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Beating Up, Dunking, And Dropping The Olympus TG-2 Tough Camera

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Features:

  • Rugged point and shoot with internal, protected lens
  • 50 foot water resistance
  • 7 foot drop resistance
  • Crush-proof (ostensibly)
  • MSRP: $379

Pros:

  • Surprisingly rugged yet light
  • Excellent low-light performance
  • Waterproof to 50 feet and shockproof

Cons:

  • No external battery charger
  • Potential for leaks if the case isn’t locked
  • Lens noise when filming video

What Is It?
While we normally focus on flagship hardware on TC these days, I thought this new Olympus tough camera – an upgrade to the TG-1 released last year – was interesting enough to feature. Why? Because it’s not every day you can hand a camera to a team of toddlers and get it back in one, working piece.

The Olympus TG-2 is a simple, compact point and shoot that is clad in a hard plastic case. Locks on the bay doors make it waterproof to 50 feet and it can withstand drops on hard surfaces from 7 feet. The aforementioned toddlers – four in all – took the camera through the back yard at a garden party, dunked it a few times, and threw it around with nary a scratch. The worst I could manage was a ding on the side when it fell on concrete. In short, this camera is surprisingly resilient.

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The camera itself isn’t particularly extraordinary. It does have an excellent f2.0 lens with 4x optical zoom but the 3-inch screen is hidden behind thick plastic, reducing the vibrancy of the shots when viewed in camera. As for the speed and low light performance, the 35mm equivalent built-in lens can grab some excellent shots across the light gamut and even underwater. While the camera in automatic mode can do little that similarly-sized point and shoots offer, the hearty package is really why you pay the price of admission. The camera supports teleconverters as well as zoom and fisheye external lenses, but those are additional $140 dollar investments.

Here are some very basic, unmodified shots I took in full sunlight in Program mode. I also took one goofy shot in the camera’s “Punk” art mode. The Art modes are simply gimmicky filters that Olympus seems to love to add to all of their cameras and, unless you really like simulated tilt-shift photography, you can probably ignore it.

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Demo shots. Click to embiggen.

I also took this zoom test down my driveway. Both shots are taken from the same distance.

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The Good

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The best thing about this camera is its ability to withstand abuse. While I’d be afraid to, say, toss around the arguably rugged Canon G-series or other waterproof camera from Nikon, or Panasonic I could definitely see this thing rolling and tumbling down a hillside and surviving. While I have noticed some reports that the camera acts up after a deep dunking, I didn’t experience any problems while beating this thing up. I dunked it in a pool, ran water over it, threw it around, and even (accidentally) nicked the edge. It still kept shooting.

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Could I eventually drown or break this? Sure. It’s not made of adamantium. However if you have a clumsy loved one or are looking for a good vacation camera, you could do worse than this model. It is small, fun, and quite solid.

The Bad

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The camera did have a few problems. First, it requires a special cable for charging and does not include an external charger. There is also no visible way to tell which direction the battery should be dropped in, leading to a period where I thought, mistakenly, that it wasn’t taking a charge. The front of the camera also has a red ring that can be removed to add external lenses. This ring is easily jarred loose and can fall off. Finally, because there is no external audio jack, the lens noise is audible when filming video. That’s about it. This is, to be clear, a point and shoot and shouldn’t be depended on as anything else. The quality, while impressive, is hardly earth-shattering.

The Bottom Line

The question then is whether this camera is worth about $350. Given that the arguably superior Canon G15 and Nikon P7700 are about $100 more expensive and will take excellent shots, the real draw here, then, is the water and shock resistance. If you’ve broken a camera before or, barring that, you expect to use this on a long, rough trip – say to Burning Man or Bohemian Grove – you will find this more than adequate. If you’re looking to take real photos, you may need to go elsewhere.

That said, the TG-2 is surprisingly fun to use. When you don’t have to worry about water, rain, weather, or dust you can take some very interesting shots. It was especially fun while doing science experiments with the kids. In a fun test I decided use it to shoot a Mentos/Diet Coke explosion – from below. It went off without a hitch.