on. It’s something I’d want to test in bright sunlight before drawing a definitive conclusion.
Olympus Tough TG-6: test photos
All images shown as shot. Click on any of the images below to see at full size:
I’ll stress again that all of these photos were taken in low-light conditions and often through glass, which is far from ideal. Nevertheless, and despite the relatively low-res sensor, most of the images are sharp and well detailed.
Occasionally, especially on the purple coral shown at the top, the camera plunges into over-saturation. And when the camera is forced to crank up the ISO to compensate for the poor light, there’s a lot of visible noise in the photos – although no more than you’d expect from a compact camera with a sensor of this size.
The images of the pink anemone and the starfish were taken with the camera underwater (the rest were taken through glass). They’re not quite as sharp as I’d like, although it was very hard to check focus with the camera held underwater, so I’m not going to be too hard on Olympus here. Overall, they’re a strong set of images.
Olympus Tough TG-6: test videos
Here are two test videos, both shot at Full HD at 30 frames per second (my bad for not testing at a higher frame rate). The first is shot through a glass tunnel, showing the sharks swimming overhead:
The second is shot underwater and shows a small starfish gently moving across the surface:
It’s very hard to draw too many conclusions about the video quality in such conditions. The starfish is a touch softer than I’d have liked, but it’s impressive that the Tough TG-6 continues to record clean audio underwater!
It would be unfair to score or reach a definitive verdict on the Olympus Tough TG-6 until I’ve had a chance to test it outside of the aquarium.
My early thoughts are that the camera is well built, takes decent photos and videos, and that kids will love taking snaps and recording video in the swimming pool with it.
It’s also worth saying that one of the standout features of this camera – a ‘microscope’ mode where you can focus as close to 1cm to your subject – was very difficult to test in the aquarium’s dim lighting.
The big downside is all this comes at a cost of £450. You’d have to be a seriously outdoorsy family to justify that kind of outlay on a compact camera.
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