I still remembered when I bought my very first waterproof digital camera back in 2007. It was the Pentax W30. It was a modest 7.1 mega pixel compact that can dive upto 10 feet for two hours. But that was more or less it. G-Shock-like camera didn’t exist yet so the Pentax was not freeze or drop proof. But the Pentax served us well over the years.
When Olympus first introduce the Tough camera, it was like the reading the basketball world championship result, exciting and refreshing. There was no other cameras like it. Then Pentax, Nikon and even Canon joined the party. To my eyes, Pentax was pretty much still up there but Canon, despite having probably the best image quality of the early race, wasn’t the most popular.
Olympus was still the clear leader until the Go Pro arrived. The new ‘action camera’ that captures videos and stills. It’s tiny, portable or even wearable. Many starting to forget these lovely ‘tough’ cameras.
Camera manufacturers still make them but the frequency of update have dropped significantly. Canon, for instance, haven’t updated their waterproof camera for years, they may not actually make a replacement after all.
Yet, Pentax and Olympus remained in this unique category. The popularity of TG-4 reignited this forgotten territory and two years after the launch of TG-4, Olympus has finally made a replacement - the TG-5.
Why would you want one?
Ok, hear me out. I am no climber, surfer or any serious outdoor action guy. But I do love travelling and have the occasional dip in water. The reason I got my first Pentax was because I was heading to Thailand and my trip included island hopping, kayaking and snorkelling. So I thought buying a waterproof camera would be pretty awesome. And indeed, I captured stuff that no other camera would allowed me to do at the time unless I spent much more to get some proper waterproof/diving cameras.
One of the reasons these camera exist is that it’s built to withstand some abuse from activities. Great if you are an avid outdoor action man or woman, but the average guy like me will definitely appreciate some ruggedness and knowing that this camera can survive a drop or got wet.
Especially now that I have a young family, two active little monkeys that I constantly worry about having my professional camera equipment written off, getting a tough camera may not be a bad idea after all.
Then again, I am taking my family to Cuba and even I am bringing my professional Olympus EM-1 II for the trip, I thought the TG-5 will be a great compliment when I am with my kids and playing on the beach. That way I can leave my EM-1 II in the hotel room and just take this little camera out for all kinds of family fun snaps and videos, which I will come to it in detail later.
What’s new about the TG-5?
Ok, on paper, there isn’t much to separate the TG-4 and TG-5. One of the main shoutouts is the all new video features - 4K 30P recording and the HFR ultra slow motion videos. In terms of stills, the main difference will the reduced resolution from 16 to 12 mega pixels and the inclusion of the superb Pro-Capture mode, allowing you to capture those super fast moments. Other than that, the TG-5 basically inherits the brilliant bright f2.0-4.9 25-100mm full frame equivalent zoom, IP6X dustproof, 7ft drop proof, 50ft waterproof, 220lbf crush proof and -10 degree freeze proof… well, pretty much everything proof. And yes, the ability to capture images in RAW format!
If you are an Olympus user, then you will also familiar with Live Composite for night shoot too!
I think you probably know what I am about to write and in fact, I don’t even need to write anything here. It’s an everything proof camera so it’s built to survive a war! Ok, I am being lazy here but this is true. This thing builds like a tank. On the hand, it feels as solid as a solid piece of metal and you can possibly use it as a weapon to hunt by throwing it at some fishes! You get the idea. Everything is sealed so you won't have to worry about elements. The instruction does suggest you to check the seals around the battery/SD card door and the USB and HDMI port door just in case sand or foreign objects got stuck in between when you opened them. It is essential to check every time you open and close them as you really want them to seal tight!
Still Image Quality and handling
After thoroughly testing the camera in Cuba, I can really see that the TG-5 is really an awesome image capturing machine, especially at the wide end. The lens is really sharp, edge to edge. That 2.0 aperture sets it apart from other rivals and with now lower resolutions, the image sensor can absorb more lights for improved low light image quality. The auto focus is snappy during the day but still hunts a little in low light. But this is to be expected for a contrast-detect only camera, especially with a small sensor.
