Olympus Stylus Tough TG-2 Review
The Olympus Stylus Tough TG-2 is one of the toughest digital cameras ever made. Not only it is submersible to 15m (45') underwater depths and freezeproof to -10C (14F), it can also withstands drops of 2.1m (7') and is crushproof to 100kg (220 lbs). The heart of the TG-2 is a 12 megapixels high-speed CMOS sensor paired with a bright F/2 lens which is extremely rare among water-proof cameras.
Its stabilized 4X optical zoom lens goes from an ultra-wide 25mm to a short telephoto 100mm focal-length. The high-speed sensor shoots 12 MP images continuously at 5 FPS and up to 60 FPS at lower resolutions. It also captures full 1080p HD video with stereo sound.
The TG-2 offers a few more controls that is typical of its class, include Aperture-Priority mode plus Spot metering and Custom White-Balance. It has both a standard built-in flash and LED illuminator for shooting close-by subjects in dark conditions.
This rugged camera is aimed squarely at the adventurous and features a built-in GPS along with digital compass and manometer. This lets it record the camera's position, orientation and elevation. A database of locations let it show the names of locations and points-of-interests as images are captured.
Olympus Stylus Tough TG-2 Features
- 12 Megapixels High-Speed CMOS sensor
- ISO 100 to 6400 sensitivity range
- 1/2000s to 4s shutter-speed range
- 5X optical zoom, equivalent to 25-100mm
- Bright F/2-4.9 maximum aperture
- Optical Image Stabilization
- Multi-Segment or Spot metering
- ±2 Exposure-Compensation, in 1/3 EV steps
- Automatic, Custom and 5 Preset White-Balance
- Single-shot and Continuous drive-modes
- 5 FPS Drive, 25 frames max
- 60 FPS Drive @ 3 MP, 100 frames max
- 2s and 10s Self-Timers
- Focus Drive: Single-Shot or Continuous
- Focus Area: Auto, Center or Subject-Tracking
- Auto, Redeye, Off, On and LED illumination modes
- Optional Autofocus-Assist lamp
- 1920 x 1080 @ 30 FPS 1080p HD video
- 1280 x 720 @ 30 FPS 720p HD video
- 640x480 @ 120 FPS High-Speed Video
- 320x240 @ 240 FPS High-Speed video
- Built-in stereo microphone
- Optional Wind-Filter
- 3" LCD with 610K Pixels
- Waterproof to 15m
- Freezeproof to -10C
- Shockproof to 2.2m
- Crushproof to 100kg
- Built-In GPS
- Digital Compass
- SDXC memory support
- Lithium-Ion battery
Capability - What can it do?
The Olympus Stylus Tough TG-2 is one of the toughest cameras around. It can be used for swimming and snorkeling at depth down to 15m (45'). Its freezeproof construction lets it stand temperatures down to -10C (14F) which is good enough to use while skiing, snow-boarding or skating. Its durable body is designed to withstand 2.1m (7') drops and resist pressure up to 100kg (220 lbs).
While all waterproof digital cameras have a small form-factor, the implied small sensor-size makes it difficult for them to perform well in such an extreme environment. As one goes deeper below the surface, light levels drop quickly and the movement of most natural bodies of water adds shake to make photography even more difficult.
The Olympus TG-2 address these difficulties with a bright F/2 lens. This lets it gather more light with the same sensor-size as other waterproof cameras. Unfortunately, the aperture dims down to a common F/4.9 at the tele end but, at least, there is a full stop or more of advantage at wide-angle. Olympus also kept the resolution to a reasonable 12 megapixels, resisting the temptation of making pixels even smaller to boast more megapixels.
The high-speed CMOS sensor on this digital camera helps with adventure photography which often comes with fast-paced action. The TG-2 can shoot at 5 FPS without reducing resolution or up to 60 FPS at 3 megapixels. It is also capable of filming high-speed action at up to 240 FPS which is then played back 8X slower. A 120 FPS VGA video mode is played back 4X slower.
The Olympus TG-2 incorporates a manometer which records, atmospheric pressure, elevation and depth, plus a built-in GPS with digital compass. This lets the TG-2 precisely know its position. It can display country, state, province, city and landmark as images are captured or later in playback mode. The built-in GPS can also write a Geolocation track to geotag other media later.
Usability - How easy is it to use?
