Cam-ception: Olympus TG870 [Review]

When I planned for my year-end trip to tour Christmas markets, I was concerned about 2 things: Capturing the beauty of the Christmas markets in low light, and having a camera that would work in the cold.

My first instinct turned to the Olympus Tough series.

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I had used point-and-shoot digital cameras, mostly hand-me-downs. My first and only purchase was Olympus Tough, which I brought it to my training in Nepal, so that I could record my journey through the wet and wild terrain up in the mountains. I even once dropped it in the sea at Bali, and the guide managed to fish it out of the ocean safe and sound!

Almost 7 years later, I reviewed the photos taken back then, and was satisfied at how well those photos were taken, even with today’s standards. That made me think that I should buy the tough series again for my long-planned Munich trip.

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I took this with my older, but now-defunct Olympus Tough camera

My objectives were as such:

  • Be able to capture the beauty of the Christmas markets, especially when they were illuminated at night
  • Make sure the camera would survive the wintry cold

The 2nd objective sounded lame, since most point-and-shoot cameras were supposed to be mainstream, and that meant it was also designed for people staying in winter countries in mind. However, I really did not want to take things to chances, and since I had such a good experience with the predecessor of Olympus TG870, I saw no other reason to deny TG870 from coming into my possession.

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Purchasing Process

I made my purchase over iShop Changi, which itself has various promotions over the year (for mine, it was the Pikachu promotion), on top of the very attractive promotion of no GST for the products. This benefits both outgoing and incoming visitors, both of whom can pick up their purchases, free of GST, before the start of their holiday.

Just pop over to the website (LINK) and make the purchase, indicating the location and date of pick up in the transit area of Changi Airport. On the day itself, present the invoice at the counter to redeem the purchase and you will be good to go!

I believe one can find out in details the features of TG870 on the official Olympus website (LINK). I shall just highlight some of the features that appealed (and distracted) to me.

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Flipping Screen

The screen that can be flipped over was touted to be very good for taking selfies or for photos at a weird angle. For the former, there is even a front button (in red) that allows more convenience in pressing the shutter during selfies.

I find that very useful, except it required quite a while to get used to.

Anyone used to taking selfies on phones will instinctively look at the camera aperture when taking selfies. I eventually found out that for TG870, one should not look at the aperture, not at the screen, bit somewhere in between, so that the selfies will look natural. Don’t ask me why, I just knew this should be the case.

Another benefit of the flipping screen was to be able to take photos at weird angles. I only thought of using it near the end of my holiday (see example below), but I am so impressed with the ability that I made a conscious effort to take photos from weird angles, making use of the flipping screen!

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This is not an especially difficult photo to capture, but hey, at least I don’t need to prone on the icy cold ground!

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Scenes

There were pre-set scenes that allowed one to quickly take a picture for an adequate environment, without fumbling through various settings. That was convenient, and as a whole, I found that rather useful and good to use.

I used the “Landscape” and “Snow and Beach” interchangeably during my stay in Hallstatt. The area was covered in frost (hence the use of the latter scene), while the steep slopes of the surrounding mountains have yet to be covered in snow. Before that, I had just used a generic setting for every environment, and I must say the outcome for using these 2 scenes were satisfying.

There was also the scene for taking scenes under low light, one for with and one for without a tripod.

The scene setting to be used with tripod (or a stationary stand) was rather good, when I took a photo of the evening view of Lake Hallstatt, at the balcony of my room.

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For the other setting, I used it around Hallstatt, as well as when I was walking through the Christmas markets of Munich. Both worked rather well, except that the one for tripods produced (expectedly) better photos.

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The scene for portrait, however, was not as good, even though it was meant for selfies. Most of my selfies taken in this scene (with hand and with tripod) turned out to have fuzzy outlines and were either over or under-exposed.

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Double-locking Mechanism

To ensure that the camera body is in a snug, water-tight state, the opening to the battery / SD card compartment is double-locked. Yes, double-locked!

This double-locking is not a nuisance, since… who opens the battery compartment often (since we can also charge the camera like a handphone), and I quite liked the idea of it, though I haven’t encountered a situation that proved its usefulness (Hallelujah!!). But well, this is one of the features that gives me some assurance that my purchase is gonna last as long as I hope it will 🙂

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Flash

There were 2 sources of light from the camera, the normal flash and LED light. I haven’t really tried them (I am rather against the use of flash) to be able to make a qualitative comment on the feature.

However, one aspect of the flash did get onto my nerves.

When in Scene mode, one must remember to turn off Auto Flash before snapping away, every time the camera is started up. For me, I have the tendency to take photos at a whim, and the last I wanted was to have the flash destroy my photo and I missed the opportunity for the perfect scene.

When in the generic setting, my option to deactivate the flash was remembered, which was the reason why I tend to stick to that setting most of the time. But I must say that setting does not produce the best pictures all the time, because, well, it was not optimised for all environments.

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GPS and Wifi

The camera is inbuilt with GPS, so when activated, the camera can tag every photo with the location where the photo was taken. This was good, for uploading onto Instagram (no need to search through the locations) or just simply for reviewing in the future.

Honey, do you remember where we took this picture 20 years back? Oh, TG870 tagged it for me!

An even more advanced setting allows one to show the pictures taken on a map, mapping the journey of a holiday. I wasn’t quite attracted to that feature, so I did not make use of it at all.

The wifi was supposed to be another deciding factor for me when purchasing TG870. It allows one to transfer the photos to one’s smartphone, meaning sharing of photos is convenient.

That required installing Olympus’ app on the smartphone, and taking photo of the QR code shown on the camera screen when the wifi feature was activated.

Except that this did not work for me, on Samsung Note 3 or Note 5.

I have not successfully connected my phones to the camera till date, so I must say this is one major disappointment for me!

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Buttons and Dials

The dial to scroll through various pre-set settings is unique to Olympus. I can’t say I am a fan of that feature, since my fat fingers don’t really get along well with the dial to make the turning a pleasant experience. This was made worse during winter in Munich: Imagine my fingers feeling numb from the cold, so I could not really control the dial as well as when I do in warmer environment.

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However, that huge shutter button, on top as well as in front, was simple but well-designed. My frozen fingers need not search frantically for the shutter during selfies (in the cold, one can only force a smile for 3 seconds) and the image stabiliser meant that I could just whack the button and still generate rather clear photos.

Not very classy, but when one needs to get things done, things have to be done! 😛

Verdict

Olympus TG870 is a rather expensive point-and-shoot purchase for me. I used non-tough digital cameras before, and I must say those cameras were soooo fragile even under normal use (scratches on the body after a simple knock, exposed to rain etc). Although I am not sure if I will take my TG870 to rough conditions like I did for my old Tough camera, I though the added cost was a good form of insurance for me.

I am rather pleased with the quality of the photos, save the wifi feature that failed me even 2 months after I own the camera.

Other than that, if you can afford to buy this camera, buy it!

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Fantastic reproduction of red and greens, eh?
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Final add on! This is actually taken under water, because this camera can!

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