Olympus Stylus Tough-6000 Overview
Overview by Mike Tomkins
Review by Shawn Barnett, Dave Etchells
and Stephanie Boozer
Review Posted: 07/15/09
The Olympus Stylus Tough-6000 is the latest in Olympus' newly renamed "Tough" series of take-a-licking, keep-on-ticking digital cameras. Featuring a shockproof, waterproof, freezeproof, shakeproof body - we're starting to wonder just how many more things Olympus can find to proof their cameras against - the Olympus 6000 is designed to take whatever the elements can throw at it - or perhaps, whatever you might accidentally throw it at! Able to survive a drop from 5 feet, to capture photos at up to 10 feet underwater, and even to be used in temperatures as low as 14 degrees Fahrenheit / -10 degrees Celsius, the photographer is likely to surrender long before the camera does. Inside this impressive exterior are the combination of a 1/2.33"-type ten megapixel image sensor and an Olympus-branded 3.6x optical zoom lens with a useful 28mm wide-angle. A 2.7-inch LCD display with 230,000 dot resolution offers the Olympus Tough-6000's only option for framing and reviewing images, as there's no optical viewfinder on this model. For the first time, the Olympus Stylus Tough-6000 includes true mechanical image stabilization - an important addition that forms half of the company's "Dual Image Stabilization" system. The other half is what Olympus calls "Digital Image Stabilization", which increases the ISO sensitivity (and along with it, both the shutter speed and image noise levels) to try and freeze motion. ISO sensitivity ranges from a low of ISO 50 to a maximum of ISO 1,600 equivalent.
Perhaps the Olympus Stylus 6000's most unusual feature is what Olympus has dubbed "Tap Control". A 3D accelerometer in the camera's body is used as an input method, allowing different patterns of taps on the camera's body from different directions to control functions on the camera. For example, a double tap on the camera's side can be used to turn on the camera's flash or Shadow Adjustment function. It's an unusual idea, and one that seems to make some sense if you consider that the camera can be used in conditions where taking your hands out of thick gloves might not be the best idea. The Olympus Stylus Tough-6000 employs a contrast-detection autofocus system operating off data streaming from the camera's image sensor, and the Stylus 6000 also includes face detection capability, able to detect up to sixteen faces in a scene simultaneously. Olympus' Face Detection function is linked to both the autoexposure and autofocus systems, ensuring that your subjects' faces are taken into account when determining both these variables. It also allows for tracking of a subject's face as it moves around the frame,once detected.
A "Perfect Shot Preview" mode accessible through the awkwardly-named "Olympus Recommended" button allows users to see what the effects of certain camera adjustments - for example, zoom, exposure compensation, white balance, or metering mode - will be before actually taking a photo. A generous 20 scene modes including several underwater modes are offered in the Olympus 6000, plus a Program Auto mode, allowing users some degree of control over their images without needing to understand the subtleties of shutter speeds and apertures. In-camera image editing is possible, with the Olympus Tough-6000 able to resize images, as well as correct for red-eye and exposure problems, adjust saturation, and even smooth a subject's complexion or call attention to their eyes. An in-camera panorama mode is started with a press of the shutter button followed by panning the camera slowly across the scene. The Stylus Tough-6000 then cleverly captures two more photos by itself at the correct moment, and combines the three images together in-camera to offer a single stitched scene automatically. For creation of larger panoramas up to ten images, the included software can be used on a computer.
For viewing images on a television, the Olympus Stylus Tough-6000 has NTSC / PAL video output connectivity, while images can be transferred to a PC over a USB 2.0 High-Speed connection. A rechargeable LI-50B Lithium Ion battery with charger is included with the Stylus Tough-6000, which is CIPA rated for 230 shots. Olympus' Master 2 software is also included for viewing and modifying photos. Images are stored in 42MB of internal memory, as well as on xD-Picture Card memory cards. Interestingly, Olympus has also chosen to include an MASD-1 microSD to xD-Picture Card adapter in the Stylus Tough-6000 bundle, allowing the use of microSD cards in the camera as well.
The Olympus Stylus Tough-6000 began shipping in the USA from January 2009 with pricing of about US$300.
Olympus Tough-6000 User Report
by Shawn Barnett
Easily the sportiest looking camera in the roundup, the Olympus Stylus Tough 6000 has more of the stuff you want when you're looking for a rugged camera. It's waterproof up to 10 feet, withstands a fall from five feet, and can handle a freeze down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit (-10C). Its 10-megapixel sensor sits under a 3.6x image-stabilized lens ranging from 28-102mm equivalent.
Look and feel. With physical similarities to the Panasonic TS1 and Olympus Tough 8000, the Tough 6000 has style cues similar to wetsuit design, and would look perfect in a surf shop. Available in white, blue, and yellow, the Olympus 6000 has a slight grip out front, and the raised mode dial on the back serves as a good thumbgrip.
Made of metal and plastic, the Olympus 6000 weighs 6 ounces (170g), and because of the relatively thin profile, it feels good and solid. A large standoff surrounds and protects the lens opening, and a brushed metal door slides open when you power up the Olympus Tough 6000.
