Olympus Tough TG-6 Review
What We Love. In many ways, you’ll get a lot of use out of the Olympus Tough TG-6 camera. Perhaps its key feature is that it’s (almost) indestructible… Waterproof down to an impressive 50 feet. Drop-proof from 7 feet. Freezeproof. Dust proof. Crushproof. More than ruggedness, it takes decent photos, captures RAW, has a 4X optical zoom that allows it to go from 25mm to 100mm, records 4K videos at 30fps, and boasts quite a few photo modes that make it easy for casual users to shoot such things as panoramas. All that, combined with the fact that it slips easily in your pocket–even your shirt pocket–and has a plethora of accessories, gives it street cred as an adventure camera.
What We’d Change. Unfortunately, even with all that, we wish the Olympus Tough TG-6 offered a larger 1-inch image sensor. We also wish it better-controlled rolling shutter and, despite being designed for beginner photographers, was more user-friendly for those less familiar with Olympus menus.
Pick This Up If… you are looking for a compact, lightweight camera that you can take with you everywhere on your next vacation, especially if you plan on going on a diving expedition, doing some snorkeling, climbing a glacier or trekking in the snowy peaks of the Himalayas. Otherwise, if we’re being honest, there are better options out there. Like a GoPro, for example, or your iPhone in a rugged, underwater case.
| Aperture Priority | 100mm | F/4.9 | 1/125 | ISO 200 |
The Olympus Tough TG-6 has a few aces up its sleeves. It’s built like a tank and feature-rich in a way that makes it easy for newer photographers to simply execute advanced techniques. Conversely, we found Olympus' menu design oddly complicated and, frankly, extremely frustrating. This kind of overshadows everything else that the Olympus Tough TG-6 does right, including producing surprisingly great and vibrant photos.
Is the Olympus Tough TG-6 for everyone? No, we’re afraid not. However, it has found itself a particular market whose consumers will be more than happy with what it has to offer... when they figure out how to operate it seamlessly.
We tested the Olympus Tough TG-6 alongside a couple of its accessories: the Circular Fisheye Converter and the Lens Barrier. To shoot our time-lapse clips, we mounted the camera on a JOBY GorillaPod 3K Compact Tripod.
TG-6 KEY FEATURES
- 12 Megapixel 1/2.3-inch BSI CMOS
- TruePic VIII Image Processor
- 1,040k-dot, 3.0" LCD Monitor
- Focal length: 4.5mm - 18mm (25mm - 100mm)
- Shutter speed: 1/2 - 1/2000 sec.
- Aperture: f/2.0 (wide) - f/4.9 (tele)
- CMOS Contrast Detection System with 25 focusing points and Face Detection
- 4K 30p / 4K Timelapse Video / FHD 120fps High Speed Video
- Waterproof to depths of 50 ft / 15 m
- Freezeproof to 14°F / -10°C
- Crushproof to 220 lbf / 100 kgf
- Shockproof from 7 ft / 2.1 m
- Anti-fog dual pane
- Continuous shooting: Up to 20fps
- ISO: 100 - 12800 (adjustable)
- Image stabilization of 2.5 EV
- 18 shooting modes, 16 scene modes and 16 art filters
- Connectivity: WiFi
- Battery life: up to 340 shots
WHAT’S IN THE BOX
- USB cable
- Hand Strap
- Instruction Manual
- Warranty Card
- LI-92B Li-ion Battery
- F-5AC Li-ion Battery Charger
BUILD QUALITY & DESIGN
Featuring an all-metal body, there’s no doubt that the Olympus Tough TG-6 is made of tough stuff. The fact that it’s practically indestructibly built is one of its defining features. As you see in the specs above, this compact is waterproof to 50 ft (15 m), freeze-proof to 14°F (-10°C), crushproof to 220 lbf (100 kgf) and shockproof from 7 ft (2.1 m), which lets it live up to Olympus’ promise that it’s built for adventure.
We say ‘practically’ because, while it is built like a tank, we found two weaknesses. First of all, the rear screen protector that protects its LCD screen scratches quite easily. When those scratches accumulate with use, it will be harder to see the screen.
| Aperture Priority | 50mm | F/3.2 | 1/500 | ISO 100 |
Secondly, our review period required two loaner bodies because our first TG-6 died. Our first water experiments began in the cold waters of Lake Tahoe. Despite the camera being locked up and sealed, water and sand found their way around the fisheye lens mount after a few short dips just below the surface.
