The Olympus TG4 - My Kinda Review

It's only had a few outings, but I thought since summer is rolling along nicely, and outdoor and water pursuits are still riding high, I'd give you a review of the Olympus Tough TG4.   Please bear in mind these are my thoughts on how it works for me and my family - not the technical information or specifications, or anything like that - you'll find loads of sites with that kind of information of you want it (in fact you can get it here, direct from Olympus!) This is more what I would tell my friend if she asked whether it was a good buy or not. 

First off, my reasons for getting the camera in the first place. I wanted something that I could take in the pool or to the beach, or even up a mountain for fun shots - something I wouldn't have to be precious about, or stop my son from using.  A tough camera seemed to fit the bill for me but there were loads of other options I looked at first too (you can see some of the underwater camera options I looked at here) 

The first thing that it looks great - it's not a camera that screams "fun camera!" at you - it's' quietly understated. I like that, but of course it's not a deal breaker :) It's also small enough to fit into a pocket, so a welcome change from dragging around a DSLR! 

I haven't exactly been testing the "toughness" specs, but it has been in a pool, covered in soap in the bath, dropped about 2 metres by my son when he got bored, and been buried in sand at the beach, and survived to tell the tale. I have absolutely no problems with it on that score - I think it would survive pretty much anything. I don't need it to do much else (for example going deep diving with it) so it's more than tough enough for my standards.  

Olympus TG4 review

It's also simple and small enough to be used by littler hands, and my son has had a ball taking pictures with it in the pool, and just generally. I love the fact that I can easily hand it to him, and don't worry if he drops it down a flight of stairs, or drops it in the toilet (you never know what young boys will decide to take a photo of, ha ha!) So, on that score, I love it.

I know the most important thing for many of you will be the quality of the pictures that it takes, and for a "tough" camera, the picture quality is actually very good - but it is worth bearing in mind they are not as good as you would get from a comparably priced "normal" (i.e not tough) camera.  And it's obviously nowhere near as good as the pics you would get from a DSLR. Perhaps the easiest way is just to show you some pictures - here's some that I've taken underwater:  (Please note 'm still learning the tricks of shooting underwater,  and these were taken in an indoor pool on a cloudy day, but hopefully this will give you an idea.) 

Olympus TG4 review
Olympus TG4 review
Olympus TG4 review
Olympus TG4 review
Olympus TG4 review
Olympus TG4 review

There were a few reasons I bought this particular model, and the first was because it can shoot in RAW. Believe me that is needed! Underwater images tend to get weird white balances, so having a RAW file to easily change the white balance is brilliant. That said, I'm still really struggling with getting the colour tones correct (which is why you will find many of these in black and white!) but I do appreciate the extra control. It's also good to have that control for editing - you get more leeway with bringing in clipped highlights and shadows in RAW than in a JPEG. 

The second reason was because you could change the focus point.   I'm still playing with it at the moment, but I can't seem to change the focus point quickly enough for this to be of benefit for moving subjects. You have to hold down a button for two seconds, then scroll to the focus point. As you can imagine, just having to wait the two seconds means that the moment has passed. I think maybe it might just be best left on completely AUTO focus for any action shots where you can't plan quick enough for the movement. (If you had a child that actually did as you told them, this would probably be a lot easier)  There is also a AF tracking mode, but you seem to be only able to use that on the central focus point.   So, yes, the control is there, but for moving subjects, it's tricky to use, and therefore might not be as good as you first think!  However, if you prefer still subjects, then you do have the ability to move the focus point, which is great for doing different compositions with your images. 

The third (and final!) reason was the fact that you can change the aperture and ISO (although why they didn't just go the whole hog and let you choose your shutter speed to is beyond me) That said, you can only choose between F2.0 / F2.8 and F8 for your aperture: i've just left mine on F2.0 to be sure of getting as much light in as possible, and I move the ISO until I get to a point that I have a fast enough shutter speed.  In essence, it's the same way I shoot with my DSLR so not that much different. The images do get noisy with higher ISO's, as you would expect, but it's nothing that can't be fixed in an editing program. 

There are a couple of niggles with it, like if you shoot in RAW you can only use single shot shooting rather than high speed or sequential (fair enough though, given it is a small camera it wouldn't keep up!) and you can only shoot in a 4:3 ratio (I prefer 2:3) if you use in RAW.  (Don't understand that one)  So, if I want to do a fast series of actions shots, I would need to move from RAW to JPEG - I would just make sure that I had my settings right before I started! 

All in all, I feel like it's a halfway house between a "fun" underwater camera and a point and shoot with an underwater housing. I love how tough it is, how small it is, how good it looks, that my son can use it and the fact I can shoot in RAW and have control over some of the settings such as aperture. I do wish it had a bit easier shooting controls: it does feel a bit slow to change some of the settings, but to be fair, I'm comparing it to a DSLR that has been designed to make changing settings as quick and easy as possible and costs 10x the price! There is a learning curve with any new camera, this one included: after shooting with the same camera for years I know my DSLR inside out, and my fingers find my way automatically to where they want to go, with this one, I'm definitely still fumbling. 

So, do I recommend it? Yes, if you are primarily looking for a easy, point and shoot type camera that can withstand pretty much anything, and you are happy with a picture quality that is great being printed at "normal" print sizes such as 4x5 or even 8x10, and you want a camera that offers a bit more control than your average rugged camera.  In other words, for a photo enthusiast that wants a bit more control for taking family or outdoor snaps. However, if you are looking to get underwater pictures that are of a quality that you can print large, and you want to have a decent amount of creative control then I would probably recommend getting a point and shoot and an underwater housing, or an underwater housing for your DSLR.  These tough cameras just don't have the sensor size or the fully manual controls you need to do the job. 

So there you have it, my kinda review on the Olympus TG4!  It will be either be a fit for you or it won't, it really does depend on your expectations and requirements - but if you are in the market for a "tough" camera, this is the one to get.  I'll keep working away on it and hopefully it will start to feel a bit more intuitive!