Review of the Olympus TG-870 Tough 16MP Camera

I’m reviewing the Olympus TG-870 camera as an archaeologist. I’ve used it for about 2 years now as my primary camera both in the field and in the lab.

Here’s a quick description:

The TG-870 is a 16 MB digital camera that is waterproof to 15 meters (50 feet), can be dropped from a height of about 2 meters, can withstand crushing pressure of at least 220 pounds, and is freeze-proof to 14 degrees. In other words, this camera is a tough little bugger. And that’s why we have 4 in our shop.

As archaeologists, we’re literally in the field with the dirt, snow, rain, and dust. Our previous cameras had lenses that extended with automatic lens covers that opened as the camera was powered up and the lens extended. The problem with these types of cameras is that these small lenses use tiny plastic gears and lugs to control the extension and will be fouled up with a single grain of sand. Not “can be.” Will be.

The TG-870 (and subsequent models) has no extending lens. This alone makes the camera valuable to the archaeologist in the field. When you consider the other features, it becomes indispensable. I used to worry about getting my camera wet. Now I freely take photos in the rain. I don’t worry about packing it in a waterproof bag or whether dirt and dust will find their way in to the inner workings.

Other features I enjoy are the macro photo feature and the way images are numbered. Once you set the date, the numbers are restarted based on the day. So if you shoot a photo on February 3, 2018 you will have a set of photos that begin with P2030001. Also, you can see the image number on the screen if you press the display button, which is handy in the field to keep your photo log in sync.

Another useful feature is the flip-up display. This makes shooting low angle photos very simple. Just flip the display up 90 degrees and then you can look down at it before pressing the shutter button. I use the macro feature a lot when trying to capture details like maker’s marks on bottles or pottery or even the barbs of a strand of barbed wire.

Image captured by the TG-870. No post-processing.

On thing that might be perceived as a draw back for some is the inability to shoot in RAW. I shoot a lot of RAW with my personal DSLR, but not for archaeological recording. This is because I don’t need photographs that blow anyone’s mind artistically or need a ton of post-processing. In fact, if I had to post-process a bunch of RAW photos to obtain the needed JPG or PNG file for a report or site record, it would just introduce more steps in the mix and create more time lost for me.

We shoot hundreds and hundreds of photos a week sometimes. It’s all I can do to catalog and file one set of them. If I had to keep a huge RAW file as well as a 5 MB or more JPG, my my processing time doubles and my space requirement more than doubles. This camera does a really nice job of getting a decently balanced exposure and, on the occasion that I want a more from a photo that didn’t balance well, I can make a batch adjustment on an entire folder with a GIMP plugin.

GPS in the Metadata

An added bonus feature that I didn’t expect was the built in GPS. I have it turned on by default and, while in the field one day, our Trimble wasn’t performing. We collected some artifacts from a road that was being resurfaced and, since we photographed each artifact in situ, we were able to use the GPS meta data to add to our GIS layer. The accuracy wasn’t on par with the Trimble, but being within a meter was enough for our needs that day!

In short, the TG-870 is dependable. It’s rugged. It has no external moving parts like extending lenses. It’s waterproof/shockproof/freezeproof. Swapping SD cards is a snap. The battery lasts for days of shooting. The photo-naming convention is convenient and logical. The photos are extremely high quality. The autofocus is dependable. and it’s form-factor is small enough to literally drop in a pocket. You can even shoot HD quality movies with it (and I have).

The rule in our shop is never leave the office without your TG-870. If I had to choose between it and a notebook or even my phone, I’d pick this camera. I’ve recorded everything from shovel test pits to excavations; from downed trees on a road (where I depended on the GPS data) to crew photos of college student volunteers. At between $350-400, the price tag isn’t cheap, but it’s the best use of equipment money you’ll ever spend if you’re an archaeologist or heritage professional.



About Carl Feagans 375 Articles
Professional archaeologist that currently works for the United States Forest Service at the Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area in Kentucky and Tennessee. I'm also a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Army and spent another 10 years doing adventure programming with at-risk teens before earning my master's degree at the University of Texas at Arlington.

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