Olympus TOUGH TG-2 review


The Olympus TOUGH TG-2 is an advanced waterproof compact with a 12 Megapixel sensor, 4x zoom lens with a bright f2-4.9 aperture and a 3 inch 610k dot OLED screen. There are optional lenses for telephoto and fish-eye shooting too which can even be fitted while underwater. It’s equally at home on land or in the water where its responsiveness and compactness are complemented by a clever tap control feature.

The TOUGH TG-2 combines a built-in GPS and manometer for depth and altitude information along with a location database and sophisticated 3D map display. Olympus has made the most of these features providing really useful data both for use in the water as well as for travelling.

1080p30 HD video is augmented by a couple of high speed (slow motion) modes and the continuous shooting performance is respectable, if not sparkling. It all adds up to a very capable compact for action sports of all kinds with few downsides. The lack of proper manual exposure control is a little disappointing, with only a pseudo Aperture priority mode, you’re limited to exposure compensation to change exposure settings. And 5fps full resolution continuous shooting will fall short of the mark for surfers, snowboarders and anyone else who wants to capture fast action sequences of their favourite sport.


Olympus TOUGH TG2 review


Compared to Nikon AW1

The Olympus TOUGH TG-2 is a waterproof compact that, like the Nikon AW1 can be used both in and out of the water. It’s waterproof to a depth of 15 metres (compared with 10m for the AW1) shockproof to 2.1m and freezeproof to -10C. The main differrences between them are the bigger sensor and interchangeable lenses on the AW1 and the broader zoom range on the TG-2.

The TOUGH TG-2’s smaller sensor means its picture quality isn’t as good as the Nikon AW1’s (which additionally sports RAW files) and its low light performance – an important feature in a camera designed for use underwater – isn’t up to the standard set by the AW1’s bigger sensor, although do remember the TG-2’s brighter lens means it’ll be able to use lower ISOs under the same conditions which erodes some of the AW1’s advantage in this regard. The TG-2’s 25-100mm equivalent zoom outreaches the 30-74mm equivalent range of the kit zoom on the AW1 but the latter’s kit lens can of course be replaced for dry land use. Currently the only other waterproof option for the AW1 is the 10mm (27mm equivalent) f2.8, but other waterproof lenses will surely follow and in the meantime you have the choice of any lens in the 1 system to use on dry land. That said, there’s two adapter lenses for the T-G2 which extend or broaden the reach and both can be fitted underwater.

Both models have 3 inch screens but the 910k dot LCD panel on the AW1 provides a marginally larger and more detailed view than the 610k dot OLED screen on the TOUGH TG-2. Both are equipped with GPS, but the Olymus TOUGH TG-2’s highly detailed display with location data and 3D map is more impressive.

The AW1 offers the full PASM range of shooting modes, and although the TOUGH TG-2 offers Aperture priority mode, with only three available apertures – controlled by an ND filter rather than a physical diaphragm – it’s no match for the real thing on the AW1. Beyond that both models provide fully auto modes, a wide range of scene modes including underwater options and panorama shooting as well as a range of filter effects. For continuous shooting the Nikon AW1 outperforms the TOUGH TG-2 by a wide margin with 15fps with continuous AF compared with 5fps with fixed AF on the TG-2. Additionally the AW1 offers motion snapshot and best moment capture features which make more creative use of its continuous shooting features.

The Nikon AW1 offers 1080i60 HD video recording with auto exposure as well as the ability to change exposure settings manually before and during recording. The TOUGH TG-2’s top video mode is 1080p30, but it’s restricted to automatic exposure only. Both models offer a range of slow motion shooting options and here the AW1 also wins out with a 640×240 resolution 400fps mode that slows down the action to around 1/13th speed compared with a more conventionally proportioned 640×480 240fps quarter-speed mode on the TOUGH TG-2.

Finally, there’s handling and cost to consider. The TOUGH TG-2 is an advanced compact and one of its big selling points is its small size and weight. If you’re travelling, climbing, boating, snowboarding, surfing or diving, this is likely to be an important consideration. I found I could easily slip the TOUGH TG-2 inside my wetsuit – an impossibility with the Nikon AW1. And under half the price of the AW1 kit, the TOUGH TG-2 is a much more economical way to enter the world of underwater photography, it doesn’t require annual maintenance and should the worst happen and water somehow find its way in, or it get claimed by the ocean, or dropped down a mountain, it’s less costly to replace. So while the AW1 is more sophisticated and has a bigger sensor and access to more lenses to swap, the TG-2 could end up being more practical as a day-to-day tough compact.

