After shooting for many years with SLRs, DSLRs or medium format cameras (film and digital), I started to be more and more into small cameras. Last year, in March, I moved to Lofoten, an incredibly beautiful archipelago above the Arctic Circle. Now, I’m shooting a lot of outdoor and adventure photography and I feel the need for a a compact, rugged and reliable camera.
In April 2015, Olympus came with an update to it’s Tough line – the Stylus TG-4. I was really interested in buying the TG-3, so when a follow up was announced I got really excited. Three weeks ago, the guys at Olympus Norge sent me a TG-4 to test for a while around Lofoten.
I will not get into many technical details. You can get all the specs of the camera here. Briefly, the TG-4 is a rugged compact camera that can take the punishment. You can drop it from 2.1 meters or submerge it to 15 m and it will still perform great. It has a fast f/2.0 wide angle zoom lens and, the thing I like most about it, it’s capable of shooting RAW. I think it’s the first rugged compact with this option.
As soon as I got the camera in the mailbox, I started playing with it. I’m lucky to have some pretty nice boulders in my backyard and I thought that would be a nice spot to test some features. Together with Anca, we randomly chose a boulder and she started warming up by climbing an easy crack. I shot wide open at f/2.0. Of course, you can’t get the shallow depth of field of a DSLR because of sensor size, but you can still play a lot. We only had time to take 3 or 4 photos and rain started pouring in. f/2.0 should be quite helpful in low light conditions, but since we’re at the time of the Midnight Sun here, I was not able to shoot in low light. The image below was downloaded from the camera to my IPhone via Olympus Image Share (iOs/Android) and processed inside the app, then directly shared on social media. Pretty neat.
As we got to low light, there’s a nice feature of the camera that can keep you busy for a lot of time in low light: Live Composite. Live Composite makes long exposure photography easier. Shooting star trails, for example, is a piece of cake. I would have liked to try this option (I played with it on the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II and I loved it.), but again the Midnight Sun did not allow it.
I took the camera hiking on Mannen, a very nice mountain between the beaches at Haukland and Uttakleiv. Together with Anca and Ingri, we spent some great time under the Midnight Sun. And the camera revealed it’s greatest feature: the ability to shoot RAW files. After a bit of tweaking in Adobe Lightroom, you get photos that can be used commercially without any problem. And for the size of the camera, that’s pretty remarkable.
There’s a thing that I really didn’t understand about the camera. It doesn’t have an actual charger. You have to charge the battery while in the camera. I mean, what can I do when I’m outside hiking and I need to charge a second battery from the solar cells on my backpack? I have to put the camera aside and not use it for some time.
RAW power was again on display during a short “night” trip to the beach at Ramberg.
I really wanted to shoot some climbing with the little tough guy. But the unfriendly weather didn’t allow it. We only did a bit of bouldering at Ramberg, one other evening. There’s a pretty neat boulder right on the beach. It was too cold for Anca to climb so I had to get in front of the lens and Anca did the shooting. Great team effort! Usually I’m really careful with my cameras when I shoot in sandy environments. No problems for the TG-4. It can take it all!
Right after I unboxed the camera, I noticed a microscope on the Mode dial. (By the way, this dial rotates a bit to easy for my taste and if you’re not very careful you can find yourself shooting in a different mode than the desired one; happened to me more than once.) I’m really not into macro photography and I’ve never been able to do decent macro shots. But, boy!, the microscope mode is cool to play with. Just playing for me, probably a great tool for macro aficionados. Here’s a shot of skin ripping off my hands because of climbing. Yeah, I know, not the most pleasant view.
One “night”, we went camping at Unstad. Unstad is probably the most famous surfing spot in Lofoten. And it’s not only famous, but beautiful too. Usually, shooting inside our yellow tent results in erratic white balance. The tiny tough guy performed exceptionally well at this and got the colours right using Auto White Balance.
On the bottom line, the TG-4 is a lot more than a camera to take to the beach and shoot thongs underwater. It’s a great addition to any outdoor photographer’s gear. With just a bit of attention one can create photos ready to be used in ad campaigns or magazine covers. Of course, it has it’s limits, the most important being the small sensor (read high noise on anything above 400 ISO) but, after all, it’s a compact camera. Don’t ask from it what a DSLR can do. But, it fits in your pocket (even a small one), it has more than decent image quality, it can withstand pretty severe shocks, it can be submerged in 15 m deep water, it has some cool accessories, it’s light, it has a fast lens and you can look a fly right in its eyes via the microscope mode.
My conclusion is short: I want a TG-4.
What I liked
- RAW power, baby!
- Fast lens at the wide end
- Live Composite mode
- Auto White Balance accuracy
- Light (less than 250 g)
- 25mm wide angle lens
- Good image quality in good lighting conditions
- Battery life
- Microscope mode
What I did’t like that much
- No manual focus
- No actual charger
- Small sensor size
- No manual mode
- Limited range of apertures