The Olympus Tough TG-2 reviewed here has a mostly rectangular design with a small rubberized grip to hold it securely. It comes supplied with a nice and very sturdy wrist-strap as seen in the image above. Small rubber patches on the back help with additional traction. There is even one on the left of the LCD which is the first time we see something designed to help with two-handed shooting on a camera with internal optics.
The top of this digital camera is busy with a few elements. From left-to-right, they are: a stereo microphone with built-in wind-filter, GPS receiver, power button and standard two-stage shutter-release. The power button turns the camera on and off quickly but is flush with the surface to avoid accidentally powering the camera. The shutter-release has more resistance than usual to make it less accident-prone, although the half-way point is soft.
One side of the camera only has the wrist-strap attachment handle. The other has a very sturdy and weather-sealed door with double locking mechanism. Behind is a micro-HDMI cable and a proprietary multi-function connector. This latter one is most critical as it provides the only way to charge the battery which happens in-camera. This unfortunately means one cannot leave an extra battery charging while out shooting.
All remaining controls are located on the back of the camera, to the right of the LCD screen. At the top is a rocker which controls the zoom in 20 fine steps. This is really good and allows framing to be done with a fair amount of precision. There is a short lag before the lens moves, so you must let go just before where you want to be.
A dedicated Video-Record button marked with the standard red dot is found just below the soft rubber thumb-rest. There is no video mode on the TG-2 so this has to be used to film. The good news is that it reacts instantly. The bad news is that you cannot setup framing correctly since the LCD shows the preview for images. This an often recurring issue lately and not specific to the TG-2 but quite annoying nonetheless.
Towards the right edge of the camera is a mode-dial with 8 positions. This camera is mostly point-and-shoot and, despite the presence of an Aperture-Priority mode does not offer much creative control. Since the aperture is simulated by sliding ND filters, it does not affect depth-of-field, only force the use of faster shutter-speeds or lower-ISO which is still useful.
All remaining modes are fully automatic. The standard one is Program and there are two custom position to save frequently used settings. There are a total of 24 scene modes. The SCN position lets the user choose between 23 of them while, the last one, SuperMacro gets its own dial position. There is also an iAuto mode which selects automatically among a subset of scene modes. The final position, MAGIC, lets the user apply one of 11 effects which are not previewed on the display. As usual, any of these can be done later in software.
Between typical Playback and Menu buttons, that work exactly as expected, it a 4-way controller with central OK button. The Up direction cycles though display modes, including one that shows GPS location and manometer readings. The central button and remaining directions activate a vertical menu to control camera settings:
- Flash Mode: Auto, Redeye, On, Off, LED.
- Self-Timer: Off, 12s or 2s.
- EC: ±2 EV in 1/3 steps. This forces at least 4 button clicks for such an important thing.
- WB: Auto, Sunny, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Underwater, Custom 1, Custom 2. It is immensely useful to have an underwater option as it does not match with other light sources due to a blue shift.
- ISO: Auto, Auto High or 100 to 6400.
- Drive: Single-Shot, 5 FPS, 15 FPS @ 3 MP or 60 FPS @ 3 MP.
- Resolution: 12, 8 or 3 megapixels.
- Aspect-Ratio: Native 4:3, 16:9 or 3:2.
- Menu: The last option is there to enter into the full menu system.
The menu system is divided into 7 pages with up to 7 items per page. Most options are fairly standard. There are 3 AF-Modes: Automatic, Center and Tracking, plus 2 metering modes: Multi-Segment and Spot. One page has 5 options for video capture: Resolution, Stabilization, Sound, Wind-Filter and Recording Volume.
The large 3" LCD itself is crisp with good visibility and an excellent viewing angle. Colors look accurate and brightness is sufficiently close to avoid surprises after take a shot.
The bottom of this camera has a plastic tripod-mount, almost inline with the optical center of the lens. It also has a combined memory card and battery-door compartment with the same double-lock system as the port cover described earlier. To open the door, one has to move the small lock and then release the latch. This is designed to ensure the door does not open accidentally underwater.
Overall, the TG-2 is simple and quite easy to use, albeit not so efficient. For those who mostly point-and-shoot, this is certainly good enough. Changing parameters often is slow but for an action-type camera, this is probably not the typical use-case.
Performance - How well does it take pictures?
