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Olympus Stylus Tough 3000 Review
by Jim Keenan -  6/30/2010

When the Olympus Stylus Tough 3000 reached the market in February 2010 it landed squarely in the already crowded under 5x optical zoom class of compact digitals. It became the first camera in the Tough series to offer HD (720p) video, accessible via a dedicated one-touch record button. There's a 2.7 inch LCD monitor, image stabilization, and 1GB of internal memory (with 632MB available for shooting functions).

Olympus Stylus Tough 3000


The camera also accepts SD/SDHC memory media and features a dual image stabilization system that incorporates both mechanical and digital processes. Add a 12 megapixel sensor, face detection technology, a 3.6x zoom lens that covers the 28 to 102mm focal range (35mm equivalent), and aside from that generous internal memory the Tough 3000 looks fairly middle-of-the-road at this point. Here's a look at that focal range.

Olympus Tough 3000 Test Image
Wide Angle 28mm

Olympus Tough 3000 Test Image
Telephoto 102mm

But wait, there's more! Waterproof functionality to 10 feet (for one hour), cold resistance to 14 degrees Fahrenheit and the ability to survive a 5 foot fall are what separate this camera from the pack and earn it that "Tough" designation. While that 102mm telephoto doesn't get very close to surfers from shore, it's a whole new ballgame when your camera allows you into the water. The videos that follow were taken on a gray and overcast day and should not be taken as representative of video quality from the Tough 3000 under all conditions - I offer them to illustrate the opportunities that may present themselves when you're able to get close with your subjects, even while getting knocked about in the waves.

Olympus includes USB and A/V cables, an AC adapter and Li-ion battery, wrist strap and quick-start manual with each camera. Still wondering about that 368MB of internal memory not available for shooting? It stores an in-camera user's manual and other software (in lieu of a CD-ROM and paper manual). The Tough 3000 comes in blue, green, pink and red versions.

The toughest camera in the world won't attract much of a following if it doesn't produce in the image department, so let's see if the Tough 3000 is still standing once all the shooting is done.

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).

Olympus Stylus Tough 3000

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.

Olympus Stylus Tough 3000

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.

Olympus Stylus Tough 3000
iAuto
Olympus Stylus Tough 3000
Program

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.

Olympus Stylus Tough 3000
EV Compensation
Olympus Stylus Tough 3000
White Balance

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:

Olympus Tough 3000 Test Image

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:

Olympus Tough 3000 Test Image

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.

Display
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.

Olympus Stylus Tough 3000

PERFORMANCE
My initial, quick outing with the Tough 3000 for the First Look review on this site found the camera producing nice images and autofocus times that were "OK" along with middle-of- the- road shutter lag. The images part of this equation has generally held up, but things aren't quite so rosy on the AF and shutter times.

Shooting Performance
Even with all the extraneous start-up screens disabled, the Tough 3000 takes about 3.4 seconds to display a focus point. It took me 4.4 seconds to get off a first shot, and single shot-to-shot times ran about 4 seconds. Continuous shooting at full resolution ran 0.4 fps; a high speed option produced a 2.4 fps rate (about twice what Olympus claims) but at 3 megapixel resolution. All these times were with a class 10 SD memory card. AF acquisition times ran 0.86 seconds with shutter lag coming in at 0.12 seconds.

Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)

Camera Time (seconds)
Casio Exilim EX-G1 0.01
Fujifilm FinePix Z33WP 0.06
Canon PowerShot D10 0.08
Olympus Stylus Tough 3000 0.12

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)

Camera Time (seconds)
Casio Exilim EX-G1 0.20
Canon PowerShot D10 0.36
Fujifilm FinePix Z33WP 0.41
Olympus Stylus Tough 3000 0.86


Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames Framerate*
Canon PowerShot D10 1.2 fps
Fujifilm FinePix Z33WP 3 0.8 fps
Casio Exilim EX-G1 0.5 fps
Olympus Stylus Tough 3000 0.4 fps

* Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.

The shutter lag is probably the more noticeable of the two - the Tough 3000 monitor goes black, followed by the shutter firing noise when you initiate the full push of the shutter button. I got fooled once before by a camera with a similar sequence - it seemed slow, but apparently the capture was initiated immediately and the blackout and noise were after the fact. The Tough seems a bit slow and the stopwatch says it is. The AF acquisition time was a surprise - after more than a week shooting the camera the times do feel slower than that first quick series of shots, but I would have guessed more in the area of 0.6 seconds.

