The Olympus Tough TG-1 is probably one of the best rugged compact cameras we have handled so far; its styling allows for a good grip even when shooting in a wet environment. Its central lens placement is also welcomed: compared to other rugged cameras, we had less photos that accidentally captured our fingers. We also like the handy mode dial and the bright OLED screen. However, the inclusion of the mode dial has resulted in a space crunch that necessitated in all buttons to be smaller than expected, which ironically may impair handling if you’re wearing gloves.
The user interface is easy to navigate, though we would have preferred the GPS settings to be more accessible without us having to dive into the sub-menus. To allow the camera to have the most current location information, the GPS continues to operate even when the camera is powered down; if this is a feature that you can do without, we recommend disabling it to conserve battery life.
What sold us on the TG-1 is that besides being a physically solid camera, Olympus also focused on optics and included a fast F2.0 lens on it, something that's not found in any other rugged compact. Coupled with a fast sensor and a fast engine, what you're looking at is a camera that offers snappy performance and good image quality on land and underwater, under bright daylight and after the sun sets. The ability to mount converters and filters is also a very nice move on Olympus' part.
However, it's not all hunky-dory. Noise is still an issue at high sensitivity settings, and details are lost due to noise reduction. In our experience, colors can also look flat at times. The TG-1 isn't designed for photography enthusiasts, as evidenced by its lack of manual modes. That said, snapshooters will be happy with its clever iAuto mode, and the boatloads of scene modes and art filters.
For those who don't require the same ruggedness standard as the TG-1 and prefer more handy rugged compacts, the Nikon Coolpix AW100 is easily a viable and more affordable alternative. However, it may not have some the versatility aspects that the Olympus TG-1 boasts.
The Olympus Tough TG-1 was also put to the test in a multi-test against the Canon PowerShot D20, Fujifilm FinePix XP150, Nikon Coolpix AW100 and the Pansasonic Lumix DMC-FT4 in the July 2012 edition of our sister publication HWM. If this topic interests you, do grab a copy of the magazine fast!