I used Panasonic’s Lumix FT2 wet cameras for 13 years or more, a simple, slim, one-handed, all-weather P&S which didn’t have to be mollycoddled. In 2011 we even used them to make a series of packrafting viseos.
Later FTs seemed to lose the functionality of the FT2, so as they died or sank, I replaced them with used cheapies off ebay until they got too hard to find. Desert, pocket or sea, I’ve always liked the Lumix range’s preference for a wider 24mm-ish lens. Ridiculous zoom levels were far less important because picture quality dived. But after a really old FT1 burner unsurprisingly failed to survive a few minutes of snorkelling the other month, I decided to step up and get a used Olympus TG-5 after some paddle boarders rated them.
Commonly the Olympus TG-5 (now a TG-6 but nearly the same) and Panasonic FT7 (left) get rated as the best waterproof cameras you can buy. But they seem expensive for what they are. And when you consider the tiny zoom lens tucked inside the inch-thick body, you’re never going to get great shots, especially in low light or at full zoom.
Even then, my FTs always needed to be tricked into slightly lower (correct) exposures by half-clicking on the sky, pulling down and composing before clicking. It was only when I got a Lumix LX100 that I realised
a: how handy an EV Comp dial (left) is; I use it on almost every shot. And
b: how relatively crappy some of my FT pics were. I used the FT less and less.
With all the essential controls on the body, not buried in a menu, the compact LX was very nice to handle, but of course wasn’t suited to paddling. It wasn’t so suited to desert travels either (I do that too).
Like all such cameras, each time you turned it on, the telescoping lens sucked in dust which stuck to the sensor and appeared as dots on most images. It drove some owner-reviewers nuts. On an LX you can’t reach the sensor as you can on a DSLR, even if the specks can easily be erased in iPhoto. Or, here’s a great trick: zoom your fixed-zoom camera in and out as you hoover the lens (left). I did again a year after a pro clean and it really worked.
There was nothing I could do about the LX’s ailing zoom motor which got slower and slower and eventually needed a tug to extend and a push to retract. The 2018 LX100 II got some improvements, but weather-sealing wasn’t one of them so I reluctantly flogged the LX and now use a similar-sized weather-sealed Sony α6300. (A great list of mirrorless, weather-sealed cameras.).
The stock 16-50mm zoom lens still extends when you turn on and, I realised later, unfortunately is not weather-sealed like the body, so I am back to square one (a great list of weather-sealed lenses). But because mirrorless cameras lenses are removable, I can at least easily get to the sensor to clean it.
Back to the TG-5. Watching one of the vids below I learned it has an unmarked ‘control dial’ in the same, top-right position and which can work as an EV Comp dial. That alone is worth the price of the camera.
Having been inspired to RTFM for once, I now realise the TG-5 is actually much closer to the LX than I though, not least in terms of the staggering number of things it can do. You can even clip on wide or tele converter lenses (a bodge, imo, if photo quality matters) but more usefully, you can fit a clear filter over the vulnerable lens window. For that you need the Olympus CLA-T01 adapter (£20; or a £6 JJC knock-off; above left) to which you then screw in a regular 40.5mm filter: UV, polarised, whatever (above). With a piece of screen guard stuck over the LCD, the Olympus Tough can now be treated Olympus Rough, with both screen guard and UV filter being inexpensively replaceable.
I read it also has an easy-to-use custom self-timer, a blessing for us paddle-blogging singletons. Normally I’ve had to settle for 3-shots-at-10 seconds, or simply shoot video and extract a cruddy still, but on the TG you press the sequential shooting (‘6 o’clock’) button and press the Info button to edit:
• delay (1–30 secs).
• number of frames (up to 10) and
• frame interval (0.5–3 secs).
The LX did that too, and extracting a still from 4k video is an option too, but the former function was just too buried or I never worked out how to make it less so.
On the Olympus I have tried doing selfies with the video and extracting stills, but even on the highest ‘SuperFine’ video setting, the extracted 16:9 still is 1920 x 1080 pixels, while a still is 4000 x 2256. You do notice the difference so getting to grips wit the custom self-timer is best, even if autofocus on a passing boat can be hit and miss.
The battery is a slim 1270Ah which does masses of shots and you can charge it in the camera which is one less thing to carry. But for 20 quid I bought 3 clone batteries plus a travel-friendly USB housing rather than a main charger (right) which will work off a laptop, battery pack, USB wall plug or a solar panel.
Once I’d have said GPS position, elevation and a compass in a camera were gimmicks. Now I’d admit they add some redundancy when a proper GPS unit goes flat, as it did on me one time. There’s an easy-access external switch to turn the GPS can on to log a waypoint of the frame, for what that’s worth. Otherwise, all the other data, as above, is viewable by simply pressing the Info button with the camera off. Up it comes for 10 secs, north by northwest. The TG-5 will also take great pictures.
Red; easy to find on the river bed
EV Comp dial in the usual position
Battery charges in the camera
Easy to turn on and zoom one-handed (good on a moto)
Spare 3rd-party batteries from £4; USB charger from £8
Good hand grip
Rated at 15m of water so ought to survive some splashes
Slim and light (260g with chunky wrist strap)
GPS, elevation, compass, and even tracking with the camera off
Easy to access and configure custom self-timer
A baffling new menu to master – sigh
LCD text is a bit small
Expensive, but discounted to ~£330 new
At home I use my TG almost every day.