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Torture Test: Olympus ‘Tough’ Cameras

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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.

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!

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.

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.

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