[Image credit: getolympus.com

[Image credit: getolympus.com]

Some of you may recall the arrival of my Olympus TG-3 last spring.  I’d half to call it a half-impulse buy; I’d been considering adding a waterproof camera to the kit ever since I began kayaking again, but I kept putting it off, largely due to the lackluster options available.  With waterproof, it seems there are really only two options: an all out underwater casing for your DSLR, at a cost of several thousand dollars, or a low-end point & shoot designed for everyday users, as opposed to photographers.

The TG-3 was the only camera at the time that started to climb out of the low end pit, and as I recall may have been the only one to offer any level of manual control in that price range.  I picked mine up from B&H as the model was being phased out, at a price I thought was fair.

Of course, over the summer the TG-4 was released, and of course RAW capability was added as a feature – something I would very much like to have, as opposed to the TG-3’s JPG-only performance.

BRENT PENNINGTON Kayaking on Lackawanna Lake during a cold summer rain on the afternoon of 27 June 2015.

So after shooting with the camera all through the summer season, here’s a quick breakdown of the pros and cons:

Pros:

  • f/2 max aperture
  • solid 24-100mm zoom range
  • rechargeable Li-ion battery
  • accepts SD cards (same as the E-M5)
  • waterproof (+ other “Tough” ratings)
  • some level of manual control (Av mode)

Cons:

  • JPG only
  • doesn’t come with a battery wall charger (charges in-camera)
  • limited manual controls
  • small sensor
  • menu settings reset after each use
  • condensation issues

I want to discuss a few of those points in more detail, starting with the battery, which is a failure on Olympus’ part.  The TG-3 comes with a battery and power cable, but it only works via the USB port to charge the battery within the camera.  Most damning is that this means the camera is out of commission any time you have to charge the battery.  And only somewhat less damning is how cumbersome the setup is to travel with.

BRENT PENNINGTON Kayaking at the Chittenden Reservoir on the afternoon of 14 June 2015.

My solution was to buy a third-party battery kit, which came with two additional batteries and a wall charger.  The Olympus battery won’t charge in it, but at least I have two other batteries that I can swap out, and have one in the charger while I use the other.  And because of that, I’ve pretty much thrown the Oly batter in a drawer and ignored it.

I also want to touch on the manual settings, since they appear in both the pro and con list.  As a pro, the camera has an Av (aperture priority) mode.  As a con, it only has an aperture priority mode.  I can shoot with it, adapting to changing conditions by driving the exposure compensation around, but it’s more cumbersome than just shooting in full manual (which is how I use my E-M5s).  There’s also the problem that if the camera powers off, all your manual adjustments are lost, and you have to start over when the camera comes back on.  Which just kind of sucks.

BRENT PENNINGTON Playing in the surf on the beach at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on the afternoon of 09 May 2015.

And as I mentioned before, being locked into the JPG file format is a bummer.  I still edit my JPG files, but there’s significantly less leeway for adjustment and it’s a somewhat touchier process.  I guess I’m spoiled by RAW.

But worse of all, there’s also a condensation issue.  Several times, when I’ve been working with the TG-3 in the water, I’ve found that bringing it out of the water causes the inside of the lens to fog up significantly.  My guess is that coming from cold water into warm air is the cause, but the reason is somewhat irrelevant; when it happens, I’m no longer able to use the camera until it clears up, which is a slow process.  An underwater camera that can’t transition back and forth isn’t much good to me.

BRENT PENNINGTON Views across an agricultural landscape from atop Roman's Nose in Middleburgh, NY, on the afternoon of 25 April 2015.

Conclusion:

I’ve carried the TG-3 with my on kayaking trips.  I’ve grabbed it as my “I don’t feel like bringing my real camera” camera, and traveled and gone hiking with it.  I’ve used it underwater and above.  And in the final analysis, I find it to be lacking.  I’m not 100% happy with the photos it produces, from a combination of quality off the tiny sensor and the JPG format.  And I’m not terribly impressed with it’s performance from a usability standpoint.

In short, it has been somewhat disappointing.  Compared to an m4:3 or DSLR, it’s a toy camera.  So no surprise, it won’t be staying in my kit.  In fact, within the next couple of weeks it’ll probably go on eBay.

The lesson I should have learned from this is that no p&s camera can truly be a stand-in for my “real” camera.  I’ve gone through a whole succession of p&s cameras over the years, everything from Canon’s high-end G-series down to your basic A-series.  Regardless of the feature sets, they just don’t stand up.  There may be times when it’s nice to carry just a small camera with a built-in lens, but it seems that the resulting quality never stands up.  Maybe someday that will change, as the technology keeps evolving,  But for now – for this year at least – I’m heading back away from point & shoots.

NOTE: all photos in this post were shot with the TG-3

Brent Pennington is a freelance photographer and the driving force behind The Roving Photographer. When he\’s not working with portraiture or promotional clients, he’s usually in the field, hiking, or kayaking in pursuit of nature and wildlife shots.

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