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Brian's Photo Blog — Article 259
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Olympus TG-2 Super Resolution Zoom vs Digital Zoom
Friday 28 June 2013   —   Category: Equipment
This is the fifth in a series of articles exploring the capabilities of my new Olympus TG-2 “tough” pocket camera. If you missed the past articles, you can view a list of them here.

Olympus’ advertising and user’s manual for the TG-2 camera tout their “super resolution zoom” — which is somehow different from the normal digital zoom feature — but they never explain the difference. Today I took some test shots in an attempt to get to the bottom of this marketing mystery. The results were quite interesting and enlightening!

I took a picture of a newspaper page at four different zoom settings — 1x, 4x, 8x and 16x — each of which has a full-frame version and a cropped 100% magnification version below. At 8x, there is a choice between “super resolution zoom” and the regular digital zoom, so I made a version at each setting.

Contrary to the method I used in my macro test shots, I didn’t not “improve” or “fix up” these images in Photoshop. The only processing I did was to reduce the full-frame versions down to the 500-pixel-wide size shown below. Well, let’s take a look at the photos now and see what we can see.
IMAGE 1
Full frame view — Here’s my target newspaper hanging on the wall, taken at the 1x zoom set­ting, which is a 35​mm equiv­a­lence of 25​mm.
IMAGE 2
Cropped 100% magnification view — Here’s my target news­paper hanging on the wall, taken at the 1x zoom setting, which is a 35​mm equiv­a­lence of 25​mm.
IMAGE 3
Full frame view — Here’s the newspaper with a 4x zoom set­ting, which is a 35​mm equiv­a­lence of 100​mm. This is the max­i­mum extent of the optical zoom.
IMAGE 4
Cropped 100% magnification view — Here’s the newspaper with a 4x zoom setting, which is a 35​mm equiv­a­lence of 100​mm. This is the max­i­mum extent of the optical zoom.
IMAGE 5
Full frame view — Here’s the newspaper with a 8x “super resolution zoom” setting, which is a 35​mm equiv­a­lence of 200​mm. Is it just me, or does the news­paper text suddenly seem sharper?
IMAGE 6
Cropped 100% magnification view — Here’s the newspaper with an 8x “super res­o­lu­tion zoom” setting. Once I saw the lighter-​colored “halos” around the letters I got a strong sus­pi­cion of what Olympus’ “super resolution zoom” is really all about. It looks to me that it sim­ply means an extra-​heavy dose of sharpening ... and that’s it!
IMAGE 7
Full frame view — Here’s the newspaper with a 8x standard digital zoom setting. Compared to the 8x “super resolution zoom” (Image 5) this image is somewhat less sharp, but I think it is more natural looking.
IMAGE 8
Cropped 100% magnification view — Here’s the newspaper with a 8x standard digital zoom setting. Compared to the 8x “super resolution zoom” (Image 6) this image is quite a bit less sharp, but much more natural looking. I suppose it depends on what the need of the moment is, but in general I would prefer this image over Image 6.
IMAGE 9
Full frame view — Here’s the newspaper with a 16x standard digital zoom setting, which is a 35​mm equiv­a­lence of 400​mm. The quality is not bad for such a high digital zoom.
IMAGE 10
Cropped 100% magnification view — Here’s the newspaper with a 16x standard digital zoom setting, which is a 35​mm equiv­a­lence of 400​mm. This closer look shows that the image qual­i­ty is deteriorating rapidly.
 
When I first starting processing images digitally in Photoshop, I was so excited about its sharpening capabilities that I went way overboard. It has only been more recently that I’ve been pulling back significantly in an attempt to give my photos a more natural and realistic look. Pictures look too fake if they have razor sharpness, especially since sharpening often adds artifacts to the image which make it look even more unnatural. Most people’s faces simply look better if they are slightly less in focus!

The Olympus TG-2, like most consumer-level cameras, performs too much image processing, which often gives the resulting photos an overprocessed, unprofessional look. I much prefer shooting RAW images, and controlling the processing myself, using a lighter touch. This heavy-handed overprocessing is even more evident in Olympus’ highly-promoted “super resolution zoom,” as shown in the examples above. For someone like me, who is a serious amateur aiming for high-quality images, the resulting images are unsatisfactory.

In order to please its target audience, heavy image processing is one of the compromises Olympus chose to make. “Super resolution zoom” is a lot more effective as a marketing term than as a way to improve image quality! I’m having to make a lot of compromises already just to use the TG-2. I don’t need to add to that by engaging its “super resolution zoom.” I’m definitely turning that option off in the menu, and sticking solely to the 4x optical zoom, except in the case of rare photographic necessity!
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 259
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Reader Comments
On October 1, 2013, Mit F. wrote:
Thank you very much for doing this test. I just bought this camera and wanted to know whether I should turn the "Super-Res Zoom" on or off. You did just the right test and gave a great presentation of your results. I will be turning "Super-Res Zoom" off. If I want something sharpened I will do it myself in Photoshop. Excellent work. Thank you!
On April 24, 2017, Petr Baum wrote:
Thank you very much for doing this test. I just bought a TG-4 and I was curious what exactly this marketing slogan offers. You saved me lot of work. Stays OFF!! Well done, Brian.
 
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 259
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