The Olympus TG-2…

I’m not much of a point and shoot user despite that Shannon bought me an Olympus E-PL1 last year for Christmas.  Don’t get me wrong I carry the thing wherever we go, but I’ve been spoiled by the image qualities of the D3, the D4, the 1D series cameras in general and so forth.  As a photographer though the hunt continues for a point and shoot that will fill the balance between superb image quality, portability and features.  No camera is perfect, by any stretch and that’s something that everybody needs to come to terms with.  Photographers look for a camera that is perfect for them, while manufacturers strive to make the perfect camera.  It’s like burning a candle at both ends; you would assume that eventually the goals and needs would meet.  Today is no different though, but I’d like to introduce the world to the Olympus TG-2, Olympus’s newest installment in their ‘Tough’ Series cameras.

(Photo courtesy the Olympus website)

Anybody that’s read the blog has seen some of the gear reviews that I’ve done, and this is the next installment.  Let me begin by again saying that I’m not paid to do this, I just love playing with new things and it seems that when Roberts Camera gets new things they enjoy hearing what I have to say.  That being said; Lets begin.

(Olympus TG-2, 200ISO 1/50th@F2, @ 4.5mm(25mm Equivalent)

To me, the TG-2 is a conflicted camera.  It’s got a 12mp sensor that shoots stills and HD video.  It’s crush proof to 220lbs, drop proof from 7ft, and waterproof to 50ft without a special housing.  It’s made to go anywhere and initial impression about that is that I like it.  You never have to be worried about putting it in your pocket and having your keys scratch it up, or sitting down and cracking the case.  You never have to worry about taking it on a hike or to the beach and shooting the things that you want to shoot; while worrying that you will break it or get water in it.  Even worse than that you won’t leave it at home for fear that you’ll break it, which would completely defeat the purpose for buying the camera in general.  In terms of size the thing is stellar.  Many occasions over the last two days I put it in my pocket and went without a second thought.

(Olympus TG-2, 800ISO, 1/20th@F2.3@5.5mm, (30mm equivalent)

So for two days I’ve had this after Jody over at Roberts thought it was a cool little camera and asked me to play with it.  For two days I’ve carried it around and snapped photos of things here and there.  The photos that this camera takes can be either really great, or only just ok.  Let me Clarify.  The camera has an F2 lens at it’s widest, and that’s awesome.  Too few point and shoot’s have a really wide aperture at the wide end for use in low light.  Big plus here. I found though that as the camera zoomed in the image quality seemed to decrease, causing a very muddy image in some cases.  Not the end of the world if you just adapt how you shoot to use it, after all the camera has no moving parts on the outside.  All said and done, most of the difficulty I had with the TG-2 was user error.  There is a Scene setting, which snaps a few frames in the span of a fraction of a second to make sure you get a sharp image.  This setting is what made the most sense to me to use for the way I like to shoot until I realized it was only shooting at only 3 megapixels…..Turns out the Scene setting can only shoot at 3mp (or VGA) since it’s first the burst in order to capture the image.   Frustrating since a majority of the time that I was shooting, this is the setting I was using.  Once I figured it out, I went over to Aperture Priority, which you would assume would be my go to since Manual wasn’t available.  The Issue here is that the Apertures went from F2, to F2.8, to F8.  Nothing between.  So Aperture Priority gives you a 4 stop range in 3 steps.  What? Why even include Aperture Priority like that?  So As a Pro there’s a big strike against this camera; No Manual mode with a terrible Aperture Priority mode.  The camera’s imaging capabilities are as you would expect from a point and shoot as you can see by clicking here for a full resolution version of that image above, so it’s got that going for it.  At 25mm F2 its a little soft around the edges as you can see here, but that’s not the end of the world.  Before anybody asks though; no it does NOT shoot in RAW.  You figure that’s all ok though right?  It’s just a point and shoot?  Think about that as we look at the next couple images…

(Olympus TG-2, 100ISO, 1/1250th@F18.  18mm (100mm Equivalent).  Had to dull the light a bit by putting a Formatt HiTech 100mm ND filter on top of my iphone because the camera couldn’t shoot fast enough to capture the focusing grid otherwise).

This camera comes with a 10 step past absolutely cool feature called microscopic Macro Mode. In fact one could say that the Macro mode on this camera Takes it to 11 when it comes to macro functionality.  You can think it’s a gimmick, you can think it’s just marketing, or you can think whatever you want.  What I can tell you is that it’s BAD ASS.  I spent a good majority of my time with the TG-2 shooting things in “Super Macro” because it’s just awesome.  Monday afternoon I posted that image to my facebook page and asked people to guess what it was.  There were a lot of good guesses including my favorite; “Iron Man’s Chest”.  The closest though was from my buddy Matt Dial who thought it was the focusing lens to a stoplight.  Great guess.  The image above is actually a FULL FRAME UNCROPPED image of the LED light/flash on my iPhone 4s.  Yea, flip your phone over and look (or your friends if you don’t have one).  See that tiny little light next to the camera lens?  The TG-2 wasn’t even zoomed in all the way when it took this.  How bout them apples?

This is a shot of a paper Towel.

(Olympus TG-2, 250mm, 1/400th@F4.9, 18mm(100mm equivalent).  Paper towel lit by a Inova Bolt LED flashlight laying on it’s side as a raking light across the texture of the Bounty Paper towel). 

