Photography / Hands-on Review

Tough Cameras on Vacation: Olympus, Ricoh, Fujifilm—and Me

I will admit it… I went into this project trying to break cameras. As I’ve written many times before, I love “tough” point-and-shoot cameras simply because they provide the kind of durability that all of your gear should offer; they can be handled roughly, treated poorly, and still perform their duties. More so, they can be submerged and shoot underwater and withstand dust, drops, and crushes, all to a certain degree. I wanted to find what that degree was and also test their image quality and experiment with their various modes and functions. To do so, I brought these cameras on a recent vacation to coastal Mexico, where I knew I would be zip-lining and hiking through jungles, snorkeling in coral reefs and cenotes and lounging in sand. I would also be handing these cameras over to my under-10 companions, who are constantly inventing new ways to damage things.


Olympus TG-4 in Underwater mode with fill flash

 

The cameras I brought along on my trip were the Olympus Stylus TOUGH TG-4 Digital Camera, the Ricoh WG-5 GPS Digital Camera, and the Fujifilm FinePix XP70 Digital Camera. All three provide the physical specs to withstand the beating I gave them and, while two of the three eventually bruised, none broke—they suffered their damage and kept on plugging. Let’s break ’em down, so to speak. (Note: Since my trip, Fujifilm has updated the XP70 to the XP80, with the same photography specs but improved underwater and crushproof ratings.)




Olympus TG-4

 

The Olympus Stylus TOUGH TG-4 Digital Camera offers the most impressive specs of the three and handled the best, which except for durability and lens quality, is the most important factor when purchasing a tough point-and-shoot camera. Each of the three cameras is pocketable, but the TG-4 has a healthy hand grip, enabling one-handed use. The zoom lever is next to the shutter button, allowing you to slide your finger from the shutter release to adjust focal length. The other cameras have two buttons on the back of the camera to engage zoom and, while both sets of buttons rest right where your thumb sits, I find that with a small-body camera, as soon as you start moving your thumb to adjust buttons, you lose stability and/or need use your other hand. If shooting while climbing, biking, snorkeling, skiing, or just about any extreme activity, you will invariably need your second hand for something more important than releasing a shutter.


Fujifilm XP70

Olympus TG-4

Olympus TG-4

Ricoh WG-5 GPS

Also, the TG-4 features a mode dial on the back of the camera to easily thumb-roll from Auto to Program to Underwater mode. With the other cameras, you need to go into the menu on the LCD to change modes. Also, the LCD on the TG-4 is the largest of the three and the easiest to see underwater. With each of these cameras, “chimping” your image is not so easy underwater; with the movement of the water, your mask and the reflection from the LCD, it’s difficult to be sure of your shot, but the LCD on the TG-4 provided the clearest view.



Olympus TG-4 gets wet

 

Photographically, the Olympus camera also has more to offer, including RAW capture (but only as RAW+JPEG and only in certain modes) and a 25-100mm equivalent focal length lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.0 at the wide-angle end. Unlike the others, it provides Aperture-priority mode and its “tough” specs just outpace the others, including a 50' underwater depth rating and being shockproof to a drop from 7'. While the Ricoh has GPS and the Fujifilm features Wi-Fi connectivity, the Olympus has not only built-in Wi-Fi and GPS, but also eCompass functionality, which appears with just a touch of the info button.


Fujifilm XP70 Underwater mode

Ricoh WG-5 GPS Underwater mode

Olympus TG-4 Underwater mode

Imaging specs on the three cameras are comparable; each has a 16MP 1/2.3" CMOS sensor, sensor-shift stabilization, ISO to 6400 and lenses with similar focal lengths, but I found the image quality and, specifically, the color reproduction in underwater mode the best on the Olympus. Despite a few features on the other cameras, which I preferred and will highlight below, the handling, performance, focus speed, and menu navigation of the TG-4 kept this camera in my hand the most.



Fujifilm XP70 Underwater macro mode


Olympus TG-4 Underwater mode


Ricoh WG-5 GPS Underwater mode

The Ricoh WG-5 GPS may be the “toughest” of the three cameras, despite its listed specs being slightly less so than those of the Olympus. It never wavered, despite my serious attempts to crack it open. Its power and shutter buttons are level with the top of the camera, minimizing the damage that could occur from impact to those vulnerable spots. Its lens is recessed, covered, and features a specialized coating, the LCD is also covered and coated and provides nubs on its corners to prevent scratching. Most important is its keyhole-shaped form factor, which is like no other, and its rounded and ridged sides, which allay the potential damage from a fall. It also includes a sturdy canvas strap and carabiner for secure attachment to backpacks and personal flotation devices (PFDs). It held up the best during my weeks of abuse but, unfortunately, I used it the least, mostly due to its ergonomics and menu navigation. Despite (or because of) its unique shape, I found it less comfortable to hold and work into shooting position than the more standard-shaped Olympus and Fujifilm cameras.



