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Gear Review: Olympus Tough TG-310 Point-and-Shoot Camera

A shockproof, waterproof, freeze-proof camera for all your outings
olympus tough 445x260The Olympus Tough under going a freeze test.

I always carry a camera whenever I take a trip. Part of the fun of being outside is scouting out the perfect angle for a waterfall, or waiting for the ideal alpenglow as the sun sets. And some of my favorite shots have come at the expense of freezing my fingers as I snap pictures of windblown snow or a partner coming down a glacier. But being outside comes with risks like rain, snow, and rocks, all of which can be very hazardous to your camera’s health.

I need something I can take outside, strap to my hipbelt, and be able to think about taking pictures and not about whether the rain is destroying my camera. The Olympus Tough TG-310 is a compact point-and-shoot camera which easily fits into your pocket (or on a hipbelt), shoots clear pictures and high-definition (HD) video, and won’t break the bank. But what sets it apart from most other cameras is that it is ruggedized to be a perfect adventure camera.

There are no dials or moving parts on the outside to break, and the buttons on the back are encased in plastic to help keep water out. Interior rubber gaskets seal water out to a depth of 10’, which means it’s great for snorkeling, poolside, or snowshoeing. When my daughter spilled applesauce on it I just ran the camera under the faucet for a quick cleaning. I definitely would not have been as calm if she had spilled on any other camera!

Even with a wrist strap, dropping a camera on rocks or pavement can easily be the death of the delicate lenses and motors. Olympus made the TG-310 drop-proof from a height of up to 5 feet onto pavement (or granite). I didn’t like doing it, but I did drop this camera from five feet up. It landed on a corner, bounced a little, spun, and landed on its back. I was nervous that it wouldn’t turn back on, but it powered right up. Next up was a freeze test. With a lack of sub-freezing nights in Virginia, so I tossed it into my freezer overnight and checked on it the next morning. Again, I didn’t notice any ill effects from its time sitting next to my popsicles.

As a final ruggedness test I turned it on and started to record a video. Then I handed the camera to my 2 year-old daughter at the playground. As she ran, threw, dropped, and kicked the camera for about five minutes I thought that perhaps this was a bad idea since eventually she will get a hold of a non-rugged camera and give it the same treatment. When she dropped the camera for the last time and headed off for the swings I picked it up, wiped the dust and bark shavings off it, then watched the video. It was a little jerky and at times out of focus, but otherwise none the worse for wear. But what good is a tough camera if it doesn’t take good pictures?

Olympus packed in a 14 Megapixel sensor which in my decidedly non-professional tests look just as good as the pictures from my other point-and-shoot. The 3.6x zoom is a little limiting when you’re outside, but dual image stabilization and the high megapixel count means you can zoom in and crop the photos at home and still get a clear print. The 720p HD video quality is amazing, and by attaching an HDMI cable to your HD TV you can easily view your photos on a big screen.

The set of on-board features is amazing. In addition to a wide array of useful outdoors-related setting like sunset, starry night, and landscape, a panorama mode automatically stitches together three shots as you hold down the shutter, or you can use the included software to combine up to 10 pictures into a wide panorama. If you have a 3D television there is also a 3D picture option which takes two separate pictures to capture the sense of depth that is often lacking in photos.

Serious photographers will likely feel hampered by the lack of controls, but I liked the simplicity of the Intelligent Auto Mode, which identifies what is in the scene and adjusts the settings automatically. Plus, while my dSLR takes much better photos and has a far greater zoom, there’s no way I’m going to take it out in rough conditions. And it certainly won’t shoot HD videos underwater. As someone who is loves to be outside and take photographs, the Tough TG-310 is a great option so I don’t have to worry about whether my camera is going to survive the trip.

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