Let's start by saying, "I don't write camera reviews." I leave that to the more technically inclined. This post is more of a "camera impression" and the reason I write it is because a few nights ago I was at a get together with some friends. I pulled out my TG-4, immersed it in my friend's pool and began shooting. Most of the people at this shindig had never seen a camera that could do this. When I showed them the resulting images they were quite impressed. I am also impressed with the new Olympus Tough TG-4 - the company's latest flagship drop-proof, dust-proof, freeze-proof, crush-proof, water-proof, life-proof camera.
My Top 10 Reasons for being impressed
1. You Don't Have to Think
Olympus hasn't cornered the market on auto modes in the world of point-and-shoot cameras, but the sheer number of "don't-have-to-think" modes in the TG-4 is definitely impressive. For the least amount of thinking set it to iAuto where the camera decides on the exposure based on the scene that you are viewing. Sounds simple enough, but the camera can determine the difference between an indoor shot, sunset, candid portrait at dusk, etc. Not only does it do the thinking for you, it tells you what its thinking by displaying the settings on screen.
If you want to do a bit of thinking, selecting the SCN (scene) mode presents the user with 19 separate shooting modes that optimize the exposure for a situation of your choosing - including Landscape, Portraits, Sport, HDR, Panorama, Night, and Olympus' unique Live Composite mode. There are also 5 Under Water modes (it is waterproof after all). If you are looking for a cool post-processed look to your images try the 7 Art Filters. My favourites are the Dramatic Tones and Grainy Film look. There are also a few very cool special effects settings - Fish Eye, Sparkle, Reflection, and Fragmented, that create a very unique presentation of your scene.
2. Wide Array of Adjustable Settings
I like a bit of control, even in a point-and-shoot camera. The P (program auto) mode and Custom modes (C1 and C2) give me that control. The user is able to adjust white balance, ISO, flash settings, and move from single to continuous to timer shooting. For me the most important adjustment is exposure compensation. The TG-4 offers a range from -2.0 EV to +2.0 EV in 0.3 increments. All of these adjustments are easily accessed by pressing the OK button and navigating the sidebar menu that appears.
3. Aperture Priority Mode
I could have included this information in the section above, but decided to give it special mention under its own heading for three reasons;
1. It is a new feature that the precursor, TG-3 did not have.
2. Aperture settings are by far the most important way of controlling the overall look of your images.
3. This post would have been a Top 9 List instead of Top 10 and that just sounds weird.
Aperture helps control the amount of light entering the camera, but more importantly controls the depth of field (how much of your photo is in focus). I regularly like shooting with larger apertures in order to blur the background and eliminate distractions especially for close up work.
The aperture setting on the TG-4 ranges from f/2.0 to f/18, but this depends on the focal length for any particular shot. For example when shooting wide-angle images the largest available aperture is f/2.0 . Zoom in all the way and the largest aperture is f/4.9 - still impressive. When shooting in A mode you have three available apertures to choose from, not the entire range of apertures, but this still yields acceptable results.
4. Microscope Mode
This is just so cool! As a person who has always enjoyed macro photography, the ability of the TG-4 to almost go down to the microscopic level is just mind-blowing. Now let's be clear here, you can't zoom in to the point where you see individual body cells, but you can zoom in to see details that the naked eye just can't. You can literally bring the lens to within a few millimeters of your subject. This is great when going on safari in your own garden and photographing insects and the like. There are 4 microscope modes. The one I like the best is the focus stacking feature. Good depth of field is difficult to attain with any macro lens so in this mode a set of images is taken at slightly different focus points and then stacked in camera to achieve a larger depth of field. This feature alone is worth the price of admission!
5. Shooting Underwater
All of the Tough cameras that Olympus has produced can shoot underwater, but I do find myself quite pleased with the clarity of the images from the TG-4. The variety of underwater settings will meet the needs of almost any situation. The double-switch mechanisms on the access ports help to ensure that you can't accidentally open the battery or USB port doors while underwater. I am also pleased with the water repellant coating on the lens. Water droplets fall right off so that you can quickly shoot once you surface for air. The one thing I do wish existed on the TG-4 is a flip-up LCD screen (like on the TG-860). For those of us who like to keep our heads above water it can be difficult to compose the shot blind.
As a serious shooter I definitely appreciate the inclusion of RAW image files as an option. The default setting is to shoot 16 megapixel jpegs, which for many people is quite acceptable. Unfortunately jpegs are compressed image files that help reduce file size but also loose some of the data associated with neighbouring pixels that are similar to each other. A RAW file is larger, but the data for each individual is retained and not compressed. If you are into post-processing your images in Lightroom or Photoshop this is definitely an advantage.
7. Video Options
There are some pretty serious videographers out there and I'm not one of them. However, from my limited experience shooting video the TG-4 can handle a number of situations admirably. It can shoot HD quality, 1080P video at 30 fps. That's more than acceptable if you wish to upload your videos and share them.
Interested in slowing the action down? The TG-4 also comes with two high-speed video modes that will shoot at 120fps and 240fps. The size of the video for both of these modes is significantly reduced but it does open up some interesting opportunities.
Links to Sample Videos
The Birds and the Bees (well, actually just the bees)
Slow Motion Video 1 - Lighting a match
Slow Motion Video 2 - Drops of Milk
In today's "If you can't share it, why shoot it?" world of social media, the fact that the TG-4 will connect directly to your smart phone will appeal to many people. The Olympus OI.Share app is available for both IOS and Android users. Enabled, the camera sets up its own Wifi hot spot allowing the user to control the camera remotely, do some basic editing and upload your images to your favourite social media site. For those who like to travel, the built-in GPS, barometer, altimeter and compass are a very cool feature.
9. Build Quality
Pick up the TG-4 and you know that you are not holding a hunk of plastic in your hands. Although not heavy, the exterior metal construction has a solid, rugged feel to it. It is shockproof from 2.1 m, waterproof down to 15 m, freezeproof down to -10 C and crushproof to 220 lb.
10. Available Accessories
On its own, the TG-4 is more than capable of taking great photos. But if that's not enough, a number of accessories are available for different shooting situations. The only accessory I actually have is the LED ring light which is perfect for macro/micro shooting. Other available accessories include an attachable fish-eye lens, telephoto lens, and a sport holder that attaches the camera to your backpack or chest straps for shooting on the fly.
The Olympus Tough TG-4 is a feature-packed, go-anywhere, easy-to-use camera. There are several other built-in features that I haven't talked about in this blog post - time lapse, live composite, programmable shooting modes and several others. For more information, check it out on the Olympus website or some of the more technical reviews (imaging resource, dpreview, Steve's digicams).
Peter Baumgarten is a professional photographer and educator. He is also an Olympus Visionary and NiSi Official Photographer.