Olympus TG-Tracker Review

 
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Basic Specifications
Full model name: Olympus Tough TG-Tracker
Resolution: 8.30 Megapixels
Sensor size: 1/2.3 inch
(6.2mm x 4.6mm)
Lens: Non-Zoom
(13.9mm eq.)
Viewfinder: No / LCD
Shutter: 1/24000 - 0.5 seconds
Max Aperture: 2.0
Dimensions: 3.7 x 2.2 x 1.4 in.
(93 x 57 x 35 mm)
Weight: 6.3 oz (180 g)
includes batteries
Availability: 06/2016
Manufacturer: Olympus
Full specs: Olympus TG-Tracker specifications
8.30
Megapixels
Non-Zoom 1/2.3 inch
size sensor
image of Olympus Tough TG-Tracker
Front side of Olympus TG-Tracker digital camera Front side of Olympus TG-Tracker digital camera Front side of Olympus TG-Tracker digital camera Front side of Olympus TG-Tracker digital camera Front side of Olympus TG-Tracker digital camera

Olympus TG Tracker Review -- First Impressions

by
Preview posted

Olympus  TG Tracker -- Beauty shot black

The TG Tracker marks a new direction for Olympus' Tough series

With its unusual TG Tracker, Olympus takes its long-running TG-series of Tough-branded cameras in an altogether rather different direction. The company is billing the TG Tracker as a "rugged experiential camera", and points at the wearables market as an indication of the public's desire for ever more data -- something the Olympus TG Tracker should provide in spades.

To our mind, the TG Tracker is reminiscent of a GoPro camera, but taken to its logical conclusion. It keeps the action-friendly rugged design typical of an action camera -- or perhaps a little more so, since no water and shock-resistant housing is needed -- and then adds the ability to capture a constant black box-style stream of data throughout video recording.

If you've ever wanted to know -- and prove to your friends and family -- just how deep you were diving when you reached that shipwreck, how high you soared in your glider flight, how far you hiked along that mountain trail, how cold it was at the top of that piste or how fast you were traveling as your bike tore down that trail, then this is the camera for you.

As you'd expect of the Tough series, the Olympus TG Tracker is ultra-rugged

Olympus' TG-series cameras have developed quite a name for themselves in the rugged camera segment, thanks to some seriously solid build quality. The Olympus TG Tracker is no different, promising to take a beating and keep on shooting without the need for an external housing of any kind.

Straight out of the box, the TG Tracker is waterproof to depths of 100 feet (30m), shockproof for a drop from as high as seven feet (2.1m), and crushproof to a force of 220lbf (100kgf). It's also said to be both dustproof and freezeproof to 14°F (-10°C).

Olympus  TG Tracker -- Product Shot

The Field Sensor System helps the Olympus TG Tracker stand out from the crowd

The action camera marketplace has gotten pretty crowded over the last few years, and for the manufacturers, that means their products need to stand out. Olympus' effort to do just that can be seen in what it's calling the Field Sensor System, appearing for the first time in the Olympus TG Tracker.

We've seen most of the sensors which make up the Field Sensor System in past cameras. For example, the Olympus TG-4 already included the TG Tracker's onboard GPS receiver (compatible with GLONASS and QZSS, as well as A-GPS data), digital compass and barometer / manometer. And several past Olympus Tough models have also included a three-axis accelerometer, as well.

In fact, the only sensor we haven't seen in a Tough camera before is the TG Tracker's temperature sensor. (This new sensor, incidentally, will only log data constantly if the camera is underwater or set to log mode.)

But it's not the presence of these sensors which is the big story here -- it's the manner in which they're being used.

Olympus  TG Tracker -- Product Shot

All those sensors allow for some pretty cool features

For one thing, the Olympus TG Tracker allows you to record data from all of its many Field Sensor System inputs all of the time, much as some cameras allow you to capture a continuous GPS track log. But instead of recording just your location, the TG Tracker will also let you know what your direction, speed, altitude or depth and ambient temperature were at any given point along the way.