Controls. The power and shutter buttons on the Tough 6000 are of better quality than the Olympus 550WP, as are the buttons on the back; more like the buttons on the TS1 and 8000. They're a little smaller than the TS1's but I didn't find them terribly hard to use (hint, just angle your thumb a bit).
Unlike the mushy ones on some other cameras in this roundup, the Tough 6000's shutter button has a very clear tactile distinction between the half and full-press. That makes starting autofocus and committing to the shot as easy as it should be.
The mode dial disappointed me somewhat. Because the six settings are spread out over the whole surface of the disk, the camera easily moves to a position in-between stops, rather than snicking positively to one or another setting. On the TS1, they're bunched up closer and each movement is hard enough to begin that you automatically move to the next setting. It's a little odd to explain, but you'll know what I mean if you use the camera enough.
Olympus has moved to a well-designed Function menu that's fairly similar to Canon's, with oft-used settings on the left and their options lined up across the bottom. Pressing the OK/FUNC button in the middle brings the menu up, then confirms selections.
Pressing the Display (DISP) button brings up a Date/Time screen, complete with battery icon, something I've often wanted on a digicam. Another neat trick that several Olympus cameras have performed is the flashlight function. The bright white AF assist lamp next to the flash can be set to serve as a flashlight, activated when you press and hold the DISP button for about three seconds.
If that's not cool enough for you, the Stylus Tough 6000 can be controlled by tapping it when you turn on the Tap Control feature. Designed to be used on the ski slopes while wearing gloves, Tap Control can be very cool. I'm only annoyed when accidentally jostling the camera activates a control. Even if you have the feature turned off, tapping twice on the top of the Tough 6000 brings up the Tap Control On/Off menu.
Still, when you want it on, tapping the right side of the camera adjusts the flash mode, cycling in the direction of the tap with each tap. It feels like you're actually moving the highlight with the physical energy of each tap (...which, of course, you are). Tapping on the left cycles through the Macro modes, tapping on the LCD switches to Playback mode and tapping on the top confirms selections. I found no need for Tap Control in a summer setting, but I can see how useful it could be when wearing ski gloves or mittens in the wintertime.
Shooting. Though I expected the Tough 6000 experience to be as good as the 8000, but without the extra features, I was disappointed. The Tough 6000 is slower than the 8000, reminding me more of the 550WP and 1050SW than the Tough 8000.
Autofocus lag time is actually longer than the 550WP, which surprised the heck out of me. Overall, the Tough 6000 is a much better experience, but that AF lag can be rough. We're talking 1.24 seconds at wide and 1.4 seconds at telephoto. I haven't seen lag times like those in awhile. Average among point and shoot digital cameras we've tested is closer to 0.6 seconds. That's not at all what I expected from this sweet looking digital camera. Prefocus shutter lag is much better, though, so if you routinely half-press the shutter button, you'll be much happier with the 0.154 second shutter lag in that mode.
Startup time is also painfully slow, taking 4.3 seconds, and shutdown takes 2.5 seconds; the latter's no big deal, but waiting 4.3 seconds before you can take a shot is too long, especially for a camera that I'm hoping will capture my next outdoor adventure.
These numbers derived from laboratory testing explain my frustration with the Tough 6000 in the field. I can see that it's related to the Panasonic TS1 and Tough 8000, but it's just not acting anything like it.
Another vexing aspect I haven't seen in awhile is that the Tough 6000 freezes the screen as it tries to focus. That makes capturing that perfect expression, posture, or moment very difficult. In low light, the screen freezes for a very long time -- seconds -- before returning to live view.
One excellent feature of the Olympus 6000 is its HyperCrystal LCD, whose high-contrast screen makes framing your images in bright sunlight a sincere pleasure. It's not always tonally accurate, since it's high contrast, but it requires absolutely no squinting, quite a different experience from the 550WP. The Tough 8000 shares this screen as well.
I also like the Olympus 6000's 28-102mm lens, offering a nice wide angle view, though it's a little short at the telephoto end when compared to most of the other cameras in this roundup. Zoom is slow to start after you press the button, taking what feels like a full second, though it might only be a half.
That the lens is image stabilized is also excellent, so there's a plus as well.
Image quality is pretty good for the category, though there's the usual softening in the corners. Geometric distortion is very well controlled, so your buildings are liable to come out straight rather than curved at wide angle. And chromatic aberration is surprisingly moderate at wide angle, a little bright, but unlikely to turn up in any but the brightest prints.
Conservatively, the Tough 6000 will produce reasonably sharp 11x14-inch prints. 13x19-inch prints are usable, but not excellent. And at these sizes, those soft corners still show up as soft.
Overall, while the Olympus Tough 6000 makes good images, its slow functioning trips up the flow a little more than we like.
Olympus TOUGH-6000 Lens Quality
Wide: Slightly soft at center
Wide: Very soft upper left
Tele: Sharp at center
Tele: Softest lower left corner
Sharpness: The wide-angle end of the Olympus Stylus TOUGH-6000's zoom is very soft in the left corners of the frame, with better performance in the right corners. At telephoto, the left side of the frame again suffers from stronger blurring, while the right corners show only mild softening. On our test sample, the upper left corner was the worst, and the blurring extended fairly far into the frame. Blurring in the other corners went away fairly quickly as you move towards the center of the image. (If you buy a TOUGH-6000, good to check it and make sure the corners are roughly similar sharpness: The average here wouldn't be too bad, if the sensor chip had been aligned right in the body.)
