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Olympus Tough TG-6 review

It's tough – but is it good enough?

Olympus Tough TG-6
Olympus Tough TG-6
(Image: © Olympus)

Our Verdict

The Olympus Tough TG-6 is relatively easy to use and intuitive to operate, while image quality is fair without being outstanding, and build quality is reassuringly substantial. Unless you need the few upgraded features, however, the previous TG-5 or Panasonic TS7 / FT7 would be a better option right now.

For

  • Internally stacked zoom lens
  • Raw shooting is a bonus
  • Video up to 4K resolution
  • Intuitive to use

Against

  • Image quality and LCD display suffer in bright conditions
  • No eye-level viewfinder
  • Quality reduced at longer focal lengths
  • Small sensor at its heart

The Essential Review

This is TechRadar’s review summary that gives you all the key information you need if you’re looking for quick buying advice in 30 seconds – our usual full, in-depth review follows.

The Olympus Tough TG-6 builds on the success of the TG-5, with a handful of small improvements to that camera's already capable spec sheet. 

These include a better 3-inch LCD screen, with 1.04 million dots rather than 460k, as well as a new anti-reflective coating in front of the sensor. The new model also arrives with some fresh underwater shooting options, and the ability to use the 1cm close-focusing capability outside of the Underwater Macro setting (specifically in the program and aperture priority modes)

These new changes sit on top of a capable core that sees a 12MP sensor working with a lens equivalent to 25-100mm, with a maximum aperture of f/2-4.9. Raw shooting and 4K video are also on hand, while rugged credentials ensure the camera is waterproof to 15m (50ft), shockproof from 2.4m (7ft), crushproof to 100kgf (220lbf) and freezeproof to -10C.

The body comes in black and red finishes, with an attractive industrial design and large buttons to make it convenient to operate under the waves and on land. The double-catch mechanisms on the doors to the battery/memory card compartment and ports protect the insides from any dust or water incursion, although they're a little small and fiddly.

Focusing is nice and snappy and the LCD screen has fair visibility in bright light, with easy menu navigation. It's not a touchscreen, but then this isn't something we expect to see on underwater cameras. 

Image quality is reasonable for a camera with a 1/2.3-inch sensor, although overexposure and blown highlights can be seen in some images, and there's a loss of detail at the telephoto end of the lens. Colors are nice and rich, though, and the inclusion of raw shooting gives you the option to fine-tune your images later.

The Olympus Tough series arguably started the rugged camera trend in earnest, and the TG-6 certainly feels like one of the better options out there, even if innovation has slowed somewhat. The previous TG-5 represents far better value right now, though, so think carefully about whether you need the TG-6's extra features.

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Who’s it for and should I buy it?

The TG-6 is all about maintaining performance under the most testing conditions, whether it's under the waves, up a snowy mountain or in a desert. It's one of the priciest cameras of its kind, so those who would particularly benefit from it would be anyone who imagines calling on its more premium features – raw shooting, 4K video, focus stacking etc – with any regularity.

Olympus Tough TG-6 price

  • Current price: £449 / $449.99 / AU$649.95

Business as usual but with a few new tweaks

  • 12MP 1/2.3-inch sensor with raw and JPEG shooting
  • 4K video recording to 30p
  • Focus Bracketing and Focus Stacking modes
Olympus Tough TG-6 specs

Sensor: 1/2.3-inch, 12MP

Lens: 25-100mm, f/2-4.9 

Screen: 3.0-inch, 1,040K dots 

Viewfinder: No 

Continuous shooting: 20fps

Movies: 4K/30fps

Battery life: approx. 340 shots

User level: Beginner/intermediate

With people increasingly happy to rely on their smartphone for everyday snaps these days, if you see a point-and-shoot compact at all it’s likely to be one of two things: an instant camera that outputs Polaroid-style prints, or, as with the new Olympus TG-6, a toughened camera that you’d dare to use in scenarios where you wouldn’t otherwise risk your handset. In other words, there needs to be a good reason for its existence.

Its waterproof, drop-proof, crushproof and freeze-proof qualities aside, on first inspection the TG-6 doesn’t offer a massive amount more than those non-toughened compacts of old, the kind that smartphones gradually wiped out.

Updating the TG-5, the TG-6’s core specification includes a relatively modest-sounding 12MP resolution via its small, backlit 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor, which is married to an internally stacked 4x zoom lens with f/2-4.9 maximum aperture.

The only major advance from previous Tough model is arguably the ability to shoot video at up to 4K resolution at 30fps, although there are also new underwater modes (three choices, rather than just one), macro photo options (allowing captures as close as 1cm), plus an improved LCD screen resolution at 1.04 million dots.

This lack of innovation isn't necessarily a criticism, as photographers don’t want an overcomplicated or feature-festooned camera if they're going to be operating it with wet fingers straight out of the pool, or frozen extremities on the ski slopes, never mind underwater. 

Thus, like the TG-5, the TG-6 is waterproof to depths of 15m, freeze-proof to minus 10C, shockproof against drops from 2.1m and crushproof up to 100kg. For those looking to shoot in lower light and avoid the blurring effects of camera shake, an ISO range extending from ISO100 to 12,800 is user-selectable.

The suggested retail price of $449 / £449.99 / AU$649.95 for what's essentially an armored point-and-shoot camera feels a little pricey, especially if you're looking at the TG-6 as a general-purpose camera for use by all the family; that said, you can already find it for a good deal less, and it also helps that the camera can, in grown-up fashion, shoot raw files alongside JPEGs, although there's no getting away from the modest size of the sensor at its heart.

