HandlingThe front face of the TG-820 is almost identical to that of the TG-810, although the bump that formally housed the GPS has been removed ... along with the GPS itself, in fact. The back of the camera has changed completely, as the vertical zoom control and column of buttons leading down to the four-way arrow key has been ditched in favour of a more classic camera interface. The zoom control can now be found around the shutter-release button, the four-way arrows have been moved up to make them more easily accessible, and the wrist-strap hook has cleverly been combined with a new thumb-rest.
On the whole, the camera feels quite plastic (although the front face is partially covered with a metal plate) but the finish is good, and the TG-820 feels like a quality camera. The double locking system on the only compartment door (connections, battery, SD card) has been redesigned too, with a slide-across safety catch that holds the first lock firmly closed.
The screen has got sharper still, with a definition of 1,030,000 dots. The difference compared with the previous model isn't huge, however, as it's mainly the switch to 3:2 format that explains the difference in resolution. The first thing we noticed about this display was its incredible brightness, clocking up just over 500 cd/m² while most compact screens settle for 300 or 400 cd/m². This helps make it a little easier to see what's going on when using the camera outdoors. Onscreen, light greys end up a little too light, which could make pictures look a bit overexposed, and shades are a bit inconsistent (dark greys are warmer than mid greys). But, on the whole, it's pleasant to use, even if image fidelity could be better.
There have been a few minor changes to the interface, including instant access to the last setting you changed—on the four-way arrows, the left arrow and button bring up the Quick Menu while the right arrow takes you straight to the last setting changed. The interface is clear and relatively easy to use, although it's still surprising to see the camera set to P mode by default—what about Intelligent Auto?
ResponsivenessWell, well, well, what do we have here?!? An Olympus compact with five stars for responsiveness! That's all the more impressive since, just two product generations ago, the µ Tough-8010 only got one star in this field!
The TG-810 takes barely over a second to snap its first photo. It then shoots shot after shot just 0.4 seconds apart without even flinching. In comparison, very few compacts are able to beat the one second barrier and many still make you wait two seconds between two photos!
The autofocus is quite surprising, as no matter what the focal length, it locks onto the subject in less than a quarter of a second. Occasionally, and particularly in telephoto mode, it doesn't lock on perfectly, and you're better off doing a half-press on the shutter-release to check the focus first. In spite of that, it's still very nice to see an autofocus system work this quickly. It's not quite as impressive in low light, but the drop in speed isn't dramatic.
The continuous shooting mode captures five frames per seconds for ... well, we stopped counting at 80 pictures. We clearly got tired before the camera did!
Picture QualityThe TG-820 has the same lens as the TG-810 and the µ Tough-8010, so we've already had chance to outline its various faults. However, the camera's electronics are all new, and with a 12-Megapixel BSI CMOS sensor, we can hope to see major progress when it comes to controlling digital noise.
Our ISO test results confirm a visible improvement. Granularity is scarce at 800 ISO, even though smoothing is visible, but it still won't be much of a problem for 8" x 10" prints (20 x 27 cm). At 1600 ISO, smoothing gets stronger and prints any bigger than 4" x 6" (11 x 15 cm) will lack sharpness and contain more visible noise. On a day-to-day basis, 1600 ISO is best avoided, but it could still give passable results if you really don't have a choice. Don't waste your time with the 3200 ISO and 6400 ISO settings, however.
Note that noise is also controlled by a fairly pronounced contrast, which blocks together dark or shadowy areas of pictures into black masses that help mask noise. Some of you may like the eye-catching effect this has on pictures, especially if you're making prints with no post-editing, but some users may find the high-contrast effect too strong.
Logically, optical quality in the TG-820 is similar to its predecessors, with which it shares a lens. At wide-angle settings, sharpness levels are acceptable in the middle of the frame—but nothing more—and the whole of the image is covered by a light haze at telephoto settings. This lens has served its time now, and we can only hope that Olympus will be adding it to its 'to do list' for the TG-830.
Another thing Olympus should think about changing is the stabilisation, which certainly isn't the best system out there right now. We only managed consistently clear shots of Barbie without the flash at 1/13 ths of a second and—even then—the camera was forced to push up the 800 ISO setting, leading to a visible level of light smoothing in the shot (eye, hair).
VideoEven more than in photo mode, the TG-820 is a touch conservative with exposure in indoor settings. Videos therefore look quite dark and shadows tend to look black.
However, the real weakness of the video mode is audio quality. The TG-820 captures low-quality mono sound that's muffled and prone to echoes. As a result, identifying a voice and understanding what people are saying can sometimes prove challenging. That's a bit disappointing, especially when we know that Olympus is a company that also makes good-quality audio recording devices!
- Waterproof to 10m, shockproof to 2 m, crushproof to 100 kg
- Secure compartment locking system and lens protection shutter
- Excellent responsiveness: photo-to-photo turnaround and autofocus are particularly fast
- Good design and handling, good screen, easy to use
- Lens could be better, especially at telephoto settings
- Video mode: underexposed images, low-quality sound
The Olympus TG-820 brings a very welcome update to the electronics in last year's TG-810. The new components do a much better job in low light and, above all, make the camera a whole lot more responsive. All Olympus needs to do now is update that ageing lens ...