Camera Review: Olympus TG-6 for the Archaeologist

Front view of the TG-6. Photo: Carl Feagans

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Back in 2018, I reviewed the Olympus TG-870, which I found to be a near perfect field camera for the field archaeologist. This review is of the newer Olympus TG-6 and it has some really cool features for archaeology.

When it comes to doing archaeological field work, there are some basic equipment choices that you simply cannot do without. Whether you’re shovel testing on transects or just doing pedestrian survey, you’ll need at minimum: a compass, something to record data on (whether that be paper or electronic), and something to take photos with.

And then you need other stuff like maps, screens, shovels, trowels, scales/north arrows, sharpies, artifact bags, water, bug spray, boots, appropriate clothing, a good backpack for it all, etc.

When it comes to camera choices, I know archaeologists that rely on their phones, and let’s face it, today’s mobile phones are miniature computers with cameras that we put in our pockets. But if you’re like me, you might like the versatility and performance you can get from a device built just for photography.

The Olympus Tough series beat nearly every other pocket camera I looked at when I started looking for a replacement to the field cameras we had a few years ago. We had a variety of different makes: Sony, Panasonic, and at least one other, but they all suffered from some common flaws. They were fragile; had exterior moving parts at their lenses and lens covers, fogged up in humid environments, and so on.

Why Choose the Olympus Tough?

The Olympus Tough series boasts “freeze-proof, crush-proof, water-proof, and shock-proof” in the ads. And the TG-870 lived up to the claim. We bought two of these little 16 megapixel cameras and they are still going strong. No external moving parts on the lenses that zoom in/out or shut/close to get jammed by dust. They take a beating. And photos are remarkable.

This year we decided to get two more. But much to my dismay, the TG-870 was no longer available. So we decided to get two of the newest models of the Tough series, the TG-6

The Downside of Change

TG-870 & TG-6
The TG-870 (left) and the TG-6 (right).
Photo: Carl Feagans

The TG-6 doesn’t have the 180 degree flip LCD monitor that the TG-870 did. And that is, perhaps, my biggest complaint. I like to shoot objects, artifacts, and features from a low angle and being able to flip the monitor 90 degrees was very much an advantage. Also, the TG-6 is a bit larger than the TG-870. Both are 4.4 inches from left to right. But the TG-6 is lightly taller and slightly wider. We’re only talking tenths of an inch both ways, but it is definitely noticeable. And, while the TG-6 still fits in the zippered pouch on my pack, it’s noticeably more snug. The TG-870 was also just under a half-pound in weight, while the newer TG-6 is just over a half-pound.

Another thing I found odd was that the TG-6 only has a 12 megapixel optical sensor resolution compared to the 16 megapixels of the TG-870. And the TG-6 optical zoom is only 4x versus the 5x of the TG-870.

The Cool New Additions

TG-6 Sensors
Pressing the “Info” button shows the compass and other
sensor readings. The GPS coords don’t show as I was
indoors. Photo: Carl Feagans

However, there are some interesting advantages with the TG-6, one of which I find to be a HUGE help in the field. And that is the compass. When the camera is off, you can press the “Info” button on the back, and the screen lights up with a compass that gives direction and bearing. And it seems to be quite accurate. Certainly accurate enough to not have to switch to a compass when you’re filling out the heading field on your photo log.

Also, when it comes to logging data, the TG-6 has a little lever that you can flip and it will track data with its built in sensors: GPS, thermometer, barometer, and compass. Obviously, the position information is the most valuable to the archaeologist, but I’m planning to try this logging feature out with a project that requires some significant pedestrian survey of a trail system.

Another cool feature that might interest the archaeologist is the “Microscope Mode” that the camera can do. I really liked the macro function of the TG-870, but the TG-6 really goes a step beyond.

It’s also worth mentioning that I didn’t have he option to shoot in RAW mode on the TG-870, whereas I can with the TG-6. In most situations in archaeology, this probably isn’t an issue, but there may come times when you want the best quality photo you can get and shooting in RAW mode will let you do some post-processing you can’t do with just a JPG compressed file since the data just aren’t there. This might be a situation where you’re trying to get all the details you can off of a feature like a gravestone so you can look for subtle incised lettering. Or subtle color changes in a soil profile.

An artifact in the field. From the ancient Michelob Pull Tab Culture. ISO 640,
f/4.9, 1/100. Photo: Carl Feagans

The TG-6 comes with a cable to charge the lithium-ion battery which is removable so you can buy an extra battery to have on-hand. This is a standard practice for me and has been a life-saver more than once. Though this is usually when I forgot to charge the battery since it definitely holds enough charge for a day’s worth of work. If you’re going to be recording video, however, this will change.

Speaking of video, where the TG-870 had 1080p capability, the TG-6 has 1080p along with 4K UHD, 2160p, and 2K DCI. However, recording times are limited depending on the mode. There’s a built in microphone, but if you use the zoom, you will want to do some post-editing since the sound of the zoom is quite loud.

February Creek
A nice sample photo from the TG-6. ISO 200, f/2, 1/80. Photo: Carl Feagans


I really like the Olympus Tough TG-6. I definitely miss the flip up screen of the TG-870, but I’m really liking the built-in compass and the microscope mode. If you’re an archaeologist, you need a field camera that will get the job done well, be dependable, and endure field conditions. Both cameras definitely do that and I expect we’ll be using both models for years to come. Price point for the TG-6 is about $350-400, but it’s well worth it when you factor in the durability and versatility of the product.

About Carl Feagans 396 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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