The Olympus TG-1 is a solidly built camera that, on the whole, handles well. The robust build quality doesn’t impair handling and neither does it feel especially bulky. While the majority of the outer shell is constructed from metal Olympus has wisely added rubberised patches to the front and back of the body so that you can get a firmer grip of the camera in wet conditions. The rubberised finger grip on the front is slightly raised too, which enables you to wrap your fingers around it for a more secure hold. The camera further benefits from a third rubberised section to the left-hand side of the LCD screen, which further helps out should you want to hold the camera up with both hands to shoot.
Buttons are well-placed and easy to reach, with enough space between them to avoid accidental presses should you be wearing gloves or shooting on the move. The main mode dial on the back of the camera is pleasingly stiff too, which guards against it being accidentally nudged out of position. Our only minor grip is with the shutter button; it’s slightly recessed and not particularly responsive when half-pressed, which can make hard work of focusing on the move.
In terms of performance we found the TG-1 to be generally quite good – at least when judged by the standard of other tough compacts on the market. Given its positioning as an outdoor enthusiast’s camera fast and accurate focusing is clearly going to be important and to this end the TG-1’s Advanced iAuto and AF tracking systems perform well, producing accurate results more often than not.
While the TG-1’s built-in technologies – such as iHS – and fully automated exposure modes generally perform well, we were left a little disappointed by the lack of full manual control. As we mentioned on the previous page, the ability to force the camera to use its fast f/2 maximum aperture would be a real bonus. As it is you have to hope that the camera will select it for you.
Perhaps aware of this flaw Olympus has given the TG-1 quite a wide variety of automated shooting modes, including some that are specifically intended for capturing sports action and underwater images with. The good news is that these generally perform well and are easy to access thanks to the TG-1’s relatively straightforward menu system. Ultimately though, we’d still prefer to have full Manual control to hand, or at the very least Aperture-priority, so that we can make best use of the fast f/2 lens.
In terms of continuous shooting the TG-1 is well equipped with a maximum burst speed of 5fps at full resolution, which will doubtless prove handy for the TG-1’s target audience of extreme sports fans looking to get the perfect ‘air’ shot. Better still, we also found that the camera was able to continue shooting well beyond the claimed 25 consecutive frames maximum at 5fps. And if 5fps doesn’t sound quite fast enough, the TG-1 can also shoot at an increased speed of 60fps although this does come at the price of resolution with individual shots on this setting taken at 3MP.
Used outdoors we found that the anti-reflective coating on the rear OLED monitor performed quite well with the high-resolution screen remaining perfectly viewable, even in harsh lighting conditions.
On the whole image quality is on a par with what we’ve seen from Olympus Tough models in the past. There are a few issues of note though; for starters the metering system can be a bit inconsistent, with a tendency to underexpose images. While we’d prefer the camera to get it spot on, underexposure is generally preferable to overexposure as it’s easier to boost shadow detail than it is to reclaim blown highlights. Clearly, we’d prefer not to have to make any adjustments at all though.
The lens performs well in a range of conditions, with edge detail well maintained and fringing kept to a minimum. JPEG processing is a little heavy handed though, which causes fine detail to take on a smudged appearance occasionally. This is something that affects a great many small sensor compacts, however, and is hardly unique to the TG-1
In many ways the Olympus TG-1 represents the culmination of experience the company has gained with previous generations of tough or ruggedised cameras. It’s a solidly built camera that’s tough enough to withstand the kind of use that would be the ruin of regular compacts and yet features enough clever design elements to handle well in difficult conditions. While it does lose some points on account of some niggly image quality issues, on the whole it’s one of the best tough cameras on the market.