The TG860 is the number two model in the Olympus TOUGH line-up behind the flagship TG4. It’s a popular model, but not as popular as the TG4. Unlike a lot of ‘next one down’ models though, it doesn’t offer a cut down version of the premier product with less capable hardware and a limited feature set, but instead offers something a bit different, while at the same time sharing, and in some cases surpassing the more expensive model’s specifications.
The TG860’s 21-105mm equivalent 5x zoom has the widest angle of view of just about any water-proof compact. With an f3.5 to 5.7 maximum aperture it’s not the brightest lens around though, so in low light, which is often the case when you’re underwater, you’ll need to set higher ISO sensitivity settings, meaning noisier photos. The TG860’s flip up screen can face forward for selfie shooting, which is fun, but I actually found it just as useful to avoid reflections from the surface when shooting underwater. Either way it’s great to have that versatility and a feature that you won’t find on many other water-proof compacts. The second, programmable shutter release on the front panel is another big plus on the handling side.
The TG860 is comprehensively equipped with shooting modes including several for underwater use and also has very capable macro features. Its full resolution continuous shooting is limited to a one-second 7fps burst, but it also has a couple of faster lower resolution modes. And it has the best video recording features of any of the waterproof cameras I tested with a best quality 1080 / 60p mode, slow motion and time-lapse features. Like the TG4, the TG860 is also equipped with built-in Wifi and GPS with mostly the same features. It’s also equally rugged, so you can dive with it to a depth of 15 meters, drop it from a height of 2.1 metres, shoot in temperatures down to -10C and crush it with 100Kg.
So how does the TOUGH TG860 stack up against the competition? Interestingly, the TG860 is likely to be one of the biggest competitors for the TG4. Anyone with the TG4 on their shopping list is bound to be curious to know whether the less expensive TG860 could offer just as much. Well, as I’ve already mentioned in some respects it actually offers more, for a start it has a 5x zoom range extending from a very wide 21mm to 105mm equivalent compared with 28-140mm on the TG4. But while the TG4 has a shorter zoom its lens is much brighter at the wide angle setting – f2 compared with f3.5 on the TG860 making it around one and a half stops brighter.
What that means in practice is that, all other things being equal, you could shoot at a sensitivity setting of 100 ISO on the TG4 where you’d need over 300 ISO on the TG860. And you have to rely on the TG860 to set the aperture for you as it lacks the TG4’s Aperture priority exposure mode. One final thing to mention where the lens is concerned is that the TG860 isn’t compatible with add on lens converters and other accessories.
Like the TG4, the TG-860 has a 16 Megapixel CMOS sensor, but there’s no option to shoot RAW files. Other things it has in common are its rugged water-proof credentials – down to a depth of 15m, Wifi and GPS and broadly similar shooting modes. The TOUGH TG860 is a better video camera than the TG4 with a best quality 1080 /60p mode and 60fps for its 720p and 480p modes as well as the option to shoot 16:9 format slow motion shots. And for sports and action shots it also provides some additional interval and burst modes.
Lastly, the TOUGH TG860 has a screen that’s hinged at the top and can fold upward and face forwards for selfies. That’s quite a useful feature to have, but people may not be so keen on the 16:9 proportions of the TG860’s screen which makes for a much smaller view when shooting full resolution 4:3 still photos. It’s great for video though.
Like the TOUGH TG860, the Nikon COOLPIX AW130 has a 5x optical zoom but with an equivalent range of 24-120mm it has a narrower field of view at the maximum wide angle and telephoto ends of its range. And with a f2.8-4.9 it’s brighter than the f3.5-5.7 lens of the TG860. The AW130’s 3 inch screen has a higher 921k dot resolution than the 461k dot screen on the TG860, but it’s fixed and not nearly as versatile for selfies and angled shots. The TG860’s menu system is easier to navigate and I also found the control layout better on the Olympus model.
The TG860 is a better movie camera than the COOLPIX AW130 with a 1080 / 60p best quality mode against 1080 / 25/30p on the COOLPIX AW130. Both models have slow motion modes, and both have a time-lapse movie feature. While neither has an HD slow motion option, the TG860’s 60p modes can be edited outside the camera for half-speed 30p playback. Both models are similarly equipped for continuous shooting offering a short burst at full resolution along with faster reduced resolution modes.
Depending on where you shop, both the TOUGH TG860 and AW130 are currently priced around 15 percent lower than the TOUGH TG4. I think the TOUGH TG860 is the real star in the Olympus rugged line-up. It offers a superior zoom, more versatile screen, better video and better support for shooting sports and action subjects all at a lower price than the TG4. You sacrifice the RAW mode, which is something a lot of people will be able to live without. A bigger loss is the bright f2-4.9 aperture of the TG4 but despite that the TOUGH TG860 remains a compelling alternative. If the brighter lens of the TOUGH TG4 is too much of a temptation for you, keep in mind the earlier TOUGH TG3 which is still in the Olympus line-up and could prove to be a bargain. The same goes for the TOUGH TG850 which is also still in the Olympus range. It shares most of the TG860’s features minus the GPS and Wifi and some of the shooting modes, so could prove a bargain if connectivity isn’t a priority for you. As it stands though in the current crop of waterproof cameras, the TG860 earns our Highly Recommended rating.