A Sports Camera, Nothing More Nothing Less
Question: When is a sports camera not a sports camera?
Answer: When it’s trying to be everything at once but inevitably realizes it’s a sports camera.
I bought this camera in 2009 because I wanted to take some photos in wet conditions such as underwater and steam. If I remember correctly I bought for approx £100 from eBay and having just done a quick search I’ve learned that the price has remained in that range if not higher. There were an array of colours available at the time including Blue, Orange, White and Silver but I bought it in the colour associated with sports (since I never had obvious sports items before) – bright Yellow. The Coloured section is also shimmery metallic for those who like their aesthetics 🙂
The main selling points/spec of this camera is that it’s tough like its name and can withstand a lot of abnormal treatment:
– Shockproof up to 1.5m/5ft
– Waterproof up to 3m/10ft
– Freezeproof down to -10 degrees Celsius
– 3.6x zoom/magnification
– Large 2.7inch LCD display
– Rechargeable battery
– Can handle wide shots and stick shots together to get panoramic shots
– Can handle shaking and still make clear photos (apparently)
– Compatible with xD and micro SD memory cards
Sounds good doesn’t it? Well, at least for those of us who aren’t serious photography hobbyists or pros and who like digital point and shoot cameras. When I received the camera I did note that the metal was more solid and durable feeling than the other digital cameras I’d had and I liked that I didn’t have to put AAA or AA batteries in it. However the proof is in the pudding and I found that it was good in some ways and pretty damned difficult in others.
There’s a lot to write both good and bad so I’ll list the features and go over the plus points and the downsides.
Yes this baby is shockproof, it’s taken a few falls and bashes and looks as good as new though it was never dropped from more than 3 to 3.5ft nor onto the ground or out of its case. That said it has a couple of minor scratches on the front that look like nicks or dents but are just where the surface of the metal was scratched. Thankfully the shiny nature of the metal hides this mostly. The display screen is still very much intact and strangely enough not scratched or nicked after all this time.
This is where this camera shines, it takes its best photos amidst water. The clarity is sharpened and the colour is bright making it great for everything from nature shots in the steam or rain to frolicking in a pool. I don’t know how it does it but using this camera makes me wish all my photos were taken in an aquatic environment.
Well, unfortunately playing in the snow means relying on the lighting and as you will read later – this camera isn’t good with lighting especially low lighting so the dull White/Grey skies that usually accompanying snow don’t make for great photos, unless you’re taking part in Winter sports under the bright Sun, Blue skies and reflective slopes. The camera itself holds up fine in the cold and it may be your fingers that need warmth!
The zoom is excellent and more stable than other cameras I’ve had/tried. Usually when you zoom into objects you have to hold the camera really still or use a tripod but this one doesn’t require as much stability. That said you have to be using one of the flash options rather than no flash and it only really works that well when using the zoom rather than normally which is weird. Perhaps the photography veterans can explain why that is.
This might seem a bit dated in comparison to the 20MP norm nowadays but 10MP is still plenty big enough though depending on the conditions they often come out grainy. I also personally don’t really need larger sizes and rarely go above 5MP. I think part of that is because I’m a bit too into conservation and don’t want the total amount of space on the memory card to be reduced by bigger pictures.
The display is excellent because it’s clear, bright and large – hence perfect for sample viewing the photos you’ve taken, when dividing the screen to see multiple photos, use other features or navigate your way through the maze-like menus. As mentioned above, the screen is still intact so it’s durable too even though I don’t keep a plastic cover on it.
You have to fully charge the battery once before you start using it and that takes a good few hours. The battery is charged outside of the camera which its own charger and plug, and is simply pushed into the charger where it sits securely. There is a Yellow light that remains on whilst it is charging which then turns Green upon completion. To insert/remove the battery from the camera you have to use a slide lock which is a little stiff and tricky for bigger fingers – thankfully I use my fingernails. I’ve only used the one battery in the years that I’ve had this so it has a long life span and also lasts a long time in everyday use, additionally it doesn’t noticeably lose its charge when resting. It now takes 1 hour to fully charge.
Ok, now we’ve ascertained that the camera is basically sound, strong and functions well with water let’s move on.
Firstly, this is not the most user friendly camera. It has a lot of functions and settings and to navigate through those and get everything the way you like it can take some time, let alone changing those settings to accommodate changing environments. If you have any preferred settings I’d suggest to write them down because if you change them it might take a while to figure them out again.
