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Olympus Tough Series TG-850 camera review

A waterproof, shockproof camera that's tough enough for your outdoor adventures

Olympus TG-850

The Olympus TG-850 is compact and tough, perfect for an outdoor adventure.

When I started making plans to visit the hot, dry climes of the Southwestern deserts with long-time friends, I knew this wouldn’t be the kind of trip I’d want to take my DSLR on. I planned to get dirty, gritty and even soaked if the opportunity arose, so I needed a compact camera that could faithfully produce high-res photos, but also take a bit of a beating.

Enter the Olympus Tough Series TG-850.

The TG-850 is waterproof down to 33 feet, shockproof when dropped from up to 7 feet, and can withstand up to 220 lbs. of pressure without cracking. More importantly, since I planned to explore the dry New Mexico deserts, it’s also designed to be dustproof. Internally, the camera sports a 16-megapixel sensor, so I knew I would be able to capture all of the color and majesty of the gorgeous Southwestern landscape.

Jet contrail over a mountain in New Mexico

A lonely mountain in northern New Mexico.

The TG-850 is loaded with features that came in handy during my trip.

Resists water, and other liquids

The Rio Grande grows very wide as it nears the Gulf of Mexico, forming a broad border between the United States and Mexico. It begins as a stream in the mountains of southern Colorado, which winds down into northern New Mexico. My friends and I planned to test the camera’s waterproof features on a visit to the Valles Caldera National Preserve, but the TG-850 received an inadvertent baptism a few days early.

At a backyard BBQ in Albuquerque, I snapped a few portraits of other attendees and then left my camera on a plastic table next to a snack tray while I went to get a freshly-grilled bratwurst. When I came back, a friend was frantically mopping up his spilled beverage, apologizing profusely. Imagine the look on his face when I laughed, picked up the TG-850, and proclaimed it “a bit sticky, but still functional.” I even snapped another photo with it before cleaning it off, to ease his mind.

Pink flowers growing by the Rio Grande

I ventured to the middle of the Rio Grande to photograph this brilliant pink flower. I fell in the water, but the camera trooped on.

We did get a chance to try the camera in the Rio Grande a couple of days later. I got great shots of an impromptu water-fight from close-up, and wasn’t afraid to get right down at eye-level with the rippling stream. When I slipped on the mossy rocks and went down hard, my sunglasses (broken) and my backside (bruised) suffered damage, but the TG-850 still looked, and worked, just like new.

I was in a relatively shallow part of the river when I fell, but the optional Olympus float strap can be a life saver if you drop the camera in the middle of a deep body of water.

Macro mode for the details, Panoramic for the big picture

When I’m traveling, I want one camera that can do everything. The TG-850 has several built-in shooting modes, easily accessed via the camera’s 3" viewscreen, that make it flexible enough for an outdoor adventure.

Train depot in Santa Fe

Train depot in Santa Fe

I knew I wanted to be able to capture the expansive vistas of the mountainous terrain around me, and I was able to accomplish that goal with the camera’s stunning panorama mode. I just pushed the button once to start the process, then swept the camera along the horizon line; pushing the same button a second time to signal that I was done. The camera stitched several images together into a seamless, vibrant panoramic photo of a breathtaking sight that would elude a lesser camera.

Panoramic photo from the Olympus TG-850

This panoramic photo captured the desert vista, and a last look at my soon to be broken sunglasses.

On the other end of the spectrum, I also employed the camera’s dedicated Macro mode when I wanted to remember the brilliant colors of a flower, the intriguing texture of some tree bark near Los Alamos, or the quirky oddity of a local insect I encountered on Jemez Pueblo.

A captivating insect shot using macro mode

I photographed this hitchhiking insect using the camera's Macro mode.

I made ample use of the camera’s other scene modes as well. I used the Dramatic Tone art filter to add contrast to a photo of sky and clouds, used the Pop Art filter to photograph colorful interior scenes in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, and tried out the Grainy Film black and white filter for some artistic portraits.

Albuquerque cafe photographed with Olympus TG-850 Pop Art filter

A colorful cafe in Albuquerque took on even more life with the Pop Art filter.

Desert clouds shot with the Olympus TG-850's Dramatic Tone filter.

The camera's Dramatic Tone filter added spectacular contrast to an already striking cloud formation.

Those were my favorites on this particular trip, but the camera has 18 scene modes and 11 Magic Art effects filters to choose from, which suits all types of creative visions.

The Olympus TG-850 with tilting viewscreen turned 180 degrees.

The Olympus TG-850 with tilting viewscreen turned 180 degrees.

Tilting touchscreen offers great angles

When I wanted to get in the photo next to my friends, I was able to tilt the TG-850’s viewscreen 180 degrees upward, so it was pointing the same direction as the camera’s lens. That way, I could tell when everyone was in the frame. Then it was just a matter of using the camera’s self-timer to give me enough time to get into the picture before the shutter snapped. First, I tried 12 seconds, which was entirely too long. The camera’s other option of 2 seconds didn’t sound long, but it was plenty.

Tough enough

It was actually during an attempted selfie that I tested the camera’s shockproof chassis without actually meaning to. I placed the camera on the trunk of the car with the viewscreen tilted all the way up, and a gust of warm wind treated the screen like a sail, blowing the camera over and off the back of the car. I was concerned that the extended screen would be vulnerable, but the TG-850 still looked brand-new when I picked it up, and it functioned exactly as it should. Shockproof!

The Verdict

The Olympus Tough TG-850 turned out to be exactly what I had hoped: a compact camera that was rugged enough to survive the great outdoors, flexible enough to allow for some creativity, and most of all high-res enough to take memorable photographs of the colorful expanses of New Mexico desert. It wouldn’t be my choice for a fashion shoot or a serious portrait session, but it was an excellent vacation camera.

Panoramic photograph of Valles Caldera in New Mexico

New Mexico's Valles Caldera looks like a grassy meadow now, but it was a raging volcano in prehistoric times.

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