Olympus TG-4 Review -- Conclusion

25mm equivalent (4.5mm), f/8.0, 0.6s, ISO 100
Click for full-size image.

If you want a tough, waterproof camera that can capture RAW images, the Olympus TG-4 is for you. The industry's first rugged camera to deliver RAW image recording has a lot of great features, including improved GPS, underwater HDR, and a series of optional conversion lenses to increase the flexibility of the built-in 25-100mm f/2.0-4.9 equivalent lens. The TG-4 is a worthy successor to the TG-3 and won our "Best Rugged Camera" award in December.

The TG-4's body is unchanged, but it's still mighty rugged

The Olympus Tough TG-4 camera is all about fun and ruggedness. This is a camera that you can take with you anywhere. Waterproof to a 50-foot depth, shockproof for drops up to 7 feet, resistant to temperatures below freezing (down to 14 degrees F), dust-proof, and crushproof to up to 220 pounds of force, this little camera is remarkably tough. We didn't push this camera to its absolute limits, but it certainly lived up to its "tough" billing and withstood whatever we threw at it.

Despite being ruggedly-built, the TG-4 still offers an array of user-friendly controls, including a basic mode dial and dedicated movie record button. Unsurprisingly, the body is a bit chunky (it does need to be tough, after all), but it's still compact and should easily fit into most pockets.

We found that the built-in lens doesn't offer excellent performance. Sharpness drops off a lot in the corners when shooting the lens wide open and the lens exhibits a moderate amount of purple fringing. With that said, its optical performance is still about average for its class and its 2x digital zoom performance is actually better than average. As this is the first tough camera to offer RAW image recording, it is worth noting that geometric distortion at 25mm is very high when viewing uncorrected RAW files.

An area where the built-in lens does excel though is its aperture range. When shooting at the 25mm equivalent focal length, the TG-4 is able to shoot at an impressive maximum aperture of f/2.0. This is unusually bright for this class of camera and gives the TG-4 nice flexibility in low light situations.

The Olympus TG-4 may have a small sensor, but now it captures RAW

Considering its small sensor size (1/2.3"-type sensor) and camera class, the fact that the TG-4 offers RAW image recording at all is impressive. As stated earlier, the TG-4 is the industry's first rugged, waterproof camera to offer RAW image recording. Still, you can only expect so much from a sensor of this size.

The TG-4 can focus very close, as close as 1cm. So if you've ever wanted to take a close-up photo of your dog's nose without worrying about the dog damaging the camera with a wayward bite or lick, the TG-4 might be perfect for you.

Even at base ISO, the camera is applying a lot of noise reduction to JPEG files, which robs images of some fine detail. Increasing ISO very quickly leads to decreases in image quality, with ISO 3200 providing good print quality only at the 4" x 6" size. The largest good-quality print at ISO 800-1600 is 5" x 7", which is not very impressive compared to larger-sensored cameras but is at or above average for this sensor size. When possible, staying at or below ISO 400 is highly recommended.

Numerous accessories help make the Olympus TG-4 even more fun

What makes this a particularly fun camera is its flexibility. It comes with a built-in 25-100mm equivalent lens, but it can also be used with additional conversion lenses, including a fisheye lens and a teleconverter.

Accessories are easily attached and allow the camera to maintain its waterproof construction (although I wouldn't recommend subjecting the conversion lenses to the same drops that the standalone TG-4 can tolerate).

18.5mm equivalent (3.3mm), used FCON fisheye conversion lens, f/2.8, 1/800s, ISO 100
This image has been modified slightly. Click for original image.

In addition to the conversion lenses, you can also attach an LED light guide and flash diffuser. You can also purchase an underwater flash for this model directly from Olympus.

Solid performance, but enthusiast photographers may miss control

When working with a rugged camera like the TG-4, what you really need is consistent dependability, and the TG-4 achieves this most of the time. Exposure metering and auto white balance are generally good, although snow did prove quite challenging for the TG-4 at times. Autofocus performance was mostly reliable and quick, although continuous autofocus was somewhat inconsistent and slow. The TG-4 is the first of Olympus' Tough series to offer AF target selection using the directional pad on the back of the camera.

For enthusiast photographers, there are a couple of aspects of the TG-4 worth noting. Firstly, while it is excellent to have f/2.0 available when shooting at the wide end of the lens, you can only select from three aperture settings at each focal length. Secondly, there's no manual mode. There's a program mode, but it doesn't provide you control over shutter speed. If you want to use a slow shutter speed, you'll have to adjust other settings to try to get the camera to deliver the desired results.

25mm equivalent (4.5mm), f/2.8, 1/500s, ISO 100
This image has been modified. Click for original image.

Performance results for the TG-4 were pretty good considering its camera class. AF times tested well and sequential JPEG burst shooting (5fps for 100 frames) is decent. It is not possible to shoot bursts of RAW images, unfortunately.

The Olympus TG-4 offers new features and shooting modes aplenty

The TG-4 offers a variety of interesting features that while not always offering the best performance do provide a lot of versatility. There is a microscope mode which allows you to take extreme close-up images (close-focus distance is 1cm). There is even a focus-stacking mode to extend the otherwise razor-thin depth of field.

Live Composite mode was one of our favorite modes on the TG-4. By pressing the shutter, you start a composite image that you can see update in real-time on the camera's display. You can stop the composite by simply pressing the shutter again.

Video specs are essentially the same as those found with the TG-3. The TG-4 can record 1080p video at up to 60fps. What sets it apart from other series of rugged waterproof compact cameras is that the TG-4 can also record high-speed video at up to 240fps (albeit at a 320 x 240 resolution at 240fps). We found video performance to be acceptable, but not great.

RAW capture and fun features make the TG-4 a great tough camera

The TG-4's Live Composite mode works well and Arthur Etchells called it "Probably the funnest shooting mode ever" in his TG-4 Field Test.

What sets the Olympus TG-4 apart from other cameras in the rugged space is its ability to record RAW files and its full set of features. Its fast f/2.0 aperture at the wide angle is also a distinguishing feature. Enthusiast photographers might lament some lack of control and the three-step aperture system is less than ideal, but for the tough class this camera sits at the top.

Overall, the Olympus TG-4 is a very good tough camera, and deserving of wining our "Best Rugged Camera" award for 2015. For photographers searching for a rugged compact camera that can capture good images no matter the conditions, the TG-4 is worth serious consideration, and is most certainly a Dave's Pick.

 

Pros & Cons

  • Wide-angle 25-100mm equivalent lens
  • Fast f/2 aperture at wide angle
  • Very good macro modes (and even focus stacking!)
  • Fast single-shot AF speeds
  • Low shutter lag
  • Can autofocus in very low light (at least a wide angle)
  • Able to shoot in RAW mode
  • Decent 5fps full-res burst mode, but JPEGs only
  • Very fast 60fps 3-megapixel burst mode
  • Above average battery life
  • Underwater HDR
  • In-camera panorama stitching
  • Live Composite mode
  • 240fps high-speed video
  • Rugged camera body
  • Support for conversion lenses
  • Improved GPS capabilities
  • Lens produces soft corners
  • Lens isn't as sharp at telephoto
  • Moderate chromatic aberration
  • Aperture limited to three settings
  • Overly aggressive noise reduction in JPEGs that can't be adjusted
  • No manual exposure or shutter priority modes (3-step aperture prevents shutter priority, but why no manual?)
  • Default colors not as vibrant as most cameras
  • Burst mode not supported for RAW files
  • High-speed video has low resolution
  • No simple way to achieve slow shutter speed


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