When I first received the camera I decided to completely disregard the Instruction Manual and refrain from checking out the website and just play around a bit. I wanted to get my own impression of how great or lousy the camera was without the influence of the website’s marketing. To be completely candid, I wasn’t really too excited over doing a camera review. I mean, how exciting is it to compare compact digital camera’s? They are all pretty much the same. I pictured myself checking out the ISO settings, picture quality, zoom feature, maybe even get into the quality of the camera strap. Not too exciting, right? Well, think again.
Earning it’s Label
The Olympus Stylus Tough-6000 has several features that set it apart immediately from other cameras that I’ve owned or used before. Besides the non-traditional color of yellow (which looks more green to me) – the words shockproof and waterproof on the front of the camera caught my attention. (It also comes in blue, orange or silver). Being this was a loaner camera, a sly grin came to my face. Shockproof up to 5 feet, huh? We’ll see about that. After enjoying a few drops myself (which I found it amazingly difficult to let an expensive gadget slip out of my hands) I shared this joy with my wife. It brought a smile to her face as well to toss the camera onto the ground and after inspecting the camera, we were both impressed too find that it still powered up and operated fine. Oh, I can’t forget to mention the very cool stainless steel lens cover that slides up when you turn the camera to off.
The other part of it’s tough label is that it happens to be waterproof. I also looked forward to sticking this camera down into some water and capturing some images that I’ve only been able to do in the past with a disposable waterproof camera that costs about $30 and uses traditional film. The camera lived up to this feature as well and captured some terrific underwater photos that, not surprisingly, come out much better than the disposables we’ve used in past. More on this later…
Before I get back to the fun features that really set this camera apart, let me go over some of the basic settings you would want from any camera. The features I’m most interested in, as an amateur photographer, are picture quality, flash, zoom, screen size, shutter quickness and battery. I realize there are a ton of other features, but when it really comes down to it, these are the must-have’s that need to work well.
1. Picture Quality The pictures have amazing definition, using 10 megapixels. After shooting a few pics and uploading them on my Mac, I noticed these were as impressive as any DSLR camera pictures I’ve seen. The colors were vibrant, and the images were very detailed. I could zoom in significantly and appreciate the amazing detail provided by a full 10 megapixels. This, I must say, was the turning point for me and the camera. At this point, I compared the picture quality of these new photos to my older compact Canon, and it suddenly felt broken, or at least inadequate. I had been planning on upgrading my camera in the near feature and was fully expecting to go to one of the larger DSLR camera’s but the Olympus Tough was beginning to change my mind.
2. Flash The quality of the flash, or rather more importantly, how the camera does in low-light, is very important to me as well. The Tough 6000 has a built in flash which does limit it compared to the larger DSLR’s that can handle a $200 external flash, but it did quite well in low light. I have to be honest, I do need to play around a bit more. I tried many different combinations, using the flash settings, different scenes, no-flash, and some of them came out grainy, but some of them came out extremely clear. I simply need to remember what specific combination to use the next time I’m to capture a moment in low-light.
3. Zoom There are two ways to compare the zoom. Again, I was considering going to a larger DSLR camera, in which you can add on expensive lenses allowing you to zoom in and capture someone’s nose hairs sitting on the other side of a stadium. So in that example, no compact camera would compare. Nor are they even in the same price range. But as far as comparing it to similar compact camera’s, it has an pretty impressive 3.6x optical zoom, for not having any external lens. Most camera’s that have any sort of zoom over 2x have some sort of lens that protrudes out of the camera, but the Stylus Tough stays slim and sleek.
4. Screen Size The Tough’s screen was quite interesting to me. While looking at the large 2.7 inch LCD screen when shooting a picture, it looked very clear to me. Once I snapped a photo and saw the image I just took that displays for a few seconds, it looked slightly less detailed. When I took my first few pictures I thought they weren’t coming out so great, but once I got them on the computer and viewed them full sized, I realized they look great. I’m being very picky here, but did want you to be aware of that. Other family members I showed this difference to, didn’t seem to think it was that bad. When viewing pictures I took in playback mode, you are able to zoom in on the pictures, and that certainly showed how terrific the definition was. It’s just good to know that the quick review of the image you just shot is going to be even more impressive on your computer screen or prints.
5. Shutter Quickness There is nothing worse than trying to capture a quick picture of your kids doing something cute and you end up getting the back of their heads as they run by or some other awkward pose just after the moment you really wanted. How quickly the camera can take a shot is very important to me. The auto focus feature has a big impact on the shutter quickness. Most cameras now allow you to hold down the shutter button halfway to focus and the then you press it fully down to capture the image. The quickness of the focus (or lack of) plays a big part in your ability to capture the right moment. I shot several images without using the halfway focus feature to see how quickly the camera could focus and take a shot – in case I wanted something quick. The camera did it’s part quite well. I would guess it was about a quarter of a second to focus and get the shot – where as my older Canon seems to be around a full second. And obviously, if you do hold down the shutter button halfway to pre-focus, your shot is instant once you push down the shutter button fully.
6. Battery The Tough uses a Li-ion Rechargeable Battery. Now rechargeable batteries can be either good or bad. I love not going through countless AA’s, but if the battery doesn’t last very long, you are outta luck unless you want to purchase a second rechargeable to have on hand. So how does the Tough fair? Well, I used the camera very extensively one day on our trip to the Adirondacks (which btw, seemed like the perfect environment to test it out), taking about 200 pictures one day alone, and the camera was nearly full at the end of the day. The camera is a beast. I would recommend charging before each day just to play it safe, but I have no doubt it will last for a full day’s use when it’s fully charged.
