Steve's Conclusion

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Steve's SnapShot
Thumbnail image for TG-320_BLU_RIGHT.jpg
  • 14-Megapixel Imaging Sensor
  • 2.7-Inch LCD Screen
  • 3.6x Optical zoom lens: 28-102mm (35mm equivalent)
  • Dual IS
  • Dedicated Video Record Button
  • iAuto mode
  • 720p HD video recording
  • Waterproof to 10ft.
  • Dustproof
  • Can survive drops from 5 ft.
  • FreezeProof to 14°F
  • SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card compatible
Pros
  • Dedicated Video Capture Button is always ready to record
  • "Tough" features: Waterproof, Dustproof, Shockproof and Freezeproof
  • Dual IS keeps the images clear, even at full telephoto
  • Bright 2.7-inch LCD
  • Very Affordable "Lifeproof" model
Cons
  • Noticeable amounts of noise in all images
  • Slow overall camera performance
  • Screen can be hard to see underwater
  • Poor battery life
Timing Test Results
  • Power up to first image captured = 4.3 seconds
  • Shutter lag when prefocused  = approx.  1/10 of a second
  • Shutter lag with autofocus = approx. 5/10 to 8/10 of a second
  • Shot to shot delay wo/flash = 1.60 seconds
  • Shot to shot delay w/flash = 3.12 seconds
  • Sequential burst =  0.62fps 
  • High Speed Burst = 3.33fps (3M)
  • All tests were taken using an PNY Pro Class 10, 8GB SDHC memory card, Program Mode, ISO auto, Flash off and all other settings at the factory defaults unless noted otherwise.
Bottom Line
The Olympus Tough TG-320 is a "Lifeproof" camera for anyone on a budget. Its tough build makes it great for travel, adventure or just around the house or pool. While an appealing camera, it does lack in the performance and image quality arenas.
Pick This Up If...
You are looking for a budget "Lifeproof" camera that can travel and get beat up without losing functionality. 
For 2012, Olympus has introduced several "Lifeproof" compact models, including the Tough TG-320. As one of the most affordable "Lifeproof" models on the market, it has the ability to be submerged 10ft, survive falls from 5ft. and since it is waterproof, it is also dust and sand proof as well. Just because it is tough on the outside, doesn't mean that is lacking on the inside. It features a 14-Megapixel imaging sensor, 3.6x internal optical zoom lens, 3D image capture, HD video capture, dual image stabilization and all of the editing features and menus that have become standard on an Olympus point-n-shoot camera. The camera is available in Red and Blue, so it will stand out; even when it is not in an extreme situation. 

While the TG-320 is very compact, its simple layout on top makes operation a snap in all shooting situations. All of the controls and the door covering the right side have a waterproof rubber coating/seal that gives you confidence when the camera is wet. The buttons on the back are a little small and could be hard to use if you have big hands or are in a situation where visibility is not perfect. The 2.7-inch, 230,000 dot LCD screen on the other hand is easy to see almost all the time, and the adjustable brightness levels allow you to change it when necessary. It lacks the sharpness and detail we've become accustomed to with modern displays, however this is a $180 camera. Like many of the Olympus camera's, this one also features the in-camera manual that allows you to look up all of the camera's functions and specific shooting modes on the LCD screen; so you do not have to carry the manual with you or pull it  up on your PC when in need of assistance.

Image quality is decent; not surprising for a camera that is well under $200. As a full screen image, photos captured with the TG-320 look very nice; but zooming in to 100% shows that the images will always show some image noise that takes away from the overall sharpness of the image. Looking at the grass, edges of the buildings and in the shade are really easy to see the image noise. There is also a little overexposure in the cannon shot and some aberrations in high-contrast areas throughout. Still, the camera can capture nice snap shots, which are sure to make pleasing 4x6-inch or larger prints.

Assisting you with composing your images is the internal 3.6x optical zoom lens with a 35mm equivalent of 28-102mm. Its dual image stabilization consists of sensor shift and digital stabilization modes combined to help you produce sharper results when shooting in lower lighting and at full telephoto zoom. The equivalent zoom range is great for landscapes, travel and some portrait photography, but do not expect to get too close to a distant image with the optical zoom. There is a digital zoom feature, however we normally recommend you use digital zoom sparingly as it can degrade image quality significantly.

Looking at our indoor images, we see the same image noise, even when using the lowest ISO settings. Once you get to ISO 800, the images are starting to get very soft; and we recommend you keep the ISO below 800 if possible. 1600 is definitely a setting to stay away from unless absolutely necessary. Assisting with your low-light and indoor shooting is a compact flash unit that is not very powerful. You will want to keep as close as possible to your subjects when using it, which will give you better coverage and help keep the ISO settings as low as possible.

Shooting in portrait mode was easy, as the camera's face detection worked fairly well. It detected faces that were looking directly at the camera very quickly, but took a little longer when faces were at an angle. Our sample shot looks great, with excellent exposure, focus and color. We did not see much redeye in our portrait shots when using the flash, meaning you shouldn't have to spend much time editing your portraits later. Even with our underwater shot, everything came out perfectly for the detected face within the frame. All of our underwater shooting was just as easy as the portraits once the camera was in the underwater scene mode. If you find you do not like the colors from your underwater images, you can adjust the White Balance away from the default underwater setting.

Thanks to the TG-320's dedicated video recording button, the camera is always in movie mode and ready to record. Our sample movie shows good exposure and color while the camera was in iAuto mode. Playing the movie back lets us see that it is not as sharp as we hoped to see, as things start to blend together and details are lost. You can also hear the light breeze hit the camera mic and produce a lot of background noise. To play the movies back, you can either watch it on the LCD screen, download it to a computer with the included USB cable, or with an optional HDMI cable they can be played back on your HDTV.

Powering the TG-320 is 3.7V, 740mAh Li-Ion rechargeable battery that did not live up Olympus's claims. While Olympus claims that this battery will allow you to capture up to approx. 300 images on a charge, we were only able to capture 118 images and a few short videos before the battery was exhausted. This ended up being a very poor battery life, and if you were going to travel with this camera you would need to have at least one spare battery with you at all times. With the batteries charging in the camera via a USB cable, it is a little harder to keep a spare charged, but not impossible.

Bottom Line - The Olympus Tough TG-320 is one of the most affordable "Lifeproof" camera's on the market; with only one other model that beats its price (the Nikon S30). It's go anywhere and shoot anytime features are very appealing for anyone on the go or a household with young kids or a pool. The full-featured camera is easy to use and loaded with great shooting modes, but it lacks a little in performance and image quality. With a MSRP of US $179.99, its definitely an affordable option;. But, if you want a "Lifeproof" camera that performs a little better and you can afford to spend a bit more, you will want to look at models like the Panasonic Lumix TS20 or the Canon PowerShot D20.


Visitors of Steves can visit the stores below for real-time pricing and availability. You can also find hot, soon to expire online offers on a variety of cameras and accessories at our very own Camera Deals page.