REVIEW: Olympus TG-820

Sometimes you’re just in the right place at the right time saying the right thing. Right after I posted Gear Lust: Waterproof Cameras I was contacted by Staples and told they wanted to send me a ‘ruggedized’ camera for some real-world testing.

“Word?”
“Word.”

I explained to them that I’m not a photographer like Tim Zimmerman and thus won’t be able (nor want) to do an in-depth, nerd out to pixels under a microscope dpreview-esque review, to which they replied they were OK with and wanted the Joe the Plumber version anyways. The deal was signed in blood and a week later an Olympus TG-820 shows up at my doorstep.
 
 
MARKETING

“Dunk it, Drop it, Freeze it, Crush it! True worry-free shooting regardless of the situation. Whether you’re diving, hiking, skiing, biking or climbing, Olympus’ Lifeproof technologies give you the freedom to capture your adventures from a whole new perspective.”

 
Full features and specs can be found here.
 
 

Blue TG-820 in all her beauty


 
 
FIRST IMPRESSION
DAMN, this thing is heavier than I expected. Nice looking piece of kit, between the brushed and anodized blue case and large screen on back.
 
 
TESTING CRITERIA
As most consumers looking at this camera will likely be using it as a phonecam replacement my testing criteria was simple: bring the camera with me for a week and snap photos using it when I’d usually reach for the iPhone (or in places I wouldn’t want to bring the iPhone). Genius, right? Took me hours to come up with that.
 
 
THE PHOTOS
All shots are straight out of the camera, no sharpening or other post-processing. The first shot I took as I was in the backyard was a quick P&S of the dog and was impressed with the output. After a few more shots in full light I was stoked. The TG-820 definitely takes great photos in fully lit situations, and zooming in on Jasmine’s schnozzle you can see it captures a decent amount of detail.
 

I’ll see that rope again…


 

 
 
 
Cheers at Oregon Brew Fest. The light was a bit odd in the tent and I’d say the camera captured it relatively accurately.


 
 
 
Group shot. Definitely a touch soft (part of which can be attributed to Photobucket’s hosting, the two above are on Flickr), and the details (especially darker/shade) are a bit grainy at full size.

The ladies getting wet

 
SPECIAL MODES
I hatehatehate (yes, that’s hate^3) all the ‘special’ (aka instragram/hipstamatic type crap) modes that most consumer P&S cameras have built in but I AM a sucker for macro shots, the only mode I played with. When I heard the TG-820’s super macro mode had a 1cm minimum focus distance I was stoked to give ‘er a go. For the below I simply chose the mode, stuck my hand into a tomato plant and clicked the shutter. The full-size image shows a surprising amount of detail.
 

Tomato plant shot using macro mode


 
 

Zoom (but not full size crop)


 
 
VIDEO
Shooting video with the TG-820 is easy, just push the orange button on the back and you’re recording. When the focus nails it the video quality is good enough for the web (aka 99.99% of all uses this camera will see), but the focus does tend to wander a bit in video mode. Also the camera does pick up quite a bit of camera noise and hand holding noise, most likely due to the microphone placement. I found that some of the vids I shot were unlistenable due to the sound of my hand holding it scraping against the mic area. Like with old school DV cams can probably just put a band-aid over it to ‘soften’ the noise it picks up. The vid below is just a quick dunk in the Pacific to give an idea of the output.

Kelp Vid from Justin H on Vimeo.

 
 
One downside I noticed is that after submerging the camera the lens doesn’t shed water, often resulting in pictures with ‘blobs’ from the water on the lens. I also had a few issues where the lens was fogged after using it in the water, putting it in my pocket, than taking it out awhile later to snap a pic. The high-end Olympus TG-1 has a water-repellent coating on the lens and monitor, something I think Olympus should apply to ANY camera billed as waterproof.

No, this is not a failed attempt at a fake tilt-shift image


 

TAP CONTROL
One of the features I found innovative was the Olympus TG-820’s ‘Tap Control’. Tap Control let’s you scroll through the menu using taps on the sides of the camera as opposed to the pencil eraser sized D-pad. It’s simple and intuitive to use – tap on the top of the camera to move down on the menu, tap on the left or right sides of the camera to scroll left and right on the menu, and tap on the bottom of the camera to scroll back up – and will come in handy with gloved hands.
 

SUMMARY
The Olympus TG-820 is a camera that is easy to live with day-to-day and makes a great, rugged replacement for your smartphone. If all you are doing is snapping photos/vids for the web you can buy this and be immediately stoked. That being said, it’s not without it’s downsides – of course if you are just looking for a rugged smartphone camera replacement you’d be dealing with the same downsides on your phone so it’s a wash.

POSITIVES:
Great picture quality in fully lit situations
High resolution rear screen
Costs less than a replacement phone
Rugged
Waterproof

NEGATIVES:
Focus struggles in certain situations
Some noise in darker areas of images
The double locking mechanism sometimes unlocks one of two locks on it’s own (never had the camera door open though)
Battery life felt shorter than expected (no hard stat to back this claim up other than shot ~100 photos and ~5 minutes of video and it was already blinking)

I’d like to thank Staples for giving me the camera post-review. Siiiiiick.

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