Monday, June 22, 2015

Ready for Summer? Olympus Tough TG-3 Waterproof Camera

Summer is almost here and you may be looking for a camera that you can take with you anywhere you go for your vacation.  The Olympus TOUGH TG-3 (released June 2014; originally $349) is a camera that is waterproof, shockproof, and can function in temperatures as low as -10°C/14°F.  Rugged, waterproof point-and-shoot cameras often have mediocre image quality.  However, the TG-3 is the bench of the bunch, winning the 2014 DPReview Waterproof Camera Roundup.  Olympus announced the TG-4 in April 2015, adding raw shooting capability and the ability to choose AF points, but keeping everything else otherwise the same.

In this post, I will give a brief review of the TG-3.


Here are the key features of the TG-3:

  • 16 megapixel 1/2.3-inch backside-illuminated sensor
  • 4x zoom (equivalent to 25-100mm); f/2.0-4.9
  • image stabilization
  • waterproof up to 15m / 50 feet (IPX8)
  • shockproof up to 2.1m / 7 feet
  • dustproof (IPX6)
  • built-in GPS (with compass, altimeter, and manometer)
  • built-in WiFi
  • 5fps continuous shooting
  • high speed 240fps video
The TG-3 is only slightly bulkier than a typical point-and-shoot, and is pocketable (even with your jeans pocket).  As with other ruggedized cameras, it has no lens cap or lens cove. Instead, the lens is protected by glass.

The package includes a charger, but it's actually just a USB charger.  The camera has an internal charger and can be charged via USB using the proprietary cable.

The TG-3 has ports for USB and HDMI.  The door covering those ports as well as the door covering the battery compartment have a 2-stage lock to reduce the risk of water penetration.


The TG-3 has the controls of a typical point-and-shoot camera, with a zoom rocker beside the shutter release.  There are no dedicated command dials.  The directional control pad doubles as buttons to adjust exposure compensation, flash mode, and continuous shooting modes (including the timer).

The TG-3 has program exposure, aperture priority, and a custom setting recall, but it has no shutter priority or manual exposure mode.  The aperture priority uses a built-in ND filter to simulate a change in aperture (only 3 aperture settings are available at any focal length: wide open, -1EV ND filter, and -4EV ND filter).  The exposure compensation range is +/- 2.0 EV.
The exposure dial also has an auto mode, scene mode (including a skin-smoothing portrait mode, intervalometer, panorama, and HDR optimized for backlit shots), art mode (which will add effects such as tilt-shift or pinhole), and a collage mode.
Although the camera has no shutter priority mode, you can choose Sport scene mode to try to make the camera use a higher shutter speed.

The autofocus controls are pretty basic.  Either you have one AF point in the middle, or the camera chooses the autofocus point for you.  The TG-3 has face detection in the automatic mode.  There is also a mode for continuous autofocus tracking, although you shouldn't expect miracles.  In AF Tracking mode, you can put the AF point over the chosen subject, then press ok.  The camera will attempt to maintain focus on the subject even while you move the camera around.  It does keep track of the subject, although it can take a moment to refocus on it.

The camera has a built-in flash, and LED light (for videos and macros).  In addition, the built-in flash can function as a remote commander for an Olympus flash (Channel 1, Group A).

The menu has some noteworthy options:
  • Tap Control - allows operation of the camera by tapping the body (top, bottom, left, right or back).  Useful if you need to operate the camera in snow or other conditions where you need to wear very thick gloves.
  • intervalometer - up to 99 frames, at intervals of up to 24 hours.  It can also create a time lapse movie (while keeping the frames as individual pictures).  Combined with its ruggedness, it can be used to take time lapses outdoors.
  • GPS log - when activated, the camera can keep track of your location and log it graphically on a map.  However, if you activate this function, the camera will remain on.
  • Voice notes - you can embed short voice memos on photos, making it useful for taking notes in the field.  Great for explorers and scientists.
  • pixel mapping - to map out hot or stuck pixels.
  • date stamp: few cameras have it these days, but it's useful for some applications
I took the TG-3 to Legoland Water Park to test its ability to take photos in wet environments.  The TG-3 performed pretty well.  However, it was not immune from a little contrast-reducing haze from the lens fogging up occasionally.  BTW, if you're ever in San Diego, I do recommend Legoland Water Park.  It's more fun than I expected, though quite crowded.  (I plan to try SeaWorld's rival Aquatica in the future.)

