Tough cameras still have a place in a modern marketplace that has all but done away with traditional compact cameras. Although your smartphone is no doubt a little water-resistant or waterproof, for those with a penchant for extreme sports, or just want the confidence to really bash around a camera or take it to deep depths, something like the Olympus Tough TG-6 is just the ticket.
Like other cameras in this class, the Tough TG-6 features a 1/2.3-inch sensor (with a 12-megapixel resolution), and it includes waterproofing down to 15 metres. Other specifications include an f/2.0 lens, 4K video recording and a range of macro shooting modes.
Is this one of the best underwater cameras money can buy? Read on to find out…
Olympus Tough TG-6 Review: Design and Handling
With the primary focus of this camera being on its tough construction, then its aesthetics are a secondary concern. You can purchase it in a fairly smart all-black colourway, or you can go for the brighter red version which makes a lot of sense if you plan to use it in low-visibility conditions, such as in snow, or underwater.
Another important factor when choosing a tough camera is how easy it is to operate, especially in certain tough conditions. Here, with the TG-6, you’ve got a good setup for one-handed operation as all of the main buttons are grouped on the right-hand side, but, arguably they’re a little on the small side and can be a little fiddly if you’re using the camera with thick gloves.
A mode dial allows you to choose between the various shooting modes available for the TG-6, with options including fully automatic, aperture priority and Program mode. While it’s good to have some manual control here (especially as it’s relatively rare among tough compact cameras), it would be better to see a full manual mode. On the plus side, the fact that you can shoot in raw format can be beneficial if you need to fix any problems in post-production.
There are a number of underwater shooting modes that you can also choose to work with, making the TG-6 a smart choice for anyone who likes to photograph underwater, such as divers and snorkelers. The overall underwater setting is indicated by a fish icon on the mode dial, and from here you can select options including underwater macro, underwater wide and, underwater HDR and underwater snapshot.
Olympus Tough TG-6 Review: Features
The TG-6’s tough credentials are its USP. It offers 15-metre waterproofing, dust proofing, crushproofing (to 100 kg), freezeproof to -10 degree freezeproofing and anti-fogging. This is a good all-round set of tough credentials, but if you need something which can go deeper than 15 metres, then take a look at the Panasonic FT7 which offers 31-metre waterproofing, or the Nikon Coolpix W300, which offers 30 metres. For most users, 15 metres should be enough though, so unless you specifically need it, then the TG-6’s other features generally make it worth the compromise. There’s also the option to purchase a PT-059 Underwater Case which boosts the TG-6’s underwater credentials to 45 metres and also supports external flash units.
One of the standout features of the TG-6 is its high-quality lens, which offers a maximum wide aperture of f/2.0. This comes in particularly useful when photographing underwater where light is lower than it might be on the ground. The macro focusing capabilities that can be utilised with the underwater macro and telescope modes are also extremely useful for certain underwater subjects.
It’s worth noting at this point that there are a number of underwater accessories that can be purchased to go along with the TG-6, as well as the underwater case. This includes a fisheye (ultra wide) lens and a teleconverter for adding extra reach to the 4x zoom lens.
A 3-inch LCD monitor is used for composing your shots. It isn’t touch-sensitive, but if you’re primarily going to be using this camera underwater (where touch sensitivity wouldn’t work anyway), that shouldn’t be too much of a deal-breaker.
Olympus Tough TG-6 Review: Performance
It’s fair to say that the image and video quality from a camera like the TG-6 is never going to amaze you in of itself - but the simple fact is, that it can get pictures and video in places that other devices can’t be taken, and if that’s what you need, then the pictures are excellent.
Roughly speaking, image quality is roughly on par with that which you might find from a reasonably good mid-level smartphone, performing particularly well where light is good (or there are additional sources of light). The fact that you can shoot in raw format gives you some potential for adjusting any less than favourable images in post-production software such as Photoshop.
Overall, from the camera you get image quality which has a reasonable degree of detail, pretty accurate colours and good close-up options which come from the macro modes. You lose some detail if you examine images closely when recording at low light, but how much you do that might be questionable - and it’s certainly a better performer than other tough cameras on the market which don’t offer such a wide aperture lens - particularly the cheaper ones.
While video is similarly good, there are action cameras out there that are probably better suited to anybody whose main focus is on video work.
Olympus Tough TG-6 Review: Verdict
If you're looking for a good all-round compact camera that boasts tough credentials, then the Olympus Tough TG-6 is an excellent choice.
Perhaps you want something for specific underwater activities, such as snorkelling or watersports, something which your average smartphone can’t handle - and nor could a more advanced DSLR or mirrorless camera, at least not without extensive and/or expensive waterproof housing.
If you fall into the latter camp and want something which offers more extensive manual control than you would get from general compact cameras, the TG-6 affords you some of that ability, if not as extensive as we’d like. Shooting in raw format is a good bonus though that is mostly unheard of in this area of the market.
Arguably, you might also want something for family holidays and trips that can easily withstand knocks and scrapes, can be chucked in a bag, used around the pool and not have to worry about it - it’s also good for that kind of thing too, though you can also achieve similar things with cheaper products if you’re on a tighter budget.
Overall, although the Olympus TG-6 doesn’t produce perfect photos and videos, if you’re happy to accept the compromise in order to get photos in places you wouldn’t ordinarily be able to, then it’s well worth the investment. I you need something which goes deeper (without housing), then also consider the Panasonic FT7, and if your budget is tight, consider the Fujifilm XP140.