The Olympus Tough TG-6 is the best tough compact for photography and video in extreme conditions. Its small sensor means that image quality is unavoidably unexceptional, but this is simply a fact of this camera type. So as long as you temper your expectations, you’ll find a lot to enjoy here. With lots of clever shooting modes, a high-quality lens and extensive video options, this is an ideal camera for holidays and underwater exploration.
- Tank-like construction
- Zoom lens with f/2
- Super slow-mo video
- Middling image quality
- Over-zealous noise control
In our Olympus Tough TG-6 review, we’re going to look at a camera that shows off the best – and the worst – of what waterproof compacts can do. Ultra-rugged and prepared for anything, the Tough TG-6 can be submerged in water down to depths of 15m, frozen in temperatures as low as -10°C, dropped from heights of up to 2.1m and crushed with a force of 100kgf – and it’ll keep on snapping.
As the name implies, this is the sixth camera in the Tough TG series from Olympus. First released in 2019, it retains a formula that has remained basically the same since the TG-1 – pairing a 1/2.3-inch sensor with a 25-100mm equivalent lens, providing an imaging combination that isn't going to blow anyone away but works well enough for photography in the water and out. It may not be one of the best cameras in terms of image quality, but its broad utility makes it a contender for one of the best cameras for beginners or the best point-and-shoot cameras.
• 12MP, 1/2.3-inch BSI-CMOS sensor
• 25-100mm equivalent, f/2-4.9 lens
• Waterproof to 15m, shockproof from 2.1m, crushproof to 100kgf, freezeproof to -10°C, dustproof
• 20fps continuous shooting
• 3-inch, 1,040k-dot tilting LCD
• 4K video at 30p
• 113 x 66 x 32 mm
• 253g body-only (with battery and memory card)
Olympus Tough TG-6 review: build and handling
As already mentioned, the Tough TG-6 is a little tank of a camera. Bash it around, chuck it in the sea, bury it in snow – it’ll keep on ticking. If you want to dive deeper than 15m, there’s an underwater housing you can buy separately, and there are also conversion lenses for wide-angle and fisheye, allowing you to expand the utility of the fixed zoom lens – though again, these will cost more.
A dual-pane protective glass construction on the rear LCD screen provides superior anti-fogging – though be aware that it does scratch rather easily, which can be a little annoying. Image composition is done entirely via the screen – there’s no viewfinder to speak of – so that provides extra incentive to keep it scratch-free if you can.
The various doors and ports around the camera all have double-catch mechanisms – essentially dual locks that add a layer of redundancy to protect them from accidentally opening underwater. They’re somewhat fiddly to open and close, but frankly, underwater photography is a fiddly business no matter what camera you use. It’s just in the nature of the game. What is a little disappointing though is that the charging port is still a micro USB, rather than the faster and more robust USB-C, which had already made it well into common use by 2019.
Still, Olympus has otherwise packed a lot of tech into the fairly diminutive Tough TG-6. It’s an outdoor camera through and through, with environmental tools like an altimeter/depth gauge, compass, thermometer, GPS and accelerometer. The top plate buttons are large and easy to use without being comically oversized.
Olympus Tough TG-6 review: performance
The Olympus Tough TG-6 has a pleasant sense of immediacy to it. Turn it on, and it’s ready to shoot from cold within a few seconds. Your manual control of shooting settings is quite limited – you’ve got three aperture settings and some situation-specific auto modes (Underwater etc), so this isn’t a camera for those who like to fine-tune their exposures.
After using the Tough TG-6 for an extended period, both in the water and on land, I would describe the image quality as decent without being great. As mentioned, the 1/2.3-inch sensor is about the same size as you’d find in a smartphone, and without the many digital smoothing tricks that smartphones come loaded with these days, they’ll look at first glance, slightly inferior to the images you get from your phone. Then again, your phone can’t go 15m underwater (yet), so there’s that.
You do get RAW support in the TG-6, which other tough cameras tend not to have, and is a nice addition for those who like to tune-up their images in the best photo editing software after the fact. You can even convert them in-camera, but it’s unlikely you’ll ever bother – there’s not a lot of point in shooting RAW if you aren’t going to process them yourself; you might as well just stick to JPEG. One thing I would say though if you are shooting JPEGs – delve into the settings and turn down the Noise Reduction. It’s a little over-enthusiastic, smoothing away a surprising amount of detail and sharpness in a camera that’s already somewhat lacking in that department.
It may sound like we’re down on the Olympus TG-6 – but that’s really not the case. Having an f/2 lens puts it ahead of basically any other tough compact in terms of low-light performance and versatility, and its optical zoom lens and ergonomic form factor give it solid advantages over a GoPro. It’s just important to view the camera in context. It won’t produce incredible, mind-blowing images that can be blown up on billboards, but it will do exactly what it’s designed to do – produce decent-looking images in challenging conditions for a fairly reasonable price.
Olympus Tough TG-6 review: video
The Olympus Tough TG-6 shoots 4K video at 30p and it’s absolutely fine – unexceptional, but about on par with a decent smartphone. What’s more interesting is the selection of high-frame-rate modes that have been added to this sixth iteration in the series. It can shoot at 120fps in Full HD, and if you drop the resolution to 720p or lower, you can capture video at a super-slow 480fps, which is fantastic for the kind of extreme sports shooting this camera is already well-equipped for.
Olympus Tough TG-6 review: verdict
This is the best waterproof tough compact you can buy, with all the positives and negatives that the descriptor implies. It can shoot and keep on shooting in tough conditions that would instantly murder a normal camera, and it has a number of features that other tough compacts simply don’t, like an f/2 aperture and RAW support. It also inevitably has all the pitfalls that tough compact shooters have had to get used to, namely the small sensor and the middling image quality that results from it.