Hiking Cameras: Olympus TG4 vs Sony TX30 Hiking Camera vs Apple iPhone 7+

  • Updated: May 12, 2017
  • Post By: Matthew Hengst

I'm outdoors a fair amount and I really like to take pictures.  More for the joy of taking them and to help me remember better over time what I've done but nonetheless I like them to look halfway decent even when I take them in slightly challenging conditions.

I used to just grab whatever Canon Powershot was a few years old (and hence affordable) and use it until it broke (in about a year).

The result is I have a mini graveyard of point and shoot cameras that have given their life in the name of getting that one last shot of a sandstorm / snowstorm / ect.

Last picture taken by a Casio Exilim EX-Z600.  Do not use in a sandstorm

After losing one particular camera right at the start of a multi day out of state jaunt (before the days of decent cellphone cameras) I started to look for something tougher.

Sony TX30 - A solid if older choice if you can find it

My first foray into the toughened outdoor camera was a Sony TX5 which I then upgraded to a TX20 when I managed to break it after a few years followed by the even better TX30.

I loved these things and still do.  You can turn them on by just sliding down the front panel which made taking quick one handed shots a breeze.  It was small with no protrusions so I could carry it easily in a pouch.

I bought a Case Logic UP-2 camera bag and replaced the flimsy plastic ring with a  Nite Ize locking S-Biner.  I actually started with a non locking S-Biner and found that on occasion the bag would fall off my pack or belt loop and only barely avoided losing a camera.

I love this system and people were constantly amazed at just how quickly I could get the camera out and capture a shot.

The only real downside was I tended to beat the cameras up a fair bit and after 2 years or so it had a collection of dents and light scratches on the lense where sand or grit had gotten underneath it.  And sadly Sony seems to have discontinued the line so I eventually had to choose something new.

Olympus TG4 - A little better, a little worse

The Olympus TG4 is what I settled on when I found out that the TX30 had been discontinued and there were apparently no replacements on the horizon.  It had two features that were really high on my list the first being the ability to trigger a photo from a remote which would make my group summit shot taking life much better.  Second it could take photos in RAW which meant I'd have more latitude in making adjustments after the fact.  It also promised fairly decent image quality based on my usual Flickr camera research.

The thing I didn't like was the lense isn't ever covered.  It's just glass exposed even when the camera is off.  After looking around I decided to try a lense filter and bought a B+W 40.5mm Clear UV Haze filter from Amazon usable with the Olympus CLA-T01 Conversion Lense Adapter.  I was hopeful this would give me bluer skies without the rest of the image being washed out and it had the advantage of coming with a lense cover which made me feel a lot better.  I'd rather scratch a $21 filter vs the lense of the camera itself.

The results were...middling.  I did like the lense protection but putting the cap on and off was one more step each time I wanted to take a picture.  And it doesn't connect to the camera at all so I had to make sure not to lose it.  (A string connecting it to the camera body is still on my todo list.)  Also it protrudes a bit which interferes with drawing it out of my carry case.

The carry case I settled on (since the old old Case Logic carry solution couldn't handle the wider camera) was the Olympus CSCH-107 BLK Hard Case.

At first I couldn't stand it.  It was bulkier than my old solution and required constantly fiddling with the zipper pulls to get the camera in and out.  In addition it had a bad habit of popping off the lense cap when I removed the camera.  Eventually I got used to it and figured out how to use it as more of a holster.  I now carry it on a belt loop most of the time vs on my pack.

Even suitable for dress occasions

I did break the case after about 9 months which was disappointing but I blame on my general inability to live in peace with zippers.

As far as the remote functionality I made an educated guess and bought an Olympus RM-1 remote trigger with visions of never having to make a frenzied dash across a 3rd class summit block to beat a camera timer again.  And sadly found out that the remote does not work on the TG-4.  Instead you have an Olympus app on your phone which works once you connect to a wifi network put out by the camera itself.  This allows you to get a live feed from the camera and trigger pictures.

As a result you can usually see me trying to hide one hand in summit shots so I can trigger the photo.  This works ok though I'm not thrilled with needing to have my expensive phone along on trips and a remote with a physical button would be a lot easier to use.

Also the RAW mode has been less useful than I thought.  The default jpg mode actually does a pretty damn good job at making things bright and colorful so I've found myself using that to start my adjustments most of the time.  Also the camera insists on giving you a RAW and a JPG file for each picture you take in that mode which was adding an additional deletion step to my post trip workflow.  Now I usually copy the RAW files off to another folder where they sit for a few weeks in case I need them and then get deleted to save space.

And of course...the iPhone

I usually get a new iPhone every year and the photos taken by the 7+ are to the point where I often just end up using that instead of the TG4.  The biggest negative for me is the lack of a convenient case that also offers sufficient protection while allowing me to take a picture quickly.

I have an idea for a cross body case with a flap over the screen but I haven't found anything close to that.  So for now I carry it around somewhat awkwardly in a zip chest pocket.

The thing I really like about the iPhone vs any of the point and shoot cameras is it's just more fun to use.  The screen gives you a great representation of how the picture will come out vs the small dark screen on the TX opr TG4.

The water resistant rating on the phone is a plus though I'd be happier if it was full on waterproof.  A downsize of the haptic home button however is that it can't be pressed if it's say wrapped in a ziplock or if you're wearing gloves.  Oddly this is the case even though you can use the screen through the bag.

Conclusion (For Now) 

For now I've stuck with the TG4 supplemented with the iPhone 7+.  As I mentioned above I actually enjoy taking pictures more with the iPhone but there's no easy carry solution and it's difficult to take a picture quickly.

The point and shoot market appears to be in a steep decline due to people using their cell phones more and more and I can see that on the trips I lead.  It's getting harder to justify several hundred dollars for a stand alone camera when you can have something that takes pictures and works as a GPS all in one.  Assuming you carry insurance for when you manage to accidentally smash the screen.  But that's only happened twice.  So far...

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