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Olympus Tough TG-2 iHS review

Highs

  • Solid yet light design
  • Very good performance
  • Fast, quality lens

Rating

Our Score 6
User Score 0

Lows

  • Some issues with water tightness
  • Audible lens movement noise when shooting video
The Olympus Tough TG-2 is a solidly built camera that is worth a look if you take a lot of active vacations, but issues with water intrusion gives us pause.

The Olympus Stylus TG-2 iHS ($380) is the latest flagship in Olympus’ rugged series of cameras, taking over from the TG-1 (in fact, the two cameras are similar in looks, with noticeable difference in body color). Packed into this point-and-shoot are a lot of nice features and performance, but does it live up to its “tough” billing and top the high bar its predecessor set?

Features and design

First and foremost, the TG-2 is designed for outdoor use. Olympus bills the camera as waterproof up to 50 feet, shockproof from 7-foot drops, able to withstand 220 pounds of crushing force, and survive temperatures as low as 14 degrees Fahrenheit, in addition to being dustproof. The camera’s design, available in red or black, might look like a fairly plain rectangle, but you’ll feel how solid the construction is when you feel it in your hands.

The camera uses a 12-megapixel back-illuminated CMOS sensor. It comes equipped with a fast f/2.0 4x optical (internal) zoom lens. The fast lens, combined with the sensor, allows the camera to perform well in low light, and is covered with a special waterproof coating to allow water to run off (think Rain-X on your windshield). You can also get accessories that convert the lens into a fisheye or telephoto.

For composing, the TG-2 has a bright 3-inch 610K-dot OLED display. The display is covered with a plastic cover and other special coatings to help resist scratches and abuse. It was bright enough to allow for easy use and composition even on bright sunny days.

Being a point and shoot, the controls on the TG-2 are about as straightforward as you can get. On the top edge of the camera you’ll find the power button and shutter release. The rear face of the camera contains the remainder of the camera’s controls; at the top is the zoom controller, then the video record button, mode dial, playback button, a four-way controller, select button, and the menu button at the very bottom. We like that the jog dial requires some pressure to rotate, so you won’t accidentally switch camera modes while participating in the active motions this camera is designed for. Overall the controls are a bit close together, but the layout is thoughtful enough so we didn’t have any accidental button presses while using the camera.

Olympus TG2 tough Camera back

The TG-2 also features GPS, which will attach geo-tagging data to your images and a compass that will refer to you magnetic north in case you lose your sense of direction while out on a hike.

What’s in the box

Inside the box you’ll find the camera, charging cable and AC adapter, camera strap, and an extra lens cover. Our black model had the red ring installed by default, and an extra black one comes along with the camera.

Performance and use

We really like the fast performance of the TG-2. The camera takes about a second to start up and is ready for use almost instantly. There was almost no shutter lag at all, and 5.3-frames-per-second drive mode shooting allows for rapid-fire image capture. Overall, this is a speedy point-and-shoot with performance rivaling pricier cameras.

Overall, this is a speedy point and shoot with performance rivaling pricier cameras.

Low light didn’t impede performance either. The autofocus was very fast and accurate. The camera features an LED light to assist with autofocus to keep things fast. The only ding in low light is that the flash is a little weak, so you’ll want to shoot at ISO 800 to get decent flash coverage.

In terms of image quality, we found that the TG-2 took really pleasing images, with nice punchy color. White balance was notably good, especially at the beach and pool. It’s at these locations that a lot of cameras add a color cast, but since the Tough series is designed exactly for these settings it was nice to see this wasn’t a problem. Our one minor knock on image quality is that when magnifying your images they might look a little soft.

In terms of noise, the TG-2 manages to produce usable images up to about ISO 800, which is pretty good for a point-and-shoot. You can still get useful snapshots up to ISO 1,600, but you’ll probably want to avoid that setting unless you absolutely need to use it.

The TG-2 shoots video up to 1080p. Video quality is fine, although you’ll get audible lens noise when shooting video in quiet environments. We also found wind noise to be a problem. If outdoor video in less than hospitable environments is your primary need, you might not want to select the TG-2 as your equipment of choice.

So, the TG-2 performs really well and takes nice images. But the most important question is, how rugged is it?

When it comes to drops, the camera survived several drops from 4-5 feet with nary a scratch. A trip into the freezer didn’t phase the TG-2 either.

As for water tightness, however, the camera didn’t fare as well as we’d hope. When it comes to waterproof point-and-shoots, this author has some experience. I’ve owned a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3 for a number of years. That camera has been to the beach, on snorkeling trips, and so forth, so I’m familiar with keeping the seals clean and making sure that water can’t enter the camera. 

The TG-2 has two locking compartments – one for the HDMI and power ports – and a second for the battery and memory card slots. On a trip to the pool, we shot some underwater photos and had no problems whatsoever. On another trip to the water park, we ran into some problems. We shot for a few hours before lunch and had no problems. When sitting down for lunch, however, we got a memory card error when powering on the camera. When opening up the memory card compartment, we noticed a small amount of moisture inside the compartment. Coinciding with this was condensation on the inside of the lens cover. This rendered the camera unusable for the rest of the day. After drying out overnight, the camera was back in working order the following day, but it’s impossible to know what the long-term effects of that water intrusion on the camera may be. The camera never came close to 50 feet of submersion, so it’s impossible to know how the water entered the camera. Some Internet research reveals that this problem has occurred with other users, so it’s hard to rule out as an isolated incident.

Conclusion

We are torn. We recommended the TG-1, and we started off really loving the TG-2. Nice images and fast performance in a rugged point-and-shoot – or any point-and-shoot, for that matter – can be difficult to come by, but the TG-2 handles with aplomb. Unfortunately, our love affair soured when we discovered water intrusion during a trip to a local water park. We aren’t sure if it’s an isolated incident or not, but for a company that’s been making rugged cameras for so long and a camera that’s billed as tough, we certainly didn’t anticipate this happening.

Our takeaway is this: No product is going to be perfect, but that’s not any consolation when you’ve just spent nearly $400 for a camera that doesn’t do what it claims to do. We didn’t encounter this issue with the TG-1, although water leaks aren’t unheard of with these types of cameras (other review sites and consumer comments also indicated a similar problem). We were glad that after a day of drying, the camera worked fine, but we are concerned about long-term effects or having the problem occur again.

Highs

  • Solid yet light design
  • Very good performance
  • Fast, quality lens

Lows

  • Some issues with water tightness
  • Audible lens movement noise when shooting video