Olympus Tough TG-6 - A Brief Hands On

Olympus has just launched their latest Tough series camera, the Olympus TG-6 today, and I have had the chance to shoot with it for a few days last week. I am not an adventurous person, certainly I do not do crazy intense activities like diving, mountain climbing, trail running or anything extreme, which this camera is designed for. Therefore, I shall be exploring some special features in the Olympus TG-6 such as the extreme macro shooting capabilities and comment on the general experience using the camera.

Important notes: Before we go too far, allow me to remind you that currently I am an active Olympus Visionary member, being an ambassador for the brand. The Olympus TG-6 was a loaner from Olympus Malaysia, I had it only for few days and it has been returned before the writing of this article. This blog entry is NOT a review of the product. I did not have the chance to dive or shoot anything underwater with the TG-6, hence this article cannot qualify as a complete assessment of the camera. Instead, I am only discussing a few key aspects of the TG-6, specifically the macro shooting capabilities, general image quality and overall comment on the TG-6 as an imaging tool. My experience with the camera and observations may be subjective. All images were shot in RAW and minor post-processing (exposure compensation, white balance tweaks, etc) was applied via Olympus Workspace.




Olympus Tough series is no stranger, the many incarnations of Tough cameras up to the previous TG-5 have won numerous awards and recognition for the robust build quality and reliability. Being waterproof, dustproof, shockproof and freezeproof, tested again and again the Tough cameras always survived, and have earned Olympus a strong reputation in this particular product segment. In fact, Olympus over the years has axed all the other variations of compact point and shoot cameras with the exception of the TG-series, the remaining Tough product line which continues to be a testament for what Olympus is capable of achieving generally in their imaging products. The two strongest features found on the flagship Olympus OM-D system are weather-sealing and superior optics, both I am very happy to report are present in this new Olympus TG-6.

Perhaps the biggest question is - why do I even bother with a compact camera with a small sized image sensor, especially me being a city-sheltered boy who does not venture out much on extreme activities where the Tough camera thrives? My answer is simple - I have suggested to many friends and blog readers to have a Tough camera handy as a backup. The Tough camera is small, it does not take much space in your camera bag, should anything happen to your main cameras, in the harshest environment the Tough camera will most likely survive. There is no question that this TG-6 (or any other previous iterations of TG cameras) is built like a tank. For the first time, I am picking this up and seriously giving it a closer look to determine if the TG-6 is sufficiently capable as a back up imaging tool?


Olympus knows what they are doing when it comes to optics

Let's get the key specifications of Olympus TG-6 out of the way:
12MP resolution on 1/2.33 inch BSI CMOS Image Sensor
Truepic 8 Engine - similar to Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and E-M1X
TOUGH Features - Waterproof (down to 15m), Droproof, Dustproof and Freezeproof (down to minus 10 degrees Celsius)
Olympus lens 25-100mm F2.0-4.9, with built in Image Stabilization
Lens design - 9 elements in 7 groups
Super Macro AF - 1cm minimum focusing distance, now available in P & A shooting modes (in TG-5 only available in Microscope mode)
Built in field sensing and tracking features - GPS, Thermometer, Manometer, Compass & Acceleration sensors
Improved LCD-Screen with 1.04 Million Dots (over TG-5 with 460k Dots)
Olympus Specific Features: Live Composite, Pro Capture Mode (in 10 fps), Focus Stacking in camera

For full product specifications, please visit Olympus' official product information page here. 

Obviously I was unable to test every single feature listed above, and I shall just jump right into the most enjoyable part of this article - shooting with the Olympus TG-6!

Knowing that the TG-6 can go incredible close to the subjects I specifically chose to do insect macro with the camera first. I also brought it out for some street shooting rounds, both in the day as well as evening time. 

For the insect macro shooting, I used A mode (Aperture Priority) and manually select the F-number, usually not the widest to get a little more depth of field. I also activated the in camera flash. I controlled the flash power manually. ISO was fixed at 100 (minimum) for optimal image quality. 

F4.9, 1/100sec, ISO100

I finally found something I have been looking for a long, long time - an Ant Mimic Spider preying on the Ant it was mimicking. I have shot Ant Mimic spiders many times, and have seen them together with other ants, but never captured one eating the ant before. This was my first shot (I know this is not an uncommon image, but to me it was my first, so it was special), and I managed to shoot it with the Olympus TG-6! The lighting was not ideal since it was from a harsh direct in camera flash, but to be honest, all technicalities aside, knowing that it was a compact camera that produced this, with minimal effort, the overall result was still quite impressive. 