With a base ISO sensitivity of 64 it was not surprising to find the range of the built-in flash is not great. Olympus didn't mention range in the camera's press release, in-camera manual or the downloadable instruction manual found on the Olympus website. You'll gain range as you increase ISO sensitivity, of course, but noise becomes a consideration. The Tough 3000 uses a CCD type sensor, which as a class are generally considered to offer somewhat inferior high ISO noise performance to CMOS sensors. Olympus considers 400 and up as "high" ISO in the Tough 3000.

Flash recycle times ranged from 4.5 to 5.5 seconds with a fully charged battery. One nice feature is that the Tough 3000 will allow you to acquire focus with a half push while the flash is recharging so you can be ready to shoot again as soon as the flash is back to full power.

Power management is a bit awkward with the Tough 3000. Battery life is listed as 160 shots so multiple spares are a minimum for all-day shooting sessions. Initially, the shoot for the first impressions review on this site indicated the camera might fall well short of the published figure. Now, after shooting the Tough 3000 for over a week it appears the battery life meets the specs. The camera's battery "fuel gauge" seems to be reading low and starts flashing the red low battery icon as soon as the power level drops below 2/3. There is a "power save" option in the setup menu that is off by default - enabling it is a good idea, although it results in the monitor being blacked out after 10 seconds. Pushing the shutter button or any of the camera back controls brings the monitor back up in about 1 second.

Olympus Stylus Tough 3000

Recharge time for a fully depleted battery is 2.5 hours, and the Tough 3000 battery must be charged in the camera via USB connection as it comes packaged from Olympus. This means you can charge via computer or an included AC adapter, but either way the camera becomes a paperweight during recharging periods. Unless, of course, you choose to purchase the optional $40 lithium-ion battery charger that handles this task with the battery out of the camera. It's the charger I wish Olympus would have included with the camera and first thing I'd buy if I owned a Tough 3000.

Lens Performance
The Tough 3000 displayed slight barrel distortion at the wide end of the zoom. Corners were soft and there was some chromic aberration (purple fringing) present in some high contrast boundary areas - visible at 100% enlargement in some instances. Telephoto was distortion-free and fairly uniformly sharp across the frame; purple fringing was present but to a much lesser degree than the wider end of the lens.

Image Quality
Default image and color quality out of the Tough 3000 were accurate and image sharpness seemed to be acceptable. Good thing as there's no sharpness adjustment in the camera and Olympus doesn't use the typical color palette option found in most other compacts. You shoot at the default setting, and then can alter images through post processing in camera, while saving the original. Here's the default shot along with the B&W, sepia, high and low saturation options.

Olympus Tough 3000 Test Image
Default
Olympus Tough 3000 Test Image
Low Saturation
Olympus Tough 3000 Test Image
High Saturation
Olympus Tough 3000 Test Image
Black and White
Olympus Tough 3000 Test Image
Sepia

It would have been nice had Olympus allowed the various color modes to be selected for capture, rather than require they be created after the fact.

The camera also has its "magic" shooting mode that allows you to capture images with effects applied such as pinhole, pop art, fisheye and drawing: here's the default shot, and then the same shot in the various modes.

Olympus Tough 3000 Test Image
Default
Olympus Tough 3000 Test Image
Pop Art
Olympus Tough 3000 Test Image
Pinhole

Fisheye
Olympus Tough 3000 Test Image
Drawing

These effects are selected via menu and captured as the image, rather than being post-processed.

The Tough 3000 version of enhancing the apparent dynamic range of the camera goes by the moniker of "shadow adjustment" and is disabled as a default - "auto" and "on" settings are available. Auto applies the shadow adjustment effect "when shooting against backlight" while on is for "shooting with automatic adjustment to brighten an area that has become darker." In practice they provide a fairly benign impact, at least on this backlit flower basket.

Olympus Tough 3000 Test Image
None
Olympus Tough 3000 Test Image
Auto
Olympus Tough 3000 Test Image
On

Auto white balance worked well for a variety of lighting conditions and shot better (cooler) than most in the studio under incandescent lighting. The camera also offers daylight, overcast, tungsten and 3 fluorescent presets.

