Mattie’s been testing the Olympus Tough TG-6 during winter to see if a rugged point and shoot can tempt him away from larger, more fragile cameras.
Bikes and cameras go together like vegemite and toast, but when most of your riding is bumpy, off-road, and dirty, carrying a large, mirrorless or DSLR isn’t always the best idea.
As someone that writes about outdoor adventures and outdoor gear, there’s rarely a hike, bike or snow trip that goes by without me carrying a camera. It’s one thing writing about the outdoors, but no matter how lyrical and descriptive the words, no one’s publishing an outdoor article without pictures. It’s the constant tug-of-war between adventuring in the moment, jotting down trail notes and clicking the button on the ol’ picture maker.
Phones are great for a quick snap, the image quality is getting better year on year and it’s nearly always in your pocket. A large DSLR or mirrorless camera on the other hand, captures unparalleled depth and quality, ideal for blowing up images on a large monitor or hitting the writer’s pinnacle of getting published in print. But both of these options have their drawbacks.
Enter a third option, the Olympus Tough TG-6. With picture quality that’s similar to a modern smartphone, but cased in a waterproof, dustproof and crushproof shell, I was keen to see if the weatherproof benefits would earn the TG-6 a place in my outdoor packlist.
Choosing which criteria of the TG-6 to talk about first was like deciding which lolly to scoff straight outta your party mix. I know that lots of camera folk want to get straight to the tech talk and, if that’s you, I’m sorry, scroll on down. But when a camera literally boasts about being Tough in its name, toughness has to be the first port of call.
Choosing a camera because it’s tough, is a bit like choosing a 4WD car because it can go off-road. You’re choosing that item because it fulfills certain criteria, so these are the aspects you’re looking at first. Although it has to be said, just like your fourbie, 90% of the time you don’t actually need all those tough features.
Waterproof, Dustproof, Crushproof & Freezeproof
So what makes this camera tough enough to earn its badge? First up, the rugged Olympus Tough TG-6 has an airtight construction, meaning it’s fully waterproof (rated to 15m underwater depth). Both openable sections have double locks to stop them from bursting open unexpectedly, meaning water won’t get in and damage the battery/card access or the cable ports access areas.
The airtight nature of the TG-6, also makes it dustproof, sandproof and dirtproof. Without nooks and crannies to wriggle into, dirt, dust and sand can be easily washed off the surface. While a combination of travel restrictions and Canberra winter kept me from diving underwater and testing out the camera while snorkeling, I was treated to plenty of mud and rain out there and there were zero issues. All this rain meant creeks were flowing and it wasn’t difficult to find somewhere to rinse off.
As I was only loaned the camera, I didn’t go testing out the shockproof claims by dropping it from 2 metres. I’ll leave that to the professionals and take their word for it. I did sling the camera in and out of my bike bag, ride down bumpy singletrack, fly over corrugations and generally use and abuse it out on the trails without a second thought, also without any apparent change in usability. The lens positioning is slightly recessed to help ensure it’s not taking the brunt of bumps and drops.
The TG-6 has dual-pane protective glass, designed to prevent fogging. This tech seemed to do the trick and there were times when I pulled out both my phone, and the camera, while out camping in freezing conditions. This bad boy remained fog-free, can confirm. Canberra didn’t quite crack -10℃ over winter, but there was more than one frosty morning out there below zero and the camera continued to function without issue.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a huge tech guy. You won’t hear me talking about megapixels, frame rates or using clever acronyms to reference new tech. Heck, I don’t even know what model of iPhone I’m using (all I know is that it’s my wife’s old one). But for those of you that want to dig into the numbers, here’s the lowdown on the tech specs of the Olympus Tough TG-6:
- 12MP, 1/2.3″ BSI-CMOS sensor
- 25-100mm equivalent F2.0-4.9 stabilized lens
- Waterproof to 15m (45ft), shockproof from 2.1m (7ft), crushproof to 100kgf (220lbf), freezeproof to -10°C (14°F), dustproof
- 3″, 1.04M-dot display (non-touch)
- Raw support
- 1cm (0.4″) minimum focusing distance
- 20 fps burst shooting
- Pro Capture mode saves photos before and after the shutter release is pressed, to help you capture the right moment
- 4K/30p video
- Built-in GPS, altimeter, compass, thermometer and accelerometer
- Optional conversion lenses and flash accessories
By comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE and the Apple iPhone 12 Pro boast 12MP cameras, similar optical zooms, 4K video, and raw image capabilities. Just looking at these shooting capabilities, there’s certainly not much in it. In the battle of photo and video power, you’d be hard-pressed to choose a point and shoot over your smartphone.