It looks simple enough at the back of the camera with the Width and Zoom functions on top, follow by the ‘programs’ wheel (Automatic, Personalized, ‘SCN’, ‘Beauty’, Movie and Playback modes – more on those later), a Menu button, Playback button, directional buttons which double up as settings and the OK/Set function, a Display on/off button and a Delete/trash button. Ok that might not sound so simple…. so this is one where I do suggest to read or at least leaf through the manual first for all you dabblers out there who like to experiment first, you know who you are :p When you turn the camera on for the first time it’ll ask for the date/time to be set and reminds you check the usb and battery sections for foreign objects before using in water. After that and on subsequent uses you’ll be shown the Olympus logo screen and then the view finder with the program mode it’s in, the individual settings and the amount of photos you have left. The battery icon shows up as well and then disappears until it’s running out.
When you use the Menu button you will be shown the main menu which includes Image Quality, Image Settings, camera Setup, Silent Mode, SCN (other features), Panorama and Reset. The annoying this about this menu is that when you are in one of the sub-menus and press OK/set on any of the options the screen usually goes to the view finder instead of back to the main menu so you have to start from the beginning again. One of the menu features and a feature I’ve only seen on this camera is ‘Tap Control’ where you can physically tap the camera to give it instructions based on a code. Tap Control is more annoying than anything else and slows down the whole process of taking photos and it pops up on the screen usually at the most inconvenient times – I leave that function off.
This camera has so many options for lighting that I thought I’d hit pot luck since lighting is my major issue with photography. It has settings for Sunny weather, Cloudiness, Incandescent and Fluorescent lights as well as an Automatic option. You can choose between ‘Fine’ and ‘Normal’ images, it has an ISO choice of 50 to 1600 and it has a great exposure feature where you can add or reduce exposure as you need it depending on how bright or dark your environment is. HOWEVER, it can’t for the life of it take good pics in low lighting or indoors.
“You want to use me indoors you say? I-n-d-o-o-r-s-? You expect me to work in anything but pure, organic sunlight with no artificial colourings? I’m a sports camera dahhhling. I pooh pooh any of your boring, day to day situations and expectations that are less than extreme.” After which is snubs you by meaning every hypothetical word, no matter how much it pretends to cater for anything and everything.
I’ve tried this camera in Grey/low White weather outdoors and the pictures come out flat and dull. I’ve tried it when it’s middling to bright and the pictures come out extremely dark and no I wasn’t putting the subject in front of the light source. I’ve tried it indoors with regular lighting, fluorescent, LED, super bright model lighting – White light, Yellow light, Blue light, added reflective surfaces, shining light directly onto the subject and it doesn’t matter – unless there is natural daylight of a fairly high brightness available then forget it.
Oh really? As aforementioned the picture clarity is good with water and relatively good when using the zoom but under normal conditions to put it bluntly it’s crap. More often than not the pictures come out blurry regardless of picture size or quality setting or flash type. Speaking of which you can choose between Auto flash, Redeye (reduction), Fill In which is a double flash and No Flash though good luck to you if plan to use No Flash (which I prefer because it’s truest to life) in anything but outdoors sunlight and condolences to those who attempt to find which flash matches which lighting settings the best indoors and the amount of test shots you’ll have to delete later. Any combination of settings you choose won’t change the fact that it’s very hard to find a decent place in any normal non-studio room to take good photos with this camera (a camera that insinuates that it can adjust to any location) and by ‘good’ I mean nice, somewhat flattering candids or posed shots let alone glamorous shots which would be too difficult and by the time you found a physical place with complimentary conditions you’d be feeling less than glamorous. Plus at least half of your shots would be semi to very blurry and would need sharpening later.
Overall this camera is a bit slow – even if you’re just pointing and shooting on automatic it can freeze when you press the ‘shoot’ button because it seemingly can confuse itself finding the faces or subjects and a grid will pop up over the viewfinder. You may have to move slightly and press the shoot button a few times before you can actually take the shot.
It takes a bit longer than other cameras I’ve had to flick between screens – whether it’s the startup screen or switching between shooting and playback or between features on the ‘programs’ wheel.
It has options to take a single shot, sequential (where you take photos continuously rather than pause) or hi-speed shots (good for taking pics without the flash and if you don’t have a tripod) but I’d personally prefer being able to choose between shutter speeds directly rather than taking lots of extra photos and choosing the best ones.
One thing I do like is that the self-timer mode gives you 12 seconds before taking the photo. I’d prefer it if I could adjust the amount but 12 seconds is a decent length.