Design and performance

  • 3-inch (non-touch-sensitive) LCD, but no viewfinder 
  • Double-catch mechanism on doors
  • Available in black or red finishes

The Olympus Tough TG-6 boasts an attractive mix of sporty and industrial design courtesy of visible faceplate screws, which should appeal to photographers and action junkies wanting the best of both those worlds. 

It feels solid in the palm, while conveniently fitting in a pocket, and at no point does its internally stacked 25-100mm (35mm equivalent) zoom lens protrude from the body and possibly into harm’s way. Our test unit came in red livery, while it's also available in all black if you want something that looks more understated than sporty.

While the top-plate operational buttons are on the large side, they’re not especially outsized, so you won’t feel out of place operating this camera on dry land as well as in the wet. 

The backplate controls are pretty much identical to what you’d find on a non-ruggedized camera: small lozenge-shaped buttons, a shooting mode wheel and a four-way navigational control pad with the familiar ‘OK’ activation button at its center, all requiring fingertip or thumbnail operation. This Tough TG-6 is essentially designed to be used on automatic, as manual options are rather limited and you’ll need to drill into the menu to access them.

The combined SD card and battery compartment at the TG-6’s base, and the side compartment that houses HDMI and USB ports, are protected by doors with a double-catch mechanism to prevent them from being opened accidentally underwater, or at another inopportune moment. 

We found these catches to be unusually small for a camera of this type, requiring precise fingernail operation; operating these when wearing thick gloves would be impossible, although on the plus side there's little risk of you opening anything accidentally.

The camera is up and running from cold in a couple of seconds, and finds focus with a half-press of the shutter-release button in the blink of an eye – as with most compact cameras nowadays. 

The battery is charged while it sits inside the camera via a combination of a USB lead and mains plug connector, rather than a separate mains charger being provided (although one is available). This both keeps the cost down, and allows for the device to be charged on the fly from a laptop. 

A fisheye converter, silicon jacket, and additional waterproof housing to extend use down to 45m all extend your shooting options, and support the manufacturer’s claim that this is not simply a camera, but rather a system – albeit at a price.

As one would expect in lieu of any eye-level viewfinder, optical or otherwise, image composition and review are done purely through the 3-inch LCD on the backplate. This isn’t a touch-sensitive screen, but under most circumstances legibility is good, with on-screen menus being straightforward when it comes to navigation.

Image quality

  • Rich colors in images
  • Slight softness at telephoto ranges
  • Some overexposure

We’ve never seen an image from a toughened camera rival one from a DSLR or mirrorless model that could be bought for around the same price, and it's the same story here. 

The wide-angle 25mm-equivalent view the TG-6 provides inevitably delivers a slight fisheye effect when shooting close up at this widest setting, while we found that in particularly bright and sunny conditions images are close to overexposure, with a loss of highlight detail.

Of course it’s possible to manually dial down exposure or adjust the ISO setting if you realize this at the time of shooting, although bright conditions also affect the visibility of the LCD screen, which doesn't help matters. 

While having a zoom lens is useful, the range on offer here is modest, and we found detail suffered towards the maximum telephoto setting, especially when shooting handheld. As with any camera in which the lens is internally stacked (and so doesn’t sit proud of the body), the user has to be careful to avoid stray fingertips or the camera strap creeping into the edges of shots.

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Oddly for a camera that's going to be taken on family holidays and group outings to the beach and elsewhere, the Olympus TG-6 doesn't offer an easy means of taking self-portraits – a non-rugged compact is likely, these days, to feature a flip-up LCD screen that can be rotated to face the user. 

Granted, the inclusion of such a feature might introduce a point of vulnerability, but it would perhaps be possible to include a small rounded selfie mirror on the camera's front itself instead; it's perhaps something for the designers of the next generation to consider.

To get back to image quality, colors are rich straight out of the camera, although detail has a slightly over-processed look. Still, as the TG-6 is all about capturing photos that, on occasion, you wouldn’t risk another camera to achieve, we can make some allowances here.

Not convinced? Try these…

If the Olympus Tough TG-6 isn’t for you, here are three excellent choices for you to consider:

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Panasonic Lumix TS7 / FT7

The TS7, or FT7 depending on where you are in the world, is Panasonic's latest beach-ready compact, with the advantage of an electronic viewfinder and waterproofing down to an impressive 31m, for a price that right now is lower than that of the TG-6. You also get a 20.4MP sensor, 4K video and a choice of fetching colors, although raw capture is missing, and battery life isn't as strong as it was on the previous FT5.

Read our in-depth Panasonic Lumix TS7/FT7 review

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Fujifilm FinePix XP130

Recently superseded by the XP140, the XP130 is far easier on the wallet than the TG-6, although its spec sheet isn't quite as strong. You do get waterproofing down to 10m and 1.8m drop-proofing, but image quality and battery life go some way to prove the adage about getting what you pay for.  

Read our in-depth Fujifilm FinePix XP130 review

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GoPro Hero 8 Black

The Hero 8 Black is the latest flagship from the action cam specialist, with plenty of new features to keep adventure-seekers happy. Advanced stabilization and a plethora of format options make it a better choice for video than the TG-6, and at a similar price, but it's less capable when it comes to stills, and not as well suited to use by all the family.

Read our in-depth GoPro Hero7 Black review