Switching the TG-820 on, the start-up process takes a fraction under 2.5 seconds after which the camera is ready to shoot which is pretty good for a compact. Drive modes include a regular Single-shot mode, with which it’s possible to shoot around seven full-res frames every ten seconds; a 5fps Sequential (Continuous) mode that can take around 50 consecutive shots at full-resolution before the camera begins to slow down.
Of added appeal to those looking to capture fast action are two additional High-Speed drive modes that offer capture speeds of 15fps (High1) and 60fps (High2) for 100 consecutive shots. The trade off, as is often the case with this type of feature, is a reduction in overall resolution to 3MP. In practical terms this means you won’t want to make any poster-sized prints of images shot using the function, although they should be perfectly adequate for sharing on Facebook and suchlike.
Autofocus is pretty much instant in good light but does become noticeably slower once the lade fades. The TG-820 comes fitted with an LED AF-Assist light on the front of the camera but, try as we might, we couldn’t get the one on our review sample to work. Focusing options include a single central focus box along with a pretty reliable face detection option.
General operation is fairly straightforward – even while wearing thick gloves – thanks to the addition of Tap Control. Once activated this rather ingenious feature allows you to control the camera simply by tapping it on the sides, top and bottom; effectively turning the camera body into a giant directional-pad. The first tap opens up the quick menu down the right-hand-side of the screen from with subsequent taps navigating up down left and right. Once you've made your selection or changes simply double tap the LCD screen to confirm them, exit the quick menu and return to regular shooting mode.
If you’re not wearing gloves then the extruding thumb-stick on the back of the camera serves exactly the same function as the Tap Control, albeit in a more traditional way. For more detailed changes you’ll need pull to the side of the trail and/or take your gloves off in order the press the small Menu button below the thumb-stick. The in-camera menu isn’t overly complicated though and is pretty easy to navigate, which makes adjustments fairly straightforward.
Image quality is actually pretty good for a camera of this type, with the TG-820 able to deliver, on the whole, quite punchy images. Metering is generally quite accurate, with the option to switch between centre-weighted and full-screen balance (ESP). Used in iAuto mode the TG-820 delivers vibrant images with pleasing levels of colour, contrast and tonality.
The TG-820 produces clean, noise-free images at lower sensitivity settings of up to ISO 200, and while a small amount of noise is visible at ISO 400 it isn’t overly obtrusive. ISO 800 is the cut-off point in terms of noise control with images at this setting showing visible softness. Above ISO 800 things go quickly downhill with ISO 1600 also showing a noticeable loss of colour saturation. The top settings of ISO 3200 and 6400 will enable you to take pictures in very poor light but you can also expect very poor image quality.
In the past we’ve often found folded lens compacts have a nasty habit of producing noticeably soft images, especially when they’re used at their telephoto extremes. The Olympus TG-820 suffers from this a bit too, with the corners and edges noticeably softer than the centre of the frame. That said, the TG-820 is still sharper than much of the competition and unless you’re examining your images at 100% or more it isn’t likely to be much of an issue. We found the lens produces the occasional bout of purple fringing, although on the whole this is actually quite well controlled for a lens design of this type.
Fine detail also suffers a bit under close examination, displaying that slightly smeared/painted on effect that’s all too common with small-sensor compacts. Again though, this isn’t really an issue unless you specifically go looking for it by enlarging your images to 100% and beyond. Viewed on regular laptop screens images look perfectly sharp and detailed enough.
While the TG-820’s regular minimum focus distance is around 60cm, there are two Macro modes including a Super Macro setting that enables you to get as close as 3cm. We found that images taken at this setting came out very well, and while the Macro element isn’t necessarily the main reason to buy a TG-820 it’s still a useful feature to have.
We suspect that the dozen Magic Art filters will find favour with the TG-820's target audience of young, adventurous and active types, as they can be easily used to add a bit of extra sparkle to images – particularly useful on overcast days or when the light is totally flat. The range of effects on offer is pretty good too, with everything from the ubiquitous Miniaturisation and Toy Camera effects to an interesting Fragmented tile effect and a fun Mirror effect. The portrait-specific Beauty mode, meanwhile, offers a bit of easy-to-use in-camera vanity, although some restraint does need to be exercised so as not to overdo the skin smoothing and lightening effects.
The Olympus Tough TG-820 is one of the better ruggedised compact digital cameras on the market. Partly because it’s built like Chuck Norris, but also due to the fact that it’s relatively easy to use and delivers pretty good results. We especially like the Tap Control function and the pin-sharp LCD screen delivers class-leading performance too. While it’s essentially a fully automatic point-and-shoot compact, the generous range of digital filters and fun shooting modes mark it out as a very good little camera. If you’re on the lookout for a bombproof compact then the TG-820 is definitely worth putting on your shortlist.