Olympus Stylus Tough TG-870: Made for the Water

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Tough is the perfect name for this rugged 16-megapixel camera. Not only is the Olympus Stylus Tough TG-870 ($279) waterproof to 50 feet underwater, itꞌs dustproof, shockproof and crushproof, and can operate in temperatures as cold as 14 degrees Fahrenheit. You donꞌt have to be especially adventurous to benefit from TG-870ꞌs rugged features, since itꞌs also ideal for lazy days at the beach or pool.


Donꞌt let its small size fool you. The pocket- and purse-friendly TG-870, which measures 4.4 x 2.5 x 1.1 inches and weighs 7.8 ounces, is sturdily built. You can take it down to depths of 50 feet, and if you accidentally drop it from a height of 7 feet or less, there should be no ill effects. Itꞌs also crushproof to 220 pounds. Sealed against the elements, the TG-870 requires more care than other cameras to make sure that the O-ring seals are kept clean and in good shape, but itꞌs worth the effort.

The TG-870ꞌs external controls are a little on the small side and might be difficult to use when youꞌre wearing heavy gloves, but are otherwise easy to operate.

Unlike most rugged/underwater cameras, the TG-870 has a flip-up, high-resolution LCD. Not only is it perfect for selfies and group shots, but angling the display allows you to capture images that might be difficult to shoot.

This cameraꞌs 21mm-105mm (equivalent) zoom lens is well suited for both underwater and land photography. Its 21mm wide-angle view is especially important underwater, since you need to get close to your subjects (minimizing the amount of water between the lens and subject) to get the best pictures. The lens is a little slow, though, at f/3.5-5.7, so the camera works best under bright conditions.

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Point-and-shoot simple modes — like Intelligent Auto, Program Auto and 19 scene modes —allow you to concentrate on your adventures and having fun without worrying about camera settings.

f/5.2 1/500 sec, ISO 125 Credit: Theano Nikitas

(Image credit: f/5.2 1/500 sec, ISO 125 Credit: Theano Nikitas)

But there are plenty of options if you want to venture into more creative ones. In addition to Super Macro mode, the TG-870 offers a set of Olympusꞌ signature Art Filters. These range from the black-and-white Grainy Film and Dramatic Tone — two of my favorites (shown below) — to the colorful Pop Art and soft watercolor, to name just a few.

f/6.3 1/500 sec, ISO 125 Credit: Theano Nikitas

(Image credit: f/6.3 1/500 sec, ISO 125 Credit: Theano Nikitas)

In addition to standard movie options, you can shoot slow motion and time-lapse. Itꞌs also easy to quickly create panoramas in-camera, like this beach scene.

f/6.0 1/640 sec, ISO 125 Credit: Theano Nikitas

(Image credit: f/6.0 1/640 sec, ISO 125 Credit: Theano Nikitas)

Wi-Fi, GPS and the free Olympus Image Share app — available for iOS and Android — allow you to transfer images to mobile devices, geotag and edit photos and shoot remotely.


For standard shots, the TG-870ꞌs performance is about average. Its autofocus is responsive in good light but the default continuous shooting speed is a relatively sluggish 2.5fps. You can step it up to 7fps or, if you donꞌt mind 3-megapixel files and fixed focus, the camera can zip away at up to 60fps.

P1010007 f/3.9 1/125 sec, ISO 125 Credit: Theano Nikitas

(Image credit: P1010007 f/3.9 1/125 sec, ISO 125 Credit: Theano Nikitas)

At default settings, the TG-870 produces realistic colors that are pleasing but not overly vivid, as shown in this cute garden tableau. Auto white balance worked well even in the shaded areas of the scene.

f/3.5 1/1000 sec, ISO 125 Credit: Theano Nikitas

(Image credit: f/3.5 1/1000 sec, ISO 125 Credit: Theano Nikitas)

Although it was a little too cold to take the TG-870 underwater, I dunked the camera in a pool to grab a couple of shots. Again, auto white balance worked well, and because the camera was positioned close to the surface on a sunny day, there was plenty of light to quickly lock focus.

f/3.5 1/800 sec, ISO 125 Credit: Theano Nikitas

(Image credit: f/3.5 1/800 sec, ISO 125 Credit: Theano Nikitas)

The lens delivers generally sharp images, just be sure you donꞌt leave smudges on the lens when you grab the camera. I was disappointed, though, in the soft corners of the lens, particularly at 21mm. Check out the left side of this image and youꞌll see what I mean in the trees at the farthest edge.

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Video options on the TG-870 include full HD (1920 x 1080), HD (1080 x 720) and 640 x 480, as well as a couple of high-speed/slow motion options. The camera uses a combination of lens shift and digital image stabilization (still images use lens shift only) but I found that itꞌs best to use a solid surface — at least on land — to get the best results.

For fun, I shot this beach scene using the Dramatic Tone filter in full HD. For the second, much less creative video, I sat the camera on a railing, pressed the movie button and let it sit out in the rain for a while, making sure that I dried the camera fully before opening the SD card compartment to remove the card. The camera did a good job of capturing the sound of raindrops hitting the wood rail.

Battery Life

The TG-870ꞌs battery life is slightly above average at 300 shots or 90 minutes for video. However, if youꞌre shooting in cold weather, those figures will likely drop.

Bottom Line

The rugged Olympus Stylus Tough TG-870 will go places where other cameras canꞌt (or shouldnꞌt) go for fear of wreaking havoc on delicate electronics. As such, itꞌs a great camera for your outdoor adventures. And, itꞌs childproof, too. Youꞌll get the best performance under bright conditions but, if you want a little more flexibility, check out the $300 Olympus Stylus Tough TG-4. It has a more limited zoom lens, but can better capture images in low light, and it shoots RAW, too. But if you want an inexpensive camera for a day at the beach and in the water, the TG-870 is a good bet.

Theano Nikitas is a freelance journalist and photographer. She's been writing about photography for more than 20 years, contributing countless reviews of cameras, lenses, accessories and software packages to Tom's Guide. Her work has also appeared in dozens of other magazines and websites, including CNET, DPreview, PopPhoto, Professional Photographer and Shutterbug.