The Olympus Stylus Tough TG-2 captures 12 megapixels images at all ISO sensitivities. This can make 12" x 16" prints when noise is sufficiently low ,which it is at ISO 100 and 200. It does show some slight softness but less than typical.
Images all the way to ISO 800 remain very usable and produce clean 9" x 12" prints. Image noise is mostly absent until ISO 400 with it becoming visible at 800. By ISO 1600, things get much softer due to forced noise-reduction. This is why this sensitivity produces fuzzy but still usable mid-size prints.
ISO 3200 images look like watercolor painting in all but the smallest sizes. ISO 6400 is beyond usable and it should be avoided as much as possible. Not a great performance but the ace-in-the-sleeve of the TG-2 is that its F/2 lens make it depend less on high sensitivities than most rugged cameras.
Colors from the TG-2 are reasonable but not quite accurate. These is no control over rendition of colors or even details, so it is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. Most subjects show pleasing colors without much deviation from reality.
White-balance is the other half of color-accuracy for digital cameras and this Stylus Tough performs adequately. In bright conditions, Automatic White-Balance renders colors with a neutral tone. As light levels drop, indoors or outdoors, it stuggles more than most. Images end up too blue or too orangy. Luckily, a Custom White-Balance option with two memories is available to obtain neutral colors.
The multi-segment metering system of the TG-2 generally chooses well-balanced exposures. Some clipping of both highlights and shadows occurs in scenes of moderate contrast due to the limited dynamic-range of this camera's sensor which is unavoidable. Still, highlights are rarely overly blown which is preferable although at the expense of shadow details.
There is some slight but rather odd distorion need the wide-angle end of the zoom but it quickly dissapears when zoomed in. Vignetting on the other hand is quite strong at 25mm but becomes negligible past 30mm. This lens is generally sharp except for the presence of softness near corners.
The performance of the Olympus Stylus Tough TG-2 can characterized by the following measurements:
- Power On: 1½s. Good.
- Focus: ½s. Faster than average.
- Shutter-lag: Almost instant. Very good.
- Shot-to-Shot: 1s. Very good.
- Playback mode: 1s. Below average.
- Capture mode: ½s. Average.
- Video: Instant start and stop. Very good.
- Power Off: 1½s. Below average.
This is a good performance for an ultra-compact. Crucially, the TG-2 leads with the most important number: shutter-lag, autofocus and shot-to-shot speeds. The final performance number of the TG-2 is a battery-life of 350 shots-per-charge which is impressive for a camera this size with a built-in GPS. Luckily, because spare batteries are a pain to charge in-camera.
Speaking of the built-in GPS, the one in the TG-2 is reasonably accurate and locks relatively quickly. Precision varies but because it can be off by a few dozen meters, images can easily get tagged with the incorrect point-of-interest, even in a mostly uncovered area.
The Stylus Tough TG-2 is the toughest Olympus digital camera to date and sports the brightest lens available on a rugged model. This one is built for adventurous users who plan to take their cameras in tough conditions and do not want to worry much about it. With a maximum submersible depth of 15m, the Tough TG-2 can go swimming and snorkeling deeper than most humans can go. It will also withstand rain, snow, ice and cold weather down to -10C which is perfect of skiing and snowboarding. As for occasional drop or being stepped on, its no problem either with resistance to falls from up to 2.1m and pressure up to 100kg.
The 12 megapixels high-speed CMOS sensor of this digital camera is certainly on par with its peers, yet the F/2 lens lets this outperform most competitors under the same conditions. Image quality up to ISO 400 is good and even 800 is quite acceptable. Colors and white-balance is not perfect but hold their own quite well. The TG-2 is also faster than average exactly where it counts the most.
The feature set and interface of the Olympus Stylus Tough TG-2 is simple and easy to use. This is great for use under pressure. For anyone looking for a rugged compact, this model should be near the top of your list. There is little not to like about the TG-2 and Olympus chose nice compromises when designing it.
Olympus TG-2 Facts
|12 Megapixels Fixed Lens||ISO 100-6400|
|4X Ultra-Wide Optical Zoom||Shutter 1/2000-4s|
|Built-in Stabilization||Custom white-balance|
|Waterproof to 15m||Spot-Metering|
|Weatherproof down to -10C||Lithium-Ion Battery|
|5 FPS Drive, 25 Images||Secure Digital Extended Capacity|
|1920x1080 @ 24 FPS Video Recording||Internal Memory|
|3" LCD 610K Pixels|
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