Wide: Small amount of barrel distortion, minimally noticeable
Tele: Only about a pixel of pincushion, not noticeable
Geometric Distortion: At wide-angle, there is about 0.5% barrel distortion, which is lower than average and only slightly noticeable. There is little distortion of any kind at telephoto, only about one pixel of pincushion here.
Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle
is moderate, but pixels area quite bright. Telephoto, however, shows much less
distortion with only slightly bright bluish pixels noticeable.
Macro: The Olympus Stylus TOUGH-6000's "S-Macro" mode captures a sharp image at the center of the frame, with noticeable blurring in the corners extending toward center. There's also a small amount of chromatic aberration at the edges of the dollar bill. Minimum coverage area is 1.40 x 1.05 inches (36 x 27 millimeters). The camera's LED illuminator creates a very uneven exposure in "S-Macro LED" mode, with a bright reflection on the brooch. It also doesn't let you focus as close as without LED illumination. Minimum coverage area in this mode is 2.41 x 1.88 inches (64 x 48 millimeters). Thus, your closest macro shots will look best with external lighting.
Olympus TOUGH-6000 Image Quality
Color: Color looks pretty good with the Olympus Stylus
TOUGH-6000. Some yellows are a little muted, while strong reds are a bit bright,
but color looks mostly accurate. Hue is also pretty good overall, though orange
is strongly pushed toward yellow. Dark skintones are a little more saturated
and orange, but lighter tones are pretty spot on.
ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is good but already a little
soft at ISO 50, though it doesn't become too blurry until ISO 200-400. Thus,
the camera's efforts to suppress noise are hard at work. Chroma (color) noise
is pretty well controlled at all ISOs, but luminance noise is a problem at the
800 and 1,600 settings. Relative detail is still maintained as you go up the
ISO ladder, despite the noise suppression. See Printed results below for more
on how this affects prints.
Wide (13.1 ft.):
Bright but noisy
Tele (8.9 ft.):
Bright but noisy
Incandescent: Incandescent white balance mode handles our tungsten lighting test better than Auto mode, with the latter rendering a very warm image. Even with the Incandescent setting, white values are just the slightest hint cool, but overall color is much more accurate.
Results: We were pleasantly surprised to find that shots from the Olympus Stylus TOUGH-6000 could make good-looking prints as large as 13 x 19 inches at its lowest ISO setting. At that size, the prints were just slightly soft-looking, but more than adequate for display on a wall at any kind of normal viewing distance. That said, there was some color noise evident in the shadows at that size, even at the lowest ISO setting. As we increased the ISO sensitivity, the noise also increased rapidly. The highest sensitivity setting we could get decent-looking 8x10 inch prints from was ISO 400, and even there, the results were slightly marginal, with fairly visible color noise in the shadows. At higher ISOs, it actually did a bit better than its big brother, the TOUGH-8000, as the Olympus Stylus TOUGH-6000 controlled color noise better. With the Olympus 6000, we found prints from ISO 800 shots grainy but acceptable at 5x7 inches, and quite decent-looking at 4x6 inches. ISO 1,600 shots still weren't really usable beyond 4x6 inches, but did show less color noise (albeit more luminance noise) than did those from the 8000 under similar conditions.
Olympus TOUGH-6000 Performance
Shutter lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is markedly slow, at 1.24 second at wide angle and 1.41 second at full telephoto. Prefocus shutter lag is 0.154 second, also a little slower than average.
Cycle time: Cycle time is also on the sluggish side, capturing a frame every 4.11 seconds in single-shot mode.
Flash Recycle: The Olympus Stylus TOUGH-6000's flash is the only thing that's relatively quick, as it recycles in 5.5 seconds after a full-power discharge.
Olympus TOUGH-6000 Conclusion
The Olympus Stylus Tough 6000 competes well in many areas against other rugged/waterproof camera models. We think our sample had a tilted sensor chip, as its images were very soft in one corner, the softness extending far into the frame. Were it not for that particular defect, its image quality was competitive in the category. It's also stylish, combines ruggedness with a waterproof rating of 10 feet, and it offers optical image stabilization as well. Our big complaint with it, though, was its sluggish performance. Shutter lag and shot to shot times were very slow, making it poorly suited for any kind of action shooting. Given that a camera as rugged as the Olympus 6000 invites use in all sorts of active settings, we find it hard to recommend for the active life it seems designed for. If you can afford the roughly $80-90 difference in street price, the Olympus 8000 offers higher resolution, better shutter response and cycle time, and is even tougher and more waterproof than the Stylus Tough 6000; a better camera all around. (On the other hand, if you're not going to be shooting fast-breaking action, it'll do just fine for landscapes and scenery, and it's the toughest camera in its price range, at least as of this writing in mid-July, 2009.)