To test the TG-3's underwater capabilities, I took the TG-3 to a local aquarium.  Underwater, the TG-3 focused quickly and the shots looked great.  The TG-3 automatically corrects the white balance to preserve the natural colors of the subject.  In postprocessing, I did have to increase the contrast of some of the images.

bat ray

sea cucumber

horn shark

green abalone

Note: this shot was taken through the glass of an aquarium tank.

On land, the TG-3 takes decent photos, with Olympus' balanced colors.  It also features Olympus' excellent face detection.

High ISO noise is better than I expected for a point-and-shoot with a 1/2.3" sensor, retaining good color and contrast.  In my opinion, ISO 800 is more than adequate for web-sized viewing:
indoor aquarium
ISO 800, f/2.7, 1/13
One of the TG-3's somewhat unusual features is its macro capabilities.  Many cameras and lenses claim to have macro capability even with low macro ratios.  The TG-3 has genuine macro capabilities, focusing as close as 1cm and magnifying as much as 6.9x in the Microscope mode.  Here is a sample showing some microprint on a $20 bill.  It is almost as large as the results I get with the Olympus Stylus 1 when using the Raynox DCR-250 adapter (reviewed here).

Moreover, the TG-3 even has focus stacking.  It has an automatic 8-shot focus stacking mode, and a focus bracket mode where it will combine 10, 20, or 30 shots that you take, varying the rate of change in focus either with Narrow, Normal or Wide intervals.  Here is a comparison of a macro shot, with and without focus stacking:

without focus stacking

with 8-shot focus stacking
The TG-3 has several high speed functions.  It can take videos at up to 240fps for super slow motion (432 x 324 resolution).  It can also take photos at 5fps, 15fps, or 60fps, up to 100 shots (which puts the Samsung NX500 to shame :) ).  The 15 fps and 60 fps modes are at a reduced resolution and lower bit depth.

taken with the burst mode

I'm not an expert on video, much less underwater videos, so instead check out this impressive underwater video by Pedro J. Viveros Ranz:

The TG-3 has Wi-Fi capabilities to allow you to wirelessly upload images to your smartphone.  The location tagging from the GPS can be enabled or disabled.  In addition to uploading images, the TG-3 can be controlled wirelessly using your smartphone with remote live view, which has very little lag.

The TG-3 has several accessories available, all of which are waterproof:
  • FCON-T01 fish eye converter.  Includes the CLA-T01 adapter.
  • TCON-T01 1.7x telephoto converter.  Unlike typical teleconverters, there is no decrease in aperture.  Includes the CLA-T01 adapter.
  • LG-1 ring light for macros.  This ring light redirects the camera's own LED light to a ring around the lens to act as a ring light.
  • CLA-T01 adapter by itself - allows you to use 40.5mm filters
I was impressed with the TG-3.  The image quality was better than I expected.  Having a good camera for underwater shots helps preserve memories that you otherwise might miss.  The TG-3's macro capabilities are a bonus.

The camera shown here was actually my brother's, which he lent to me for testing (he bought it brand new from an authorized dealer but it was dead on arrival; Olympus repaired it in a couple of weeks).  I liked the TG-3 so much that I got one for myself.  If you buy one, you can support our blog by using our Amazon affiliate link (the link is for the TG-4, which is the same except it adds raw capability).  All proceeds from Amazon will go to charity (Food for the Poor, Inc.).

If you like the TG-3 but find it's a little pricey, you may want to consider the Olympus TG-860.  Like the TG-3, it also has a 16mp BSI sensor and has similar ruggedness and macro capabilities.  It even has a 180-degree flip screen for selfies (an unusual feature for rugged cameras), and a wider focal length with greater coverage 21-105mm.  However, the lens' maximum aperture is f/3.5, and the lens is reportedly less sharp than the TG-3's.  It also cannot use the TG-3's accessories, including the ring light and teleconverters.

Another possible alternative to a dedicated waterproof camera is to use your smartphone with a waterproof case.  I got this one and will be posting a review.


Note: this shot was taken through the glass of an aquarium tank.


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