Olympus Stylus Tough TG-830 iHS Preview
by Mike Tomkins
Olympus was an early pioneer in the rugged, lifestyle camera segment, and the chunky, angular designs its Stylus Tough camera line have shared for the last few generations are among the most instantly recognizable. There's no mistaking that the new Stylus Tough TG-830 is an Olympus, then, and one quick glance will tell you what to expect. That's a solid, tanklike body, ready to accompany you anywhere you go without complaint. A little hump on the top deck will lead you to predict a camera that's location-aware, thanks to a built-in GPS receiver and compass. And if you're familiar with Olympus, you'll know that its iHS branding is the mark of a camera designed for swift performance.
The aluminum exterior of the Olympus TG-830 looks the job, and its specifications back up those looks. It is, says its maker, waterproof to 33 feet, shockproof to 6.6 feet, freezeproof to 14°F, crushproof to 220 pounds, and dustproof. Beneath that solid-looking body, the Olympus Stylus TG-830 features a 1/2.3-inch, 16.0-megapixel backside illuminated CMOS image sensor, whose pixel pitch is 1.34µm, paired to a TruePic VI image processor. Together, these allow for a sensitivity range of ISO 125 to 6,400 equivalents. The TG-830's sensor and processor together provide impressive performance: a whopping 11.5 frames per second is possible at the full 16 megapixel resolution for as many as 17 frames, or you can opt for a slower rate of 2.5 fps with a very generous 200 frame buffer. Drop the resolution to three megapixels, and you'll get up to 60.3 fps for as many as sixty images, great for catching your subject right as their fingertips break the water's surface in a dive, or just analyzing your golf swing!
In front of its sensor, the Olympus Tough TG-830 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-830 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 800 equivalent, a built-in flash has a working range of 3.3 meters at wide angle, and 2.1 meters at telephoto.
The Olympus TG-830 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 TG830 also shoots 1080p / 1080i (Full HD; 1,920 x 1,080 pixel) high definition movies, at a rate of either 30 frames or 60 interlaced fields per second. These are stored in H.264-compressed .MOV format, and the TG-830 iHS can also shoot high-speed videos. Two rates are available for these: 120 fps for 720p (1,280 x 720 pixels), and 240 fps for the non-standard resolution of 432 x 324 pixels. A neat and relatively rare capability of the TG-830 is that it can also save full-resolution 16 megapixel still images during movie capture, without interruption to the video stream. Up to 12 full-res images can be shot during each movie, or alternatively you can capture as many as 48 sequential images at three megapixel resolution during each clip.
Images and movies are stored on Secure Digital cards, including SDHC, SDXC, and UHS-I types, as well as Wi-Fi capable cards such as those from Eye-Fi and Toshiba's FlashAir line. There's also 39MB 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. Expected battery life wasn't available at press time.
Olympus will sell the Stylus Tough TG-830 iHS in the US market from March 2012, priced at around US$280. Four body-color options will be available: silver, black, red or blue.