Ricoh WG-5 GPS resting on the coral​ at a depth of 12 feet

 

Its lens specs are equal to that on the TG-4 and provide a bright f/2.0 maximum aperture, and its ISO sensitivity runs to 6400. Its focus speed and shutter lag are fast, but its burst shooting mode is not the equal of the other two cameras. It does offer a shutter priority mode in addition to program, auto, and numerous other modes, but you must go into the menu on the LCD to make any mode change—this is a hassle when shooting in a hurry. Its underwater mode is serviceable and it has a great microscope macro mode, which focuses as close as 1 cm and is supported by 6 LED lights that surround the lens. The Olympus TG-4 also has a microscope macro mode, but the lack of LEDs limits its efficacy in less-than-ideal lighting. An optional LED Macro Ring Light is available to fit the TG series cameras.



Olympus TG-4 Microscope mode


Ricoh WG-5 GPS Digital Microscope mode

The WG-5 GPS, as its name would suggest, has a built-in GPS module, which automatically records position and travel log data into image metadata and its front-face LCD displays time, altitude, pressure, and underwater depth information. A digital compass is available for hiking and a digital level keeps your horizon lines straight.

To be fair, the Fujifilm XP70 was kind of the underdog going in to this smack-down, but proved itself worthy of the challenge. Its price is lower and its camera and tough specs don’t quite match those of the other two cameras, but it held its own and offers a few features and performance specs that the others don’t. It is submersible to 33', dust, sand, and freeze proof to 14°F, but its crushproof and shock-resistant rating is slightly lower and based on the build, you can understand why. (The XP80 upgrades to 50' submergibility and is 5.8' shockproof.) It feels and looks more like a standard point-and-shoot than the others and its lens placement in the body is more vulnerable. It feels good in the hand, has a respectable ridge on the front face to serve as a grip, and the XP80 color options (Graphite Black, Yellow, and Blue) are cool. It is the most compact and light of the three and, while this is generally a good thing, I found it a bit too small for adjusting settings comfortably with one hand.



Fujifilm XP70 Toy Camera mode


Olympus TG-4 Fragmented mode

All three cameras are charged with the battery in the camera. I personally am not a fan of this method, but the XP70 and XP80 offer a push-button/twist lock to access the inputs, card slot, and battery. This is an easier and faster access than the dual-lock door on the Olympus and Ricoh cameras. The Fujifilm provides numerous shooting modes, including underwater and underwater macro to correct for the underwater color cast, but it does not have Aperture or Shutter Speed priority mode. It does offer Program, Auto, and Scene Recognition and, of its 22 total modes, I found sweep panorama and action camera the most effective. 

The focal-length equivalence of its lens is 28-140mm, which provides a slightly longer reach than the other two cameras and, while startup and response speed was slow, its burst shooting is faster, able to shoot 10 fps at full resolution. ISO sensitivity reaches 6400 just as the others, but noise was more pronounced when shooting in low light. The maximum aperture on the XP70’s lens is f/3.9-4.9, which limits its low-light capability, but in daylight, its color accuracy was as good as any of the cameras. The XP70 and XP80 feature built-in Wi-Fi connectivity for wireless image transfer to your smartphone or tablet and remote camera control from your device.

In a tourist-heavy town, I saw more people with the XP70 than either of the other two cameras combined. There are, of course, various reasons for this, but in chatting with several owners, all were very pleased with its ability to keep up with their activities while on vacation.



Fujifilm XP70, fully submerged

 

For a photographer like me, who needs a camera that can stay viable for long shoots, I was slightly disappointed by the battery life of all three cameras. Each got me through about three-quarters of a day of heavy use, including much time with the LCD engaged. For a standard point-and-shoot, this is actually not bad, but I would have wanted more.

As I stated at the beginning, I really wanted to put these cameras to the test to see if they would live up to their listed specifications and, happily, they all did—kind of. Truth be told, the Fujifilm did succumb to lens clouding after I took it on repeated dives to about 25', and one jump into water from a cliff about 20' up. Also, the LCD on the Olympus wavered, but remained mostly usable after a particularly hard accidental drop while zip-lining. The fall was from slightly above its 7' maximum and onto hard concrete—is one concrete harder than another? If so, this was the hardest—so it surpassed its specs. It did also show some fog on its LCD, which could be attributed to battery heat and/or the tropical humidity. I probably used the Olympus TG-4 more in one month than many might in two years, but I was disappointed that the print on some of the oft-used buttons started to wear off, making it difficult to make adjustments quickly. The Ricoh defied my best attempts and handled all of its challenges without a hitch; it did scratch a bit on the LCD’s protective cover, but I could never fault it for that given the sand, coral, and ancient ruins through which I dragged it. In comparison, a new and very handsome compact camera with an 18x optical zoom lens was rendered unusable after it meekly swung into a wall while slung around my neck.



Olympus TG-4 Underwater mode in a cenote

 

So, yes, I did succeed in finding the breaking point of these cameras, as all such complicated devices must have one, but there is no doubt in my mind that unless you are considering a very high-end point-and-shoot, and especially if you travel hard or have kids, a tough camera is the way to go. A week after returning from my trip, I find myself still using these cameras in day-to-day shooting (the Olympus TG-4 is particularly adept at street photography) and despite the battle scars these three proudly wear, I am still a believer that all point-and-shoot cameras should be tough cameras!