Olympus TG-3 Review - The Olympus TG-3 is the manufacturer's latest high-end lifeproof compact, aimed at resisting all you can throw at it. Find out if it succeeds in the WDC review...
The SW series has become the Stylus Tough range, and today we’re looking at the new flagship of Olympus adventure cameras, the Stylus Tough TG-3.
Olympus TG-3 Review – Features
Most of the current crop of waterproof, shockproof, freeze-proof adventure cameras are, once you strip away the O-ring seals and armour plating, fairly simple compact cameras at heart, and have a strictly limited set of features.
With the TG-3 Olympus has attempted to buck this trend, and has equipped its flagship waterproof compact with some features designed to appeal to the more ambitious photographer.
The TG-3 has a 4x optical zoom lens equivalent to 25-100mm. Like all waterproof compacts the lens is non-protruding, instead extending inwards when zoomed. Unusually it has a maximum aperture of a relatively fast f/2.0, and the camera also has an aperture priority mode to take advantage of this, although like many such options on compacts it only offers a choice of three settings; minimum, maximum or medium.
Olympus claims exceptional low-light capability as well, but in fact low-light focusing is no better than average, and the maximum sensitivity of 6400 ISO is only a little better than most of its competitors.
Additional lens functionality
One unusual feature is the lens bezel, which can be removed with a twist to reveal a bayonet mount for a couple of optional accessories, including a 6.8x teleconverter, a fisheye converter and a macro ring-flash adaptor.
The TG-3’s tough credentials are fairly impressive. It is submersible to a depth of 15m and can withstand falls of 2.1m (7ft) onto hard surfaces. It can also withstand crushing pressures of 100kgs and temperatures down to minus 10 centigrade, although most other adventure cameras boast similar capabilities.
The TG-3 does have some interesting close-up features, including a 1cm macro “microscope” function, focus stacking and focus bracketing. While these are undoubtedly useful features, they’re nothing new.
Other features include the now-obligatory Wi-Fi connectivity, built-in GPS for location tagging, and 1080p video recording with stereo audio, instant start and optical zoom.
Olympus TG-3 Review – Design
Thankfully most manufacturers are moving away from making their adventure cameras look like sci-fi military hardware, in favour of a more conventional appearance, and the design if the TG-3 reflects this.
It still has a couple of unnecessary exposed bolt heads on the front cover, but other than that it looks like a normal compact camera. It has a textured rubber grip on the right of the body and a small thumb-grip area on the back, making it nice and comfortable to hold, but the control design leaves something to be desired.
The on/off button, shutter button and zoom lever on the top plate are partly recessed, which may protect them from damage, but makes them hard to operate, especially when wearing gloves. The zoom control is especially fiddly.
The rear panel controls are no better, with small fiddly buttons, a narrow partly-recessed mode dial and a small D-pad. Fortunately Olympus’ menu design has improved markedly over the past few years, mostly by taking cues from other manufacturers, and the addition of a quick menu for commonly-used settings is especially useful.
Needless to say the build quality is excellent. The two hatches have sturdy hinges, locking latches and O-ring seals, and the plastic body feels extremely tough and durable. The supplied wrist strap and its steel mounting point look like they could be used to tow a Land Rover.
Olympus TG-3 Review – Performance
The TG-3’s overall performance is very good. It can start up and take a picture in well under two seconds, which is fast by current compact standards, and in single-shot mode it has a shot-to-shot time of approximately 0.8 seconds, which is very quick by any standard.
Focusing is fast and accurate in good lighting conditions. As noted previously its low-light focusing could be better, but at least it fails quickly rather than hunting around. It does have a bright white LED next to the flash which can be used as a focusing aid, but bizarrely this cannot be used with the flash, and doesn’t operate in video mode.
The TG-3 has three continuous shooting modes; a full-resolution 5fps modes as well as two high-speed modes, shooting at 15fps or 60fps, but only at 3MP resolution.
Battery performance seems to be very good. The TG-3 is powered by a sizable 1350mAh battery; Olympus makes no specific claims for its duration, but during testing we shot about 200 frames and it was still showing a full three bars on the battery meter.
Olympus TG-3 Review – Image Quality
Colour and White Balance
With the TG-3, colour reproduction in standard mode is under-saturated, making even bright colours look pale and washed out.
It does have a vivid mode, but this goes too far in the other direction, looking a touch garish and unreal. However the worst part is the automatic white balance, which is unreliable, producing visible colour casts in all but ideal conditions, and further damaging the colour reproduction.
Most of the shots we took during testing were outdoors in fairly bright conditions, usually ideal conditions for photography and typical of the situations for which the TG-3 was designed.
However the exposure metering was also unreliable, frequently over-exposing shots by around half a stop, and the dynamic range is also poor, resulting in blown-out highlights in many shots.
The combination of a decent quality lens and a 16MP sensor does at least record a good level of detail, although in this respect it’s really no better than any other comparable compact. It’s also very easy to lose detail due to finger marks and other dirt on the glass lens cover, so make sure you check this before shooting.
Image noise is always a problem with small, overcrowded compact camera sensors, but it’s how the camera’s processor copes with it that counts.
The TG-3’s noise control is generally effective, and the 6400 ISO maximum sensitivity setting is certainly usable, but it is a bit heavy handed, blurring out detail and smearing colour gradients at anything over 800 ISO.
The TG-3’s lens is pretty good for a waterproof compact. It does produce some corner blurring at wide angle, but the centre portion is nice and sharp, and the 25mm wide-angle setting is largely free from optical distortion.
The f/2.0 maximum aperture is of course only available at the shortest focal length, but on the whole it acquits itself well.
Olympus TG-3 Review – Verdict
The TG-3 tries to do things a little differently, and it does have some very good qualities. Its performance is excellent, it has a good range of features and the menu system is very nice.
Even the f/2.0 lens and aperture priority mode are welcome additions. However there’s no escaping the fact that it’s more expensive than most of its rivals, it doesn’t perform as well in waterproof depth, and the option of add-on lenses is just not that tempting.
Add to that the fiddly controls, unreliable auto white balance and exposure metering and while the TG-3 is an eye-catching mode, it’s not quite the best in category.