I found myself vacation-bound to Queensland (that’s the top right corner of Australia) and the itinerary included beaches and coral, specifically the Great Barrier Reef, which is dying. I like to photograph the places I visit, and the Olympus TG-5 is getting lots of buzz in waterproof-cam circles, so I got one.
Camera geekery · The Oly TG “tough” cameras have been underwater stalwarts for years, and the -5 differs from its predecessors notably in shooting RAW, offering 4K video, and having fewer megapixels, for better low-light sensitivity. Oly obviously knows what camera geeks want to hear.
Up until the point that phones became good cameras, I’d always had a “pocket cam”. On this trip I had one again, and it was kind of nice. It doesn’t actually take better pix than my Pixel, but unlike any phone-cam it has a competent little zoom (30-100mm equivalent). What’s weird though (if you haven’t dealt with a marine model before) is that the zoom is all internal, there’s a soft hum but no moving parts. That’s probably why the sensor’s so small. Anyhow, it’s small enough to take along on the airplane and shoot out the window.
It’s pretty easy and fun to use; too many “modes” for a Fujiholic like me, but I mostly left it on auto and thought it mostly did the right thing.
As with all modern cameras, the image quality is not terrible, probably better than almost anything digital much before 2010.
Could you take that with a phone? Sure, since it’s zoomed right out; but only if you didn’t mind taking your phone into chest-deep seawater.
It’s also got an interesting “microscope mode” for extreme close-ups. I had a lot of trouble getting anything useful out of that. These leaves are absurdly tiny. My problem was finding things that were tiny and also interesting.
Under water! · Well, that’s what I got it for. These are all taken at Agincourt Reef. Pictures first, then a few notes.
I was just snorkeling and free-diving (on top of which I had a cold, which gets in the way) — this would be a lot easier with scuba gear and a clear head. The pix out of the camera were pretty uninspiring, but since it shoots RAW, I could bring Lightroom muscle to bear. In particular, its Dehaze control (under the Effects menu) was very helpful. Two things come to mind: First, underwater photography is hard, and I’d never done it before. And compared to Hawai’i, the Great Barrier Reef has much less underwater color and visual drama; the above are definitely highlight-reel shots.
The camera comes with three different underwater presets, but after about the first ten minutes, I gave up and put it in the “P” mostly-auto mode and went with that.
It was great fun and I’m looking forward to another outing; I know I can do better and I’m determined to try.
Video! · The two little pix to the right are linked to short movies, shot at 4K and reduced to 1280x720, so “only” 41 and 23 MB respectively. I trimmed and exported them in Lightroom, but that’s all the video editing it offers; they’re otherwise straight outta the camera. I have no idea how this will work on your browser, I’m a complete video virgin.
For the first, I set the camera down in the sand just where the waves were petering out, let it run for a bit, then zoomed out. Pre-zoom, you can see one wavelet bounce back off the camera. After, watch how the auto-focus works with the waves, which is not bad. I think I’m going to take one of these at every future beach I visit.
The second is what I guess people buy these things for, just a record of part of a short free dive, max depth maybe three meters. It shows the coral colors as they mostly are, and without direct sun; not terribly intense or exciting. But there are a couple of yellow fish and the ascent is visually satisfying.
There’s so much craft in producing decent video and I don’t have any of it. But if you do, or if you just like taking pictures underwater, or having a camera you can set down on the beach or use in places where no sane person would take one, the TG-5 is a pretty good choice, I think.
It’s dying · The Great Barrier Reef I mean, killed by this insane uncontrolled experiment where we dump megatons of carbon into our planet’s air without considering the consequences. That’s one reason we went. It’s also a reason I don’t want Canada exporting any more of the carbon-laden crap coming out of the tar sands, and will do what I can to keep that from happening.
And, I have to admit, we should all be doing less flying around in airplanes. If the only flights were for vacations, and to worship at natural temples like this one, we could probably still save the earth, or at least the coral.