Although we've yet to see specific figures, power consumption for this functionality is said to be "minimal", and there's a dedicated external control with which to enable or disable logging. Logs can be viewed on the camera's own screen, or on your smart device or computer post-capture.

Manage video chapters based on the TG Tracker's accelerometer

The accelerometer, meanwhile, enables the TG Tracker to automatically tag recorded videos with chapter information, making it easy to skip forwards or backwards to the interesting points.

This optional function operates on a fairly simple and logical assumption: If there's a big spike in recorded G forces, something interesting is probably happening. You can set a threshold level of 4G or 7G, and if this value is exceeded -- because you just landed a jump on your bike, say -- then a chapter tag will be added to the video at that point.

Olympus  TG Tracker -- Product Shot

The Olympus TG Tracker automatically configures itself for underwater shooting

Another nifty trick is that the Olympus TG Tracker can detect when it is submerged -- likely using the aforementioned barometer / manometer sensor -- and then configure itself appropriately for underwater capture. Submerge it to a depth of 1.6 feet (0.5m), and the TG Tracker will automatically switch the white balance to underwater mode, and the log display function to show depth.

Play back your movies and they're shown alongside sensor data

Using the freely-available Olympus Image Track v2 app for Android or iOS devices, your smartphone or tablet can play movies captured with the Olympus TG Tracker. And the really cool thing is that they can be shown alongside graphs of sensor data.

For example, you could attach the camera to a quadcopter and then get a high-quality 4K video feed of your flight alongside a graph of your altitude profile throughout, or a graph of your scuba dive alongside a chart showing the water temperature plunging as your depth increases.

You can also opt for a more detailed display of logged info, including data that's relevant to your selected activity type. For example, a hiker might be able to see their start and stop time, hike duration, distance traveled, elevation change, max / min / average altitude, temperature and air pressure, and finally their max and average speed and vertical speed. If you're looking to push yourself even harder on subsequent hikes, that information could prove rather handy for a post-hike comparison.

Olympus  TG Tracker -- Product Shot

The Olympus TG Tracker's second lens is a flashlight

Another unusual feature of the Olympus TG Tracker becomes immediately obvious at a glance. It looks for all the world as if there are two lenses on the front of the camera, one of them big and one a bit smaller. In actual fact, the upper "lens" is an LED-powered flashlight, used to provide a constant illumination source for video capture or a brief "flash" for photos.

This flashlight is also used to provide what Olympus is calling a "headlight" function, enabled even when the camera is powered off by holding in the Info button. You have a choice of two brightness levels -- either 30 lumens for 30 minutes, or 60 lumens for one minute. At 30 lumens, the flashlight should have a three foot (1m) range, and at 60 lumens, that increases to 10 feet (3.5m).

The TG Tracker is a very basic -- if extremely wide-angle -- camera

As you can probably tell from our coverage thus far, the Olympus TG Tracker is a pretty unusual device. As a camera, its specs are a bit on the limited side, though.

Images and movies are captured with the pairing of an eight megapixel 1/2.3"-type, backside-illuminated CMOS image sensor and TruePic VII image processor. These allow both 4K video capture -- a first for the company, if you ignore the treacle-slow 15 frames-per-second 4K mode of the Olympus SH-3 -- and at a more realistic frame rate of 30 fps.

A very wide fixed-focus, fixed-focal length lens

The sensor sits behind a 1.58mm (13.9mm-equivalent) fixed-focus prime lens with an f/2.0 aperture. The lens has a seven element, seven group design, and a 204-degree field of view, exceptionally wide for most uses but quite desirable for action camera footage. The fixed-focus design provides sharply-rendered subjects from 7.8 inches (20cm) to infinity.

Olympus  TG Tracker -- Product Shot

Stabilization and underwater modes crop your field of view significantly

The lens itself is unstabilized, although a five-axis digital image stabilization function is provided during video capture. Enabling this reduces your field of view to 161 degrees, since some room must be left to pan the active area around the image sensor during capture.

