2013 doesn't have many surprises in store for Olympus' "Tough" range, the label the company uses for its waterproof, dustproof, freezeproof and shockproof compact cameras. Three mid-range compacts, the TG-630, TG-2 and TG-830, have come to replace last year's entry-level models. Taking the place of the TG-620, the TG-630 features the same 12-Megapixel BSI CMOS sensor and 28-140mm lens (f/3.9-5.9). But it's not all the same. The most notable addition is the TruePic VI processor, which is Olympus' new "thing" this year: putting its latest image processing engine in its entry-level cameras.
Visually, the TG-630 is a carbon copy of the TG-620. The body is almost entirely plastic, but it's tough stuff: we dropped it who knows how many times in the snow, in water and on concrete (not always intentionally), and the casing and insides always stayed intact. The camera handles well and it fits nicely in your hands, although we would have liked to have a bulge grip on the front. But there's a metal piece on the right side of the back for your thumb to rest against, and the buttons are firm enough so that you don't hit them accidentally.
The TG-630 can go up to 5 metres underwater. The HDMI, battery and SDXC memory card slots are protected by sturdy hard-plastic covers that open and close via a two-button locking mechanism. The tilt button is good and tractable; your thumb catches and holds on to it easily, even with gloves on.
As for the display, however, the contrast is over the top, light greys look washed out, the colours are far from accurate (Delta E = 6.7) and the tones are cold. On the upside, it has high detail (460,000 dots) and is nice and bright, making it easy to see in direct sunlight.
The TruePic VI processor, the latest of Olympus' image engines, boosts the overall responsiveness compared to last year, making the TG-630 quick to react.
The autofocus is a breeze, taking less than a second to focus, even in low lighting. The TG-630 is a quick and responsive photo snapper.
The lens is the same as the TG-820's and the sensor is the same as the TG-1's, so we were counting on seeing a lot of similarities and weren't really expecting any surprises.
But on further examination, we saw some subtle differences: the TG-630 shows slightly more detail in the lower sensitivities. That's something that completely disappears in the higher sensitivities, where the images are smoothed to contain the noise, effectively lowering the sharpness (and our rating). At ISO 800, an 11 x 15 cm print will lack a considerable amount of detail, and any higher than 800, the noise will blot out most everything. Our advice: stay away from high ISOs.
The lens gives similar results to the TG-820. When zoomed out completely, the image is sharp in the centre of the shot, and stays that way through to the edges. When zoomed in, unlike the TG-820, which gave slightly blurry images, the TG-630 gives much more detail. However, when we took pictures holding the camera in our hands, Barbie only became consistently sharp at 1/20 of a second at ISO 1600, and that was thanks to the mechanical image stabiliser. The TG-630's poor handling of sensitivity didn't help matters.
The TG-630 has all the standard video features you expect from a compact these days: Full HD, 30 fps and stereo sound. On paper, it looks amazing. In practice, the image is decent—it's fairly sharp, the overall picture is dense and it's enjoyable to look at. Bright colours don't look blown out, but only at the expense of the darker shades, which are too murky, with shadows often coming out pitch black.
Unfortunately, the audio isn't that hot: over a relatively quiet background, sounds sound like they're happening in a jar, and the more audio information (noise) there is, the worse it gets. Noisy backgrounds quickly turn into a sort of cacophony.
Here's a video we shot at 240 fps (320 x 240 pixels) of a Clementine bowling over a toy soldier (the Rabbids made it out unscathed).