If you're in the market specifically for waterproof compact to take to the beach or on holiday then be sure to take a look at our round-up of the Best Waterproof Cameras
Olympus has long been a pioneer of the ruggedised camera concept, with the company’s early Mju models among the very first digital compacts to offer basic weatherproofing – a theme Olympus built upon with the introduction of the 'Tough' series a few years ago. But whereas Olympus once had the market almost to themselves it's since become a lot more crowded, with most of the other major manufacturers offering a ‘tough’ model of their own. So how does the 12-megapixel TG-820 measure up?
Well, turning first to its all-important ‘tough’ specs, the TG-820 is waterproof to 10m, freeze-proof to -10˚C, shockproof to 2m and, in a new twist, crush-proof to 100kg. That just about makes it officially as tough as Chuck Norris, albeit with one hand tied behind his back. While we were able to test the basic waterproofing, freeze-proofing and crush-proofing claims (it passed on all counts), the shock-proofing element is harder to verify and it’s certainly worth noting that Olympus do not offer any guarantees should you be tempted to test its effectiveness yourself.
Internally, the TG-820 gets a 5x optical zoom, which offers a 35mm focal range equivalent of between 28-140mm and uses a folded lens design to keep it housed entirely within the camera body. For added protection it’s shielded by a metal screen that automatically slides back when the camera is switched on, closing again when it’s switched off. The zoom itself is operated by a serrated rocker switch on the top of the camera and is easy enough to operate, although it’s also rather sharp and can dig into your fingers if you press too hard.
Shooting modes are all of the fully automatic variety, although there is a good range of options including a Program mode that offers a degree of user control over key settings such as ISO and white balance. This is supplemented by an iAuto scene recognition mode, a Beauty mode for enhanced portraits, and a selection of Scene modes. Last but not least is a generous selection of 12 Magic Filter digital effects and a Panoramic mode for one-touch ultra-wideangle photography. Movie recording abilities extend to a maximum 1080p Full HD (backed up by 720p and VGA quality capture) although sound is recorded in mono.
One aspect that really does impress is the rear LCD screen. Thanks to the combination of thick glass and low-resolution screens these have traditionally been a bit of a let down on ruggedised cameras, however the TG-820 bucks the trend with a class-leading, ultra sharp 3inch, 1.03m-dot screen. Not only is it exceptionally useful for reviewing captured images with, it’s also scratch resistant and viewable in bright conditions. Indeed, we’ve yet to see a tough compact with a better screen.
Picking the TG-820 up for the first time initial impressions are pretty good. There’s a reassuring weight and solidity to it that adds to its overall tough appeal. While the majority of the outer shell is constructed from polycarbonate, the front of the camera is inset with a metal plate – although this does appear to be as much for aesthetic purposes as for any added protection it might offer.
On the back of the camera the thumb rest is also constructed from metal and doubles up as the attachment point for the wrist-strap. We were a little bit disappointed to note that the supplied strap isn’t particularly robust though. It would be good to see something a bit chunkier, or perhaps even a mounting point that can be used to attach carabineers or suchlike, as seen on the Canon D20. As is usually the case with waterproofed cameras the battery resides inside a fully sealed chamber accessed by a two-part locking mechanism.