Gear

Hands-on With The Olympus Stylus Tough TG-Tracker

The new Olympus Stylus Tough TG-Tracker is a pint-sized beast.

This camera doesn’t feel like the monster that it is, fitting into the palm of your hand or your pocket with ease. Instead of aping the same design that GoPro has been pushing for years, Olympus have made the Stylus Tough TG-Tracker visually and aesthetically distinctive. Instead of a tiny plastic cube, it looks instead like a shrunken 1990s camcorder, complete with flip-out screen. Its Kermit-esque green finish gives it a resemblance to a space-age weapon, a look which is only enhanced by the pistol-like grip.

Stills

Still photographs are decent from a camera this size (less than 10cm long and only 5.7cm tall, weighing 180g/6.3oz including batteries). The auto white balance performs well and the dynamic range isn’t bad considering its small sensor. However, the 8MP images do come with an expected level of grain visible in photos. Your smartphone will certainly take better pictures, but it definitely won’t survive the punishment you can inflict on the Stylus Tough TG-Tracker.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Distortion

Video

The video quality, however, is impressive. The fast f/2 lens has a 204 degree perspective that is equivalent to a 13.9mm lens and the camera records 4K at 30fps or 1080p at 60fps. As expected, when shooting with a wide-angle or fisheye lens the image becomes extremely distorted around the edges. This is especially noticeable when the subject is closer to the camera. While GoPro’s app allows you to correct this warping, as of yet, Olympus hasn’t provided users with any program to correct the distortion.

The camera shoots NTSC, menaing your only option is 30fps or 60fps (no 24 or 25fps availability). Due to this, we experienced flickering when shooting indoors.

Nestled into the handle is a front-facing mirror that is designed to help you film yourself, as the LCD screen doesn’t rotate. The problem is, the mirror isn’t very accurate. In our hands-on tests we found that while the mirror seemed to indicate we were in the middle of the frame, we were more often tilting the camera too far upwards, capturing more of the sky and less of the action.

That red pole in reality was completely straight.

Audio

One of the key differences between this camera and a GoPro is that it doesn’t require a housing to make it waterproof. This means you don’t have anything interfering with the audio, which is crisp and quite possibly better than a GoPro even without a casing. Once you’ve extracted the camera from water it takes about 10 seconds for it to drain from the mic.

While the audio is still usable during that 10 seconds, you lose treble and the sound is slightly muffled. The one thing we noticed when looking back over the footage is that it’s very easy to cover the mic depending on how you hold the camera. To stop this from happening it’s best to use the grip when you’re intending to record sound.

Battery

The battery life was impressive—we were recording on and off for the entire afternoon and by the time we were finished the display still indicated that we had two out of three bars remaining. It isn’t a memory hog either. For every 10 seconds of FullHD video footage takes up around 40-50MB and every 10 seconds of 4K equals around 100MB. By the end of our shoot we still had a comfortable 23GB of space remaining on our 32GB card. However, you will need a microSD card that supports 4K recording such as the SanDisk Ultra 80MB/s UHS-I micro SDHC.

Light

The LED light mounted above the lens is incredibly bright, and can be used effectively as a flashlight. At the lower setting of 20 lumens, the battery will power it for 29 minutes at a time. At 60 lumens it’s almost blindingly bright, although it will only last for 60 seconds in that mode. The lamp will probably be most effective underwater or in dark caves, but it handily eliminates the need for an extra light source in those scenarios.

Durability

Olympus say that the Stylus Tough TG-Tracker will continue to function in temperatures as low as -10C (+14F) and can withstand crushing forces of 100kgf (220lbf). It should also survive 2.1 metre (7 feet) falls with ease, thanks to shock proofing. The only concern I’d have is the screen being scratched if it was dropped (or thrown) onto a rough surface.

Once you connect your camera to your phone or tablet using WiFi, you can see GPS, the time elapsed and elevation data. The camera also takes barometer, thermometer and accelerometer readings (try saying that quickly three times) which you view through the app. The camera will continue to operate at 30 metres (100 feet) underwater and below 0.5 of a metre in water it will automatically switch to underwater mode, adjusting the white balance without you having to press any buttons.

Lok dropping the camera after it got wet.

Downsides

The only downsides we noted were that, because of the size, the menu buttons are fiddly, as is the menu. While this is not uncommon in action cameras, finding how to turn the light on and off along with playback of footage you just shot can initially be confusing. Another issue is that because the front lens cover comes off, the front element gets exposed to conditions outside. When we took it out for the day, it got dusty very quickly and had to be cleaned.

If you’re after a waterproof camera that can take DSLR-like photos, then the Stylus Tough TG-Tracker is not for you. In video mode, the camera limits global users by only being able to shoot in NTSC and the wide-angle lens creates a lot of distortion which will turn some users away.

Conclusion

The main reason we can’t see this camera being as popular as a GoPro is because it’s a little too niche. Compared to other action cameras it’s a bit bulky, and you can’t choose between wide-angle and medium points of view, since this model leaves you stuck with a fixed fisheye lens. Perhaps subsequent models will introduce other lenses, but for now, the distortion means videographers need to know exactly what they are using this camera for and be prepared to deal with warped footage.

The timing could be just right, too. There are lots of GoPro clones on the market, but Olympus have thought outside of the proverbial box and gone with a refreshing new design and packed this camera full of features. Still, while GoPro may be struggling, they are still far too much of a Goliath for this David to take on head-to-head. Olympus smartly have recognised this, and will be hoping that the Stylus Tough TG-Tracker can establish a loyal group of admirers.

The camera comes in either a bright kermit like green or black and it will be available in June for US$349.99.

Action camera durability test