Most helpful critical review
200 of 214 people found the following review helpful
Fast And Ruggest, but very harsh Image Quality IMHO
on July 19, 2012
I am trying to find a good waterproof camera for surfing/snorkling (I live in Hawaii :-) ). I got this because the sound recording on 2 Canon powershot d20's stoped working for me. I liked just about everything (other than the speed and strap placement of the d20), but obviously there is a problem with waterproofing as the sound stopped recording correctly on both of them after a snorkling trip.
Fast forward 2 weeks and now I have the Olymus tg-820 which I decided to try over the older Nikon AW100 and the significantly more expensive Olympus TG-1. I knew that people didn't think the Video recording was great on the TG-820, and that the battery life was subpar, but it looks like the best of the three options for my budget. The summary is that there are some good things about this camera, but again I either got unlucky (again) or there is a quality issue with the CMOS sensor as the image quality leaves a lot to be desired. Most of my comparisons are going to be between the D20 and the TG-820 as I have had hands on with both of them.
1) Very fast compared to Canon Powershot D20. The biggest improvment is the between shot time which is closer to .2 seconds vs 1 second on the d20. The burst mode is much better too!
2) Strap placement is much better
3) Battery/SD card door is double lock, but easier to use than the D20 which i almost broke a fingernail trying to open.
4) Construction appears a little better than the D20 (which had a couple rough edges on some of the frame pieces.
5) Lens cover - not sure if this is a pro or con. Helps keep lens cleaner in pocket, but another mechanical part to possibly fail.
6) More easily accessable Manual control options than the D20.
7) No issues with sound recording yet, and the speaker while not great is definitly louder than than the D20 which i could barely hear.
1)***Image quality is very very . .. struggling to come up with the right word. Harsh or Violent seems to best fit. Basically there is a good bit of detail in the pictures (probably a bit more than the D20), and zoomed out the images look pretty good, but as soon as you zoom in there are terrible artifacts around all edges, blotches on solid or gradient surfaces, and a good bit of chromatic aberations, and obvious ISO noise everywhere (particularly in the dark areas). I have tried playing around with all the settings (dynamic range correction, decreasing JPEG compression, JPEG size, ISO settings, etc . .), and pretty much anything above 100 ISO or maybe 200 ISO is too noisy in my opinion and even 100 ISO has the JPEG edge artifacts. While noise inceased and detail decreased on the higher ISO on the D20, I felt like up to 1600 ISO was usable. Not so at all on the TG-820. The camera has a tendency to shot at ISO400 and use flash on every picture indoors. The D20 would usually not use flash but shoot at ISO 800 and I found the pictures to be far better. Needless to say for a camera with supposed great low light performance I was pretty disapointed. I have gone back and looked at sample images for the TG-1 and now that I know what I am looking for they look a lot less noisy (presumably due to the f2.0 lens as well requiring lower ISO settings). I tried to upload an example picture to Amazon so you could see what i am talking about, but unfortunatly Amazon smooths out pictures and reduces their quality to save space so you couldn't see the issues. Playing around with post processing by adding noise reduction in Adobe lightroom definitly helps stuff out, but you loose a lot of detail by the time you get rid of enough noise.
2) Autofocus isn't as acurate and hunts around a bit, especially in video mode.
3) No highspeed video mode. This feels like a total oversight on Olympus's part. The processor is obviously much faster than the D20, but has no 120 or 240 FPS video modes like most of the competing tough cams do.
4) Video quality isn't as good as D20 either - appears mostly related to compression artifacts and the autofocus issues
5) I am getting pretty good at the joystick buttom control, but it is definitly touchy, and I almost always make a mistake when applying the settings I want the first time.
6) Camera modes are a bit confusing and not as intuative as the D20s. Although there are more options, a lot of them don't seem very usefull (like the 4 different underwater modes - probably only Underwater Wide 1 is any use- and you still have to manually turn the flash setting off).
Overall - Promissing aside from the image quality. It honestly looks like a processing issue to me more than necessarily just the sensor or lens, but hard to tell without seeing RAW images off the camera. I am probably going to return mine as the image quality is a bit of a deal breaker for me. Not sure what I will try next?? Maybe try the TG-1 or Nikon AW100 (tempted to wait for Nikon to release a new model though). Even though I really like the speed of the TG-820 I would definitly take the Canon D20 over it (if i could get one that the mic didn't fail on me). Maybe your expirience will differ, so good luck to anyone trying this.
**** updates ****
Ok, so i think i figured out what is going on with regards to image quality. The camera is apply a high level of sharpening along with agressive jpeg compression. Doing the same action in Adobe Lightroom gives me similar results. The level looks very overdone to me and it doesn't look like there is anyway to disable it. Not zoomed in the images look fine, but zoomed in the effect is that the whole image looks harsh, and it creates what appears to be artifacts around edges (like eyes and mouths). I honestly don't notice it too much elsewhere, but on the eyes and mouth this is particularly anoying. The ISO noise isn't as bad as I thought it was initially and is decent up to ISO 800. It is really the auto sharpening and compression that is bad.
Couple other grips in additional testing:
1) Underwater modes are pretty useless. The main one that is closest to usefull forces the flash (terible thing to do in most underwater shots), and if you disable the flash it is reenabled the next power cycle. So i am just using normal program mode with underwater white balance. Color balance isn't very good though, and there is a very blue cast on just about everything. Doesn't look terrible though.
2) The focus hunting in videos is more anoying that i thought initially, and unless you are videoing a stationary subject you probably won't be happy with the focus. The 60fps video vs 24fps on the canon d20 is nice though.
3) battery is very week. Barely made it though 1 1/2 hour snorkling trip (100 pictures and 5 videos) and it was almost dead. This would be a serious limitation.
I am 95% sure this camera is going to be returned, but i will give it another week to try to find some fixes for the sharpening, and video focus.
-1 star for Image Quality issues (was -2, but now i understand what is going on better)-
-1 star for video focus issues
-1 star for poor battery life
-1 star for useless underwater modes, touchy controls, no highspeed video, etc. .
+1 star for speed (generally very fast and snappy)
+1 star for durability and battery compartment access (so far so good which is better than the canon d20s i had)