Waterproof cameras test 2012 - part I
4. Olympus Tough TG-820
The Olympus Tough TG-820 is a successor of the TG-810, launched last year. Despite the fact that both cameras divide just 11 months in the new model there are plenty of changes. First of all the producers gave up the 14-Mpix CCD sensor and implemented a CMOS BSI 12 Mpix sensor instead. Also the image processing engine was changed – now in the Olympus you can find the one called TruePic VI. As a result the camera offers us a wider ISO range (100–6400), a Full HD 1080p movie recording mode and a faster burst mode which, according to the specifications, allows you to reach the speed up to 5 fps. The new Tough was also equipped with a better LCD screen which diagonal amounts still to 3 inches but its resolution increased to over 1 million points. The casing has been redesigned as well – although still very similar to that of the predecessor, allowing you to submerge the camera to a depth of 10 meters, it differs in several details and the button layout.
Let’s check, then whether these changes were to the Olympus’s advantage.
Design and build quality
The housing of the TG820 makes a very good impression. The body is rigid and solidly built and you can’t have any reservations concerning the quality of materials. Nothing creaks, there are no slacks, the buttons are fitted well. On the front panel you can find a plate made of brushed aluminum and other elements are made of very hard plastics.
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The producer decided to change the button layout, compared to the older model so not very comfortable zoom buttons, lined vertically, have been substituted by a lever positioned on the upper panel. Next to it there is a shutter release and an on/off switch.
The back panel includes a significant thumb inset inside which you can find a movie recording button. Below there is a button responsible for switching into playback mode and a joystick, known from the TG-810, which, when pressed, confirms the chosen options. Apart from navigating the menu it also allows you to delete photos in the playback mode and a swift change of info displayed on the screen. Further on there is a MENU button and a small button with a question mark – when you press it a short instruction manual is displayed on the screen. You have to admit that such a layout of controllers is far more sensible than the one from the previous model.
A protective window of the LCD screen, which is very stiff, also deserves our praise – even at a depth of over 1m it bends just slightly.
Traditionally on the back panel of the Olympus there is a big cover hiding a lithium-ion battery LI 50B, a memory card slot (SD/SDHC/SDXC) and also USB and HDMI ports. The cover is equipped with a blockade and it can be opened and closed without any problems.
At the end you should mention the bottom panel where there is a little loudspeaker and a tripod thread, positioned right in the centre.
Use, cleaning, wear and tearIn this part we must complain about the movable cover protecting the lens. It not only clatters when you shake the camera but also has a strong tendency to get blocked during the switching on and off. The fact that usually you keep the camera on a beach and grains of sand might get inside easily makes the whole situation worse. The cleaning is not as bothersome as it was in the case of the TG-810 but still you shouldn’t forget about rinsing the camera in fresh water after getting out of the sea.
A week of intensive usage by and large didn’t leave any significant wear and tear marks on the Olympus’s casing. Only on the LCD protective window you could notice some small scratches and their number increased every day.
Additional functionsThe Olympus Though series cameras always led the way in this category and the last year model, so praised by us for its sensational depth gauge, manometer or a GPS module, is the best example. Unfortunately the TG-820 is devoid of all these gadgets; as a consolation there is just a panoramic photos mode left but it doesn’t perform well. After taking the first shot and moving the camera e.g. to the left you should mark a point on the viewfinder to which the image should be aligned. The problem is that that point often ‘runs away’ making the proper assembling of the final panorama impossible. As a result you must bend over backwards to get a satisfying effect and sometimes the camera simply cannot produce a good panorama anyway. What’s worse the whole assembling process takes over half a minute.
Click to enlarge
The producer states that you can descend with the camera to a depth of 10 meters. We managed to take a photo even at 12 meters but from that depth on the problems with the operation start occurring because the water pressure squeezes the joystick and it gets blocked – as a result the change of the settings is impossible as the camera stops reacting to the shutter release.
Let’s start with the most irritating thing so navigating the quick menu. It is so very frustrating mainly because no matter how you try, you can’t speed it up. Switching between particular options you start different animations which last and last and last. Forget about the swift change of thematic modes or any other option in fact. As if it was not enough, in order to confirm each option you must press down the joystick using a lot of force; sometimes it happens that the joystick tilts a bit and then you might accidentally confirm the option next to the chosen one. Overall we find the operating of the previous model a bit more comfortable.
The design of the main and quick menu doesn’t differ in any way from the one of the previous model. We can choose from the same, not very practical, underwater modes:
- PHOTO – to take pictures on a beach or in a swimming pool,
- WIDE ANGLE 1 – perfect for underwater landscapes,
- WIDE ANGLE 2 – perfect for underwater action photos,
- MACRO – perfect for underwater close-ups of different objects.
