Torture Test: Olympus 'Tough' Cameras

By T.C. WORLEY

With the latest units in its “Tough” category of cameras, Olympus invites you to do all the things you are typically warned against doing — dunk the cameras under water, drop them in snow, let them freeze, and then come back and carelessly lob the unit onto a hard surface from head-height. These little cameras can take it, the company touts.

TG_810back.jpg

Olympus’ made-for-the-outdoors Tough Series cameras are shockproof and waterproof

To see if all the claims were true, I enlisted the help of my two young sons, inviting them to use the two “Tough” models we got to demo, the TG-610 and TG-810, however they’d like. I told them not to be careful. So far, after a month of abuse, the cameras have been to the top of trees in our yard, taped to a skateboard, submerged in a bathtub, and generally mistreated every day of the week.

I’ve gotten in on the abuse, too. I fell while trying to film myself snowboarding with the TG-610 model, dragging the camera into hard-pack snow inadvertently while trying to stop. I blew the snow from the lens and continued down the slope, shooting dozens of photos later in the day. A week later, the camera flew from my bicycle tool bag on a 35mph descent on a gravel road. It lived.

Recently, we’ve got more deliberate in our durability test. At a mountain bike race, I placed the TG-610 in the path of oncoming racers, its video recording, and asked them to run it over. (See the video clip below.) After all the abuse — strictly in the name of journalistic review, to be sure! — beside from some cosmetic scarring, the cameras continue to function as new. Amazing, to put it short.



The smaller camera of the two, the TG-610, costs $300 and has a 5x optical zoom that’s accomplished internally, meaning there is no way the lens can break off. Its three-inch screen makes composing and reviewing photos easy, and it actually works pretty well in full daylight. Eight built-in “magic filters” allow creative effects right in the camera, and there’s a 3D option as well. Got gloves on and can’t operate the buttons? “Tap Control” lets you literally tap the camera to navigate functions — you’ve got to see it to appreciate it. A very cool feature!

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Olympus TG-610

Olympus’ larger unit, the TG-810, costs $400. It takes “tough” one step further. Drop-proof ratings climb to 6.6 feet and water depths to 33 feet. Its feature set has a few neat extras, including a geo-tagging tool that records GPS data to correspond to where on Earth an image was taken (and later display its location on a map). There’s even a built-in digital compass on the camera, not a common photographic add-on! Video recording, with simple, one-button operation, is captured in resolutions as high as 1280 × 720 pixels — perfect for sharing online or on a TV screen.

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Olympus TG-810

What’s the catch to all these amazing characteristics? Image quality is not top-notch. I am a professional photographer, so my eye is crititical. To be sure, either of these cameras are excellent enough for family photos and images taken on adventures in the field. To me, the photos look good, but not great. (Look to Olympus’ new XZ-1 model for a better image or, of course, an SLR from any major camera company.)

Another issue: Video recording in our tests has worked fine, except for a small audio flaw. On several occasions, I’ve noticed some background clicking sounds on the audio capture. An Olympus spokesperson said it could be the auto-focus searching for a “lock” while recording. The issue has been intermittent but annoying for the audio end product on some vids.

Overall, these are minor gripes. The Tough cameras are great companions on any outdoors adventure. Their durability and adequate image/video capture can make them a must-have tool for the most rough-and-tumble (or wet) activities outside.

Because of their small size and relative indestructibility, I don’t hesitate to take the cameras on an outing. And they are fast and simple to use — even my young sons have mastered the controls. In the end, either of these cameras will be a great unit for the outdoor lover or for families with ambitious young shutterbugs raring to get outside and shoot.

—T.C. Worley is a contributing writer for GearJunkie.com and a professional photographer based in Minneapolis.

Posted by Yoon - 05/24/2011 08:29 AM

I have an olympus tough camera and it is definitely on my top 5 favorite electronics-that-I-own list. One time, I had someone take a picture of me jumping a rock at Breck and throw the camera to me afterwards. My jump landed great, but the guy threw my camera into a rock and a piece broke off the lens (no damage to the actual camera). I sent it in to see if they could fix the lens. $45 later, I had a brand new case for a camera that would have easily broken in half had it not been made to withstand such abuse.