At the time, the camera seemed fine, so we brushed off the sand, took it to a friend’s pool in Los Angeles, and again made sure that everything was sealed and locked. An hour later, the camera's LCD failed and it stopped taking photo photos entirely. When we opened the camera, the latches and lens mount were wet.
| Aperture Priority | 25mm | F/8 | 1/250 | ISO 100 |
It might have just been our review unit since fellow reviewers haven’t been running into the same issue, and we've been testing Olympus Tough cameras for years and this is our first failure of any kind. The good news is that our SD card was fine and, from a customer perspective, this type of early failure is covered under warranty.
Still, we feel compelled to let our readers know as a PSA: while we have no doubt that Olympus quality checks every single production unit before it hits the shelves, it’s not impossible for one or two of those cameras to be defective. Also, if it does happen to you, it’s also worth immediately removing the battery and SD card, then throwing the camera in a Ziplock full of rice. This is what we did with our defective unit, and it started working again after a week or so.
Design-wise, the TG-6 looks and feels like an underwater camera, sleek and compact so it’s easy to swim around with it strapped to your wrist – not to mention, light enough so it doesn’t get in the way of your swimming. Adding more compelling reasons to having this as your go-to underwater camera are its accessories, which range from an underwater housing for added protection and if you want to go deeper than 50 feet to a flash that you can also take underwater. Finally, it comes in two colors: black and red, although we are partial to the red shade.
Using the Olympus Tough TG-6 seems pretty straightforward. To take photos without fussing over settings, you simply turn the mode dial in the back to the right of the LCD to the right mode (i.e. Auto, Scene, Macro, Underwater) then press the shutter button on the top panel. To remove a mounted lens, simply press on the lens ring release button and turn the lens. To add or remove an SD card, simply unlock and open the latch on the bottom panel. And to charge the camera itself, you just need to unlock and open the latch on the left panel.
And, to be fair, it’s easy to handle as well. It’s small enough to not feel like a burden, sleek enough to swim effortlessly with, and compact enough to fit in your pocket. Out snorkeling in the Caribbean? Just strap this around your wrist or onto your life vest, if you’re wearing one, to keep it out of the way when you don’t need it and easily accessible when you do. Doing a 10-mile hike? Whip it out when you want to take a photo, then quickly slip it in your backpack side pocket, in your fanny pack or even your pants pocket if it’s spacious enough.
| Aperture Priority | 100mm | F/18 | 1/250 | ISO 160 |
The buttons are small, but not too small or too crowded on the camera that you’re constantly pressing on the wrong one, and responsive enough so you can make adjustments to your settings quickly.
That is, as soon as you’ve familiarized yourself with how exactly to operate the camera, which is unfortunately not as easy as one would naturally expect from a compact camera for beginners, casual shooters and adventurers.
It is disappointing that if you were to go beyond just pointing and shooting, that this camera is neither user-friendly nor intuitive to use. To select or change your focus area when you’re about to shoot, for example, you can’t just press on the arrow pad to move it. You have to press and hold the OK button first, and you wouldn’t know that if you don’t dig through the manual. To change your shooting format to RAW, you have to press Menu and OK at the same time to bring up the format options.
This only means that while the Olympus Tough TG-6 is a pretty nifty camera with some useful features, it’s held back by the fact that it’s not intuitive to operate. To fully take advantage of it, you must do a considerable amount of reading.
MENUS & DISPLAYS
The Olympus Tough TG-6’s display, a 1,040k-dot 3.0-inch LCD monitor, is decent. It displays the menus in big enough fonts and icons so you won’t have to squint, and it plays back videos and images good enough to somewhat gauge whether or not you need to reshoot.
Still, there are two things we’re not happy about here. The first being the fact there is no touchscreen functionality, which would have made it more convenient for things like selecting focus areas and touch shutter. But then again, this camera is $450 and adding that touchscreen functionality would have upped the price tag.
The second thing we’re struggling with is that rear screen protector, which honestly makes the images on the display look duller and less vibrant. Yes, it displays your photos and videos well enough, but you probably won’t know whether those images are sharp enough or a bit blurry until you take that SD card out and look at the photos on your computer.
The menus aren’t intuitive either. It’s a tad hard to find anything on there, whether you’re trying to change the format to RAW, adjust your exposure compensation or set your focus area, so much so that, unless you’re on auto all the time, it will eventually get in the way of your shooting process. Seeing as this camera is designed for adventure and beginner photographers (as evidenced by its scene modes), all this seems very counterintuitive.
It takes a bit of practice, and again, a lot of reading, but it’s worth doing both before you take this camera out on your grand adventure. Otherwise, you’ll spend most of your time getting frustrated by it.
