Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Olympus TG-4 impressions

There have been some questions about the Olympus TG-4 I bought, so I thought it was time to write something about it.

I lost my waterproof compact camera, a Panasonic FT4, to the Cornish sea in September and in February my Sony RX100, which I've used with an underwater housing for kayaking, got destroyed by water when I went through the ice with it (without the underwater housing). Hence I needed to get a new camera. From what I read the Olympus TG-4 clearly was the best waterproof compact at the market, and despite being slightly reluctant due to the fairly high price I bought one. On paper it seems quite nice:

  • It supports RAW format, a big plus since the JPEG:s generally fall apart when the sun is not shining.
  • It has a bright f2.0 lens.
  • It is waterproof and quite crashproof
  • There is a rather nice microscope mode.
I bought it and used it, and while I'm not badly disappointed I'm not overwhelmed either. It is fairly close to what could be realistically expected, and it is not good enough for anything but situations where other cameras cannot make it.

The image quality is just ok in good light and in poor light it is just what you can expect.

The ergonomics are not thought out completely in my opinion. A camera of this kind should be usable with gloves on, which this one is in automatic mode. You just press a button to switch it on and press another button to take a picture. What isn't good is that with the lens in the center of the camera and not protruding at all, there is a big risk that you get part of your glove in the picture.

Another thing is that I don't understand why the manufacturers insist on putting zoom lenses on cameras of this kind. Generally the tele end of the zoom range is quite poor, and it certainly is on this camera, see the picture below. Taking that into account, the 24 mm (equivalent) wide end is too wide. 24 mm is otherwise nice, but too wide for general purpose use. And in this case you loose quality quickly when zooming in. Why can't anyone make a good waterproof compact camera with a good quality fixed lens?

A slightly surprising feature is the sometimes too shallow depth-of-field (DOF). There is no ordinary aperture mechanism (due to the need for simplicity to allow it to be crashproof?) and hence similar functionality is achieved by using an internal ND filter when there is too much light. Thus, DOF-wise f2.0 is always used. One would think that with this small a sensor it doesn't matter, but in practice it does, like shown in the pictures below. Shallow DOF is good as a creative option when you can controll it, and unavoidable in poor light, but in good light for quick landscape photography you generally want large DOF.

100 percent crop, with the focus on the kayak (not visible in the crop, but about 3 m in front of the camera) in the picture on the left and on the castle in the picture on the right.

Sometimes the effect is quite visible, like in the picture below. The lighthouse just isn't as sharp as it should be.

There are some nice features too, like the microscope mode.

Summa summarum. From what I had read, this was the best waterproof compact camera until the new version TG-5 arrived. The new version has a better sensor with lower pixel density, which should improve the low light capability a bit, but otherwise it should be the same camera and everything I've said above should apply to it as well. The best thing with the camera is that is is water- and lifeproof, not the image quality. I guess I would still buy it currently, since I have use for a waterproof camera that can take anything, but would hope to get this older version TG-4 cheaper. In my opinion the image quality just isn't up to the price.

PS. Since the image quality of the TG-4 isn't good enough, I bought a used Sony RX100 to replace the one that was lost to water and this is again my number one kayaking camera with the underwater housing.

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