Olympus TOUGH TG860 review
Written by Ken McMahon
Olympus TOUGH TG860 vs TOUGH TG4 vs Nikon COOLPIX AW130 quality results
To compare real-life performance, I shot this scene with the Olympus Stylus TOUGH TG860, the Olympus Stylus TOUGH TG4 and the Nikon COOLPIX AW130 within a few moments of each other, using their best quality JPEG settings and at their base sensitivity settings. For this test the cameras were mounted on a tripod and image stabilisation was disabled. The cameras were zoomed in to provide the same field of view, the ISO sensitivity was manually set to the lowest available setting and Program Auto mode was selected for the exposure. All other settings were left on the defaults.
The first crop from the TOUGH TG860 looks quite soft and a little blurry. It’s from close to the left edge of the frame, so possibly not representative of the overall image quality – lenses typically don’t perform as well at the edges of the image as in the centre.
So how does the TG860 perform when we move closer to the middle of the frame where crops two and three are taken from? There’s an improvement, but not as much of one as I’d have liked. The details still look a little soft, there’s not much definition in the church tower or the harbour in the background either side of it. And you can make out the lighthouse in the third crop, but neither it nor the rocks it stands on are very distinct.
The final crop is from close to the right edge of the frame and this too is quite soft and lacking in finer detail. So overall it’s not a sparkling performance from the TOUGH TG860 which is passable in the middle of the frame and a little disappointing at the edges. That said, you’re only likely to notice these shortcomings at or close to 100 percent viewing sizes, so unless you plan on making big prints it won’t be an issue
The TOUGH TG4 crops compare very favourably with those from the TOUGH TG860. All three of these cameras have 16 Megapixel CMOS sensors, so the crop areas are the same with the same sized detail. Overall, the TOUGH TG4 crops look more punchy though, look at how much more detail there is in the foliage in the first TG4 crop compared to the TG860. I’d say it’s likely that these differences in quality between the TOUGH TG860 and TOUGH TG4 are mostly due to differences in lens performance. The TG860’s lens has a 5x zoom range compared with 4x on the TG4 and it starts at a much wider 21mm equivalent compared with 25mm. It looks like the price for that wider angle lens and longer zoom range is a slight reduction in image quality though.
The COOLPIX AW130 crops look comparatively noisy and some of the detail in the crops looks a little blocky. It’s possible the COOLPIX is applying a slightly higher level of compression to its images.
Olympus TOUGH TG860 vs TOUGH TG4 vs Nikon COOLPIX AW130 noise results
To compare noise levels under real-life conditions, I shot this scene with the Olympus Stylus TOUGH TG860, the Olympus Stylus TOUGH TG4 and the Nikon COOLPIX AW130 within a few moments of each other at each of their ISO settings. All three cameras were set to their best quality JPEG modes and mounted on a tripod and stabilisation was disabled. Shadow Adjust was turned off on the TG860 and TG4, but otherwise the cameras were left on their default settings.
The cameras were zoomed in to provide the same field of view, the ISO sensitivity was manually set to the lowest available setting and Program Auto mode was selected for the exposure.
At 125 ISO the TOUGH TG860 selected an exposure of 1/4 at f4.7. Set to its base 100 ISO sensitivity setting the TOUGH TG4 metered 1/8 at f2.3. and at 125 ISO the COOLPIX AW130 selected 1/6 at f4.2. The crops below are selected from the area marked in red above.
At the TOUGH TG860’s base sensitivity setting of 125 ISO you can already see some noise textures in the crop. The wall behind the memorial looks grainy and the text in the panel looks a little wobbly. By 400 ISO the noise suppression is having to work quite hard to keep the graininess in check and as a result some of the edges are beginning to break up and the legibility of the text is suffering. By 800 ISO you can’t read the text at all and at 1600 ISO there’s an unsightly mixture of noise suppresison artifacts and noise.
The TG860 has two further sensitivity settings at 3200 and 6400 ISO, but as you can see from the crops these are more noise than image and therefore best held in reserve for situations where you have no alternative. I’d also be a bit wary of 1600 ISO, though these 100 percent crops can make things look much worse than they’ll appear under most viewing conditions where you’re looking at a smaller version of the entire image.
By comparison the TOUGH TG4 crops are less noisy throughout the sensitivity range. The TG4 starts at 100 ISO and there’s none of the graininess evident in the TG860 125 ISO crop. At the lower ISO settings the TG4 crops look significantly less noise but beyond 1600 ISO there’s not much difference.
The COOLPIX AW130 crops look smoother and less grainy, which suggests there’s slightly more aggressive noise suppression at work. As a result though, finer detail in the AW130 crops looks clumpy, so I don’t think you can say it’s necessarily any better.
One final thing to note is that with its bright f2 aperture at the wide angle setting, all other things being equal, you’ll be able to shoot at lower ISO’s with the TOUGH TG4, further adding to its low noise advantage. You could, for example, set 100 ISO on the TOUGH TG4 where you’d need over 300 ISO on the TG-860 if both were using their maximum aperture setting. The other thing to bear in mind is that the TG860 and AW130 set the aperture automatically in this case to f4.7 and f4.2 respectively, whereas the TOUGH TG4’s Aperture priority mode gives you the opportunity to open it all the way up to f2.