See my Nikon AW1 review for more details.

Compared to Panasonic Lumix FT5 / TS5

Externally, the Panasonic Lumix FT5 / TS5 and the Olympus TOUGH TG-2 are very similar. The dimensions are almost identical and there’s little difference in their respective weights. They have similar control layouts, but the TOUGH TG-2’s mode dial and Tap control makes it an easier camera to handle in the water and other difficult environments.

Internally, both models use folded optics to keep the internal lens assembly compact. The TOUGH TG-2’s lens is centrally mounted whereas the Lumix FT5 / TS5’s is on the corner, this makes little pratical difference other than the need to keep your fingers out of the way with the Lumix – something you quickly get used to. The Tough TG-2’s zoom starts at a wider 25mm super-wide-angle extending to 100mm compared with 28-128mm on the Lumix FT5. The f2-4.9 Olympus lens is also quite a bit brighter than the f3.3-5.9 zoom on the Lumix FT5, allowing it to deploy lower ISOs under the same conditions.

In terms of picture quality, the Lumix FT5 / TS5 with its 16 Megapixel sensor did slightly better than the 12 Megapixel TOUGH TG-2 with less noise at higher ISO settings, although once again remember the TOUGH TG-2’s brighter lens means you can select a lower ISO sensitivity under the same lighting conditions, typically 200 ISO compared to 500 ISO.

The Lumix FT5 / TS5 has 1080p60 HD video compared with 1080p30 on the TOUGH TG-2, but the latter also offers lower resolution high speed modes. In its favour the Lumix can append location data from its built-in GPS to video clips, a rare trick. And though both models have built-in GPS with a location database, the implementation on the TOUGH TG-2 is more informative. Against that, the Lumix FT5 / TS5 also has buit-in Wifi with NFC for easy connection with a compatible smartphone, making it much easier to get your photos off the camera and onto sharing sites.

Prices for these models vary considerably, , so it pays to shop around. In some regions prices are similar, in others the Lumix FT5 / TS5 is up to a third less expensive than the TG-2.

See my Lumix FT5 / TS5 review for more details.

Compared to Olympus TOUGH TG-3

At the time of publishing, Olympus announced a new flaghsip underwater camera, the TOUGH TG-3. The body and lens range remain the same, with the main improvements being a higher 16 Megapixel resolution, built-in Wifi and superior macro capabilities, including a new focus stacking mode. The presence of Wifi addresses one of the TG-2’s main downsides, but if you don’t want or need it, the older TG-2 offers you the same bright lens and underwater capabilities at a potentially lower price. Keep an eye out for deals!

Olympus TOUGH TG-2 final verdict

The Olympus TOUGH TG2 has a lot to recommend it for those who spend a lot of time in and around the water and want a quality compact to record their activities. It’s solidly constructed and the tap control makes it easy to get along with in the water without compromising ‘normal’ handling on dry land. It also has a brighter lens than most waterproof rivals, which allows it to minimise the use of high ISOs where sadly the quality falls noticeably. And while the TG2 has a fixed lens, Olympus does offer optional adapters which broaden or extend the range and unlike the Nikon AW1’s removeable lenses, these can be fitted and swapped underwater.

Among the downsides are a lack of manual exposure control, modest continuous shooting and again the image quality which was beaten in my tests not only by the Nikon AW1 (as you’d expect given its bigger sensor), but also the Lumix FT5 / TS5 which shares the same sensor size as the TG2. I also felt the TG2 could do with a more secure hand strap for use in the water, but at least it has one.

Ultimately the TOUGH TG2 is an excellent waterproof camera. Despite my concerns above, I had a lot of fun with it and got some great results – and those two things are undoubtedly the reason this range continues to be so popular. The lack of manual exposure control frustrated me personally, but it’s arguably not a big deal for the target audience, and again while the image quality was beaten by the other models in my formal comparisons, I still managed to get plenty of shots I was very happy with, including in and around water. When you combine the size, price, handling, bright lens and the option to fit adapters, the overall package becomes very compelling and nudges the TG2 into our Highly Recommended category.

Good points
Bright f2.0-4.9 stabilised zoom.
Built-in GPS and manometer.
Tap to control feature.
Accessory lens attachments.

Bad points
Poor high ISO noise performance.
No manual exposure settings.
Can’t take stills while video recording.
No built-in Wifi.

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