The Tough TG-830 iHS ($279.99 direct) is the mid-level entry in Olympus’ rugged camera lineup. It’s tough enough to go 33 feet underwater, survive being dropped by your average NBA center, and can operate in frigid temperatures. It packs a GPS, so your photos will be tagged with the location of where they were captured, and you get a generous 5x zoom lens. The 16-megapixel shooter isn’t perfect; its lens is on the slow side and the 1080p video the camera captures has an odd shakiness to it. It’s not good enough to displace our reigning Editors’ Choice rugged camera, the Olympus Tough TG-1 iHS. Though still widely available, the TG-1 has been replaced with the TG-2. We haven’t tested that one yet, but it has the same image sensor and processing engine, so we expect similar performance.
Design and Features
You can purchase the TG-830 in blue, black, silver, or red. It’s shaped like a lot of rugged cameras on the market, with the lens located in the top right corner. It measures 2.6 by 4.3 by 1.1 inches (HWD) and weighs 7.5 ounces. It’s not as wide as the uniquely shaped Pentax WG-3 GPS, which measures 2.5 by 4.9 by 1.3 inches and a smidge heavier at 8.1 ounces.
The lens is a 5x zoom design. It covers a 25-125mm (35mm equivalent) range, but has a rather slow f/3.9-5.9 variable aperture. This won’t be an issue when shooting under the sun, but if you’re shooting photos while spelunking or snorkeling, you’ll have to crank up the camera’s sensitivity to light (ISO) in order to get a sharp shot. The Olympus Tough TG-1 and TG-2 are better when the light gets low; they share a shorter 4x (25-100mm) zoom lens with an f/2-4.9 aperture. An f/2 lens captures about four times the light as one rated at f/3.9.
On the top plate you’ll find the power button, the shutter release, and a dedicated button for movie recording. All other shooting controls are packed into the rear of the camera, to the right of the LCD. These include a zoom rocker, a mode dial, and a 4-way directional pad that you can use to adjust the flash settings and set the self-timer. If you’re shooting in Program mode you can adjust the exposure compenstation, white balance, ISO, and activate continuous drive shooting via a software overlay menu; just hit the OK button to bring it up. These options aren’t available in the iAuto mode, and if you’re a veteran shutterbug you’ll notice that there’s no option for aperture priority, shutter priority, or full manual shooting modes.
The rear LCD is a downgrade from last year’s TG-820, which had an outstanding 3-inch 1,030k-dot display. The TG-830 doesn’t have nearly as many pixels in its 3 inch display, only 460k. This isn’t to say the screen is subpar; it’s actually pretty decent, it just doesn’t have the same pop that a really high resolution display does.
The GPS works well. It’s accurate and it locked onto a signal in about 30 seconds after we turned it on for the first time. In terms of toughness, the TG-830 can go as deep as 33 feet under the sea, is rated to survive a drop from a 7-foot height, can withstand 220 foot-pounds of pressure, and will keep shooting in temperatures as low as 14°F. It kept shooting when we submerged it, and handled drops with no problems. These are impressive specs, but not the best in the class; the TG-2 can go as deep as 50 feet, and matches the TG-830 in the other areas.
Performance and Conclusions
The TG-830 is speedy. It starts and shoots in 1.4 seconds and its shutter lag is just under 0.2-second. You’ve got two options for full-resolution burst shooting, a high-speed mode that captures 16 shots at 10 frames per second, or a 2.5fps mode that can fire for as long as you’d like. The TG-1 iHS is a little faster to start and shoot—it does so in one second flat. Shutter lag matches the TG-830, but burst shooting mode is limited to 5 frames per second—but can keep that pace for about 50 shots if you pair with a SanDisk 95MBps memory card.
I used Imatest to check the sharpness of the 5x zoom lens. The TG-830 scores an impressive 2,051 lines per picture height, better than the 1,800 lines required for a sharp photo. This is a center-weighted score, and like most rugged cameras—which have to house the lens behind a sealed cover—performance suffers some around the edges. Overall sharpness is a bit better than one of the top performers in this category, the Canon PowerShot D20. But it’s a close margin; the Canon notches 1,961 lines.
We also use Imatest to check for image noise, and review each test shot on a calibrated NEC MultiSync PA271W LCD in order to evaluate how fine detail and texture is sacrificed at higher ISO settings. The TG-830 keeps noise under 1.5 percent through ISO 800, and does a pretty decent job with detail at that setting. It lags behind the TG-1; that camera keeps noise under control through ISO 1600, to the point where a side-by-side comparison of an ISO 800 shot from the TG-830 and an ISO 1600 shot from the TG-1 look about the same, with a slight edge in quality going to the TG-1. If you’re shooting at a wide angle the TG-1′s fast lens also comes into play—to capture a wide scene at ISO 800, you’ll need push the TG-820 all the way ISO 3200 in order to match the exposure.
Video quality is a mixed bag. On one hand, the TG-830 is capable of 1080p30 or 720p30 video in QuickTime format. Footage is sharp and colors are accurate, but there’s a bit of visible shake. It shows up right after adjusting focal length, stays around for a few seconds, and then goes away. In my tests, this occurred with both tripod and handheld shooting, and was quite distracting. It’s not a result of the optical stabilization system, as disabling that feature doesn’t alleviate the effect; likely it’s a result of the autofocus system attempting to reacquire a lock.
On the bottom of the camera is a double locking door that protects the proprietary USB port and micro HDMI port from getting wet. You’ll have to open this door frequently, as the only way to charge the TG-830′s removable battery is in-camera via the USB port; a cable and AC adapter are included. If you’re the type of person who likes to keep multiple batteries around, an external charger is a wise investment. The other double locking door is on the right side of the camera; it gives you access to the battery and the SDXC memory card slot. Older SD and SDHC cards are also supported.
Compared with the competition, the Olympus TG-830 iHS is a good camera, but it’s not a great one. It’s extremely responsive and the burst shooting mode allows the TG-830 to capture a series of photos at 10 frames per second. Its lens is sharp, it can take a beating, go underwater, and has a GPS so your photos are automatically geotagged. The Canon PowerShot D20 will get you better images at higher ISO settings, but at $300, it will also put more of a dent in your wallet. Serious underwater photographers will likely want to take a close look at the model that has replaced our Editors’ Choice in the Olympus lineup, the TG-2. Based on its design, it should equal the TG-1 in terms of image quality, and the fast f/2 wide-angle lens will gather four times more light than the TG-830. It costs $100 more, but it’s a much more versatile rugged shooter.
|Dimensions||2.6 x 4.3 x 1.1 inches|
|Interface Ports||Proprietary, micro HDMI|
|Battery Type Supported||Lithium Ion|
|Recycle time||0.1 seconds|
|LCD size||3 inches|
|Media Format||Secure Digital, Secure Digital High Capacity, Secure Digital Extended Capacity|
|Optical Zoom||5 x|
|Boot time||1.4 seconds|
|35-mm Equivalent (Wide)||25 mm|
|Waterproof Depth (Mfr. Rated)||33 feet|
|Video Resolution||720p, 1080i, 1080p|
|Lines Per Picture Height||2051|
|LCD Aspect Ratio||4|
|35-mm Equivalent (Telephoto)||125 mm|
|Shutter Lag||0.2 seconds|
|Sensor Size||6.2 x 4.6 (1/2.3") mm|
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