I was sent recently a new small compact camera by Olympus to test on home grounds as opposed to taking it away to perfectly warm, perfectly clear, overseas destinations. Considering that most new compact cameras are aimed at a local market, it made sense to try this one out at home. The new little compact is the Olympus Tough TG-5.
THE COSTS *
Olympus TG-5 camera
(red or black)
US$ 449.00* / GB£ 399.00
Underwater case PT-058
US$ 299.99* / GB£ 259.00
External flash UFL-3
US$ 499.00* / GB£ 319.00
Flash diffuser FD-1
US$ 47.95* / GB£ 49.99
Wide-angle fisheye converter
US$ 169.00* / GB£ 120.00
US$ 129.00* / GB£ 129.99
Conversion lens adapter
US$ 19.00* / GB£ 20.00
Silicone protective cover TG-5
US$ 26.95* / GB£ 29.99
(Additional arms, brackets, connecting shoes and optical lead will cost extra, but all are made by a variety of companies, and all are a standard fit and design).
* Prices are approximate. ■
This review is NOT a scientific test, nor is it a blow-by-blow account of how every setting works. This is a user review written after taking the camera into the water for the first time and exploring its capabilities as I went along on the dive.
Maybe it is just me, but when I first get my hands on a new camera, I kind of explore it before I even look at an instruction manual. Speaking of which, you really have to download the BIG and expanded manual (free) to get the most out of this amazing little device. (See: http://cs.olympus-imaging.jp/en/support/imsg/digicamera/download/manual/tg/man_tg5_e.pdf).
Settings. So, checking out the dials on the back, there are a couple of new settings. Undoubtedly this is the King of the macro compact cameras as there is not only an “Underwater” setting (more on that later) there is also a microscope mode, also with three settings. By far this is the greatest magnification ratio available on any compact cameras in the market today. I was able to zoom in to a small cowrie and even smaller nudibranchs. Thank goodness, I had the camera to be able to see the subject!
Sensors. This hand-held compact also has a 12MP CMOS backlit sensor. It is the same as the sensor in the top-of-the-range Olympus OMD E-M1, which makes for massive sharp images, high speed writing to the memory card and allows a maximum of 20 fps. The raw buffer is 14fps, but in only JPEG mode, it is almost like a slow-motion movie. Speaking of which, this Olympus TG-5 is able to shoot at 4K high speed and a full 1080 120p, which can be slowed down in post-production to only 30p for some amazing slow action shots.
The camera also includes full image stabilization, so video and stills are always sharp. There is a dedicated movie button for the full 4K, but one can operate recording in any other modes, including the microscope setting, but at 60p.
The 12-megapixel image sensor gives the best image quality, with increased image detail and much less noise than anything else out there of this size and style of camera. The TruePic VIII image processor is able to deliver high resolution photographs, especially when shooting in low ISO. This image processor, taken from the Olympus Pro flagship system camera OM-D E-M1 Mark II, has an improved image processing algorithm, which is even more powerful, delivering higher image resolution in low-contrast areas especially when shooting at low ISO sensitivity, which can go to 12,800.
Zoom Lens. There is also a 4x zoom lens, which is standard, giving the 35mm equivalent of 25-100mm zoom telephoto. With an F:2 setting at maximum aperture, it is perfect for low-light shots.
Modes. For underwater photographers, there are special modes incorporated: Underwater Wide, Underwater Macro, Underwater HDR or Underwater Snapshot. And for all us fans of macro, the TG 5 has an advanced, four mode variable macro system, with microscope, microscope control, focus bracketing and focus stacking modes.
Internal flash. The camera’s internal flash is easily accessible through the rear control wheel, allowing you to change settings to suit the subject and situation, whether you want it at full power, fill-in only or off—you can do this as you go. Similarly, you can adjust the resolution of the photograph the same way.
Underwater settings. The underwater settings on the camera can also be changed as you go, with Underwater Snapshot—in which there is a compensation filter added when close to the surface (perfect for snorkelling); Underwater Wide; Underwater Macro; and Underwater HDR, in which the camera takes a series of images simultaneously and combines them in-camera to get the best colour saturation, best light and most optimum conditions of the picture, creating a more pleasing image overall.
Pro Capture Mode. Another exciting feature is the Pro Capture Mode, carried down from the Olympus flagship cameras. This basically involves the camera storing data as you start to focus on your action photograph of a subject. Each time you partly depress the shutter, the camera will buffer the image to your memory card. When you finally take the photograph you are after, all of the pre-stored images will also be written to the camera, allowing you to choose the optimum photograph of that crucial action moment.
Depth sensor. Clearly, the 15m (50ft) depth rating is a massive plus, and the camera has a built-in depth sensor. At around 12m (40ft), a small banner is illuminated across the screen warning you of the depth. At 15m (50ft), this warning is a much more obvious signal, with a large red triangle and depth warning. I am sure that if it could make noises, it would!
