Pricey, but if you need a camera that's built and equipped for life well off the beaten track, the Olympus TG-3 is worth the money.
Great build quality
Disappointing panorama mode
Not as waterproof as some rivals
Average image quality
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Last year's TG-2 has proven to literally be a tough act to follow for Olympus, thanks to it blending rock-hard construction with a host of action-orientated features and the widest-aperture lens in the class.
Consequently the TG-3 doesn't mess with this recipe too much as it maintains the same lens and toughness credentials but adds a new 16 megapixel CMOS sensor to replace the TG-2's 12 megapixel device.
The TG-3's new sensor boasts a sensitivity range of ISO 100-6400. It's teamed with the same optics from the TG-2, giving 4x optical zoom, an f/2.0 maximum wide-angle aperture and a 35mm-equivalent focal length range of 25-100mm.
Image stabilisation is employed to help tame camera shake, and the lens can also be fitted with an optional fisheye or teleconverter attachment.
Olympus has gone all out to make the TG-3 the perfect action companion. It's shockproof from heights up to 2.1 metres, waterproof to 15-metre depths, freezeproof to -10°C and also able to withstand 100kg of crushing force.
As with the TG-2, you get GPS to geo-tag your images, plus an electronic compass, pressure and altitude gauges.
Wi-Fi connectivity is new to the TG-3 and enables remote camera control and wireless image sharing. The camera also gets a revised screen, which though the same size as that used by TG-2, uses conventional LCD technology instead of OLED in an effort to improve brightness.
Creative photographers will also enjoy the selection of seven Art Filters, interval shooting and time-lapse capture modes.
An aperture priority mode is included too, along with HDR and panorama capture, plus a microscope mode for shooting as close as 1cm from your subject. Alternatively, when the action speeds up there's always an impressive 5fps continuous shooting mode or Full HD video capture with stereo sound.
Build quality and handling
At 111.5 x 65.9 x 31.2mm and 247g ready to shoot, the TG-3 is both chunky and relatively heavy by compact camera standards. However what you lose in portability, you gain in toughness.
Both the Canon D30 and Nikon AW120 will go deeper underwater, but neither can match the TG-3's 100kg crushproof rating and its general feel of absolutely solidity. Dropping some rugged cameras from two metres is a nerve-wracking experience, however the TG-3 inspires confidence that it could sustain such punishment.
Don't expect the pretty paintjob of the red-cased version to hide scratches well though, and the text printed on the front panel won't last long either.
Fortunately it's unlikely you'll drop the camera that often. Its chunkiness gives you more to grip onto than most compacts, whilst the front and rear hand grips are the most pronounced and ergonomic in the class.
Two doors cover the battery/card compartment and the cable connection sockets. Both are double-locked to prevent accidental opening, and both feel more substantial and better hinged than those on many of the TG-3's counterparts.
The camera's controls are also well designed with movement that's precise without being too stiff. Key controls like the power button, zoom rocker, shutter release and mode dial are well placed and can all be used whilst wearing gloves.
It's a pity the video record button is on the small side, but otherwise the TG-3's controls are well-suited to action photography in extreme conditions.
This all helps to make the TG-3 is a cinch to operate, but so too does its menu interface which manages to be both clear and attractive. Consequently adjusting everything from basic functions through to more advanced features like GPS and Wi-Fi is quick and easy.
The former will tag your images with the precise coordinates where they were captured, and though it's no problem to activate, the system can take a while to find a satellite and doesn't always maintain a stable connection in built-up areas.
Using the Wi-Fi functionality is just as simple thanks to its innovative pairing method. Rather than manually finding the right Wi-Fi hotspot, simply scan the QR code displayed on the camera's screen using your smartphone and it'll automatically define the correct network settings. Once connected, Olympus' Image Track app lets you control the camera remotely with barely any lag.
It also allows you to download shots from the camera to share them, though the transfer process can take up to 20 seconds per shot for high quality images.