Olympus cameras are no strangers to unfriendly terrains. The Tough series of point-and-shoots have been snapping away in unforgiving weather conditions for years. Up 'til now, rugged cameras from every major manufacturer have been good at surviving the elements but have generally come up short in the image quality department.
The Tough TG-1 aims to bring better image quality to the rugged camera concept, starting with the lens. The enclosed 4x optical zoom boasts a fairly wide f/2.0 maximum aperture at wide angle, which could be a real help in keeping shutter speeds up when light fades. Full HD 1080p video is available thanks to a 12 megapixel backside illuminated CMOS sensor.
This tough cam is waterproof down to 40 feet (after that, you can purchase an underwater housing for depths of up to 135 feet), shockproof to a 6.6 foot drop, freezeproof to 14 degrees Fahrenheit, crushproof to a weight of 200 lbf. I was able to test out the TG1 in some of the environments that the camera is designed to withstand last week, exposing the TG1 to Pacific waters and plenty of dusty, sandy environments.
So far, the TG1 is more than standing up to the rugged test. A little snorkeling and a lot of dust haven't bothered the camera one bit. Underwater white balance will help you get the vibrant blues you might be expecting to see in ocean photography. The TG1 had no trouble under the water, though keeping up with a school of frantic fish was something of a challenge. The best I could do was point my camera in their direction and hope for the best. Other slower-moving subjects were easier to capture, like a submersible and a patch of seaweed.
It was a real bonus not having to worry about the camera getting to dusty or being knocked out of my hand as I navigated the crowds at the US Open of Surfing. Actually, it was awesome knowing I could toss the camera in my purse at any time and not have to worry about it being crushed by my checkbook.
Images are looking good-to-average so far. At lower ISO settings, images show very nice sharpness at the center of the frame. There are no manual exposure modes on the TG1 (which is a shame) but the camera's metering system does a very nice job of hanging on to highlights and blue skies in contrasty scenes. Unfortunately, in images shot at ISO 800 and above, I'm seeing plenty of unwanted noise.
It feels almost greedy criticizing the TG1 for grainy images and a lack of manual exposure modes. Didn't it just record full HD video while I was chasing down a school of fish under water? Didn't it stand up to a barrage of dust and sand when I buried it halfway in a dune for a product shot? Still, it comes with a substantial price tag and it's our task to find out whether it's a good all-around camera. That's exactly what we're working on now, so stay tuned for the full review.
Additional Sample Images