When we reviewed the Olympus Tough TG-1 iHS last year we found it to be one of the best rugged cameras on the market. It was a compact shooter with a fast lens that could shoot deep underwater, and survive drops, pressure, and extreme temperatures—and it took great photos in all types of light. It wasn’t perfect; while the lens was sharp in the center, its edge performance was disappointing, and the lens made some noise that was audible when recording movies. The Tough TG-2 iHS ($379.99 direct) is, at its heart, the same 12-megapixel camera with a few modest upgrades and a lower asking price. We haven’t seen another rugged camera that could challenge the TG-1, which makes the TG-2 an easy Editors’ Choice award winner.
Design and Features
The TG-2 forgoes the standard rugged point-and-shoot design, which places the lens in the top corner. In addition to making it look a bit more like a standard camera, it has the unique ability in its class to accept 40.5mm filters and conversion lenses—although you will need to grab the $20 CLA-T01 adapter to support filters. The camera itself measures 2.6 by 4.5 by 1.1 inches (HWD) and is a bit heavy at 8.1 ounces. The only other rugged camera series we’ve seen with a centered lens is from Pentax; its latest WG-3 GPS weighs the same, but it’s a bit bigger at 2.5 by 4.9 by 1.3 inches. The TG-2 is available in versions—one is red with black accents, and the other (which we reviewed) is black with red accents.
A 4x zoom lens covers a nice 25-100mm (35mm equivalent) field of view, which is a bit wider than the 28-140mm lens built into the Canon Power Shot D20. More impressive is its maximum f/2 aperture, which lets in about four times as much light as the D20′s f/3.9 lens at its widest angle. The only other rugged cameras in this class that match the TG-2′s lens in terms of light gathering are the Pentax WG-3 GPS and WG3.
The f/2 design makes it possible to shoot at faster shutter speeds without pumping up the ISO, and the wide 25mm field of view is ideal for underwater use, as refraction makes objects appear a bit closer than they actually are. If you need to shoot wider you can add a fisheye conversion lens; it sells for $140, and that includes the adapter ring necessary to mount it. There’s also a teleconverter available for $130 with the adapter ring; it multiplies the effective focal length of by 1.7x, delivering a 43-170mm field of view. Both accessories can be used underwater.
The 3-inch rear display uses OLED technology rather than the more-common LCD. Even though it only has a 610k-dot resolution, most cameras in this class, including the Olympus Tough TG-830 iHS, use LCD displays with 460k dots. The OLED display is a bit punchier thanks to enhanced contrast, and it’s bright enough for outdoor use, even on bright days.
The bulk of the camera’s controls are to the right of the display. These include a zoom rocker, video recording button, and a four-way controller. The TG-2 also sports a Mode dial to change shooting settings—an amenity that is often excluded from tough cameras. The controls aren’t perfect—you’ll still have to dive into an overlay menu to adjust ISO, exposure compensation, drive mode, and some other common functions, but if you’re the type of shooter who likes to use art filters or scene modes, having them readily available via the physical dial is a benefit. The camera lacks full manual control and shutter priority modes, but it does support aperture priority.
The camera is rated for underwater use up to 50 feet, which is the best that we’ve seen in a tough camera. It can also survive drops from heights up to 7 feet, can withstand 220 pounds of pressure, and operate in temperatures as low as 14°F. If 50 feet isn’t deep enough, you can add a dedicated underwater housing to the camera. At $310 it costs nearly as much as the camera itself, but will allow you to dive and shoot all the way down to 145 feet. If your needs for a rugged camera aren’t this extreme, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS20 is a great bargain, although it can only hit depths of 16 feet, is outfitted with a fairly low-resolution LCD, and lacks most of the bells and whistles found on the TG-1.
In addition to a GPS, which only takes about 50 seconds to lock onto a signal, the camera has an electronic compass and a manometer. The former will point you north, and can also act as a multi-axis level to help ensure that you are holding the camera parallel to the horizon. The latter records elevation and underwater depth, and will warn you as you approach the 50-foot underwater limit.
