BUILD AND DESIGN
Our review unit was the blue variant and its metal body seemed well built. Size and shape is about that of a deck of cards (with a few subtle curves and rounded edges here and there).
Ergonomics and Controls
The Tough 3000 has a simple, straightforward layout - power and shutter buttons sit atop the camera body with the rest of the external controls arrayed vertically along the right rear of the body. These include the dedicated video recording and camera guide/menu guide buttons. The lens is mounted at the top left of the camera body and invites being obscured by fingers of the left hand, but a slightly raised ridge around the lens housing serves as a constant reminder to keep clear.
The replay button has the option to be set, via internal menu, to power up the camera (in addition to the normal power switch), but if you enable this feature the camera powers up to replay mode. You can return to shooting mode by pushing replay again, or by a half push of the shutter button.
Menus and Modes
One of the Olympus talking points for the Tough 3000 is "a new graphical user interface (GUI) for intuitive operation," and I'd have to say "mission accomplished" in this regard. Once the camera powers up, the shooting menu displayed vertically along the right side of the monitor is fairly easy to figure out. Options in the shooting menu will vary depending on the particular mode chosen, so the screen will be fairly clean in the iAuto mode, with only flash and self-timer settings available to the user. On the other hand, shooting in programmed auto offers the user the maximum in available settings and the screen is filled along the right vertical edge.
The camera has a "perfect shot" feature that previews the effects of certain settings. For example, if you happen to be shooting in a mode that offers white balance and/or exposure compensation control, the Tough 3000 will give you a split screen when selecting either of those options. The center image is the existing setting, and you are also presented with what the image would look like in adjacent white balance settings or over/under compensation. As you change settings in either option, the newly selected setting goes to the middle screen and the adjacent screens adjust their images based on your change.
While the interface is intuitive enough, scrolling around it can be time consuming depending on your need. The Tough 3000 doesn't have a control wheel to allow for rapid scrolling - you go here and there in the menus via pushes on the arrow pad - and it takes a minimum of 11 pushes to get to "format" once you know exactly which sub-menu you're going to in programmed auto mode. If you have to scroll through each item, the push count jumps to 21. Things are a little better in iAuto - 11 pushes to format from that mode if you know exactly where to go, and "only" 20 going the long route. The Tough 3000 defaults back to programmed auto mode every time the camera is powered off, so as a practical matter, unless you happen to swap cards and format with the power on, you're going the long route to format no matter your preferred shooting mode.
With the Tough 3000, your preferred shooting mode had best be automatic since the closest you'll get to manual control is program auto (which doesn't give you any true manual control but offers the widest range of user-established settings).
As promised, more on the panorama mode, including the one word key to success: tripod. You can make a nice image in the auto mode hand-holding the camera, but it's not easy. Here's the best of about a half dozen tries from my driveway:
Not too bad if you look it over quickly at smaller sizes, but at 100% there's a vertical seam right in the middle of the shot, most noticeable in the house and distant tree at the center. Here's my first and only try with a tripod and ball head:
Why, you may ask, are the shots under a clear sky and an overcast one? Because the defect in the original wasn't readily apparent on the camera monitor and I didn't look at the shot on a computer until a day or so later. Imagine if you took a panorama on vacation, it looked OK on the screen and you moved on, only to find that night there was a glitch in the shot. The tripod/ballhead combo give you an excellent chance of getting it right the first time, auto or manual. Installing the Olympus software from the camera on your computer and having it merge images is the third option, which I didn't pursue. These images were of two shots that have been merged, but you can merge as many as three in panorama mode.
The Tough 3000's 2.7-inch LCD monitor has a 230,000-dot composition and 5 levels of illumination; however, default is about as bright as the monitor gets and there is no setting that keeps the monitor from being difficult to use in some bright outdoor conditions. Area coverage is not specified but appears to be 100%. There is no viewfinder.
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