Olympus TG-3: A remarkably interesting and fun waterproof point-and-shoot (UPDATED)
posted Monday, May 19, 2014 at 2:25 PM EDT
UPDATE (5/20): We've uploaded a full set of gallery images for the TG-3. Click over to the Olympus TG-3 sample gallery page for a look at this larger set of photos, including full-resolution files.
It's safe to say Olympus is on a roll lately as cameras in their OM-D and PEN lineup are winning rave reviews. But Olympus hasn't forgotten about their other cameras, and with the release of their new Stylus TG-3 rugged camera, they have created a remarkably compelling little point-and-shoot that can withstand the bumps, bruises and splashes of daily use.
Most camera manufacturers maintain one or two "rugged" or "waterproof" point-and-shoot cameras in their lineup, but some of them are pretty ho hum: unspectacular image quality, operation and features, and uninspired, clunky design. But these cameras are quite popular: lots of people want a camera that they don't have to worry about dropping, dunking or even freezing to death.
We recently got a chance to try out a waterproof, rugged camera that really piqued our interest. It brings not only the obvious rugged, waterproof build quality, but also a unique set of features and accessories that make it a natural choice for novices and experienced users alike. The Olympus TG-3.
The new flagship rugged camera from Olympus may appear to be a minor upgrade from the previous model, the TG-2 (compare the TG-3 with the TG-2 here), but it includes some nice amenities under the hood: faster performance from the TruePic VII image processor, built-in Wi-Fi and GPS, and new macro shooting capabilities unique in the tough camera market.
I recently had an opportunity to explore the streets and swamps of New Orleans with this new toughcam and was very impressed by this little camera (full disclosure: Olympus sponsored the trip for IR and a few other publications). My favorite features of the camera, as a fairly dyed-in-the-wool interchangeable lens camera fan, were the add-on fisheye and telephoto lens converters -- unique options for a waterproof camera.
Like the TG-2 before it, these bayonet-mounted accessory lenses snap on like little DSLR lenses and give you a nice change in perspective from your typical point-and-shoot snapshots. I found the fisheye adapter the most fun to use, letting me capture cool, up-close and ultra-wide shots of everything from tight interiors and moss- and fern-covered oak trees to splashing, chomping alligators. And it's even waterproof, which should let you do some fun close focus, underwater wide-angle shots (we actually happen to have an article coming out later this month on exactly this topic).
The TG-3 also brings some pretty unique macro shooting capabilities. While many compact cameras with small 1/2.3" sensors give you extremely close focusing distances, the TG-3 goes a couple steps further with a new LED Light Guide accessory and the first in-camera focus stacking mode of which we're aware. The compact little light guide snaps on the front of the camera, and transmits the light from the built-in LED flash out around lens for brightly illuminated macro shots. Getting super close shots with the TG-3 was a blast, and the little $40 light guide is must-have accessory.
The new focus-stacking feature also works very well, and is quite handy when shooting handheld macro shots. Combining a burst of 8 shots into a final image, this new macro mode creates images with a much deeper depth of field than you'd normally see from a single-shot macro photo. When paired with the LED light guide, I was able to take crisp, sharply-focused macro shots simply, with minimal effort.
I have to admit we were a little perplexed at IRHQ when Olympus invited us to come to New Orleans to try out a new camera. Everyone in the office was expecting (hoping for) a trip like this to herald the introduction of an E-M5 Mark II or some remarkable new PEN, not a ho hum waterproof camera. But all in all, the Olympus TG-3 happily surprised me after shooting with it for a couple days.
I'm a long-time user of large-sensor, interchangeable lens cameras, and I had preconceived notions of mediocre performance (wrong), boring images (wrong) and quirky ergonomics (wrong again). The TG-3 is impressive. It won't give you DSLR-like images, but that's okay because I simply had so much fun shooting with the little thing. The add-on accessory lenses and the macro LED light guide expand your creative options beyond what you can typically capture with a point-and-shoot camera.
It's small enough that it can fit practically anywhere (although the lens adapters do make it a bit more cumbersome). And the rugged build quality keeps you from worrying about breaking the darn thing, regardless of whether or not it's in your bag, your pocket, on a boat or at the beach. The new built-in Wi-Fi made it easier to share and edit photos on the go, though the smartphone pairing process can be quirky, and the photo transfer rates are a bit on the slow side.
In the meantime, you can use our new camera comparison tool to compare the TG-3 to some of its competitors: