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 packrafting movie. Later models 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 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 try a used Olympus TG-5 (left) 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 is very nice to handle, but of course isn’t suited to paddling. It’s not so suited to desert travels either (I do that too). Like all such cameras, each time you turn it on, the telescoping lens sucks in dust which sticks to the sensor and appears as dots on most images. It drives some owner-reviewers nuts. You can’t reach the sensor as you can on a DSLR even if the dots can easily be erased in iPhoto. Or, here’s a great trick: zoom in and out as you hoover the lens (above left). I did again a year after a pro clean and it really works.
There nothing I can do about the LX’s zoom motor which got slower and slower and eventually needed a tug to extend and a push to retract. So I flogged it and got a supposedly weather-sealed Sony 630 mirrorless (here’s a great list) to reduce (but not eliminate dust and some water issues. The 2018 LX100 II got some improvements, but weather-sealing wasn’t one of them.
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 to me.
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 – most of which go way over my head. 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 lens window. Being bigger than an FT lens window, I can easily see it catching a scratch. 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 see 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 click: delay, # of frames and frame interval. The LX did that too, but it was buried in menuland. Olympus : tick.
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 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 the other day. And the Olympus accesses this data by simply press 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 a 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.