- Review Date: 09/27/11
- Bottom line:
The rugged Olympus Tough TG-310 doesn't offer the zoom range of more expensive models, but its image quality is on par with competing cameras, and it comes at an attractive $200 price.
Modest price for a rugged camera. Waterproof to 10 feet, shockproof to 5 feet, freezeproof to 14°F; Good low-light performance.
Cannot zoom while recording video. No separate battery charger.
The 14-megapixel Olympus Tough TG-310 ($199.99 direct) digital camera is built to withstand some pretty harsh environments. You can submerge it in up to 10 feet of water, drop it from a height of five feet, and use it in temperatures as low as 14°F. Its lens covers a modest 3.6x zoom range and the camera lacks built-in GPS like you’ll find in some other competing models. For the full package, you need a camera like our Editors’ Choice Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3 ($399.95, 4 stars), but you could buy two TG-310s for the price of one TS3. If you’re looking for a rugged camera that won’t empty your bank account, the TG-310 is worth a look.
Design and Features
Taking its design cues from other rugged point-and-shoots, the TG-310’s lens is located in the top right corner of the body, rather than centered. The lens, which is sealed inside the camera to keep it safe, features an internal zoom design. The metal construction and metallic paint combine to create an eye-catching camera that comes in a variety of bright colors including blue, orange, red, silver, or white. It looks a lot like Olympus’s top-end rugged model, the Stylus Tough-8010 ($399.99, 3.5 stars).
The On/Off button and shutter release are located on the top of the camera. A crisp 230k-dot, 2.7-inch LCD occupies much of the rear of the camera. The display is bright enough for use outdoors on bright days. A panel of rubberized controls is located to its right; here you’ll find the zoom rocker, a dedicated Record button, a four-way control switch with a center OK button, a Playback button, a Menu button, and a Help button. Olympus also managed to squeeze the TG-310’s speaker into this slim panel.
The menu system is quite nice. An always-on overlay puts shooting options at the far right of the LCD, without obscuring much of the frame. As you scroll down through the menu items they expand out to the left, and a text overlay opens to explain what each option does. You’ll always be able to see what’s in front of your lens, and tripping the shutter will grab a photo even while you are tweaking settings in the menu. Hitting the Info button can make the overlay disappear, giving you a cleaner view of your frame. There’s also a more-detailed setup menu, which is activated by pressing the Menu button. From here you can adjust all of the camera’s settings. You won’t have to go in here very often, as settings you’ll adjust while shooting are accessible through the overlay menu.
The camera is intended to survive a good amount of abuse, and we put it through the ringer in our tests. Submerging the camera in water for several minutes was not a problem, it passed that test with flying colors. We dropped the camera a few dozen times while it was capturing video, and in one instance it stopped recording and the file was lost. Otherwise, it continued to record but the footage was black after the point of impact. In both cases turning the camera on and off brought it back to life, and the camera showed no visible signs of abuse.
To test the camera’s performance in freezing temperatures I followed the most logical course of action I could think of: I put the camera in our office freezer for an hour, which is actually a bit cooler than the 14°F that for which the camera is rated. When I freed it from its icy prison, there was a lot of condensation from the sudden temperature change on the lens and LCD, and the battery was dead. The camera turned on, but simply gave me a low battery message and wouldn’t snap a shot. I was able to warm the battery up and get it to work, but noticed that the charge had dipped from full to two-thirds. Lithium batteries don’t function well in low temperatures, so this comes as no surprise. Despite the power issues, the camera was able to take photos in its chilled state. But if you do plan to use the camera to shoot the Iditarod, bring a few extra batteries along.
Speed and Image Performance, Conclusions
It’s not the speediest camera in the world, but the TG-310 performs well for its class. The camera starts up and captures an image in about 2.2 seconds, requires you to wait about 2.1 seconds between shots, and records an average 0.6-second shutter lag. Its recycle time is noticeably slower than the 1.2 seconds recorded by our Editors’ Choice Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3, but the TG-310’s start-up and shutter lag scores are within a tenth of a second of those of the TS3.
To test the TG-310’s image sharpness and noise performance, I use the Imatest suite. Sharpness is measured using a center-weighted algorithm that records lines per picture height; a score of 1,800 is considered acceptably sharp. The TG-310 recorded an average score of 1,475 lines, which is better than the 1,347 recorded the Lumix TS3. If image sharpness is in a tough camera is paramount, you’ll want to look at the Olympus Tough-8010, which recorded an impressive 2,461 lines of resolution.
The camera fared a bit better in terms of image noise. As you increase a camera’s sensitivity to light, measured in ISO, image noise increases. An image with less than 1.5 percent noise is acceptable, and the TG-310 delivered through ISO 800. At its maximum sensitivity rating, ISO 1600, the camera just barely crossed the 1.5 percent mark. The Panasonic Lumix TS3 and the Pentax Optio WG-1 ($349.95, 2.5 stars) both beat the TG-310, producing clean images through ISO 1600. You’ll be able to use the TG-310 in challenging lighting conditions without worrying about overly grainy images. Even though it crossed the 1.5 percent mark at ISO 1600, I’d feel comfortable dealing with the level of noise it produced at that setting in order to gain some shutter speed to capture a blur-free image.
The TG-310 records 720p30 HD video in MP4 format, which makes them easy to share on YouTube, Vimeo, and other popular sites. Video captured by the TG-310 was quite good in my tests, although you can’t zoom while recording. The camera uses a proprietary USB cable to connect to both a computer and the included AC adapter. And there’s no separate charger, so you must charge the battery through the camera. There is a micro HDMI port to connect the camera to an HDTV for HD image and video playback. The camera accepts SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory cards.
If you’re looking for a camera that can withstand harsh environments, the Olympus Tough TG-310 is a solid choice with a very reasonable price. If you’re set on a rugged camera with more features, our Editors’ Choice Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3 gives you GPS, a longer 4.6x zoom lens, along with an underwater depth rating of 40 feet, but it costs $200 more than the TG-310. Olympus’s own Stylus Tough-8010, also twice the price of the TG-310, doesn’t add a GPS, but it does offer a 5x zoom range, a 30-foot underwater rating, and protection against being crushed. If you aren’t looking to run over your camera or take it beyond snorkeling depth, the TG-310 is a good way to go, especially when you consider its appealing price.