If there was one reason and one reason alone to say to buy this camera the Super Macro function is it.  The image quality is good enough that you could easily print the images at 8×10 glossy if you don’t go into the Digital zoom portion of the zoom range.  In a lot of cases you can even crop into the regular zoomed images for online or print use.  That will get you to about 8x. (Click for a full res sample of a Penny at 8x)  You can go to 14x digitally, (Full res sample of the same penny at 14x digital). but that will cause the camera to digitally enhance the image in size creating a lack of detail similar to increasing your ISO (more muddy, less noisy though; just a lot less detail period despite the claim that it doesn’t effect the image quality much).   Either way makes no difference.  Time for what seems like a strange transition.  I mentioned video earlier (trust me this ties in here).  This camera can shoot at all your standards.  1080p 30, 720p 60, VGA 120, and even QVGA 240.  Wait 240?  Yup.  Only at 320×240 pixels though so it’s practically worthless as you’ll see in the video below but that’s besides the point.  The camera can still do it which is pretty cool.  It will also shoot at 60fps Burst mode at 3 megapixels for if you’re trying to catch that instant where timing is important like a golfer just about to hit a golf ball right when the club is bent from the force of the swing.  Most cameras I’ve tested with those capabilities have been the POV cameras like the Contour or the Sony Action Cam.  While they have better resolution at the higher speeds they also have a 170 degree field of view which doesn’t exactly put anything you want to watch in slow motion large in the frame now does it?  You need a lot of light in order to get the 240fps to really be effective, especially at 320×240 but that’s besides the point.  It’s pretty badass.  Speaking of badass, I told you that the video part of this fit in here right?  Remember that Super macro mode?  This camera records video while in Super Macro Mode.   Holy What?  Check it out with some other video clips to show you the quality of the video this camera produces.

(Quick apology since some of the footage is a little shaky.  Finding a tripod to shoot in super macro mode is tough in some of the situations you find you want to shoot it in, especially only having the camera for less than 48 hours.  The shots in particular I’m talking about are the melting snow shots where I was cold…)

Pretty awesome amirite?  Think of all the possibilities.  Super Macro Mode plus 1080P video?  From what I understand this Macro Lens will render things at 5:1, as opposed to my trusty Nikon 60mm macro, or even my Canon EF100mm Macro will only produce things at 1:1.  With a 5:1 magnification it’s easy to see things like never before (as the video above should demonstrate with the pen on the paper).  The Possibilities are virtually endless if you’re prepared; which I wasn’t with the little bit of shakey video in the clips.  really I’d recommend buying a Gorillapod for this camera if you don’t have one already.  It’ll give you the flexibility to move around while shooting macro video mode, or just super macro in general.  Super Macro Mode is where Manual mode would have been awesome.  Depth of field was hard to control with the camera set to auto, being able to crank the aperture and add light as necessary would have been a dream with this camera, but the results turned out pretty awesome never the less.

(Olympus TG-2 in “Drama mode”, 800ISO, 1/25th@F2 @4.5mm (25mm Equivalent)

The camera has all the other Olympus special features like “Magic” mode which gives you 10 hipster artsy filters for the camera to apply to your images as you shoot (drama is what is seen above from dinner last Tuesday night).  I personally feel somewhat indifferent about these as I’d probably never use them (my E-PL1 has them too), but they are there and they do work as you would expect except for Fisheye, which really creates kind of a weird distorted image.  You just can’t fake an optical fisheye.  All that now said, this camera does exactly what it’s supposed to do and that’s why I like it.  It shoots the random photos that you want to have a point and shoot for, it shoots them with reasonable detail and quality for a point and shoot to be printed up to 8×10 if you really want to, and it fits in your pocket with the durability of being shock proof, freeze proof, waterproof and most importantly life proof.


This is the Retina Display on my iPhone 4S.  These pixels are 1/326th of an inch in size each.

(Olympus TG-2, 800ISO, 1/100th@F4.9.  18mm (100mm Equivalent).

Whew that was a lot of information wasn’t it?  What’s my final verdict on the TG-2 I suppose is really the only thing left to get to.  Honestly it’s probably the best point and shoot I’ve ever used.  As long as you know that it’s a point and shoot and you aren’t expecting D4 quality images out of it in terms of detail and low noise then you’ll be more than pleased.  The 100% crop detail is about as you would expect from a point and shoot at low or high ISO and that’s just fine.  The camera REALLY shines with it’s video, and especially Super Macro mode.  This camera is worth buying if you only use it for macro stuff.  100%.  It’s $380 retail, which if you’re just looking for a camera to shoot random photos with is a bit expensive (especially for a camera that has no Manual mode), but the Super macro is worth the extra money without any doubt.  You should head over to Roberts website and check it out, rumor has it that they should have them within the next week or so.   UPDATE: They have the TG-2 In stock RIGHT NOW, not next week.

Before I end I’d like to say that 48 hours with this camera wasn’t nearly enough to really show what it can do and I haven’t been this excited about a point and shoot in a very long time.  I hope that in the future I’ll have an opportunity to really put this, or a camera with these capabilities through it’s paces.  Maybe if Olympus comes out with another model featuring the Super Macro Mode I can get one for a week or so to really do it right, you know, without the shaky snowflake stuff in place of things like bugs or something.  There are TONS of possibilities out there for this feature set just waiting for the creative world to take it by storm.  This camera is worth it’s weight in gold just for the 5:1 Macro capabilities as nothing can come close for the $380 price point.  I want one to use for nothing but that.  If you like Macro stuff, it’s the only place you’ll get 5:1 for less than $1k; and that $1k is just for just the lens.  Go get one.

More Soon.