Friday 18 March 2016

Travel Gadget Review 3: Olympus TG-4 Camera

Four years ago, as an experiment on a short trip to Thailand, I decided to leave behind my digital camera and use my iPhone instead.

It was a success, and since then I've taken travel photos almost entirely with my phone (first an iPhone 4S, then a 6 Plus). Plenty of them have been published alongside my articles - about 100 images per year.

However, I've decided it's time to look at owning a camera again. Although it takes great photos, the iPhone has its weaknesses. It's not great in low light or other non-standard lighting, for a start, and you can't take a smartphone anywhere near water without a risk of ruining it.

So I borrowed an Olympus Stylus TG-4 Tough camera from Olympus for review purposes (and yes, I posted it back to the company's Sydney offices when I'd finished testing it out).

The primary attraction of the TG-4 to me, is its ability to take JPG photos at least 300dpi in resolution, as well as retaining the basic RAW file alongside it on the SD card. This uses up extra memory of course, but grants a deal of flexibility.

Another plus is the waterproof and shockproof nature of the camera. When I need a camera other than my iPhone, a watery environment is often the reason.

With my old Olympus I went kayaking in Borneo and became very wet as a result, with no damage to the camera. I also used it when looking for bears at the Great Bear Lodge in Canada, from where we set out on the water in small boats.

This is the Olympus TG-4:

And here are some photos I took with it one afternoon and evening, walking around the Melbourne CBD near my apartment.

A tram stop and a motorbike came out well on the camera's standard "P" setting in bright sunlight, with vivid colours:

For this shot of the London Stores building, one of my favourite local edifices, I adjusted the Aperture setting to let in more light:

The camera's 4x optical zoom allowed me to neatly frame this image of the Royal Arcade facade from across Bourke Street:

Another advantage of this camera over the iPhone is the presence of "Microscope mode", allowing photos to be taken as near as 1cm from the subject. As I walked along Bourke Street, I tried this out on a water fountain, a tree, and a vegie burger I ordered for lunch:

I was very impressed with the detail on all of these.

Finally, I stepped out at night to take some shots after dark, using the Night Scene mode under the camera's shooting mode settings. Exposure time on these was controlled by the camera, and varied from 0.5 to 1.3 seconds:

I was pleased with these results, from what is basically a point-and-click digital camera.

One other impressive aspect - and a great step up from the Olympus I used to own - is that the TG-4 has its own inbuilt wifi hotspot. Once activated, photos can be quickly selected and downloaded to a smartphone via a free Olympus app.

I'd expected this to be a clunky experience, but in fact it was very quick and efficient. While perched on the Public Purse sculpture on Bourke Street, I rapidly downloaded pics to my iPhone so I could share them on social media.

This is a brilliant facility, as it allows backup on the spot for any shots you particularly value. While travelling, it would allow me to easily back up those images from iPhone to Dropbox when I returned to my hotel's wifi.

Overall I was impressed with the Olympus TG-4 camera. I'm inclined to buy one of my own in the near future.

The Olympus Stylus TG-4 Tough camera retails in Australia for around $450. Find more details, including technical specifications and sample shots, at this link.

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