As the name suggests, the Olympus Tough TG-810, the top of the current Tough range from the Japanese camera maker, is a compact digital camera designed to survive extensive abuse. In terms of resilience, it’s a great camera. But it’s a pity Olympus squeezed so many other “features” into the TG-810, many of which actually make it a worse device than it should have been.
The great differentiating features of the TG-810 are the fact that it’s waterproof to a depth of 10m in both fresh and salt water, dustproof — thanks to the seals required for waterproofing it — can survive falls of up to 2m and being trodden on by someone who weighs as much as 100kg. It can also withstand temperatures as low as -10C.
As it’s clearly aimed at the adventurous, the TG-810 also includes GPS for affixing coordinates to images and three compass sensors so the camera even knows which way it’s pointed. The problem, however, is that the TG-810 not only takes an age to get a GPS signal, but the use of GPS significantly reduces battery life.
Inexplicably, Olympus has included a 14-megapixel sensor capable of 1 600 ISO — inexplicable because, firstly, eight or 10 megapixels would have produced equally good if not even better images while offering better pixel density and, secondly, using anything above 400 ISO results in images so noisy you’re better off using the built-in flash.
It’s not that the TG-810’s flash is poor, specifically: it’s that straight-on compact camera flashes are generally horrible. But this would still be preferable to grainy, colour and luminance noise-filled images. Add to this the fact that the TG-810’s maximum aperture is f3.9 and the result is a compact that’s only really useful in daylight.
Hidden behind a water- and shock-proof piece of glass is the TG-810’s 5x optical zoom lens that offers a 35mm equivalent zoom range of 28-140mm. The lens focuses internally so that it needn’t protrude and includes an automatic lens shutter that opens when the camera is turned on and closes when it is switched off or the review mode is used for an extended period.
Also protected by impact-proof glass is the 3-inch LCD. The LCD display is one of the TG-810’s best features: it’s bright, rich in contrast, offers wide viewing angles and includes 920 000 pixels, all of which makes for a high-resolution and accurate display.
The TG-810 offers a wide variety of automatic and manual settings, including various digital filters, face and pet detection, a 3D mode that takes two slightly offset images and creates a 3D composite, automatic panorama stitching and even a “beauty mode” that automatically touches up images.
On the less gimmicky side, the TG-810 supports Eye-Fi cards that can automatically transmit images over a Wi-Fi network as they’re taken or after the fact. It also has a built-in manometer to make sure you don’t go too deep when using it underwater.
The camera shoots video at 720p in either MP4 or H.264 formats. Though the actual video is little to write home about and is unlikely to attract serious video shooters, the decision to include the ability to use the included digital filters for shooting video is a good one.
Another novel feature is ability to change settings like the TG-810’s shooting mode by tapping the side of the camera. Different settings can be assigned to different regions of the camera body. Users can also move between images in preview mode by tilting the camera thanks to the built-in gyroscope.
The tap functionality is intended to make the camera easier to use with gloves on, which makes Olympus’s decision to make the various buttons of the TG-810 so small and fiddly all the more strange. The four-way controller is particularly annoying and often results in a move up or down a menu instead of left or right, or vice versa.
TechCentral Craig Wilson does his best to abuse the TG-810 (via YouTube):
Overall, the Olympus TG-810 is good at what it’s meant to be good at — namely withstanding abuse — and not great at everything else.
If the toughness of your camera is your main priority, it’s superb. But if you also want to be able to take great pictures, enjoy excellent battery life and expect intuitive menus and responsive controls, you’re going to be disappointed.
Available in silver or black, the Olympus TG-810 costs R3 999. — Craig Wilson, TechCentral