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.

Olympus TG-5 under water

The man­u­al says that when it’s been in the ocean,
you should give it a ten-minute fresh­wa­ter soak.

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.

Pacific Northwest islands
· · ·
Sandbar somewhere between NZ and Australia

The first is near Van­cou­ver; the sand­bar is some­where
in the blue wa­ter be­tween Auck­land and Cairn­s.
Couldn’t have cap­tured ei­ther with a phone.

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.

Beach near Port Douglas, Australia

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.

Extreme close-up, Queensland rainforest

Un­der wa­ter! · Wel­l, that’s what I got it for. Th­ese are all tak­en at Agin­court Reef. Pic­tures first, then a few notes.

Agincourt Reef, Great Barrier Reef
· · ·
Agincourt Reef, Great Barrier Reef
· · ·
Agincourt Reef, Great Barrier Reef
· · ·
Agincourt Reef, Great Barrier Reef
· · ·
Agincourt Reef, Great Barrier Reef

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.

Incoming waves

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.

Free dive

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.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Daniel (Aug 14 2017, at 03:04)

> I have to ad­mit, we should all be do­ing less fly­ing around in air­planes

This rule should especially apply to climate activists with loud speakers and Nobel Prizes. e.g., Al Gore. One grows weary of virtue signaling and hypocrisy.


From: Ed Davies (Aug 14 2017, at 06:42)

Anti-spam: “Are there more or less than five states in the United States?”

Luckily I didn't have to be rejected by answering “fewer”.

If all 11 billion people expected to be around later this century took a return trip Vancouver-Sydney every year with current fossil-fuel-powered aircraft that'd amount to somewhat more than half of current emissions. To save the coral we need to reduce to a lot less than that.


From: Paul Cotton (Aug 14 2017, at 16:29)

Cathy uses a Sealife camera for her underwater photography. Check out her photos from our trip to Baros, Maldives in April 2017.




From: Nathan (Aug 14 2017, at 20:33)

I'm an AWS employee in the Sydney office who follows this blog - would love to meet if you are ever in the area!


From: Kris Obertas (Aug 15 2017, at 07:56)

Tim, I've been pondering this type of camera, thanks for the info and samples.

My use case is paddleboarding, mostly in English Bay. I took a non-waterproof cell phone out, and even with double dry bag protection, I'm guessing condensation made it glitchy until it dried out.

Then I bought a knock-off GoPro type cam, but the lens is so wide angle and makes any scenery in a photo or video at more than close proximity seem tiny and far away.

Didn't buy a new cam this season but next year for sure! I was basing my options on Wirecutter reviews which seem to be a generation behind.

Kris O.


From: Ted (Aug 16 2017, at 23:26)

Hi Tim, Maybe your next vacation should be a tree-planting week. I'd suggest Trees For Life but I'm not sure the two hundred or so saplings you'd plant would fully atone for all the carbon released getting to Scotland and back. There must be forest restoration schemes nearer home though, in BC or the Pacific North West. Anyway I recommend it. Wherever it is, there'll be great people and great craic.

Best wishes



From: g (Aug 18 2017, at 04:42)


Seems to me it should apply *less* to people in that position.

Let's suppose (as I in fact believe, but treat this as hypothetical if your own opinions diverge) that man-made climate change is a real thing, that it's made worse by air travel, and that it is liable to do a lot of harm.

Case 1: I am taking a holiday and can either fly or not fly. Not flying means less time at the destination, or going somewhere less interesting. Environmental effect: clearly better if I don't fly.

Case 2: Al Gore has an invitation to go somewhere and try to persuade people to do something about climate change. He can do it if he flies; he can't, or won't have time for some other piece of activism, if he doesn't fly. Environmental effect: arguably better if he *does* fly, depending on how influential his activism actually is.

Now, again, this depends on how much effect his speeches and whatnot have, in encouraging anti-CO2 legislation or motivating individuals to reduce the impact of their activities, or whatever. If it turns out that he's achieving nothing to speak of then sure, his air travel's environmental harm isn't balanced out by anything good. But if a typical trip has effect equivalent to persuading one person to cancel one comparable trip of their own, he breaks even.

None of this applies if Gore's just going on holiday, of course. And I think he has a private jet, which is surely much worse environmentally than taking an ordinary commercial flight that's shared with many other passengers. But it still looks to me as if (making only modestly optimistic assumptions about how effective his work is) Gore's coming out comfortably positive-for-the-environment, no matter how much of a hypocrite you may think he is.


From: S. Rose (Aug 18 2017, at 06:25)

My partner ruined one of these cameras the first time they took it underwater by not having set the latches properly. Make sure you understand and set the locked positions before you descend.


From: Chris (Aug 24 2017, at 18:57)

Tricky to arrange with a pocket camera, but my understanding is that to get real colour you'll need to bring lights down with you - the red filtering happens so fast that even shallow dives are mostly blue-green.


From: A Kass (Sep 04 2017, at 04:05)

I love this camera format: very pocketable, waterproof and shockproof, and still better quality than smart phones. They're great for hiking and backpacking, in addition to beaches and bad weather. Personally, I have the Panasonic Lumix DSC-TS5, which seems mostly equivalent (but no raw), though I like the image quality better (as compared on dpreview a while ago--so could be moot). Also, the Olympus had faster time-to-shoot specs, mine can snap a picture within a second or two of pulling from my pocket.

For underwater use, the Panasonics have underwater mode that removes the red cast. Colors are never perfect and still require 'shopping, but it speeds up the process. I can confirm what the other poster wrote: you have to open the camera in a clean environment and meticulously brush the gasket befor closing.

I have a TS3 that still works and bought the TS5 twice after killing one with sand in the seal. I almost bought the Olympus last time, the add-on lenses were tempting, but then I realized they negated my use case (pocketable and fast to shoot). Sadly, the Panasonic seems discontinued, and the Olympus is $100 more expensive (more with the add-on lenses).

Anybody remember the Olympus Stylus Epic (film camera)? It was my backpacking camera back in the day, but it died when I tried to take it swimming and water got into the double ziploc.


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