But like I said earlier on, the Tough TG-6 is more than just a sum of its tech specs and photo capabilities. The camera has been designed to go places you don’t want your phone to go. Both Samsung and Apple phones are slightly waterproof and slightly dustproof, but given more than a healthy splash or a short dip, they definitely don’t compare to the TG-6.
The Olympus Tough TG-6 comes in two contrasting colours. First up, is a mean-looking black, with red trim and this looks like something Vin Diesel would carry in the Fast and Furious franchise. The model I received, and the one which seems to be more widely available in Australia, is a bright red, with black trim. While black never goes out of style, the benefits of the red camera are obvious once you’re out in the great outdoors. As a relatively small product, the bright red shell helps you find the camera quickly, red also photographs better, just in case, you know, you want to take a photo of your camera!
Point and shoots are designed to be simple to use and handle, particularly when they’re used in harsher, dirtier conditions like the TG-6 is intended for. I found it easy to handle the camera one-handed, grabbing it out of my bike bag on the move. All the dials can be manipulated one-handed, or you can just keep it on auto and shoot away. Occasionally I found that the mode dial shifted to a different setting without my noticing. Not a big deal if you’re a bit more careful and look at the dial before taking a shot. But it did happen to me a few times while shooting on the move, and I didn’t notice until stopping, meaning I lost a couple of shots.
Using the camera in cold conditions, with gloves, was no problem. If the on-button was a little bigger I’d have been even happier, but I was still able to point and shoot using the TG-6 without getting chilly fingers. There’s no lens cover on the camera, which meant it occasionally copped a smudge when I was grabbing it out of the bike bag; if I was keeping the camera I’d probably buy this as an extra accessory.
Tough Point and Shoot vs Smartphone
Like I said before, smartphones are great for a quick snap and, when publishing an article online, you can sometimes get away with slipping a few phone photos past the editor. So why would you carry another camera if it has very similar image quality to your smartphone? It’s a fair question, and one I’ve been struggling with during this review process. As with most gear decisions, the answer is as grey as the storm clouds on a wet weather ride.
If you’re only heading out for a short microadventure, less than a couple of hours, and the weather’s mild, then it’s probably not worth packing a point and shoot. Your smartphone, if it’s fairly decent, should be up to the task. But, if you’re heading out for an overnighter, all-day ride, or riding into the eye of the storm, then your phone’s probably best off nice and dry in the pocket of your rain jacket – this is where the Tough TG-6 earns its money.
There’s another reason you’d want to take the TG-6 in addition to your phone, and that’s battery power. I’m not just talking about the battery power of the camera, which is more than capable of shooting a multi-day adventure, I’m talking about reserving the battery of your phone. Like most people, I use my phone for various purposes when out and about adventuring. When riding, I’m probably recording stats on Strava, possibly hooking into the map, listening to music, and checking in with the fam.
If you’re using your phone for recording photos and video, in addition to all its other functions, there’s a fair chance that the battery life will be depleted shortly into a multi-day adventure. Meaning you’ve got to shoot less, or carry a spare battery pack. This is one of the strongest arguments, in addition to the toughness of the TG-6, for carrying an additional camera on longer, dirtier adventures, and something I can certainly resonate with. The TG-6 weighs in at just over 250g, which is similar to (and lighter) than your average battery pack.
Checking online, at the time of writing, the price of the Olympus Tough TG-6 ranged from $579 (JB Hi-Fi) to $649.99 (Ted’s Cameras). You could possibly find it a bit cheaper if you kept searching, but I’ll leave that to you. This is a pretty similar price to its closest competitors, such as the Nikon Coolpix W300, which is $699 (also at Ted’s), and has almost the exact same specs.
If you’re looking at tough cameras, you might also consider venturing into the world of action cameras, such as the GoPro 9 ($599 at Ted’s). Action cameras offer similar specs to the Tough TG-6, although they have fewer camera-y functions for those of you that really want to dial in your settings.
Testing out the Olympus Tough TG-6 has been a bit of a personal journey for me. There’s definitely positives to carrying a tough point and shoot for outdoor adventures, especially if you’re looking to get photos for your personal memories, or social media. The rugged capabilities make it a much better option than both the phone and the DSLR when going deeper, rougher and wetter. It’s also much lighter than a larger camera, fits easily in a pocket, handlebar bag or backpack, making it easy to bring along for weight-conscious folk.
I still find myself leaning towards my ‘big’ camera when I’m heading out to shoot content that I know I want to publish, but this little red camera has also come along for the journey more often than not. The fact that it’s easy to use, small and tough, makes it the perfect addition to the adventure photography setup, shooting quick and dirty b-roll that’s good enough to make the final edit.
Mattie was loaned the Olympus Tough TG-6 for testing and the opinions in this review are his own.