Rounding out the camera’s feature set is an LED light, positioned on the front of the camera. This serves two purposes—it speeds up the autofocus system, and can be used to add light to your subject when shooting in Macro mode. It doesn’t work as well as the six-LED setup on the Pentax WG-3 GPS, but certainly comes in handy when shooting in macro mode.
Performance and Conclusions
The TG-2 is fast. It starts and fires a shot in about 0.9-second, records a 0.1-second shutter lag, and can fire off full-resolution photos continuously at 5.3 frames per second. It’s rated to keep going for 25 shots, but we managed to rattle off more than 50 without any slowdown when using a SanDisk 95MBps memory card. There are also a couple high-speed shooting modes that drop the resolution to 3 megapixels but let you grab up to 100 images at 15 or 60 frames per second. There aren’t many rugged compacts that can keep up with the TG-2; of current models we’ve tested, the Olympus TG-830 comes closest. It starts in 1.4 seconds, can capture a burst of 16 shots at 10 frames per second, can shoot continuously at 2.5 frames per second, and its shutter lag is a respectable 0.2-second.
Like the TG-1, the TG-2′s image sharpness is its weakest aspect. We tested it using Imatest, which shows that at 25mm f/2 it only manages 1,673 lines per picture height using a center-weighted metric, shy of the 1,800 lines we use to deem an image acceptably sharp. The center sharpness is quite good, nearly 2,100 lines, but the mid-center and edge scores bring the overall rating down. You can set the camera to aperture priority and stop down to f/2.8, which we recommend doing when the light allows it. At f/2.8 the lens notched 1,795 lines; the edges were still soft, but the mid-center and center scores were high enough to bring the average up. The Pentax WG-3, which also has an f/2 lens design, does better; it manages 1,948 lines at 25mm f/2.
Imatest also measures noise, which shows up at higher ISO settings and can hurt image detail and add an unwanted graininess to photos. The TG-2 keeps noise under 1.5 percent through ISO 1600, which is impressive for a compact camera with a 1/2.3-inch sensor. Some detail is smudged at this setting, but images are still useable. The Canon PowerShot D20 is the closest we’ve seen to the TG-2 in terms of image quality and noise control at high ISO settings; but it only keeps noise below 1.5 percent through ISO 800.
Video is recorded in QuickTime format at 1080p60 or 720p60 quality. The footage is crisp and smooth, but the audio is another story. The sound of the lens zooming or focusing is very loud on the soundtrack. Hidden under a double-locking door are two connectors: one micro HDMI and one proprietary USB. The former lets you connect the camera to an HDTV, and the latter will let you plug it into a computer or into an outlet (using the included AC adapter) for battery charging. There’s no dedicated battery charger included, so you’ll have to charge in-camera unless you spend an extra $60 on the Olympus UC-90 charger. Standard SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards are supported; the card slot and the battery are in the same compartment, also protected by a double-locking door.
The TG-2 iHS is the best rugged camera that we’ve seen, and it’s worth your money unless you already own a TG-1. Other than the increased depth rating and the addition of an aperture priority mode, the cameras are basically the same. This isn’t a bad thing; the TG-1 is an excellent camera, and the TG-2 delivers the same performance at a slightly lower asking price. If $380 is too salty for your wallet, there are some good alternatives available for less money. The Olympus Tough TG-830 iHS is priced at $280 and is also an impressive performer, it just lacks a fast lens. There’s also the Pentax WG-3 sells for about $300; it has a fast lens, but doesn’t do as well at high ISO settings and lacks a GPS. But if you are in the market for a rugged camera, and you can afford it, the TG-2 is the way to go.
|Boot time||0.9 seconds|
|Dimensions||2.6 x 4.5 x 1.1 inches|
|Waterproof Depth (Mfr. Rated)||50 feet|
|Lines Per Picture Height||1673|
|Video Resolution||720p, 1080p|
|Battery Type Supported||Lithium Ion|
|LCD Aspect Ratio||3|
|LCD size||3 inches|
|Shutter Lag||0.1 seconds|
|Recycle time||0.2 seconds|
|Interface Ports||Proprietary, micro HDMI|
|Media Format||Secure Digital, Secure Digital High Capacity, Secure Digital Extended Capacity|
|Sensor Size||6.2 x 4.6 (1/2.3") mm|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc