This tiny camera can go where phones can't

This tiny camera can go where phones can’t

12 mins read

The smartphone all but pushed out the point-and-shoot camera. But even as Gen Z rediscovers dedicated compact cameras, there’s another category that has quietly remained all along: the waterproof compact. Rather than beating phones in image quality, they outdo them in capability.



In my decade of reviewing cameras, there’s a compact that has long sat at the top for its durable build and bright lens: the TG series from OM System (formerly Olympus). The company recently released its latest waterproof point-and-shoot, the OM System TG-7. Waterproof down to 50 feet and drop-proof from up to 6.9 feet, the TG-7 goes where even splash-resistant smartphones can’t.

But heading underwater isn’t the only thing this camera can do. Its macro mode can only be described as microscopic. Of course, the question with any point-and-shoot is can it produce better results than a phone? I shot several scenes side-by-side with the TG-7 and my iPhone 15 Pro. The TG-7 won in a handful — and survived a swim and multiple drops.


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OM System TG-7 Underwater Camera

Recommended

A tough, capable compact camera

The OM System TG-7 is a compact camera that can go where other cameras can’t and take epic macro photos. But don’t expect better than smartphone-quality photos.

Pros

  • Durable, waterproof body
  • Excellent 11x macro mode
  • Bright f2.0 lens
Cons

  • Image quality isn’t outstanding
  • Few updates from TG-6
  • No touchscreen

Price, specs and availability

The OM System TG-7 retails for $550. It’s the first TG camera to bear the OM System label.

OM System TG-7 Underwater Camera

Brand
OM System

Sensor
12 megapixel 1/2.3″

Resolution
4,000 x 3,000

Lens
4.5mm -18.0mm f2.0-f4.9

Zoom
4x optical

Display Size
3 inch

Max burst speed
20 fps

Stabilization
Optical sensor stabilization (stills), digital stabilization (video)

Durability
IPX8

Video
4k at 30fps

Dimensions
Approx. 4.48 x 2.59 x 1.28″

Weight
8.8 ounces

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Design

Small but durable

You can tuck the TG-7 into a jacket pocket or beach bag. At less than a pound, it’s also weighs about as much as a phone.

Despite its stature, the TG-7 offers a good set of controls. The top houses the shutter release, zoom toggle, on/off button, and a switch to quickly turn GPS logging on and off. The buttons and dials at the back make it easy to quickly change shooting modes, turn on the self-timer, or activate the built-in flash.

For the ultimate durability test, I even handed it over to my sticky-fingered four-year-old. The TG-7 was unfazed through all of it.


But the highlight of the TG-7’s design is its durable housing. The camera is IP6X-certified and rated to survive a force 220 pounds in crush tests.

I spent an hour with the TG-7 in a pool. I tossed it in a snowbank. For the ultimate durability test, I handed it over to my sticky-fingered four-year-old. The TG-7 came out unfazed through it all.

In short, the TG-7 can survive scenarios phones can’t. I still can’t take my iPhone 15 Pro for an hour-long swim. And risk a cracked screen with a 6.9-foot drop? No, thank you.

However, the rugged build does mean the rear LCD isn’t a touchscreen. Point-and-shoots rarely accommodate accessories, but the TG-7 can accommodate a telephoto or fish eye adapter, as well as a ring light. OM System also offers a housing that extends the naked camera’s 50-foot depth rating down to around 147 feet.


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Photo and video performance

Tough to beat macro performance

Point-and-shoots aren’t known for their snappy performance, but the TG-7 has a few features that set it apart. It includes a 20 fps burst mode that will increase your odds of capturing the perfect shot. That’s faster than some mirrorless cameras.

However, autofocus performance isn’t a strength of the TG-7. The focus point tends to stay stuck in the middle of the frame. The TG-7 does feature eye detection autofocus, which helps things a bit.

I experienced the occasional autofocus miss with the TG-7, but overall the focus system kept up fairly well, particuarly for a camera at this price point.


Where the TG-7 shines is in how close it can track a subject. The macro mode is so good, I was able to photograph individual snowflakes. This is a feature you just won’t find on phones. I could position the TG-7 in front of a window to photograph a snowflake on the other side of the glass.

OM System added a few features to make the most of those capabilities. The TG-7 can perform focus stacking in camera to produce sharper images. There’s no need to use Photoshop, and the TG-7 will save both the original and the sharper stacked photo, so you can always select the version you prefer.

The TG-7’s autofocus capabilities translate to video too. Clips feature a similar level of sharpness and vibrancy as stills. However, as TG-7 is limited to 4K capture at 30fps, and the stabilization is digital only, video performance isn’t the reason to buy this camera.

For stills, optical sensor stabilization is available. It isn’t as capable as what you’ll find on OM System’s mirrorless cameras, but it’s still a nice boost when capturing low-light snaps and using the 4x zoom.


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Image quality

Good but not great

When I tested the TG-7, I took a few side-by-side snapshots with my iPhone 15 Pro to compare image quality. OM System’s waterproof compact excelled in a few areas, though in the end I preferred the iPhone for capturing low-light and indoor scenes.

The TG-7 features a 12-megapixel 1/2.3-inch backlit sensor that’s fairly typical for a point-and-shoot. In fact, it’s the same sensor you’ll find on the TG-6. It’s actually a great model to compare with the latest iPhone because the 4,000 x 3,000 resolution stills produced by the TG-7 are close enough to those captured by the iPhone. In most scenarios, I found photos from the TG-7 were roughly on par with those from the iPhone.


What sets the TG-7 apart from other waterproof compacts is its lens. At its widest, the lens has a bright f2 aperture that lets in more light than the average compact camera. Additionally, the lens has a 4x optical zoom, but low-light quality drops when using the zoom functionality because the aperture narrows to f4.9 on the long end.

The TG-7 produces sharp and colorful images. At times, the sharpness feels a bit over-the-top, but for a compact camera, it’s quite good. Even heading underwater, the TG-7 retains good color and detail — though, like any camera underwater, it’s going to be influenced by the clarity of the water.

That said, the most fun I had with the TG-7 was that microscope mode I mentioned. Factor in the in-camera focus stacking and you can get some great results. There’s some occasional color fringing, but considering the price, it’s forgivable.


I was less impressed with the TG-7 when I took it indoors. When you’re outside adventuring, it’s easy to forget that it’s a basic point-and-shoot. Inside, images quickly become grainy. I preferred the shots that I took with the iPhone in a dark hallway.

The TG-7 lacks a full manual mode, but it does include an aperture priority option, and it can shoot RAW files for more versatile edits.

The OM System TG-7 camera in waterVerdict

The OM System TG-7 can go where most phones and other cameras can’t, making it a good fit for anyone with an adventurous spirit. The TG-7 is also an excellent option for kids too old for a chintzy toy camera but not yet old enough to be trusted to take care of a mirrorless camera. I actually bought its predecessor, the TG-6, for my 11-year-old. Aside for a few small scratches on the screen, it’s as good as the day it came out of the box.


However, that’s also one of my hesitations for recommending the TG-7. Outside the new OM System name on the front and the switch to a USB-C port, there are few differences between the TG-6 and TG-7. If you don’t mind the microUSB port, you can save $50 by going with the older model. A larger sensor would have helped the camera to beat out a smartphone in every category. I wouldn’t recommend the TG-7 for any type of limited light. It’s not going to beat out your existing phone in those situations.

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My other hesitation is price — you can pick up a GoPro Hero 11 Black for $200 less. The action camera is video-focused, however, and doesn’t offer the same macro capabilities. Still, it’s a hefty price if you’re just picking up a waterproof camera for a once-in-a-lifetime vacation and not regular use.

The OM System TG-7’s biggest advantage is going where a smartphone can’t and getting closer than even a pro-grade macro lens. But if you’re looking for a compact camera that can beat out the shots coming from your phone in every regard, this isn’t it.


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OM System TG-7 Underwater Camera

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