Olympus Stylus Tough TG-2 iHS Preview
by Mike Tomkins
Olympus' latest rugged, go-anywhere camera leads something of a double life. On the one hand, its styling is filled with angles, protrusions, texture variations, and bared screw heads that give the impression of a precision tool crafted to meet a difficult challenge. (And that's an accurate impression, because it's waterproof to 50 feet, shockproof to 6.6 feet, freezeproof to 14°F, crushproof to 220 pounds, and dustproof. It's also location-aware, and sports an interesting microscopic macro function that brings your subject up close and extremely personal.) On the other hand, it comes accompanied with a pair of lens rings that let you match the color to your personal style, along with what Olympus calls a "premium wrist strap [to] customize the camera's look". The Olympus TG-2 is, it seems, equal parts technical wizardry and fashion statement.
Inside its aluminum body, which can be used underwater at depths ten feet beyond what its predecessor could manage, the Olympus Stylus TG-2 includes not only a built-in GPS receiver and electronic compass, but also a manometer that lets it determine just how far beneath the surface you are. (And it can warn you when that 50 foot depth limit is approaching, so you don't stray too deep.) There's also the pairing of a 1/2.3-inch, 12.4-megapixel backside illuminated CMOS image sensor, whose pixel pitch is 1.55µm, as well as a TruePic VI image processor. Together, these give a sensitivity range of ISO 100 to 6,400 equivalents. And catering to difficult ambient light, the sensor is mounted on a movable platter to provide for sensor-shift image stabilization, reducing blur from camera shake. Sensor and processor together also allow for some pretty handy speed: five frames per second at the full 12 megapixel resolution for as many as 25 frames, and up to 60 fps for as many as a hundred images at a resolution of three megapixels.
In the center of that colorful, interchangeable lens ring, the Olympus Tough TG-2 features a 4x optical zoom lens with a bright f/2.0 maximum aperture at its 25mm-equivalent wide angle. By the telephoto position of 100mm-equivalent, this falls to f/4.9. The lens design includes nine elements in seven groups, of which four are double-sided aspheric elements. Remove the lens ring altogether, and you can mount your choice of a waterproof fisheye or teleconverter adapter lens, allowing use both above and below water. The lens will focus down to 10cm normally, and 1cm in macro mode -- and unusually you can focus this close at any focal length above ~31mm equivalent. Both face detection and tracking functions are included, and the Olympus TG-2's lens has one more rather nifty trick up its sleeve. A special Microscopic Macro function will, says Olympus, increase magnificant to 14x with "no noticeable loss of image quality" at a distance of just one centimeter from your subject.
On the rear panel, there's a three-inch Organic LED monitor with a resolution of 610,000 dots or thereabouts. Exposure modes include Intelligent Auto, Program, and Aperture-priority. Available shutter speeds range from 1/4 to 1/2,000 second, and can be raised as high as four seconds in night mode. At ISO 1,600 equivalent, a built-in flash has a working range of 7.9 meters at wide angle, and 3.1 meters at telephoto.
The Olympus TG-2 also has some special modes aimed at providing better ease of use, and some extra creative possibilities. The HDR Backlight Adjustment mode combines multiple, sequential shots to create a single image with greater dynamic range than is possible in a single exposure. Hand-held Starlight mode is similar, but raises sensitivity to get a shorter, hand-holdable shutter speed, and then averages the exposures to reduce noise levels. The Intelligent Auto mode has been improved and now recognizes 34 different scene types. There's also a selection of 11 Magic Filter effects functions, plus a Beauty mode that yields more attractive portraits and can simulate details like blush makeup.
As well as stills, the Olympus TG2 also shoots 1080p (Full HD; 1,920 x 1,080 pixel) high definition movies, at a rate of 30 frames per second. These are stored in H.264-compressed .MOV format, and the TG-2 can also shoot high-speed videos in Motion JPEG .AVI format. Two rates are available for high-speed videos: 120 fps for VGA (640 x 480 pixels), and 240 fps for QVGA (320 x 240 pixels).
Images and movies are stored on Secure Digital cards, including SDHC and SDXC types, as well as Wi-Fi capable cards such as those from Eye-Fi and Toshiba's FlashAir line. There's also 22MB of built-in memory. High-speed UHS-I cards aren't supported, however. Connectivity includes both USB 2.0 High Speed data, and a high-def HDMI output. The latter requires an optional cable, and supports the HDMI CEC standard for controlling your camera via your TV's remote. Power comes from an LI-90B proprietary lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack, said to be good for 320 frames on a charge.
Olympus will sell the Stylus Tough TG-2 in the US market from March 2012, priced at around US$380. Two body-color options will be available: black, or red. Each will ship with both black and red lens rings in the kit.
And if the standard waterproofing depth of 50 feet isn't enough for you, you can take the camera even deeper if you pick up the Olympus PT-053 underwater housing. This will allow use at depths up to an impressive 135 feet (45 meters).