Olympus Tough 3000 Test Image
Auto White Balance, 3200k incandescent light

I used Olympus digital ESP metering for most of the exposures and found it worked well with average scenes but had a tendency to lose highlights a bit more than most compacts I've dealt with when shooting in higher contrast light situations. Spot metering is also available as well as a face recognition ESP that causes faces to be lightened when backlight is detected.

The Tough 3000 breaks no new ground in the ISO noise arena, offering average high ISO noise performance at best. ISO 64 and 100 are close but I can still see a slight edge to 64 even though I shot many of the images for this review at 100 to hopefully keep shutter speeds up a bit. ISO 200 is fairly clean but definitely worse than 100, and 400 can be clearly differentiated from 200.

Olympus Tough 3000 Test Image
ISO 64
Olympus Tough 3000 Test Image
ISO 64, 100% crop
Olympus Tough 3000 Test Image
ISO 100
Olympus Tough 3000 Test Image
ISO 100, 100% crop
Olympus Tough 3000 Test Image
ISO 200
Olympus Tough 3000 Test Image
ISO 200, 100% crop
Olympus Tough 3000 Test Image
ISO 400
Olympus Tough 3000 Test Image
ISO 400, 100% crop
Olympus Tough 3000 Test Image
ISO 800
Olympus Tough 3000 Test Image
ISO 800, 100% crop
Olympus Tough 3000 Test Image
ISO 1600
Olympus Tough 3000 Test Image
ISO 1600, 100% crop

ISO 800 is a last resort and 1600 might not even be that, except for small images when no other option exists.

With ISO performance stacking up as average, the concern with all the automatic modes is if the Tough 3000 starts to ramp up ISO due to a particular mode or as the digital half of the dual stabilization system.

Fortunately, the Tough seems to not be overly prone to go to higher ISOs, at least for exposure purposes. That's good news as there isn't a lot of room for image quality on anything other than small images once ISO sensitivities start moving north of 400. Shooting in programmed auto allows the user control of ISO sensitivity and that alone argues forcefully for programmed auto as the mode of choice for the Tough 3000.

Video Quality
Video quality was not too bad, dependent of course on lighting and other variables. I shot all the videos hand held with movie stabilization enabled. With the one-button approach the camera is handling all settings except movie size, quality, stabilization and sound. If you have sound recording enabled, the optical zoom is unavailable, but digital zoom is. With sound disabled optical zoom is also in play. The microphone is susceptible to wind noise but there is no "wind cut" feature. Olympus has not included information on their website, the quick start guide, downloadable user's manual, Tough 3000 press release or in-camera user's guide as to movie clip size or time limits.

*Update: The Stylus Tough 3000 will record 720p HD video with sound at fine compression for a maximum clip length of 1 hour, 57 minutes and 29 seconds with 8GB available flash memory. Clip length at QVGA resolution with 8GB available is limited to 6 hours, 08 minutes and 47 seconds.

Additional Sample Images
Olympus Tough 3000 Test Image Olympus Tough 3000 Test Image
Olympus Tough 3000 Test Image Olympus Tough 3000 Test Image
Olympus Tough 3000 Test Image Olympus Tough 3000 Test Image
Olympus Tough 3000 Test Image Olympus Tough 3000 Test Image

CONCLUSIONS
It might be very tempting to categorize the Tough 3000 as nothing more than an average compact digital with a bit more survivability than most others, and the camera's basic specifications don't do much to counter this proposition. A sensor with 12 megapixels, a 3.6x optical zoom covering the 28 to 102mm focal range, 720p HD video and a 2.7-inch monitor can be found in many cameras. But I'd prefer to think of it (and, for that matter any purpose-built camera with an underwater/cold weather/shock resistant character) as a specialized instrument with the survivability as the first priority and the image capture performance as somewhat secondary.

Image quality is good and the one-button video capture is a definite advantage considering the places and activities where the camera may see use. Shutter lag and AF acquisition times could be better but are not fatal. Battery life may be problematic as the 160 shot capacity really mandates at least one additional battery for all day shooting sessions.


The camera is not particularly quick when capturing on a shot-to-shot basis, and to manipulate image colors requires post processing. If you don't need a camera to go in the water or out in the snow there's any number of choices that will provide as good or better image quality with better shutter, AF and battery performance. But if you do need something to take along when you're headed in harm's way, the Stylus Tough 3000 is worth a look.

Pros:

Cons: