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Olympus Stylus Tough TG-630 iHS Preview

by Mike Tomkins
Posted 01/07/2013

The Olympus Stylus TG-630 iHS might look rather different to the simultaneously-announced TG-830, but the two cameras have quite a bit in common. Underneath the skin, they share the same lens, the same image processor, the same display... there are actually fewer differences than you might think at first glance. It'll take a closer look to notice that the Olympus TG-630 has a slightly lower-resolution sensor, is rather slower in burst performance, and that it lacks a built-in GPS receiver and compass. And you'll have to pay attention even more closely to recognize that -- while still pretty rugged -- it's actually not quite as impressively-rated as its more aggressively-styled sibling. But you'll doubtless notice a fairly big difference in one area: the pricetag. That alone may give you cause to consider the TG-630, lesser specifications or not.

The aluminum-bodied Olympus TG-630 is said to be waterproof to 16 feet, just half the depth of its pricier sibling. It's also shockproof to 5.5 feet, about 1.1 feet less than the TG-830 manages, and it lacks crushproofing altogether. Its still freezeproof to 14°F and dustproof, though, matching the more expensive camera on these points. Beneath the surface, the Olympus Stylus TG-630 features a 1/2.3-inch, 12.0-megapixel backside illuminated CMOS image sensor, whose pixel pitch is 1.55µm, paired to a TruePic VI image processor. Together, these allow for a sensitivity range of ISO 100 to 6,400 equivalents. The TG-630's sensor and processor together provide good performance: a brisk five frames per second is possible at the full 12 megapixel resolution for as many as 25 frames. Drop the resolution to three megapixels, and you'll get up to 60 fps for as many as 100 images. Whatever your outdoor pursuit of choice, you'll certainly be able to catch the right moment at that rate!

In front of its sensor, the Olympus Tough TG-630 places a 5x optical zoom lens with a 35mm-equivalent focal range of 28 to 140mm. Unfortunately, it's not the brightest, with an f/3.9 maximum aperture at wide angle, quickly falling to f/5.9 by the telephoto position. The lens design includes 11 elements in 8 groups, of which there's one extra-low dispersion element, and four are double-sided aspheric elements. At wide angle, the lens will focus down to 20cm normally, while in macro mode it's locked at around the 38mm-equivalent position, and allows focusing to just 3cm. Both face detection and tracking functions are included, and although the Olympus TG-630 iHS' lens isn't stabilized, the sensor is mounted on a movable platter that allows it to provide true mechanical stabilization.

On the rear panel, there's a three-inch HyperCrystal III LCD monitor with a resolution of approximately 460,000 dots. Exposure modes include Intelligent Auto and Program, but Manual or Priority capture isn't possible. 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 3.5 meters at wide angle, and 2.5 meters at telephoto.

The Olympus TG-630 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, and a Beauty mode that yields more attractive portraits and can simulate details like blush makeup.

As well as stills, the Olympus TG630 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-630 iHS can also shoot high-speed videos. Two rates are available for these: 120 fps for VGA (640 x 480 pixels), and 240 fps for QVGA (320 x 240 pixels). Unlike its sibling, it can't save full-resolution still images during movie capture.

Images and movies are stored on Secure Digital cards, including SDHC and SDXC, as well as Wi-Fi capable cards such as those from Eye-Fi and Toshiba's FlashAir line. High-speed UHS-I cards aren't supported, however. There's also 57MB of built-in memory. 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-50B proprietary lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack. Battery life is manufacturer-rated at around 270 frames on a charge, to CIPA testing standards.

Olympus will sell the Stylus Tough TG-630 iHS in the US market from March 2012, priced at around US$200. Four body-color options will be available: white, black, red or blue.