SPEED & AF PERFORMANCE
| Aperture Priority | 25mm | F/8 | 1/320 | ISO 100 |
On the upside, Olympus Tough TG-6’s autofocusing system is pretty fast and accurate. We didn’t experience any discernable or considerable delays between the camera trying to find the right subject and it locking that focus down. This is especially true when you are shooting portraits and have Face Detection (or Face Priority) on.
| Aperture Priority | 58mm | F/3.5 | 1/250 | ISO 160 |
Without a face to focus on, the camera’s AF system might not be smart or intuitive enough to home in on your intended subject. When shooting scenes without a human subject facing the camera, this compact doesn’t always know which subject to focus on, even if that subject is closest to it like a flower along a path or dominating the frame like a mountain peak.
For a more accurate focus, we found that it’ll be easier – not to mention, more precise – switching to manual focus, changing your AF target to Single Target, and then adjusting your focus area (check the camera manual, page 82, to find out precisely how to change the focus area). If that’s too advanced for you, you can always re-frame your shot, wait for the camera to switch focus and hopefully it gets it right the second or third time.
| Aperture Priority | 82mm | F/4.3 | 1/400 | ISO 100 |
This AF system can also keep up with moving subjects, as long as they’re slow enough – like a kid on a swing, a person walking at a leisurely pace or someone swimming. However, we doubt that it’s fast enough to capture a fast-moving subject.
Surprisingly, it’s not bad in low light situations. We actually managed to get a few good handheld shots with this camera after sunset.
| Aperture Priority | 25mm | F/2.8 | 1/640 | ISO 100 |
The Olympus Tough TG-6 only offers two metering modes: ESP, which is like Olympus’ version of Evaluative metering – that is, it meters the center of the frame and the surrounding areas separately, and Spot, which measures the center of the screen.
When the lighting is more even, with no overly bright highlights and very dark shadows, this rugged compact’s ESP metering mode performs beautifully, maintaining a balanced exposure throughout. The Spot mode, on the other hand, works when you’ve got a subject right in the middle of your frame, and it’s backlit.
| Aperture Priority | 25mm | F/8 | 1/250 | ISO 160 |
Unfortunately, neither of these metering modes will result in very appealing photos when you’re shooting in super high contrast situations, as this camera tends to blow out its highlights. This camera is better at scenes with more even lighting, so if you plan on shooting a lot at midday when the sun is high in the sky, we’d recommend shooting in RAW so that at least, you can do some post-processing adjustments.
STILL IMAGE QUALITY
| Aperture Priority | 25mm | F/2.8 | 1/500 | ISO 100 |
One of the best things about the Olympus Tough TG-6 is that it actually delivers rich, sharp images. For a camera that only has a 12MP 1/2.3-inch BSI CMOS sensor, the photos we took with it are crisp and detailed, with nice, accurate – if ever so slightly subdued – colors.
| Aperture Priority | 100mm | F/6.3 | 1/200 | ISO 125 |
If you’re used to APS-C or full-frame cameras this might not mean much, but if you’ve been a camera phone or GoPro shooter pretty much your whole life, you will appreciate just how sharp the images are that this camera yields. We’re talking tack sharp from its shortest at 25mm to its longest at 100mm.
Which reminds us, the fact that it delivers up to 4x optical zoom (and 8x digital) is already nifty. Factor the very sharp images it yields at that maximum zoom, and you’ve got another reason to want this camera. How does that apply in real world scenarios? Well, if you’re diving and you spot a Great White a little way away, you’ll have something to capture it with, without getting too close. Unless, of course, you want to get close.
Other excellent features of the Olympus Tough TG-6 are its creative modes. Of course, you’ll have to familiarize yourself with the different options on hand and how to access them before you go out shooting. As with switching shooting formats and changing focus areas, utilizing these creative modes aren’t as intuitive as on other cameras. However, once you’ve done your due research, you’ll definitely want to utilize some of them.
| Aperture Priority | 30mm | F/3.2 | 1/500 | ISO 100 |
One creative mode we’re not quite fond of, however, is the Panorama Scene Mode. Instead of mimicking a camera phone’s keep it center and slide technique, this basically takes several photos – one at a time – then weaves them together after. Simple enough, but while the camera does its best to instruct you on how and when to move the camera for the next shot in the series, it takes a bit of practice to kind of get those panoramas to look more seamless. And even when you finally get it right, your photos will still look like several photos strung together as opposed to a single long photo.
