Olympus broke new ground in the rugged camera wars with last year's TG-1. With a bright f/2.0 lens — almost unheard of on regular point-and-shoots, let alone tough ones — the camera merged decent image quality with enough guts to withstand real action photography.
Design and features
This year's TG-2 looks rather similar on the outside to its predecessor, but boasts incremental rugged credentials. Now, the camera is waterproof to 15 metres, shockproof from 2.1 metres, freeze proof to -10 degrees Celsius, crush proof to 100kgf and dust proof.
Waterproof sealing has been applied to almost every component of the camera, with an additional water-repellent coating on the lens element. This should ensure that water droplets stay away from photos when pulling the camera in and out of the ocean. An optional case can extend the camera's waterproof credential to 45m underwater. Other extras include a waterproof fish-eye converter and a teleconverter.
In terms of appearance, the TG-2 looks a bit like a brick with a porthole at the front. That appropriately nautically themed comparison actually houses the bright 24mm wide-angle lens, with an aperture range of f/2.0-4.9. The lens is specified at 4x optical zoom, though it's extendable into digital zoom if desired. A special microscope mode lets the photographer focus as close as 1cm from the subject, using the full extent of the zoom to get anywhere from 7x to 14x magnification.
The super macro mode on the TG-2 lets you get nice and close to subjects. At the top, a regular photo of the subject without macro, and below, an image taken at 4x zoom with super macro, around 1cm from the subject. Super macro picks up details that a regular photo might not pick up.
Dual-locking doors cover the battery and SD compartment, as well as the HDMI and USB out. There are rubberised grips at the front and rear, while the back panel also houses a bright, 3-inch OLED screen. Next to it, a small assortment of buttons and dials control the majority of camera functions. A mode dial switches between intelligent auto, program, super macro, scene, aperture priority and magic filter modes, plus two custom slots.
Not dissimilar to the art filters that appear on the Olympus range of interchangeable lens cameras (ILCs), the TG-2 comes with 11 magic filters that apply different effects to photos in real time. These include pop art, pin hole, fish eye, soft focus, punk, sparkle, watercolour, reflection, miniature, fragmented and dramatic.
A selection of magic filters on the TG-2.
Unlike other cameras on the market that are equipped with built-in Wi-Fi, the TG-2 unfortunately has to make do with Toshiba's FlashAir cards. These are similar to Eye-Fi cards that contain a wireless adapter, as well as storage space in an SD card. The FlashAir implementation lets you transfer photos and videos to mobile devices using a dedicated app.
As well as full HD video at 30p, the TG-2 comes with high-speed recording at 120fps or 240fps, which lowers the resolution to VGA or 240p, respectively, without sound. Image stabilisation is available during video recording, but needs to be activated from the menus before filming.
|Nikon Coolpix AW110||Olympus Tough TG-2||Panasonic Lumix FT5||Sony Cyber-shot TX30|
|16-megapixel backlit-CMOS sensor||12-megapixel backlit-CMOS sensor||16.1-megapixel high-sensitivity MOS sensor||18.2-megapixel Exmor R CMOS sensor|
|3-inch OLED screen (614,000 dots)||3-inch OLED screen (610,000 dots)||3-inch LCD screen (460,000 dots)||3.3-inch touchscreen (1,229,760 dots)|
|5x zoom, f/3.9-4.8||4x zoom, f/2.0-4.9||4.6x zoom, f/3.3-5.9||5x zoom, f/3.5-4.8|
|18m waterproof, 2m shockproof, -10 degrees Celcius freeze proof||15m waterproof, 2.1m shockproof, -10 degrees Celcius freeze proof, 100kgf crush proof||13m waterproof, 2m shockproof, -10 degrees Celcius freeze proof, 100kgf crush proof||10m waterproof, 1.5m shockproof, freeze proof|
|GPS, compass, altimeter, barometer||GPS, compass||GPS, compass, altimeter, barometer||No GPS|
|Built-in Wi-Fi||Eye-Fi and FlashAir card compatible||Built-in Wi-Fi and NFC||No Wi-Fi|
General shooting metrics (in seconds)
- Start-up to first shot
- JPEG shot-to-shot time
- Shutter lag
Olympus Tough TG-2
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Continuous shooting speed (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
The TG-2 has three continuous shooting modes: regular, as measured above, takes photos at full resolution; while continuous high 1 and 2 modes snap photos at a reduced resolution of 3 megapixels. Continuous high 1 can snap 14 frames per second, up to a maximum of 100 shots in one burst. Continuous high 2 manages 60 frames per second, again stopping at 100 shots.
Autofocus on the TG-2 is quick and mostly accurate. While it's not going to match the speeds of an ILC or SLR, this camera does a very respectable job of locking on to focus, especially for a tough camera.
Olympus rates the battery at 350 shots.
With a similar lens and sensor configuration to the TG-1, it's no surprise that image quality is pretty consistent between the two models. Colours on default settings and automatic modes are vibrant. The lens is sharpest at the centre, which is typical of pretty much all tough cameras. There is drop-off toward the corners of the frame; again, not unexpected.
Inspecting images at full resolution shows that the TG-2, like the TG-1, likes to over-process images somewhat, though it is hidden well by the camera's sharpening technique. Chromatic aberrations are visible, however, which appear as purple fringing on areas of extreme contrasts.
Automatic white balance (AWB) on the TG-2 is fairly accurate in outdoor conditions, but does tend to be a little warm when shooting under artificial or indoor light. The AWB also adjusts to underwater environments to make colours appear more vivid and true to life. The camera delivers its cleanest images when shooting up to and including ISO 200. At ISO 400 and above, noise starts to become noticeable on images, especially when inspecting them at 100 per cent magnification.
Below are a few comparison shots showing how the TG-2 stands up to another tough camera in its class, the Nikon Coolpix AW110. Unless otherwise specified, these comparison images were taken from the same vantage point at the same time, using the camera's automatic settings.
Compared to the Olympus TG-2, the AW110 produces a flatter image with less contrast. You can boost the vibrancy and saturation in post-processing, but this is the result straight out of the camera.
Underwater, the results start to level up a bit more. Apart from the obvious differences at the wide angle (Nikon is 28mm, Olympus is 25mm), colour rendition is similar. The Olympus pumps up saturation in the blue channel a touch more than the Nikon.
With both lenses zoomed in to their telephoto reach, the Nikon's lens loses some detail thanks to over-processing. Chromatic aberration is kept to a minimum on both, though the Olympus does exhibit it more than the Nikon does. At a reduced web resolution, the difference is not really noticeable.
Many users reported issues with a ticking noise permeating the audio track of videos taken with the TG-1, the previous flagship tough camera from Olympus. While we didn't experience any similar problems during our review period with that camera, it seems as if the problem has crept its way onto the TG-2. Unfortunately, the ticking isn't easy to predict. Sometimes it is present, and other times it is not. Overall, the general pattern is that the ticking continues for around 10 seconds from the start of filming, and then stops. If you find yourself with a ticking TG-2, it is definitely worth swapping for another unit.
Exposure: 1/160, f/4.9, ISO 200
Exposure: 1/500, f/2.8, ISO 100
Exposure: 1/500, f/3.2, ISO 100
Exposure: 1/250, f/2.8, ISO 100
Like all tough cameras, compromises have to be made somewhere to compensate for all the toughness. In the case of the TG-2, its Achilles' heel is video, which prevents the camera from being a complete winner.