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 videos.
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 to 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 P&S waterproof cameras. 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 (better) 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.
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. Note: towards the end of my TG’s life I dispensed with the 40-mm filter to make it slimmer in the pocket. Within a few months the stock built-in lens cover glass/plastic had become scratched to the point of ruining pictures (left) and finally finishing off the still-working camera for me. Moral: fit a quality UV lens filter; the stock cover is not up to it.
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).
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 photo is 4000 x 2256. You do notice the difference so getting to grips wit the custom self-timer is best, even if autofocusing on a passing boat can be hit and miss.
The battery is a slim 1270Ah which does masses of shots (four days or more) 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 mains charger (right) which will work off a laptop, battery pack, USB wall plug or a solar snorkel.
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 on to log a waypoint of the picture, 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. At home I use my TG almost every day.
Tough by name and tough by nature (see below)
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
Annoying ‘Olympus Digital Camera’ meta data on imports cannot be switched off
A smashing camera
Two times I thought I’d killed my TG, as I’ve done with so many cameras over the years. Biking in the Moroccan Sahara one time, the red wrist strap loosened unnoticed and the TG tumbled along a hard road at 30mph. Picking it up, one corner was smashed in, but amazingly it still worked. I taped up the hole, gluing it later and used it for a few more years.
Scotland 2021: lunch on a slatted plank bridge up a glen. The camera slipped out of my pocket and fell through the gap into the a stream bed where it lay for at least five minutes before I noticed. This must be it, surely; just as long as the SD card makes it. Because I never use it under water, I’ve never bothered silicone-greasing the two access doors as they recommend, but I fished it out, blew the water out of the battery compartment and it still took pictures!
But soon the screen gradually clouded over, so did the lens and one by one, functions dropped away. Eventually turning it on gave nothing. Water must have worked its way though the system, shorting everything out.
Back home, a couple of days later I bought another used TG and had just started stripping the old one when I thought, I’ll just slip a battery in on the off chance. To my utter amazement the TG5 fired up good as before. All functions resumed and photos saved to and exported from an SD card. This is a Tough camera! I now have a spare as-new TG5 one which I was thinking about getting anyway.