Tough digital cameras usually serve up second-rate photos and videos, but not the Olympus Tough TG-1 (*Est. $350). Reviews say it's a great point-and-shoot camera wrapped in a waterproof, shockproof, freezeproof, crushproof package. "We've heard from countless readers over the years who want a family camera that can go anywhere and do everything without breaking. The TG-1 is that camera," says DigitalCameraInfo.com, where the TG-1 crushes six rivals in a tough-cam shootout and wins the title of Best Waterproof Camera.
Best usability of any tough camera. The Olympus TG-1 proves easiest to use in DigitalCameraInfo.com's tough-cam comparison. "It's just as easy to use as any other point-and-shoot out there," tester Liam McCabe says.
Most tough point-and-shoots cram the lens into a little square in the corner, but the Olympus TG-1 wears its lens smack in the middle. That makes it "easy to grip and shoot, even when your hands are wet or cold," says Joshua Goldman at CNET, where the Olympus wins another tough-cam prizefight.
Its pocket-sized body packs a bright, sharp 3-inch OLED screen. It's easier to see in bright sunshine than an LCD screen, says Jim Fisher at PCMag.com.
The Olympus TG-1 is a snap to use in tough situations, reviews say, thanks to simple menus and more physical buttons and dials than most rugged cams. One Amazon.com reviewer was particularly thankful for the easy-access mode dial as he treaded water in a choppy lake, shooting photos of his kids on a floating obstacle course: "If I had to dig through a complicated menu system, I probably would have sunk to the bottom!"
One thing the TG-1 lacks is full manual controls. "If you're after a lot of fine controls, it's not for you," Goldman says. "That said, the Program mode gives you control over ISO, white balance, AF, exposure, and metering, and you can set up two custom profiles for groups of settings you regularly use. Olympus' iAuto works well, too, recognizing up to 30 different scenes including underwater and backlit subjects."
Expect good photos and videos -- indoors, outdoors or underwater. Snappy reflexes and reliable image quality -- even underwater -- make the Olympus TG-1 a pleasure to use, reviews say. "My fellow photographers were all writing down the name and model," writes a pro photographer at BHPhotoVideo.com, after shooting with the 12-megapixel Olympus on a professional trip to the Galápagos Islands. "Underwater movies were effortless and the sound captured the chirping of nearby dolphins beautifully."
The Olympus' secret: A bright f/2.0 maximum aperture. It's the only rugged camera with such a fast lens, and it really helps you get sharp photos underwater and in low light, testers say. In fact, it's the first tough camera that actually shoots well indoors, says McCabe at DigitalCameraInfo.com. It captures the "richest, punchiest photos in the water," too, making the other six tough cams in the test look washed-out.
Speed is impressive. Rapid-fire shooting at 5 full-resolution frames per second (fps) -- or up to 60 fps at 3 megapixels -- captures fast action. Startup, shot-to-shot times and shutter lag move along swiftly, too.
Video quality almost always impresses owners ("Got great footage of sea turtles swimming close to us and they could not have been clearer," writes one BHPhotoVideo.com customer), but several at Amazon.com report a clicking noise on their videos. Goldman at CNET says it's better audio than you'd get from a high-end smartphone or pocket video camera, and the video looks comparable.
Battery life is strong, rated at 350 shots per charge.
Toughest camera in its class. No other point-and-shoot camera boasts tougher specs. The Olympus TG-1 is dustproof, waterproof to 40 feet, freezeproof to 14 degrees Fahrenheit, shockproof if dropped up to 6.6 feet and crushproof under 220 pounds of weight. Its water-repellent lens and OLED screen shed droplets so they don't block your view, and the battery door double-locks.
"One of the toughest cameras available," CNET's Joshua Goldman writes. "It survived my informal testing that included three 1-hour stints in 2 feet of water and five 6-foot drops onto 2-inch plywood." The vast majority of owners report no problems with ruggedness. The Olympus survives sea diving, whitewater rafting and more. A couple of owners at BHPhotoVideo.com report foggy condensation on the lens, though. Some Amazon.com owners say their TG-1s died quickly, sometimes without ever being underwater.
