Olympus Stylus Tough TG-4 Review

Hands on Preview by Michael Palmer - posted on 04/12/2015
Full review by Josh Fate - posted 06/04/2015

Quick Take
  • iAuto shooting mode is accurate and easy in all situations
  • Dedicated Video Capture Button is always ready to record
  • Outstanding macro shooting mode with LED light
  • "Tough" features: Waterproof, Dustproof, Shockproof, Crushproof and Freezeproof protect the camera all the time
  • Mega O.I.S. is very helpful when shooting on the move
  • GPS and WiFi are very useful features
  • Nice, Bright 3.0-inch LCD
  • Excellent overall performance
  • Plenty of accessories
  • Great Battery Life
  • Competitively priced
  • Low ISO images were blotchy, not as sharp as we hoped
  • Some noise in all images / which is typical with most smaller 16-megapixel image sensors
  • Screen can be hard to see underwater
  • Weak built-in flash
Bottom Line
The Olympus Stylus TG-4 is a fantastic camera for the adventurous types, as well as any household with a pool or children. Its image quality is not what you would find on standard digicams in this price range, buts its other features are what make it worth the extra money. Read more in our Full Conclusion.
The Preview

Olympus' Tough Series of Life Proof cameras has a new flagship for 2015. The Stylus TG-4 takes the baton from the TG-3 with the same 50-foot waterproof, 220-pound crushproof, 7-foot shockproof, 14°F (-10℃) freezeproof, and dustproof ratings as before. The TG-4 also carries over the 16MP BSI CMOS image sensor, TruePic VII image processor, and 4x optical zoom lens with a bright F/2.0 maximum aperture, all of which allow for better low-light performance.

The TG-4 also boasts Full 1080p HD video recording at 30 frames-per-second as well as 720p HD video and 120 or 240FPS "HS" video that creates authentic slow-motion movies at sub-HD resolutions. iAuto Mode is on board for first-time shutterbugs and technophobes, while the built-in Art Filters add some dramatic, classic, or (de)saturated looks to stills and videos. Interval Shooting allows users to capture up to 99 still images space between 1-second and 24-hours apart. After your 99 shots are captured, you can either create your own time-lapse using external software, or the camera will create its own .avi Time-Lapse Movie for you (not full HD). Lastly, built-in Wi-Fi is a must for modern Tough Series cameras. Simply download the Olympus Image Share (O.I. Share) App for iOS or Android devices, and you can easily backup and share on social media. You can also turn your smartphone or tablet into a wireless external display with the ability to remotely control the camera.

At this point, you may be asking yourself, "hey, what's the big difference between the TG-4 and the previous gen model?" Great question. Let's dive in.

First, the GPS has been upgraded, making it faster and more accurate. Next, let's talk about RAW image capture. The TG-4 has the option to shoot RAW+JPEG, which simultaneously captures a RAW image file as well as your standard digicam JPEG file. RAW images have a higher pixel density, providing more fine details, and are much more easily manipulated after initial capture. It's a must-have feature for any budding photographer. Also, while the Tough Series has had a Marco / Microscope Mode for a little while, the TG-4 improves that process with Focus Stacking, which combines 8 separate shots at different focal lengths to ensure maximum depth of field.

The TG-4 is also quite customizable for a point-and-shoot in this range. It offers Aperture Priority Mode, giving more advanced photographers the ability to control depth of field. And there are two Custom Mode notches on the Mode Dial. Simply engage your preferences -- whether they be aperture settings, art filters, or video resolutions -- and then save them as "C1" or "C2". From there it's easy to flip to whatever modes or filters you need without having to dive into the full menu. The menu is pretty easy to navigate, but this is a heck of a timesaver, particularly when trying to capture action-oriented subject matter. There are also four different AF (AutoFocus) modes, with AF Target selection ("Area" in the menu) allowing you to define the exact place in the frame where the camera will lock focus. AF Track is also super helpful; simply select an object or person in the frame, and the focus will lock onto and track that subject regardless of camera movement.

Lastly, there are a couple new Scene Modes for this model year. First Underwater HDR is a unique High Dynamic Range mode. Much like other HDR modes, this one takes multiple exposures (four in total) and combines them into one single image that has a wider dynamic range and improved saturation. However, Underwater HDR is smart enough to realize when either the camera or the subject is moving too much and, where other HDR modes would simply fail to produce any image in these scenarios, the TG-4 will at the very least deliver one properly exposed image. Next, Live Composite Mode (introduced for the OM-D E-M5ii) allows for breathtaking nighttime compositions, ranging from star trails to light painting. This feature imitates a complex process produced by expensive DSLRs and ILCs in full manual mode. The challenge is one of timing, because if you let an image expose long enough, bright areas will eventually bloom. Live Composite Mode circumvents this process by having users take a base, low-light photograph with ambient light, and having the camera automatically add only new sources of movement or light.