You can see that the Olympus constructors use in their underwater cameras completely impractical thematic modes with obsessive persistence. We can’t help criticizing them with equally obsessive persistence once again.
Traditionally there is a bit of solace to be found - we don’t have to change the thematic mode , forcing our way through the complicated menu, if we want to take a picture immediately after resurfacing – the camera’s underwater mode deals with colour rendering quite well also on dry land
After going into the water it’s worth making sure you have the sensor ISO measurement ESP mode set in your camera because it fares far better under water. When you use point by point ISO measurement, the camera’s light meter takes measurements in a relatively small area and as a result our photos have often the wrong exposition.
The TG-820 should be certainly praised for a better location of buttons than it was in the previous model. The zoom lever works well – it is better to operate than buttons positioned vertically on the back panel. The movie recording button is also more accessible.
The autofocus of the tested Tough is fast and accurate – we didn’t encounter any major problems with focusing in the photo mode and file saving on the memory card was very quick. The LCD screen should be praised as well, it works very well against bright sunlight. The image you see is always clear and contrasting and the 3-inch diagonal and high resolution only make it better – our impressions were very positive.
Quality of underwater photos and videos
Looking at underwater photos taken with the TG-820 you can reach a conclusion that the colouring is something the programmers still have to work on. The colours don’t impress and at greater depths, where the Canon and Panasonic performed very well, you can notice just different shades of blue. Also in the shallow water the situation is not the best because, apart from good rendering of the depth of the sea, the Olympus doesn’t offer anything else. The exposure is another problem you can complain about – the photos seem too dark. It makes us wonder because the producer already proved they know what algorithms to use in order to achieve a good white balance and the Olympus E-PL3 AND THE Olympus XZ-1 are the best examples – these two fight the blue dominant in a photo very efficiently.
Fortunately when it comes to detail rendering the Olympus TG-820 fares exceedingly well. The autofocus doesn’t play tricks and most of photographs are sharp, their vividness in the centre and on the edge of the frame being proof of good optics. Additionally among all the tested cameras here, this one deals the best with the work against bright light because the loss of contrast is reduced to minimum. You must admit the sensor change was a good move.
In green and murky waters the camera performs remarkably well. The colouring is the best of all the models, tested here, and the detail rendering is on a very high level. Additionally we must praise the autofocus which is not problematic even when at greater depths there is far less light filtered through the water.
Click to enlarge.
The quality of underwater movies should be criticized, though - the camera doesn’t manage to render the right colouring at all. In shallows the results are still decent but at a depth of 3 meters the images become dominated by blue. As a consolation you can add that the detail rendering is not very bad but the autofocus often gets lost which ruins the final effects.
Like in the case of the previous camera, let us start the summary by presenting the list of advantages and disadvantages of the tested camera:
- Durable, solidly built casing,
- Decent detail rendering in movies,
- Fast and accurate autofocus in the photo mode,
- Pressure-proof up to 100 kg,
- Comfortable zoom lever,
- Big, high definition LCD screen,
- Legible viewfinder underwater, even when the sunlight is bright,
- Stiff LCD screen protecting window, resistant to water pressure,
- The right camera weight, making it to perform well under water,
- The right colouring of photos taken on dry land in the underwater mode,
- Good quality and colouring of photos taken in green waters.
- Hidden lens is difficult to clean,
- Lens cover might get stuck easily,
- Forced flash in the „WIDE ANGLE 1” mode makes it impossible to take several photos, one by one, quickly,
- Some underwater modes are impractical,
- Autofocus problems in the movie recording mode,
- Delays during menu navigation,
- Weak colouring of underwater photos (apart from those taken in green waters),
- Weak colouring of underwater movies,
- Not very useful panoramic photo mode.
Unfortunately the producer didn’t refine hardly functional underwater modes as we expected but, as a consolation, we got a brand new sensor which certainly improved the quality of photos and movies. Regrettably their colouring and the delays in menu navigation require more polishing up.
The Olympus TG-820, costing currently about 985 PLN, fills in the gap between the much more expensive Canon and the Panasonic and the cheapest Fuji XP50. For such a price you get a decent camera you can take to greater depths. If you can make do without different gadgets, known from the previous models, and accept a bit frustrating menu navigation, you will be satisfied especially that this camera performs really well on the surface as well.
Sample underwater movies
|H.264 MOV, 1920×1080 pix, 30 kl/s, 14 s, 32.9 MB|
|H.264 MOV, 1920×1080 pix, 30 kl/s, 15 s, 35.8 MB|
|H.264 MOV, 1920×1080 pix, 30 kl/s, 12 s, 29.2 MB|
|H.264 MOV, 1920×1080 pix, 30 kl/s, 11 s, 25.5 MB|
Sample underwater photos