Posted by Jonathan Wilson - 05/24/2011 11:31 AM

I’ve been running an 8010 for about a year. I one aspect that really bothers me is the shutter lag time. This lag is around 1.3 seconds. I often get the crap picture that happens right after the good picture moment has past with this camera. Have they imporved the shutter lag on the TG-810?

Posted by Piera - 05/24/2011 03:16 PM

If you are looking into buying this camera, you need to know that may falter in sub-zero temperatures. Temperatures where your (non-rugged-ized) cell phone will work, but this camera will not. This was my experience. Otherwise, I would say, great camera.

Posted by t.c. worley - 05/24/2011 10:06 PM

Jonathan, what you are calling “Shutter lag” is likely the time it takes to auto focus, then fire. If you can pre-focus the camera will fire nearly instantly. Pretty much all cameras have this – some are just faster at focusing than others. Good luck!

Posted by Hammstah - 05/25/2011 04:15 PM

My wife and I own the orange Olympus SW camera (I don’t remember the model name but it’s circ 2009, I think) and the image quality, for $159 at Sam’s Club at the time, is not as good as our little Kodak for $79 or $99 at Sam’s Club. And, the Kodak has endured beaches, camping, etc. Is it mtb-proof and able to be submerged under the swimmers at Ironman Hawaii, well, no, but it’s made better images than the Olympus.

BTW, the best UW camera I’ve owned? The old Sony Cybershot, white and blue, that looked like a Pez dispenser!

Posted by gnarlydog - 05/25/2011 05:32 PM

What has been said is all true however theses camera (Olympus and other compacts) are NOT durable when it comes to water. After owning 5 Olympus Though cameras (various models) and a Panasonic TS2 I have concluded that if used in slat water the cameras will fail, sooner or later. The materials used to make the shell are not corrosion proof and within a couple of months the cameras will develop enough corrosion to then creep inside and let water in. I had some replaced under warranty but that last only for 12 months. Of course some will say that they have used the camera at the beach and sea and still works fine. That’s probably OK for the occasional (single) use, not repeated/regular use.
Though yes, but not for salt water.
For a pictorial evidence:” Link Text”:http://gnarlydognews.blogspot.com/search/label/camera

Posted by T.C. Worley - 05/26/2011 07:48 AM

Gnarly,
Good point – thanks for sharing. Curious if you would rinse the saltwater off post-use, or no? I had many “surf” watches die prematurely when I used them surfing. Saltwater is tough on gear for sure.

Posted by Roy - 05/26/2011 10:42 AM

If salt water is held in devices for an extended length of time, they could suffer galvanic corrosion, depending on the materials inside and thier proximity to each other.

Galvanic corrosion is an electrochemical process in which one metal corrodes preferentially to another when both metals are in electrical contact and immersed in an electrolyte.

Posted by Herb - 05/26/2011 05:48 PM

Wow Roy that’s pretty heavy

Posted by gnarlydog - 05/26/2011 10:04 PM

Since the manual of the camera does state that the camera must be rinsed in fresh water I do that religiously. No matter how much I rinse the camera after my outings they still corrode.
Now, with Panasonic they ask you to do it within one hour! hardly convenient for real world use. I go out on the sea for more than an hour, usually :-)
Pentax has all plastic cases; too bad that the rest of the camera seems to lack performance (from reports)

Posted by Justin Meyers - 06/10/2011 06:07 PM

@Jonathan Wilson the s’shutter lag’ is the same in my mind. I had the Stylus 850 SW and that took pictures as soon as you pressed the button. I had the 8010 for a week and returned it because of this ‘shutter lag’. I decided to try out the 810 and it has the same lag. I like the GPS, but the coordinates are not to precise. I have been trying to contact OLYMPUS for the past two months regarding this – I have stopped holding my breath!!

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