Olympus, it has to be said, knows a thing or two about the ‘tough’ or ‘ruggedised’ digital compact camera market, having practically invented it with the launch of the mju range in 2003. Initially a waterproof-only series, the mju series gradually morphed in the Tough range with the addition of shock, cold and crush resistance. But while Olympus once had the market almost entirely to itself, it’s become a lot more crowded in recent years with all of the major manufacturers offering their own take on the built-for-adventure digital compact genre. So how does the TG-1, the company’s latest flagship Tough compact stack up?
Well, looking first at those all-important tough credentials, the TG-1 is waterproofed to 12m, shock-proofed to 2m, crush-proofed to 100kg and freeze-proofed to -10C. The sealed outer shell of the camera is constructed almost entirely from metal – save for the rubberised grips on the front and back – and certainly feels robust enough to survive a few knocks and scrapes. We’d have no qualms at all taking the TG-1 skiing, snowboarding, snorkelling, mountain biking or even white-water rafting. These are precisely the kinds of activities that Olympus has in mind with a camera like the TG-1.
The TG-1 is fitted with a 4x optical zoom that sits in the centre of the camera body rather than on the shoulder as is common with the majority of ruggedised cameras. In keeping with other Tough models the TG-1 uses a folded-lens design to keep the lens housed inside the camera where it’s protected from the elements by a pane of toughened glass.
The TG-1’s 4x zoom offers the 35mm focal range equivalent of between 25-100mm, along with a fast maximum aperture of f/2 at 25mm. The f/2 maximum aperture is actually one of the TG-1’s bigger selling points, as it will enable you to keep ISO settings down in low light, which in turn should result in better image quality. Or, at least it would be if you could manually force the camera to shoot at f/2 in such circumstances, which you can’t. It’s also worth bearing in mind that extending the zoom decreases the maximum aperture possible, right down to a not-very-fast-at-all f/4.9 at 100mm. On the plus side, an optional optical adapter can be purchased that allows you to attach either a fish-eye or telephoto converter, adding an extra dimension of flexibility and fun to the TG-1.
Internally, a 12MP backside illuminated CMOS sensor sits at the heart of the TG-1, which is combined with Olympus’s latest TruePic VI image processor to deliver what Olympus has dubbed an iHS (Intelligence, High Sensitivity and High Speed) system. Olympus claims that this iHS technology is able to deliver good results even in the toughest lighting conditions (such as backlit or high-contrast scenes) by automatically analysing each scene and then calculating and applying the correct settings. The standard ensitivity, meanwhile, runs from ISO 100-6400
The built-in iHS technology isn’t the only advanced feature within the TG-1’s armoury though as the new model also offers some useful functionality in the form of GPS and electronic compass technology, which allows you to access and log location information on the go. Unlike the Panasonic Lumix FT4 there’s no built-in altimeter or barometer though.
In terms of exposure modes the TG-1 is fully automatic although it does feature a pretty good selection of options including a fully automated iAuto mode, a Low light mode, a Super Sports mode, 23 individually selectable Scene modes, a Magic Filter mode complete with 12 digital filter effects, and a couple of Custom modes. Should you want to take some control over various shooting settings, for example ISO or White Balance, then there’s also a Program mode that lets you do so. In addition to stills modes, the TG-1 also allows you to record 1080p Full HD video with resultant files stored in the QuickTime Motion JPEG format.
On the back of the camera you’ll find a 3in, 610k-dot OLED screen complete with anti-reflective coating and high contrast technology. Given that rear monitors are often a bit of a weak spot when it comes to tough compacts this is another area where the TG-1 leads the way over many of its rivals.