Olympus TG-810 Digital Camera: It's Tough Out There

PHOTO: The Olympus EG-810 is a 14MP compact digital camera with a 5x wide-angle 28-140mm lens.
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On the front of the Olympus TG-810 camera there is one word that stands out more boldly than the company logo: "Tough."

As pocket-size point-and-shoot digital cameras go, this one is brawny. Olympus has a full line of "Tough" cameras now, and the TG-810 is the top of the line. The company says you can drop it from a height of 6 feet or take it skin-diving to a depth of 30 feet or leave it in the snow at a temperature of 14 degrees F, or stomp on it with 220 pounds of pressure, and it will still work.

Oh, and it takes pictures too. It has resolution of 14 effective megapixels, a 5X zoom lens (28 to 140mm equivalent in 35mm photography) with a maximum aperture of f/3.9, shoots HD video, has image stabilization, 36 shooting modes, built-in GPS to tag your photos, and a 2.7-inch LCD screen.

The list price: $399.99, but as is usually the case with cameras, you can find it in camera stores or online for $300.

We got it wet, kicked it around a little bit and dropped it several times -- not pushing it to its advertised limits, but we can report that it remained in one piece, a bright image on the screen and nothing rattling around inside.

If you like sturdy, you'll like the TG-810. You'll wish other pocket-size devices (ever drop a cellphone?) had brushed metal cases instead of plastic. Just opening the hatch on the side to remove the SD card is a two-hands process; there's a snap and a rotary lock to seal the waterproof gasket. Some of the rivets on the front are as big as some of the buttons on the back. If you're swimming or wearing gloves, you don't even need the buttons; you just tap the case twice in the right place.

But that brings us back to a camera's first purpose, which is to take pictures. For all of its heft, the TG-810 is still a point-and-shoot camera, with the inherent limitations most such cameras have.

Small cameras have small light sensors -- smaller than the buttons on a desktop phone -- which means they have a tougher time gathering the necessary light for a good image. Depending on what you're shooting, you may run into the annoying problem of shutter lag. The camera may not actually take the picture for a split second after you press the shutter release -- not much, but sometimes it's the difference between a great picture of your restless toddler ... and a lousy picture of the back of her head.

At full resolution, it's also fairly slow to process pictures. Olympus says the 810 can shoot 0.6 frames per second, which means that even if you're shooting continuously, you may miss that critical instant when your toddler's big sister is handed her diploma. Other cameras (including some in the Olympus lineup) will shoot three, five or even eight frames per second.

The TG-810 will take big, beautiful pictures on a sunny day at the top of Pike's Peak -- and unlike a lot of other cameras, it will probably survive the climb. But for a picture next to the fireplace after you come back down, it may struggle.

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