Of course, being a compact camera with a tiny sensor and limited capabilities, it comes with its share of flaws. On top of the overblown highlights in high contrast situations, it’s not so good at minimizing ghosting and flare. Additionally, we found a good amount of purple and green fringing in many of our high contrast images.
| Aperture Priority | 25mm | F/8 | 1/250 | ISO 200 |
None of those are surprising, given that the camera is under $500. However, bear in mind that short of image manipulation, even in post and RAW format, you might have a hard time fixing the amount of chromatic aberration you’re getting when shooting in high contrast. Our advice is to simply minimize taking photos with this camera in that type of situation. The Olympus Tough TG-6 really shines when lighting is less harsh and more even.
The Olympus Tough TG-6 offers several video capabilities, from HD at 30fps and 25fps to 4K at 30fps and 25fps. It also allows 1080p recording at 60fps, as well as high-speed recording of 480fps for up to 20 seconds of recording time in standard definition and 120fps for up to 20 seconds in full HD.
Additionally, recording time-lapse videos, where the camera will automatically put together the video for you is also on hand, as is interval mode, which shoots 100 photos at a time and leaves it up you to create the time-lapse movie yourself.
For $500, that’s definitely an impressive roster of video capabilities the Olympus Tough TG-6 has on offer, which makes it great if you want to document your adventures for personal use. Unfortunately, the video quality isn’t really that great. The colors are vibrant enough, but the videos don’t quite have the same level of sharpness you’d expect from a 4K video or even a 1080p one.
In fact, we shot the same sunset scene with our iPhone X Max, and the iPhone produced a sharper, cleaner and even more vibrant 1080p video. We also shot a similar scene of the swing atop a mountain peak with the GoPro Hero 7, and that also yielded a much sharper video. Granted, the GoPro video is at 1440p while the Olympus one is 1080p, but the difference in sharpness shouldn’t be that big.
The fact that the Olympus Tough TG-6 doesn’t have any sort of stabilization makes the video quality worse, especially when you’re shooting a video while moving around.
The takeaway here is that the Olympus Tough TG-6 has some pretty nifty features for shooting videos, and those are advantageous when you’re shooting videos underwater or when you want to document your vacation and share those videos with family and friends back home. However, the video quality just isn’t good enough, if you plan on creating content and sharing it on your blog or on Instagram. For that, you’re better off with a GoPro.
The Olympus Tough TG-6 can be paired with smartphones through its built-in WiFi. Photo and video transfers on the go, as well as using your device as remote control and adding geotags, is done using the Olympus Image Share or OI Share app that is available for iPhone and Android users.
Pairing this camera with your smartphone is easy; all you need to do is to go to the Playback Menu > Connection to Smartphone, which will display the QR code that you’ll need to scan with your phone. It’s the same when using the remote control function or the import photos feature, and it’s pretty straightforward.
If you’re used to doing this on other cameras, you should be able to do it with your eyes closed. If not, the short instructions on the camera should get you to where you need to go.
PROS & CONS
| Aperture Priority | 50mm | F/13 | 1/100 | ISO 100 |
- Great image quality for this sensor size
- Up to 8x digital zoom
- Rugged build
- Nifty set of accessories
- Not enough ghosting and flare minimization
- Lots of chromatic aberration
- Bad metering in high contrast situations
| Aperture Priority | 25mm | F/8 | 1/250 | ISO 100 |
Ultimately, whether or not the Olympus Tough TG-6 is worth the investment depends on what you’ll be using it for. It’s a nifty little camera with all the necessary features as well as all the bells and whistles.
It definitely has a lot going for it: a plethora of creative modes, a number of video formats, the fact that its waterproof, freeze-proof, crushproof and shockproof. It boasts up to 8x zoom, which gives you a number of uses including taking photos of wildlife from a distance. And it has a number of accessories that essentially increase the number of things you can do with the camera.
Most importantly, it does take colorful and sharp images. They may not be as good as what you’d get if you have a bigger sensor and a more powerful camera – the dynamic range on this camera is not that wide, the metering is bad in high contrast situations and there’s a lot of chromatic aberration, to start. However, that only means that it’s ideal for certain situations and certain users.
There is the matter of its intuitive design and user interface… or the lack thereof. But with proper research and enough practice, using it will get a lot easier.
Personally, there are many things we love about this camera, and we’re pleasantly surprised that it actually takes sharper photos than we would have expected. And we love that it has so many features that we can use for a number of things.
Still, are those features and advantages completely worth the time and effort you spend with just trying to figure out how to operate it? When there are other compact rugged underwater cameras out there that are easier to use? It’s up to you to decide.
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