I am not expecting the level of details I get from using an OM-D camera and Olympus M.Zuiko 60mm F2.8 macro lens, that would be an unfair comparison. I have even customized my wireless flash technique to achieve better lighting than this. Nonetheless, for a simplified point and shoot effort, I think the TG-6 performed admirably. Images came out clean, colors were punchy and realistic and there was sufficient bite in the sharpness. Truth to be told, that one tiny lens on the TG-6 is one heck of a great lens!

F6.3, 1/100, ISO160


I obviously did not go as close as 1cm for all my shots, I did not have to, and the insects I was shooting were not that tiny that I needed to go super near. For most shots, the insects were about 3-10cm away from the lens, with a majority of them being closer thsn 5cm. And I have zoomed in the lens to the furthest end 100mm equivalent for all the insect shots. 

Focusing on the insects at such close up distance was unexpectedly fast and responsive. I had no issues locking focus even in heavy shade environment where many insects and bugs were hiding in. I did move the focusing area around to make sure that I achieve critical accuracy on the exact area I wanted. The focusing was sufficiently reliable to get the job done. 

F4.9, 1/320sec, ISO250

F6.3, 1/100sec, ISO100

F6.3, 1/100, ISO100


F6.3, 1/400sec, ISO100

F4.9, 1/100, ISO125

F4.9, 1/320sec, ISO200

My biggest complain of the camera so far? No ability to control the shutter speed. I just feel that having Aperture Priority and Program exposure modes are very useful indeed, but why not include Shutter Priority or even better, full manual shooting mode? To say that the users whom the TG-6 is targeted for are not serious photographers and may not even care to use the advanced shooting features is an unacceptable excuse. There are many advanced features in camera - Pro Capture Mode, focus stacking and the fact that the camera allows RAW image shooting show that this camera is preparing the users for the next advanced level in photography. Not having the option to control shutter speed is a little limiting.

I wish I could do some slow shutter speed motion blur shots of the water, or pedestrians walking on the street. Surely there are workarounds to force the camera to achieve slow shutter speed, but a dedicated control would have been a better option.

Using the Olympus TG-6 on the street was quite an interesting experience. I have always preferred to work with smaller cameras doing street photography so people do not immediately feel threatened at the presence of a gigantic black boxes shoved in front of their faces. Nonetheless, the bright red color of the TG-6 loaner I had did not help me being stealthy at all, as the bold red screamed attention. Having said that, there is a black TG-6 variant, which i should have personally requested for my own shooting instead of the red.

F3.5, 1/10, ISO100

F4.1, 1/100, ISO100

F4.9, 1/100, ISO100

F2.7, 1/50sec , ISO100

F2.3, 1/60sec, ISO200

F3.2, 1/800, ISO100

F4.9, 1/200, ISO250

F5, 1/60, ISO100

F2.4, 1/1000sec, ISO100

The images at base ISO 100 came out clean and sharp. Perhaps I was only happy with the images up till ISO400. Anything above that to me has lost too much details into aggressive noise reduction, smearing the images into "painterly" look. Then again, I must remind you this is coming out from a small 1/2.33 inch image sensor, and I am not expecting miracles to happen here either.

The lens, for non-macro shooting, performed well in all situations. The lens handles wide angle very well, with no distortion noticeable, and this could very well also partly due to in-camera software correction kicking in hard. I did notice some traces of Chromatic Aberration, but that would be me nick-picking, as the purple fringing in bright contrast areas can easily be eliminated in post-processing.  Sharpness was consistent throughout the focal range all the way to the longest telephoto zoom. I tested the lenses in various lighting condition, shooting subjects near and far, and they all rendered beautifully.

For night shooting, especially for landscape shots, I highly recommend having a tripod handy to stabilize your shots. There is only so much you can do with F2 aperture and ISO100-200 for clean shots. While the image stabilization in camera can be helpful in gaining a few stops of shutter speed advantage, it was far from the effectiveness of the OM-D level of image stabilization.

F2.8, 1 second, ISO100

F2.8, 1 second, ISO100

Top left ISO400, Top right ISO800, Bottom Left ISO1600, Bottom right ISO3200
ISO tolerance, personally for me, is up to ISO400. Anything beyond that to me, I would do my best to avoid. 

F2.8, 0.5 second, ISO100

F2, 1/20sec, ISO400

Shooting directly against extremely bright source of light, the lens handles flare and ghosting well. there are traces of lens flare but nothing too distracting, and can be easily remedied by shifting the framing around a little.

Handling on the TG-6 was very good. The buttons will feel very "rubberized", and you need to exert some force to push them, since the camera is sealed against water. It will take some time to get used to, but nothing too difficult to handle. The camera feels light yet reassuringly solid in hand. There is a sense of confidence when holding something that is so well built and robust.