Housing. Should you wish to extend your depth range, there is an underwater housing also made by Olympus. All the camera’s functions are accessible, and this case is waterproof depth rated to 45m (150ft). There is a fibre-optic connector to connect an external flash, such as the UFL-3. This is in effect operated as a slave flash by the firing of the camera’s internal flash when taking a photograph. The housing is also neutrally buoyant underwater.
Flash diffuser. The one item that I really love with this camera is the flash diffuser—the FD-1. As we all know, using the integral flash with a compact camera is often a challenge, particularly in macro, as the flash is located in the top left portion of the camera with a light output that may be cut off by the position of the lens in relation to the flash—particularly in macro or close focus/wide angle shots.
Well, Olympus has designed the flash diffuser to fit directly around the lens, creating a ring flash—something which many underwater photographers would love to use for macro and extreme close up photography. This allows an even output of light to illuminate a subject. The diffuser even incorporates a lever for adjusting the strength of the flash. By controlling the exposure of the subject in the foreground, one can darken the background and make the subject stand out—to spectacular effect.
Although you cannot use this flash diffuser with the fisheye converter, this wide-angle lens can be connected whilst underwater or removed at your whim, fitting the flash diffuser as usual, to greatly expand your versatility underwater. Unlike other compact cameras of this type, you can attach waterproof converters and 45mm lens filters, using the conversion lens adapter. This fisheye lens allows for full wide-angle shooting, without sacrificing the brightness of the TG-5’s F:2 lens. The angle of coverage is 130-degrees and has an extended focal length of 19mm.
Tele-converter lens. Last, but not least, is the tele-converter lens, which is able to extend your actual focal length from 100 to 170mm. With its incredible, super-resolution zoom, it will reach a maximum of 13.6x magnification and still at the F:2-rated lens.
Flash. Olympus does have its own flash and it recycles at two seconds, has a respectable guide number of 22 and is depth-rated to 75m. But the camera will, of course, accept any proprietary flash that is fired by slave through an optical lead.
Sharing. The last interesting point is the GPS, location compass, and, of course, WiFi, allowing one to send instant photographs anywhere on one’s smart phone.
Maintenance and cleaning
There are two waterproofed compartments. One underneath the camera, which holds the battery and memory SD card; the other is on the left-hand side, protecting the charging ports (USB & HDMI). Both have a double-lock mechanism, so please make sure that there are no hairs or dust anywhere near the silicone gasket before closing the camera.
After a dive, remove any attachments and place all of the bits into warm water for ten minutes or so to allow any salt particles to dissipate. Allow the camera and accessories to dry naturally, and wipe with a dry, lint-free cloth. Then you are ready to go again!
So, the questions are:
Am I impressed?
Yes absolutely! The Olympus Tough TG-5 is small and lightweight, with lenses that are interchangeable underwater; it is waterproof to 15m and has the best macro and micro facility of any waterproof underwater camera on the market.
Does it do what it says on the packet?
Much more than that! I was totally blown away by how versatile the camera is and how easily adaptable it is for changing lenses underwater without any loss of clarity or quality of photograph. The ring-flash gizmo is superb!
How does it handle underwater?
It is quite small and compact, but that is the nature of the beast. It would be nigh on impossible to operate the camera with thick neoprene gloves on, but for adventure sports; any wet or muddy work and yes, even an hour underwater off the St. Abbs and Eyemouth Marine Reserve in Scotland’s North Sea, did not leave me undeterred.
There is one point though. I tend to use a small movie light by LUME CUBE [see my next review], which I fix onto the handle of a small bracket via the accessory screw on the bottom of the camera. Working in micro close-up, the variable output from this little light negated the effect of needing flash. The camera responded extremely well for “natural” light, even in wide-angle mode. It handled this type of light on the Automatic setting, allowing the camera to do the thinking for me, and it worked amazingly well.
Would I own one?
Certainly! This would be an easy add-on to my other Olympus equipment, as I currently use the OMD EM-1. The price for many can be prohibitive, particularly if you want all of the must-haves that go with it. But overall, I feel that the innovations are well worth the price tag.
Would I recommend the camera and accessories to others?
Much more difficult to answer, as I have also to think of others and perhaps what their uses would be. You should never just look at a camera as a single entity; rather it is the start of a comprehensive and versatile system. The Olympus Tough TG-5 fits that bill admirably, as the supplementary lenses and flash diffuser raise this little waterproof camera to a much greater level of status.
Overall, I have no hesitation in recommending this BIG, little camera for everyone. I am constantly amazed at how technology is advancing. I look forward to the next generation of underwater cameras, which are becoming more and more like the old Nikonos film cameras. These new, digital compact cameras just need a better depth-rating, and we will have moved full circle.
The Olympus Tough TG-5 is a joy to use, and I am learning more about its excellent capabilities every time I enter the water with it. ■
Lawson Wood is a widely published underwater photographer and author of many dive guides and books. For more information, visit: lawsonwood.com.