The TG-1 is the highest-end model in the Olympus range of waterproof compacts (which now comprises four models!). Logically, the firm has paid great attention to detail with this camera's build and finish, producing a pocket snapper that oozes with confident robustness thanks to a mostly metal finish. There's a rubber grip strip on the front of the camera (for your middle finger), and a rubber thumb-grip on the back. Plus, there's an original third grip strip down the left-hand side of the screen, which is particularly practical when holding the camera in two hands. In fact, you can keep firm hold of this beast, even if it isn't the most lightweight model around. Both of the battery/memory card compartment doors have secure double-locking systems, which hold tightly shut and are reassuringly firm to handle. On the whole, the TG-1 is a beefy, rugged, rock-solid camera that's been successfully designed.
Olympus has upgraded the screen to OLED technology, bringing almost perfectly wide viewing angles and a very deep black (we measured contrast at 30,000:1). Colour temperature is a perfect 6500 K, and the grey scale (gamma) is nice and even, if a bit too highly contrasted. Colour fidelity isn't bad, with an average Delta E that's within average for compact camera screens at 5.4. However, as is often the way with this type of screen, this average figure masks some pretty big differences in accuracy from colour to colour. Red and green, for example, are over-saturated onscreen and almost look fluorescent, while the blue is nowhere near as problematic. Overall, though, the screen is very nice to use—just don't trust the onscreen colours too much.
The controls seem to have taken a small step backwards compared with the TG-820. The zoom control has returned to the back face of the camera, positioned just under the thumb, which means you'll have to tense and bunch up your fingers to keep hold of the camera—unless you hold it with two hands. Otherwise, this camera is easy to use, with an interface lifted directly from previous models. A Quick menu can be accessed via the four-way controller, with the right arrow bringing up the last setting altered and the left arrow taking you to the top of the list. There are also white balance previews and a rather long, dull and pain-staking main menu.
In our tests, the TG-1 GPS took a little under two minutes to find a location. We didn't have any problems with crashes (which some readers have complained about), but positioning becomes rather approximative as soon as the signal gets weak. We've seen other systems handle things better in dense, urban areas. However, a cool 3D compass can be displayed onscreen when you press the "Info" button with the camera switched off.
Like puzzles? Well, here's a good one: how come the TG-820 can take a photo barely more than a second after you press the "On" button, whereas it takes the TG-1 almost three seconds? The two cameras use similar electronics, and seeing as these are periscopic lenses, there's no need to wait for the camera to deploy its optics. Answers on the back of a postcard ...
Once it's up and running, things get much better, with the same excellent performances as the TG-820. The autofocus is fast in all situations, photo-to-photo turnaround is impeccable, and the burst mode shoots at four frames per second for as many shots as you like.
If the TG-1 had managed to start up more quickly, it could have easily bagged five stars in this part of the review.
In terms of electronics—mainly its 12-Megapixel BSI CMOS sensor—the TG-1 doesn't hold any real surprises. However, the 25-100 mm zoom lens is all new, and the f/2 aperture in wide-angle is sure to turn a head or two. It basically means that the TG-1 lens lets in around three times as much light as competitor models, which are usually limited to around f/3.3. Its performance is even more intriguing since periscopic lenses traditionally tend to be slower than telescopic lenses (the ones that stick out from the camera body). Everyone is therefore keen to see what Olympus has managed to do with this lens.
The ISO test results are pretty much as expected. Smoothing is visible at 800 ISO, but Olympus has done a good job of keeping digital noise in check and 8" x 10" pictures (20 x 27 cm) come out well. At 1600 ISO, quality drops a bit, but small-sized prints still look decent and you can still view shots at full size on a Full HD screen without too much trouble.
These ISO shots do, however, show us one thing that's worth pointing out—sharpness at 400 ISO is actually better than at 100 ISO or 200 ISO. This isn't some kind of fault, or an image processing trick with accentuation—this is quite simply the moment when the TG-1 chose to switch from f/2 (max. aperture) to f/2.8 when being tested in our lab.
The result is plain to see. At full aperture, wide-angle shots look soft over the whole frame. In certain parts of the frame, the TG-1 sometimes does better than the TG-820, and sometimes does a little worse. But in all cases, the difference in quality between the two models is unfortunately quite low, which is a real shame, since the TG-820 lens is largely outdated by current market standards. At f/2.8 (reached at 400 ISO when shooting our test scene—the TG-1 doesn't have an Av mode), sharpness becomes OK, but, on the whole this lens is no match for the likes of the Panasonic FT4.
Given the spectacular progress made by telescopic camera lenses over the last few years, maybe periscopic camera lenses are destined to be confined to the depths of three-star territory for ever more ...
There is, however, one field in which the TG-1 lens is hard to beat—its macro mode. As usual in Olympus cameras, a Super Macro mode is on hand to lock the lens onto the focal length with the best reproduction ratio (equivalent to 74 mm). At this focal length, the camera can get about a centimetre away from a subject to take an in-focus shot. At this distance, a subject 7 mm wide fills the frame.
The same screen (an Apple 24" monitor) shot in Super Macro mode (left) and with our microscope (right).
Specialists will note that, given the size of this camera's sensor (4.6 x 6.2 mm), the lens is actually very close to the 1:1 ratio, which equates to a "genuine" macro mode in 35 mm film photography! One pixel therefore captures details of about two microns in size. This makes shots so finely detailed that we could even pick out the tiny scratches on the metal ruler we usually shoot when testing macro modes. The Pentax WG-2 and Sony TX20 are excellent in the field, but they're still no match for the TG-1's macro mode—in fact, it runs circles around most compacts in this field.
The TG-1 is in line with current standards, filming Full HD video at 30 fps with stereo sound. Picture quality is good, with sharply defined and pleasant-to-watch results. Exposure is a little on the conservative side, which makes things look a bit dark, but light, bright parts of the image are well rendered.
Sound is recorded in stereo but quality is only just acceptable. Voices sound fine but metallic sounds get confused and the noise of the zoom is picked up in the background. Note too that the mics are located on the very edge of the camera's upper face, which means that users holding the camera in both hands risk covering up the left-hand mic with their index finger.
- Waterproof to 12 m, shockproof from heights of 2 m, crushproof to 100 kg
- Nice build and finish, good design and handling, pleasant OLED screen
- Secure-locking compartments
- Excellent responsiveness once running
- Incredible macro mode
- A bit chunky to handle and quite heavy
- Zoom controls on back of camera (not practical for one-handed use)
- Lens sharpness at max aperture in wide-angle (and no Av mode to get around that)
- Slow start-up
- Sound in video mode could be better
The TG-1 is packed with Olympus' finest technology, including an OLED screen, an ultra-tough build, a GPS, a fast lens, etc. Unfortunately, lens quality still isn't on par with certain competitors (Panasonic's FT4 in particular). You're therefore best off sticking to 8" x 10" (20 x 27 cm) pics and you might as well forget about cropping. But, so long as you stay at that kind of size, picture quality will look very good.