The battery life of the camera isn't amazing - I could get about 200-300 shots per charge, just enough for a half day outing. In fact, it was barely sufficient for one single intense insect macro shooting session, since almost every shot I used the flash, with some shots near full power. Therefore, I highly recommend getting spares if you do travel with the camera.

What I did like, was the new LCD screen. Having the TG-6 side by side against TG-5, tt was apparent that the TG-6's 1.04M Dot resolution is more crisp, and easier to determine critical focus accuracy for each shot that I took with the camera.



I did briefly test the Focus Stacking feature. There is no way to control the width or distance from each incremental movement from shot to shot. You can choose how many shots taken for stacking, up to 10 shots. The resulting "stacked" result will only be in JPEG, and you do lose a little width due to minor cropping to align the multiple images for compositing. I personally do not see the need for focus stacking using a compact camera, because due to the nature of shooting with smaller sized image sensors, we already have massive depth of field. Also, the advantage of having Aperture Priority mode means we can further stop down the F number to achieve even greater depth of field.

Looking at the results, the focus stacking in some situations almost obliterated the background blur, which may work against macro shooting when we still want some subject isolation from the background while achieving sufficient depth of field to cover the whole subject itself. Having everything in the frame perfectly in focus and clear may not be appealing for every one, especially not for macro shooting purposes.

Focus Stacking ON

Focus Stacking OFF

Focus Stacking ON

Focus Stacking OFF

So what is my final say?

WHAT I LIKED

Built like a tank - superior reliability, this camera won't fail you
Olympus colors (due to Truepic 8 engine), very good image quality at low ISO
Amazing macro shooting
Superb lens for all purpose shooting
RAW shooting - post-processing versatility
Crisp LCD Screen


WHAT I WISH CAN BE IMPROVED - SUGGESTIONS TO OLYMPUS

Upgrade to at least 1/1.8 inch image sensor, as used in Olympus Stylus 1? That would be a huge step up in terms of image quality
Battery life could be better- get more batteries, you need them
Addition of Shutter Speed control (include shutter priority mode please)

I did enjoy myself shooting with the Olympus TG-6 tremendously, though this was not intended to be a full review.

If you are climbing up to the peak of the Everest, or doing some crazy hike in rocky terrains, or simply traveling to a sub-zero country like Iceland, why not consider having this TG-6 as a near fail-proof backup to any other larger format cameras that you are carrying? Yes, your Full Frame DSLR or even medium format cameras will produce significantly superior output, but that goes out the window when the cameras fail to operate in extreme and harsh environment. The Tough will have higher chance of survival, and you can still shoot in RAW, with benefits of F2 Olympus superb lens, 25mm wide angle, and the remarkable Truepic 8 processing engine.

I know I will be adding one into my camera bag soon.




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13 comments:

  1. Very informative review and stunning shots as always Robin. Thank-you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! Please do leave a name next time you comment so I can trace your comment history!

      Delete
  2. Nice, but it lacks an eye level viewfinder. If it were not for that I'd look forward to getting one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't think it is that easy including a viewfinder for a Tough camera. That would be a weak point!

      Delete
  3. Good review Robin. The TG cameras (I currently have the TG-4) have always impressed me with their image quality given their nature.
    Two comments:

    1 - The lack of Shutter Priority control is understandable when you consider that there’s only 3 apertures available. At the wide end these are f2, f2.8 and f8, and at the long end f4.9, f6.3 and f18. So shutter priority would only work with auto ISO or you would be restricted to just 3 shutter speeds with a stop missing between 2 of them.

    2 - The focus stacking works really well in most cases. Your dragonfly eye needs it a bit. Bear in mind that of the 3 apertures available only 2 of them, the widest, are physical apertures, the 3rd being simulated by a ND filter so having no effect on depth of field.

    One annoyance with the TG-4 is that the ISO setting changes to Auto when focus stacking. I assume this is so that there is minimal time between the shots but it can cause softening of the image.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can understand that limiting to 3 aperture stops was due to the lens being too small, and manufacturing tiny aperture blades is not easy. But shutter speed every 1/3 stop EV is not an issue, even for any compact cameras in the past, I see no issue at all.

      The focus stacking won't work with my dragonfly. Unless I use a tripod. And by the time I have set up the tripod, the dragonfly won't be there anymore. And oh, I used flash too. The dragonfly won't like being flashed at 10 times, and still stayed that still!

      You can set your ISO manually using focus stacking in TG-6.

      Delete
    2. But to get a correct exposure in Av mode the shutter speed or ISO (if Auto) need to change as the light changes. This is fine as they are effectively continuous values.
      To get a correct exposure in Tv mode the aperture or ISO need to change as the light changes, but the aperture only has 3 step values so you would have to use Auto ISO. Makes Tv mode far less useful.

      Delete
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