When shooting in underwater mode, your field of view is reduced still further to 156 degrees above water, or 94 degrees below water. If the digital stabilization function is enabled, these figures plunge to 126 and 84 degrees, respectively.

The Olympus TG Tracker has a tilt-out LCD, but no swiveling for selfies

The Olympus TG Tracker boasts a tilt-out LCD monitor, but other than the articulation it seems pretty dated by modern digicam standards. There's no swivel capability, likely because it would be hard to ruggedize, weather-seal and waterproof. It's also a tiny 1.5-inch 4:3-aspect screen, and has a low resolution of 115,000 dots. It does at least offer a two-step brightness control, however.

Exposure control is also pretty basic

This is also a very simple camera in some other respects, which isn't surprising in the action camera market. There are only four white balance modes -- Auto, Sunny, Cloudy and Underwater -- for example, and images are recorded only in compressed JPEG format. Shutter speeds span a range from 1/2 to 1/24,000-second, and 2.0EV of exposure compensation is available in 0.3EV steps. One last noteworthy feature is an interval timer function which has interval sizes of 0.5, 1, 2, 5, 10, 30 or 60 seconds.

Olympus  TG Tracker -- Product Shot

Stills aren't the main focus for the Olympus TG Tracker, video is

Still imaging clearly isn't the main focus of this camera, however. Video is the big deal here, which is why we get the aforementioned 30 frames-per-second 4K mode, a first in Olympus' camera line. There's also a choice of 1080p (Full HD) footage at 30 or 60 fps, as well as 720p (HD) or 480p (VGA) footage at 30, 60, 120 or 240 fps. Audio is recorded with an internal stereo microphone.

There's a 4GB / 29-minute clip length limit, but the good news is that the Olympus TG Tracker will automatically start recording a new file as soon as the previous one has reached its capacity limit. There's also a timelapse movie function, which has the same interval sizes as the still image interval timer: 0.5, 1, 2, 5, 10, 30 or 60 seconds.

The TG Tracker promises good battery life and connectivity options

Obviously we've not tested the TG Tracker for ourselves as of this writing, but manufacturer-rated battery life seems good for an action camera, at around 480 still frames or 95 minutes of 30 fps 4K video footage on a charge. The battery pack used is a proprietary LI-92B lithium-ion rechargeable.

Connectivity options are fairly generous too, with 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi wireless networking, a USB micro connector and Type-D HDMI micro connector all available. Images and movies are stored on MicroSD cards, with both the higher-capacity SDHC and SDXC types as well as the higher-speed UHS-I types all compatible with the TG Tracker.

Olympus  TG Tracker -- Product Shot

There's a generous bundle for the Olympus TG Tracker, too

The product bundle is also pretty generous, which is great news. As well as the camera, you'll get a lens protector, underwater lens protector, a mount coupling with selfie mirror on the front (handy since the LCD can't swivel for selfie shooting), plus a pistol grip handle that attaches to the mount coupling, a battery and charger, USB cable and strap. The camera can charge while in use, incidentally, but not without opening its case, meaning that it isn't weather-sealed while charging is underway.

Mount your TG Tracker with an optional case (and maybe GoPro accessories, too)

As well as these bundled accessories, Olympus is also offering an optional Tracker Holder accessory. This attaches to belts or straps, and has both a carabiner and spiral safety cord to prevent accidental drops. It allows access to both the Wi-Fi and Log controls without removing the case. The pistol grip can be used with the case fitted, and the operational LEDs remain visible.

We also understand that the TG Tracker will likely fit standard GoPro accessories, although obviously Olympus can't really advertise it as such. (And we doubt the company has tested every first- and third-party GoPro accessory on the market, either, so it's possible that some may not fit perfectly.)

Olympus  TG Tracker -- Product Shot

How to buy the Olympus TG Tracker

Want to purchase the Olympus TG Tracker for your next extreme video-shooting session? You'll be able to get your hands on one in the US market from June 2016. Pricing is set at around US$350 (CA$480 in Canada), and available body colors include green and black. The optional Tracker Holder accessory is priced at US$30 (CA$40 in Canada.)

 

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