Most features in its class. The Olympus TG-1 "has just about every cool, useful extra feature we've seen in the waterproof class," says McCabe at DigitalCameraInfo.com. CNET's Brian Tong agrees: "No other rugged camera on the market comes close."
The lens starts at a wide-angle 25 mm, with 4x zoom and super close-up macro ability. Its bayonet mount accepts filters and lens attachments. Olympus sells a fish-eye lens (*Est. $100) for bulging wide-angles and a telephoto converter (*Est. $100) that lengthens the optical zoom to 6.8x, both waterproof to 40 feet. If you want to dive deeper, an underwater housing (*Est. $310) works down to 135 feet.
Other extras include GPS, which not only location-tags your photos, but can also track your every step and show it later on Google Earth or Picasa. "This is an incredible keepsake for 'off-the-grid' exploring hikes," says an Amazon.com owner. An electronic compass points north, and you can also use it as a multi-axis level to line up your shot. A built-in manometer records your elevation or depth underwater. It will warn you if you're diving close to the camera's 40-foot underwater limit. The camera has an LED light on the front that serves as an autofocus-assist lamp and sheds extra light on macro subjects. Super Sport Mode tells the TG-1 to shoot five-shot bursts at the fastest possible shutter speed (up to 1/2000 second) every time you press the shutter button. Magic Art filters gives you 12 special effects, like Pin Hole, Watercolor, Miniature, etc. And finally, Panorama Mode means you can sweep the TG-1 across the scene and it will knit your shots together into one panoramic photo.
One thing is missing: The Olympus TG-1 can't shoot RAW files, like non-waterproof cameras at this price can. Like others in its class, the TG-1 has a USB jack to hook up to your computer and an HDMI jack to attach to an HDTV.
Review Credibility: Very Good Easily outclassing the six other tough cameras in this test in every possible way, the Olympus Tough TG-1 "is far and away the best waterproof camera of the year," Liam McCabe concludes. It's the easiest to use, shoots the best photos indoors, outdoors and underwater, and it has the best toughness specs (although McCabe didn't abuse-test the cameras).
Review: 2012 Waterproof Camera Showdown, Liam McCabe, Aug. 3, 2012
Review Credibility: Very Good After a full test, Joshua Goldman recommends the Olympus Tough TG-1 as "one of the toughest cameras available." Photo and video quality are very good for a rugged camera, and Goldman finds the camera speedy and full-featured, too.
Review: Olympus Tough TG-1 iHS Review, Joshua Goldman, June 15, 2012
Review Credibility: Very Good With tougher specs, easier user interface and better features, the Olympus Tough TG-1 beats the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS4 in this head-to-head battle. Both tough cameras deliver comparable speed and image quality. Brian Tong doesn't test their toughness.
Review: Prizefight: Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS4 vs. Olympus Tough TG-1 iHS, Brian Tong, Aug. 22, 2012
Review Credibility: Very Good Even without its tough specs, the Olympus Tough TG-1 "would be a very good camera," Jim Fisher says after testing its speed, image quality and features. It's excellent in low light and has an impressive feature set. It's PCMag.com's Editors' Choice among rugged point-and-shoot cameras.
Review: Olympus Tough TG-1 iHS, Jim Fisher, May 31, 2012
5. What Digital Camera
Review Credibility: Very Good "One of the best tough cameras on the market," the Olympus Tough TG-1 wins WhatDigitalCamera.com's Gold Award. Sometimes it underexposes or smudges fine details, but overall, it has the shooting prowess to match its tough build. Paul Nuttall doesn't do any toughness testing, though.
Review: Olympus Tough TG-1 Review, Paul Nuttall, Aug. 24, 2012
Review Credibility: Fair Over 120 owners have reviewed the Olympus Tough TG-1 here, awarding it an average of 4 out of 5 stars. Most praise the exceptional image quality and performance -- especially for a tough camera -- but a few say theirs died quickly, and several others report a clicking noise on their videos.
Review: Olympus TG-1iHS 12 MP Waterproof Digital Camera with 4x Optical Zoom, Contributors to Amazon.com, As of February 2013