Olympus Stylus TG-4 Features

  • Freezeproof down to 14°F (-10℃)
  • Crushproof up to 220lbs
  • Shockproof up to a 7-foot fall
  • Dustproof
  • 16MP BSI CMOS image sensor
  • TruePic VII image processor
  • F/2.0 4x optical zoom lens (25-100mm equivalent)
  • 3.0" LCD Display
  • Full HD 1080/30p HD Video
  • HS @ 120fps or 240fps
  • iAuto
  • Aperture Priority & Program Auto Mode
  • RAW + JPEG image capture
  • 2 Custom Modes
  • Art Filters
  • Interval Shooting (up to 99 shots, 1sec - 24hr interval) with Time-Lapse Movie
  • HDR Underwater
  • Live Composite Mode
  • Wi-Fi (works with Olympus Image Share app)
  • improved GPS
  • e.Compass
  • Microscope Mode
  • Focus Stacking
  • Focus Bracket
  • Microscope Control

Optional Accessories

  • LED Light Guide
  • Tough Sport Holder CSCH-123
  • Underwater Case PT-056 (extends depth to 150ft / 45m)

The Olympus Stylus TG-4 is available in red or black, with a $379.99 MSRP. See our best price box at the top right of this page to see current online pricing.


Hands-On First Look

We'll definitely be preparing a full in-depth review, but here are some initial thoughts after spending a couple days up in Whistler, British Columbia with the TG-4.

The overall experience, thus far, is a very positive one. The TG-4 worked flawlessly in freezing temperatures under grey skies, falling snow, and even a couple dips into frigid water. We took it to the top one mountain via gondola, back down another mountain strapped to a zip-line, and then up and down a third mountain on ATVs. We shot many still images, a few HD videos, and a couple HS 120FPS slow motion videos.

Since the first impressions went well (more testing left, of course), let's talk about a couple things that are missing. The first is a Full Manual Mode. Once you've got RAW, you're just itching to have a wee bit more control. Next, while the TG-4 is the flagship camera, offering a better lens and more advanced features, it lacks a flip up display and front facing shutter button ala the TG-860. The funny thing is that I wouldn't have even noticed the display or front-button issue if I hadn't been using the camera with the Tough Sport Holder optional accessory. The holder is great, allowing you to strap the TG-4 to a backpack. A fairly simple process... until you're wearing a large helmet. Which complicates one's ability to swap modes or engage the video record button without removing it from the Sport Holder. Not the end of the world, but in the growing market of action sports cameras, being able to engage different modes, while starting and stoping videos or time-lapses would be a great addition to the TG-5.

The AutoFocus features described above are definitely a huge win, though somewhat buried in the menu system. However, once discovered, AF Area and AF Tracking really allow users to professional frame / expose / and focus the image however they need. The Art Filters are nice too, boasting a few of the best ones featured on the OM-D series cameras.

The Microscope Mode is another fun feature. The images are definitely a tad noisy, but wow, you don't simply see the text on the page, but you see the actual paper fibers on which the letter's ink has been printed. This mode works best with the LED Light Guide, and could be fun for families wanting to explore the world's tinier hidden beauties. Definitely try Focus Stacking, which combines multiple exposures to extend the depth of field.

On the movie side of things, I shot some video zip-lining down a mountain in 1080p (videos forthcoming). It's definitely a little compressed, with some macroblocking and artificating, but not too bad. Basically, it's just not pro-quality video in situations when there's a lot of background movement. Pretty common at this price range. The HS videos are pretty great too, but they're only standard definition. Great for the web, but not for big screen TVs. That said, I was able to capture a bobsled racing by at nearly 80mph (130kmh).

Lastly, Live Composite Mode is a revelation for those who love nighttime photography. I'll talk more about this in a blog about the trip, but I took the TG-4 out to a park at night and put it head-to-head against the OM-D E-M5ii, which costs about four times more than the TG-4 when you factor in the pro-lens I was using. As one would imagine, the TG-4's smaller image sensor was a tad noisier, but here's the crazy party. The TG-4 kept up well with the OM-D (though its higher Auto ISO threatened to over-expose images) and for some photographers in my group, the TG-4 did not only a better job, but also a faster one. Because, on the OM-D, you have to first get focus, then press the shutter once, and then start the Live Composite. On the TG-4, simply depress the shutter once and go. Simple is good. Live Composite on a sub-$400 waterproof/freezeproof/crushproof camera that also shoots RAW...is great.

Again, we'll dive into some more tests, but thus far the TG-4 is a terrific, compact digicam for the family on the go. A camera the little ones can't destroy that carries over the functionality and specifics from previous generations while adding a few new bells and whistles.

Olympus Stylus TG-4 Product Images


Olympus Stylus TG-4 Sample Images


NOTE: All images in this Preview were compressed to compensate for low bandwidth hotel Wi-Fi. We'll replace them shortly with links to higher res versions that more accurately represent the TG-4 RAW & JPEG images.

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