Olympus TG-850 review

Introducing the selfie to the tough camera

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Olympus Stylus TG-850
  • Olympus Stylus TG-850
  • Olympus Stylus TG-850
  • Olympus Stylus TG-850

Pros

  • Robust build
  • 180 degree rotating screen
  • Waterproof to ten metres

Cons

  • Poor night time photos

Bottom Line

More effort has gone into the TG-850’s design than its photographic abilities. Night photos and videos will come out grainy, but the people this camera is intended for will seldom need a tough camera at night. Rather the TG-850 is designed for those moments you need to capture quickly in the midst of doing something extreme. Most of the time it will be pointing upwards for that hero shot with the blue sky in the background, and with its 180 degree rotating screen, it’s the one tough camera that can actually frame the photo right.

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Olympus’ latest tough camera is not easy on the eye, but the extreme enthusiast will appreciate its unyielding never-say-die attitude and its swivel 180 degree screen.

Rugged appearance

Function over design is the mantra of the Stylus TG-850. Everything is designed big and bulky. Everything has been designed to last. The lanyard loop is not so much a loop, but rather a robust metal handle pinned down by two philips-head screws. It feels bolted down.

Olympus’ experience in tough cameras shines through

Then there is the vault-like door that protects various ports and innards. Two switches — that’s right, two — have to be disengaged for it to swing open. It guards the 925 milliamp-hour battery, a SDXC card, a micro-HDMI port and a charging port.

Out of place is a pivoting screen. Grounding it to the body are two sturdy hinges. No sign of strain is exhibited by the rotating the screen, even when you hold only it and shake the camera about. It feels rock solid.

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The screen itself uses an LCD panel, spans 3-inches and has 460k pixels. Legibility is great even under direct sunlight and it benefits from wide viewing angles. Naturally its ability to flip 180 degrees is the big draw because it makes the TG-850 the first tough camera with a rotating screen.

It escaped completely unscathed

Controls are predominantly found alongside the screen. A conventional control wheel alternates between shooting modes, with a navigational pad doubling as shortcuts. A glove-friendly shutter key can be found atop next to a zoom toggle.

The bulging size proves effective in using the camera on the go. Buttons are easy to access, give plenty of feedback and curate a menu that is simple to use. The camera is responsive and Olympus’ experience in developing tough cameras shines through.

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Never say ‘die’ attitude

Olympus has laboured extensively to make the TG-850 tough and it shows. The camera’s two locks are in place just in case one of them isn’t closed properly or fails. On top of that the TG-850’s chassis has double-sealed waterproofing. This attention to detail allows the TG-850 to survive in waters 10 metres deep.

Additionally, the camera is impervious to dust, will withstand drops of 2.1 metres and will operate in temperatures as cold as -10 degree celsius.

Not a droplet of water seeped into its double-latched door

Testing the rugged credentials of the camera required something a little more grueling than our day-to-day, so we took the TG-850 with us on a camping trip. During a hike the camera slipped from our hands and onto a rock face a metre and a half below. It escaped completely unscathed.

Wet hands came in contact with the camera often while fishing, but what is wet hands to a camera that has a 10 metre waterpoof rating?

So we dunked it instead. No damage what-so-ever.

Then, back at the office, we threw it in a water tank while recording for half an hour. The camera emerged unphased. Not a droplet of water seeped into its double-latched door. Nada.

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Admittedly Good Gear Guide didn’t take the camera to its 10 metre limits, but the camera’s performance during our testing inspired confidence.

16MP photos, grand panoramic shots

The TG-850 throws together a CMOS sensor with Olympus’ TruPic VII image processor to capture 16 megapixel photos. It has a 21-105mm zoom lens, 5x optical zoom and an ISO range of ISO 125 to ISO 6400.

Photo performance was generally strong for the TG-850. Colours are rendered accurately as opposed to being exaggerated, and often the details of a photo remain intact. Panoramic photos were stitched together almost seamlessly, and a super macro mode does well to focus on fine tones up close.

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Six 16MP full resolution photos can be captured in rapid succession, but the camera can snap 60 photos in one second at 3 megapixels. A nifty additive in a tough camera if you’re trying to pin down the prime moment of a stunt.

The camera really struggles in the blanket of night

But the camera really struggles in the blanket of night. Excess image noise degrades the quality of full resolution photos. Relying on the flash is no good as the artificial light will come at the expense of colour being flushed. Night photos might be passable on the tiny 3in screen, but viewing them even on a high-resolution smartphone screen will reveal image perversions. The TG-850’s weak night-time photography is what prevents it from meeting the needs of a wider audience.

Videos share the same sensibilities common to the TG-850’s still photos; they’re best in daylight and greatly pixelate in poorly-lit night environments. They are captured in Full HD resolution at up to 60 frames per second, but the camera can increase the frame rate for slow motion recording if you nominate a lower resolution. Options include 640x480 @ 120 fps and 432x324 @ 240 fps, but these modes will only capture video and not audio.

Final thought

More effort has gone into the TG-850’s design than its photographic capabilities. Night photos and videos will come out grainy, but the people this camera is intended for will seldom need a tough camera at night.

Rather the TG-850 is designed for those moments you need to capture quickly in the midst of doing something extreme, whether it is kayaking, rock climbing, mountain biking or tasks even more demanding. Most of the time it will be pointing upwards for that hero shot with the blue sky in the background, and with its 180 degree rotating screen, it’s the one tough camera that can actually frame the photo right.

Sample shots

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The rotating screen is ideal for 'selfies'
The rotating screen is ideal for 'selfies'

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Read more on these topics: Tough camera, GoPro, TG-850, selfie, Olympus

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brett

1

I bought the TG-850 recently when it went on sale for $199 and I agree wholeheartedly with your review.

Pros: The camera takes very nice photos in well lit environs, and the 21mm lens surpasses any other waterproof camera of its kind. The macro capabilities are quite good, as well. The flip screen is well designed and doesn't feel cheap at all.

Cons: It has mediocre low light capability and is hit and miss with the focal point. I haven't read the owner's manual yet, so it's possible I'm missing something on the focus function. But it seems to randomly pick a focal point, and will choose something different every time you try.

All in all, it's a good P&S camera for outdoors and use in and around water. But I wouldn't recommend it for all situations.

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