Now here’s a list of programs that makes this camera unique (or at least did back in the day) – whether it matters or not is up to you though.
To get to the SCN features you simply turn the ‘programs’ wheel on the back of the camera and you will be shown a number of presets for almost any situation/location you could want, within reason. Once you’ve chosen that option on the wheel you can also access it via the main Menu. The presets are as follows: Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene, Night + Portrait, Sport, Indoor, Candle (candle light), Self Portrait, Sunset, Fireworks, Cuisine (for all the foodie picture lovers out there), Documents, Beach & Snow, Smile Shot, Underwater Snapshot, Underwater Wide 1, Underwater Wide 2, Underwater Macro, Pre-Capture Movie and Snow. Got the wow factor eh?
When you go through the list of presets by moving up or down, if you hover over a preset it will describe how that particular preset is best for the conditions stated and sometimes explain what type of settings it will use to take the pictures. Better said than done. I personally find that the Underwater options, excluding the wide ones which require extra housing for the camera, and the Documents option work best most of the time whereas the others are better personalized per occasion.
Who wants to be the next top model? Unfortunately using this camera is not likely to get your portfolio any brownie points. The Beauty program can be chosen from the ‘programs’ wheel and once chosen you be shown a beautiful (pun) logo screen and then back to the viewfinder from which you can just point and shoot. Now I know everybodys vision of beauty is different and I can understand that the designers of this function probably wanted to go with the most commonly used ‘best’ settings for candid shots in which people either look photogenic or attractive. However this just seems like a pointless option because what it basically does is take large photos and smooths the definition by increasing the contrast (increasing the light and dark) i.e. reduces the appearance of lines and shading making your skin or clothes look like blocs of colour rather than realistic textures. The photos come out extra candid rather than impromptu candids. It’s nice if you don’t want lines/wrinkles and discolorations/blemishes to show but it sacrifices too much picture quality in my opinion and makes the picture more 2D, especially when taken indoors and/or artificial light. In those conditions you’d be better off using the Auto option on the ‘programs’ wheel (I specified the ‘programs wheel’ because you can also choose ‘auto’ for all of the individual settings under the Personalized program).
The movie program on this isn’t that great and so I don’t use it. It can go up to 640×480 in definition but you’ll find most cameras and phones can do that and you can have up to 30 frames per second. As with most cameras/video cameras you’ll need a lot of memory to take videos so it’s best to have an extra memory card or two handy if recording. You can choose lighting presets and between flash modes in this program.
In the playback program you can view and edit the photos and view the videos. You can view your photos separately, up to 25 thumbnails on the screen, in a slideshow or by calendar date. There is the usual delete option along with the ability to set the print order, crop, resize, add a date/time stamp and adjust the colours (B/W, Sepia). Additionally you can edit them using the ‘Perfect Fix’ and the ‘Beauty Fix’; the first allowing you to rectify shadow and redeye and the latter being able to clear skin, create a sparkle on the eyes or dramatic eyes.
Olympus Master 2 software came with the camera bundle and I haven’t thoroughly used it but from what I remember it has basic image editing, internet uploading and is pretty much best for sticking images together taken with the Panoramic feature. Note – you can create panoramic pictures directly on the camera and using the software on a computer.
The Olympus Tough 6000 had the potential to be an amazing versatile camera, an all round photo whiz machine but design and practice are two different things. If you want a solid, reliable, slimfit camera for watersports/hobbies then go for it but if you want an all round, easy to use everyday camera with sporting ability then it’s probably best to look elsewhere. It makes me sad to write that (even after writing everything above) because this model can probably last for many years without getting weaker physically or functionally and it comes from a very reputable brand but sadly it will not deliver the kind of shots that are demanded by the increasing amount of casual and hobbyist photographers taking hundreds if not thousands of photos of their everyday lives and special occasions be it for personal collections or social networking. We look to the media and see gorgeous imagery produced from sought after ‘ideal’ locations, technical equipment and digital image enhancement coupled with stylists or keen skill for hair, fashion, make up and choreography and then hope to reproduce something akin to those images ourselves. Hence our expectations are pushed higher and technology is designed with that in mind but some items are really meant as specialized rather than multi-focus pieces and this camera is a sports (water) camera, nothing more nothing less.
Advantages: Excellent in water based conditions, good zoom, long battery life and quick charge.
Disadvantages: Tries too hard to be multi-function, difficult to navigate.
Summary: A shockproof, waterproof, freezeproof camera that also wants be Da Vinci.