However, the awesome sharpness ends as you zoom it in. The image quality degrades and by the time it reaches the tele end at 100mm equivalent, the image is soft-ish. Useable but nothing you can shout about. But the good news is that the focus remains pretty strong during the day.
Talking about the AF, there are 25 AF points cluttered around the centre third of the screen. There is no touch focus or functionality of any kind.
Although I suspect that many ‘action’ man, woman and kids out there will probably stick with using the wide end anyway but if it’s there, why not use it?
The default jpeg files are vibrant and sharp, though the noise reduction can be a little excessive, even at base ISOs. Details can get mushed together. Shooting RAW is a must if you want to extract ever pixel out of this camera and get the best possible image quality at any ISO levels.
The TG-5 handles beautifully. The improved grip is much better than the TG-4 in many ways, it shapes better and the rear thumb rest just makes holding it a pleasure. Although this is a compact camera, it has some reassuring and quality weight to it so it’s not as light as some other compacts with similar size.
The camera comes with USB charging dongle and cable and there’s no battery charger. The good thing is that you can charge your camera with any conventional power bank that charges your smartphone. The bad news is that you cannot charge spare batteries if you decided to get a few more to last through the day. And if you intend to do 4K video recording, be warned!
Finally the new accessory ring around the lens has been vastly improved. It now uses a bayonet-like mechanism. There’s a release lock in the TG-5 instead of the screw mount in the TG-4. So everything locks in place and you don’t have to worry about losing the attachment anymore.
In terms of quality of the footage, it shares the strength and weakness of stills. Super sharp at the wide end and soft at the tele end. I love the fact that 4K is now included as the world seems to only evolve around UHD videos these days. You are almost guaranteed to fail if your camera doesn’t have 4K, whether you use it or not.
The inclusion of high frame rate slow motion video is also welcome. I love slow mo and it can add a new dimension to your videos.
But then here’re my complaints. First it is the AF really concerns me. In video mode, you can only use AF-C (continuous) and you cannot AF lock your subject. This is a problem when the AF drifts and hunts after it loses the tracking. It’s not so apparent in 1080p Full HD videos but in 4K, the AF hunt/drift can be a little distracting. You may think that manual focus will fix the problem right? Ok, kind of. It does allow you to FIX the focus on the subject but you cannot readjust it after recording has started. So you simply cannot re-focus on other things or change your distance from your subject during recording. To me, this is very limiting. I don’t mind the MF in the TG-5 especially it has a VERY VERY good peaking. I just hope that this can be fixed by future firmware. I doubt that AF can be fixed however as this is common amongst contrast detect AF systems, they are never good AF trackers.
Lastly, the movie IS on the TG-5 is as good as a 1 stopper, no where near as awesome as its bigger brothers like the OM-D or Pen F cameras. It’s more effective in still mode than in video mode in my opinion but it’s better than nothing, especially at the tele end. Well, perhaps I am just spoiled by the crazy stable 5-axis IBIS from the OM-D series, really.
In short, I loved using the TG-5. This trip to Cuba proof how valuable it was when my main camera wasn’t with me. I could still take really decent shots during the day and video quality was great when it nailed the focus. I also loved the fact that this camera survived abuses from my kids. We also took it to swim with dolphins and snorkel. It got dropped a couple of times when my kids were fighting for the camera. Without a question, it survived all these ‘actions’.
There are a lot of features I’d yet to discovered like the track/activity log, though I did take some time lapses, live composite and even tried the pro capture for fun. I know that you can even get a few different accessories to make the TG-5 even more versatile like ultra wide and super tele attachment, macro ring flash and diving water housing for deeper diving. There are a lot to like about this camera and if Olympus can fix the manual focus in this camera and perhaps improve the image quality at the tele end, I will even dear to say it’s the best action camera in the world, for still and video. Even with a couple of negatives, I still recommend this camera to anyone who likes to take cool shots while having fun and not to worry about damaging the camera. I would definitely recommend to any family to get one for sure! To many, this is already the perfect little all-season proof compact camera, just perhaps I am a professional who is spoiled by its bigger brother and the more complete OM-D E-M1 Mark II.