Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Replacement: One Year With The Oly TG-3

At the 2014 Gents Race, I lost the handle on my ancient Fuji point and shoot, dropped it at about 15mph on to pavement, and it lost its battery. Thus began the search for a replacement camera, (thus the title of these articles I have posted concerning this), and now it is time for a review of the past year with the Olympus Tough TG-3. My last update on this camera was here, back in September of '14.

This article won't be so much about camera geekery. That's because I don't even know how to run all the stuff on this thing.....yet. I've no need to, but since this camera can do movies, RAW, and can be run manually, I probably will delve into these things, someday. To be perfectly honest, I didn't buy this camera because it could do those things, I bought it because it has decent image quality and you were supposedly supposed to be able to treat it like a farm animal and have it survive. I didn't want a camera I had to worry about in my jersey pocket, bouncing around in my top tube bag, or be concerned about dust, snow, and rain. The price wasn't astronomical, and the physical size of the camera was right for me. So, now with that out of the way, here's how I used it most often.

The Olympus Tough TG-3 after one year of heavy use. 
I carry this camera along with me, on average, about five days a week. It goes into frame bags, messenger bags, top tube bags, my pockets in jackets and pants, and sometimes in hydration packs. I use it to take images from my bicycle, while on  bicycle rides, but standing, or just at work or for recreational activities. I almost always shoot Auto mode, but I have used the Scene modes and the Microscope Mode as well. As far as imagery, I have been pleased and it is easy to turn on, (when you are not riding), the auto focus is maybe a bit slow, but adequate, and I have no issues at all, really, with images I get out of the camera.

As a camera to shoot with while riding, it is a bit heavy, weight-wise. The "On" button is recessed so that, while wearing gloves, it is nigh unto impossible to get the camera up and running 100% of the time. I've missed shots because of this. That "On" button is at a weird angle too, which doesn't help, but without gloves, it can be managed. One other thing to note- The rotating selector wheel on the back of the camera is easily knocked out of its selection, so when you grab the camera out of the bag, it could be set between "Auto" and "Microscope", for instance. The camera will still get your image, but it takes six or so consecutive shots at a lower resolution and file size. Annoying at best and maddening at worst. This happens ALL the time. I've gotten to looking at the dial before I shoot when there is time to. Too bad the detents weren't a little more positive on that dial which would help prevent this.

The opposing locks on the battery/SD card door and the USB port doors can become unlocked without you doing anything.
One other odd, maddening thing that happens all the time on my TG-3 is how the locked doors for the battery/SD card door and the USB/Media port door come unlocked and the doors are flopping around, open, in my bag sometimes. The camera is dust/water proof, but it isn't so much if those locks become unlocked at random times. It's weird that they do this, because they have to be slid in opposing directions on each of two sliders for each door before you can open them. I found that by avoiding having the camera sitting with its weight on either door on harder surfaces, like a top tube bag, will alleviate this issue, but having to do that is a hassle, and to my mind, contrary to the way this camera is purposed. I have some arrows on the two sliding releases on one of the doors shown above.
High wear areas concern me on the TG-3

Another concern I have is how the plastic body parts are showing high wear in corners and along edges. I have to think that at some point this will compromise the integrity of the TG-3 and adversely affect its lifespan or performance, or both. Yes- I probably could buy a protective case for this. However; I find this offensive, in that this camera is supposed to be a knock-about camera and putting something around it will only add to its bulk and weight. Both things I am loathe to do.

Finally, the LCD on the back of the camera is not anything specially rated for abuse, as far as I can tell. It has become all but useless in bright sunshine due to all the abrasions it has accumulated over the course of being along for the rides this past year. You'd think this might be someplace a wise engineer might have done something to give the TG-3 a little bit something different that would actually, you know, be tough. I guess that's too much to ask for.

Verdict: After a year of heavy use, doing what the camera was designed to do, I cannot fault the features that are related to the image taking here. However; the "Tough" part of the TG-3 is lacking, in my view. I feel that in another year, this camera will be done for, not because the feature set for image taking will have failed, but because the tough part will have failed. The doors need to be better secured, so that the locks cannot randomly come undone, allowing the elements a chance to get inside. The case needs to be beefed up in the high wear areas, like the corners and edges, right out of the box, so the body won't wear through in a short period of time. Also, there has to be a better, tougher LCD screen treatment or material that will withstand scratching and abrasive environments. Things this camera is supposed to be good at dealing with.

These cameras go for about $350.00 now, which is okay, but I would not buy this again. There has to be a better way to go, and unless Olympus addresses the concerns I have about this camera, I won't recommend it to anyone I know that actually uses cameras during adventures. Heck- one episode of those doors working themselves open and a bit of water? Poof! $350.00 down the tubes. No thanks.

I'll be starting another replacement search pronto........

1 comment:

Adam Van Dyke said...

I've been using the Ricoh GR camera, a fairly small large APS-c sensor compact with a fixed 28MM eq F2.8 lens, it might not be as tough as the olympus, though it does at least have a magnesium body, I've usually put it in a back Jersey pocket, or a camel back, though after having a some problems with condensation on the lens from a sweaty back have made sure to put it in a gallon ziplock bag when in my back pocket. The newer version just came out and it's not cheap @ $700 but the new version adds Wifi connectivity and a couple other small features a 47MM crop to go with the 35MM crop on my version and some extra effects modes and better white balance. Not enough new features for me to upgrade, but it takes great photos might not be super tough, but not delicate, and is a camera with very good ergonomics, and user friendliness, a locking mode dial, two control dials, some extra assignable function buttons all with a nice layout. Size wise it's about the size of a iPhone but of course a bit thicker, and has a decent heft to it without being heavy. Not having a zoom might be limiting, but the lens and sensor quality is very good.