The Highlight Reel.
Okay, there are actually a ton of other very cool features that most other cameras don’t have, so I’ll try to run through those quickly.
Panorama The Tough has a very cool and easy feature to create Panoramics. The Panoramics are stitched together right in the picture with the help of a little dot. My camera does that now, you’re thinking, but not like the Tough. Simply take your first picture and then move your camera angle to the left or the right and you’ll notice a little box on the screen as well as a dot. Once you put the dot in the box (which lines up your next shot) the camera automatically takes the next picture. You repeat this step a second time and then the three pictures get stitched together with some cool animation and voila – a perfect panorama picture.
The Menu Normally I wouldn’t even pay attention to the camera’s menu system. Most of them are pretty basic and a little annoying, but Olympus did a wonderful job creating the menus for the Tough. It was honestly a joy to use. Very clear and easy, and great graphics.
Scenes If you are not up on all the settings like ISO, WB, ESP, etc. (like me), then you can easily choose one of the many built in scene settings, like Candle, Sport, Nighttime, Beach & Snow, Sunset, Underwater, Self Portrait, as well as several other useful scenes. I played around with a few, including Beach & Snow when my kids were building sandcastles and I certainly wouldn’t have changed a thing. The detail and colors came out great. If you want to master the settings on your own, they are certainly there and easy to modify, but this camera allows you to shoot like a pro without having to know all the settings.
Tap Control Alright – now we are going from cool – to very cool. This camera has something totally unique that comes in very handy for outdoor adventures. If you are an avid skier or into hiking, you would appreciate this. You can actually tap the sides, top and back of the camera to change the settings. That’s right, give the right side a tap to toggle through the flash settings, or tap the left to choose a macro mode. Or tap the back and put the camera in playback mode and then tap left and right to scan through your images you just took. Image how useful this is if you’re out skiing and wearing gloves and want to turn the flash on!
Video I haven’t played around with this feature enough yet to give a good review, but I did try a few. The videos I took came out very clear and vibrant (in good lighting) and showed little lag or delay, that you often get with video from a compact camera. It obviously won’t compare with a high quality video camera, but if you don’t feel like lugging around another device, you can certainly take home some great videos that are worth sharing.
On Screen Display Two other features I’ve never seen on a camera that the Tough sports are the Grid and Histogram. The grid allows you to easily use the rule of thirds and the histogram allows you to quickly adjust your picture so that it won’t come out too white or black and review the luminance distribution. If you know what that means, you’ll appreciate the feature.
Beauty This is another one of those features you never see in a camera, but it’s quite handy. Take a closeup image of someone’s face and the camera will actually chug away for about 10 seconds and remove any blemishes. It works very well.
Sequential Shooting The camera allows you to shoot pictures continuously at a high speed. This is handy for so many reasons, especially for moments when the subject is moving and you want to make sure you get the best shot.
And Much Much More There are still a ton of great features that Olympus implements very well in the Tough camera. I could make the review about four times as long, but this hopefully gives you a good idea of how awesome this camera is.
Now days, there seems to be a big trend in purchasing the larger DSLR cameras. These camera’s take terrific pictures but they come at a sacrifice. Price and size. You can easily spend $600 or more on just the camera, another $200+ for the flash, and $150+ per lens. The Tough-6000 goes for about $279. As far as size, DSLRs are obviously much larger than a compact camera, and certainly much more delicate than the Tough-6000. I would never bring a Canon 40d to the places I brought my Tough-6000. When we were at the Enchanted Forrest Water Safari (where the fun never stops) I actually threw the camera in my swim suit pocket, went down the water slide, and then pulled it out at the bottom to catch my family entering the pool at the bottom. To be honest, I wouldn’t feel comfortable even bringing an expensive DSLR into a theme park in which I’d have to leave it alone in my bag when I went on certain rides. Or the other option being that someone would have to stay back and watch it. The Tough went literally everywhere with me – even down the huge water slides.
When watching pictures at the end of our vacation, the Tough’s 10megapixel shots were just as good as the DSLR shots that two of my family members had. One sacrifice though – I didn’t have the zoom they did. I wasn’t able to shoot things super far away. But I found I really didn’t have many things that were really far away I wanted to capture. I did have a ton of incredible pictures of my kids playing in the water park and it did bring me a little joy to let the camera occasionally fall in the water while other guests cringed before realizing the camera was waterproof.
All in all – I would only recommend a DSLR if you are a professional photographer or someone who insists on capturing the majority of your (dry and safe) photos from 300 feet away. Otherwise, enjoy the benefit of having little to no fear of bringing your camera everywhere and getting incredibly great and fun looking pictures.
Oh, and one more thing. I didn’t return the loaner camera after my review. Instead I sent them the $279 and kept it.
Steve Otto is a computer programmer for Paychex, and recently completed 14 years of service in the Army Reserves, before deciding to devote more time to his family. He has been married to his beautiful bride, Amy, for almost 10 years and they have two children, Hannah (7) and Jacob (3). Steve finds time to lead a Young Adult Ministry at his church, runs a very successful Wedding Entertainment company, and also created and runs the blog Ubervice.net.