I’m a big fan of waterproof and crushproof “tough” cameras, not because I do much underwater photography, but because I break things. It’s not that I’m careless, I’m just hard on my gear and I expect that a good piece of camera equipment should be able to withstand the bumps and bruises that an active photographer gives it. The TG line of tough cameras from Olympus has always delivered durability but the latest model, the 12MP Olympus Tough TG-6 Digital Camera, is evolving from a “niche” camera for vacationers and adventurers into an “everyday carry” point-and-shoot cameras with features that specifically befit street photography.
Why street photography? Well, that’s what I prefer to do with my not-so-free time. When I’m walking (or biking) to work, waiting for the subway, dropping my kids at school, I am constantly looking for images, so having a capable and durable camera readily available is what I need. Of course, this versatile camera with a 25-100mm equivalent focal range and a bright f/2 maximum aperture can be used for a range of photo applications, including close focusing macro work. Its Variable Macro System provides Microscope, Microscope Control, Focus Stacking, and Focus Bracketing modes, allowing one to photograph subjects as close as just one centimeter away. Enabling macro controls while in Program and Aperture priority modes is new to the TG-6 and a welcomed advantage when utilizing these impressive features. The camera also updates its predecessor with a 2x digital zoom function, enabling 200mm equivalency to capture distant subjects.
The TG-6, as an apt street photography camera, goes beyond its ability to endure being dropped, dangled, and ditched. Its fast-aperture lens, raw capture, ISO to 12800, sensor-shift stabilization, and 20 frames-per-second continuous shooting (electronic shutter) provide an advantage over all other “tough” models and even put it close in functionality to the “advanced” compacts that have become favorites for street shooters, such as the Ricoh GR series, and models from Panasonic Lumix, Canon, and Fujifilm. Even its form factor and slightly updated finish distinguish the TG-6 from other “tough” cameras. Most rugged and waterproof cameras have bright colors and unique forms, but the new black TG-6 eschews the bright red trimmings for muted grays and a stark, handsome, compact design more akin to the popular cameras used by many street photographers. Its buttons, dials, and menu are not changed much from the previous model, but they are located in such a way as to provide easy one-handed control, even while wearing gloves. I especially appreciate the zoom lever and the convenient exposure compensation dial, when needing a quick adjustment. I found it particularly adept at shooting and adjusting with one hand, since I’m often cycling, climbing, or carrying something with my other hand.
The most notable “spec” improvement from its predecessor, which was released two years ago, is the 3.0" LCD screen, which now offers 1.04m-dot resolution compared to 460,000 pixels on the TG-5. This is a helpful improvement, especially when composing and checking playback underwater. The new camera also offers new custom and underwater white-balance modes for more accurate color rendition at varying depths. There are not many other major upgrades over the TG-5—in fact, the video resolution remains the same, at 3840 x 2160 pixels at 30 fps, but is now available in macro and can be captured without going to of “video mode.” For more serious underwater photography, the new PT-059 Underwater Housing has been introduced for the TG-6, which offers a depth rating of 147'.
Although I only had the new Olympus Tough TG-6 Digital camera for a week and did not have the chance to take it to beautiful or exotic underwater settings, I was able to shoot in the surf of Rockaway Beach and in my local pool, where I had some fun with the underwater macro settings and white-balance modes. The camera can be safely submerged to 50' and is able to withstand drops from 7'. I did put it through the “tough” test by dropping it a few times, stepping on it and just cycling everywhere with it. If an everyday camera cannot endure everyday use, what’s the point? Clearly though, it is in this arena where the TG-6 shines.
As much as I really like this camera, it’s obvious that a few aspects of the TG-6 need to be upgraded for it to make the leap to “advanced compact.” That may not be the path Olympus wants to follow but, for me, a rugged, large sensor, point-and-shoot would be an ideal camera. Currently, its 1/2.3" BSI-CMOS sensor and only Aperture and Program modes (no manual exposure control) are drawbacks and, while it does offer a “Night Scene Mode” with 4-second shutter speed, its shutter speed range is just ½ to 1/2000 seconds. One final “beef” I have with this camera is that it is charged via its micro-USB port, which is behind a twice locked (for waterproofing) access door. A new optional UC-92 Battery Charger is available for purchase, but in my opinion, should be the standard.
In terms of adventure-ready features, the TG-6 boasts the Field Sensor System with a GPS module, manometer, compass, and a temperature sensor. It also provides built-in Wi-Fi for transferring images and tracking data to your smartphone and for remote camera control. The Pro Capture mode can help when shooting fast action by capturing frames before you press the shutter fully, by just half-pressing the shutter release prior to a full press. This allowed me to photograph lightning strikes that I would have missed otherwise. Finally, the camera’s 25-point autofocus system with a variety of focusing features, including Face Detection AF, Focus Area Selection, AF Tracking, and Focus Peaking in manual focus mode enables fast and focused capture while skiing, cycling, at the pool, or in the streets.
Let us know your experiences with waterproof and “tough” cameras and whether, like me, you use them as an everyday carry camera or would like to see a rugged point-and-shoot camera offer a complete set of high-end digital capture features.