A beach is normally fraught with danger for the average camera but it’s exactly the sort of place that the Olympus Tough TG-5 was designed to be used because as well as being built to withstand a drop from 2.1m, being crushed by a weight of 100kg and frozen down to -10°C, the TG-5 can survive being submerged to a depth of 15m without an underwater housing. What’s more, it’s dust-proof so those grains of sand that could cause so much harm to other cameras won’t bother the TG-5.
Inside its rugged shell the Olympus Tough TG-5 has a 12-million-pixel image sensor. That’s a lower pixel count than the TG-4 which is a 16Mp model but Olympus has paired the chip with its flagship processing engine, the TruePic VIII, which is found in the OM-D E-M1 II. This combination is claimed to enable it to produce better image quality than the earlier compact camera.
Another attractive feature of the TG-5 is its lens. This has a focal length range equivalent to 25-100mm and a maximum aperture of f/2.0 (f/4.9 at maximum telephoto). That’s a versatile optic for general outdoor photography while the large aperture enables fast shutter speeds to be used in low light conditions like underwater.
Further good news is that the Olympus Tough TG-5 can shoot raw files, and there’s a Microscope mode that enables you to focus on subjects just 1cm from the front element of the lens.
Designed as ‘go-anywhere’ camera the TG-5 has a GPS unit to record location and manometer to take altitude and depth measurements, an electronic compass to show direction and a thermometer to measure temperature.
Olympus Tough TG-5 Review: Pro Capture
Pro Capture mode is another feature borrowed from the OM-D E-M1 II. In the TG-5 it enables 10fps (frames per second) continuous shooting. It also brings a 5-image rolling buffer that starts with a half-press of the shutter button. Pressing the button home fully records the last 5 frames on the card while the camera continues to shoot at 10fps until you lift your finger. It means that as long as you press the shutter button fully home within half a second of the action, it should be committed to the card.
Pro Capture mode is a great option for capturing split-second moments like a jump, a crashing wave or a wipeout. Further good news is that the TG-5 can shoot raw files, even in Pro Capture mode.
There’s also a 20fps sequential shooting option but this doesn’t have the 5-image rolling buffer feature of Pro Capture.
Olympus Tough TG-5 Review: Video
Olympus has given the TG-5 4K video capability and it’s also possible to shoot Full HD (1920×1080) video at up to 120fps (frames per second) to create slow motion movies. If you’re willing to drop the video resolution to 720p you can record at 240fps or if you drop it further to 640×360 you can shoot at 480fps for super-slowmo playback.
Videos are recorded as Mpeg4/H.264 Mov files.
Olympus Tough TG-5 Review: Build and Handling
It may not be the prettiest camera but the TG-5’s looks hint at its ruggedness. Similarly its weight suggests that it’s not going to fall apart at the slightest knock.
On the bottom of the camera, the battery and memory card compartment door has a dual lock system. To unlock it you have to flick the small latch open before you can pull back the larger lock. Because of the seals around the door you have to squeeze quite hard to get it closed properly. The procedure for locking the door is the reverse of unlocking, just make sure you always close the smaller lock.
In addition to the power button and shutter release, the top of the camera has a switch to turn GPS logging on and off, a zoom control around the shutter button and a control dial for making adjustments. The GPS logging switch is useful because logging is quite battery hungry and when the control is buried in the menu it’s easy to leave it on when you don’t really need it. The logging doesn’t need to be on for images to be tagged with GPS data.
The logging switch is pretty small but it has a nice positive feel and can be operated with a gloved hand. Similarly, the control dial has prominent ridges that make it easy to rotate with your thumb when you’re wearing gloves (or not). However, you need to keep an eye out for accidental nudges to it as there were a couple of times when I found the exposure compensation value had changed (it’s also used to adjust aperture in aperture priority mode).
On the back of the camera there’s a shooting mode dial, movie record button, navigation pad (with shortcut options) and menu, Info and Playback buttons. In addition to an Auto option the mode dial has settings for Program, Aperture Priority, Scene, Microscope, Underwater and Video mode as well as two custom settings. It’s actually possible to shoot video in any of the exposure modes but you need to switch to Video mode if you want to shoot in 4K or the high-speed (slow-mo) options.
When you first rotate the mode dial to Video mode you’re given a choice of three options, Standard Movies, 4K and High Speed. To access these options again, you just need to press the left navigation control.
Some movie controls are located in the Video option in the menu (microphone on/off, Recording volume, Video Frame Rate and Video Bit Rate) while others such as the frame rate in High Speed mode are accessed via the Live Control or function menu.
Along with manual focus there are three autofocus options. In All Targets mode the TG-5 selects one of the 25 AF points arranged in a grid around the centre of the frame – I found this worked well when shooting waves crashing over rocks. In Single Target mode, my preferred option, you can select one of the 25 points to use. To switch point you just need to press and hold the OK button until the grid becomes visible and then use the navigation controls to select the one you want. The final option is Tracking AF for use with moving subjects.
There’s also Face Priority mode which can be turned on or off via the quick menu (accessed by pressing the OK button). As usual, this sets the camera to look for faces in the scene and focus on any that appear and give them priority for exposure.
Olympus Tough TG-5 Review: Screen
Olympus has given the TG-5 a 3-inch screen with 460,000 dots and dual pane anti-fog glass to help give you a clear view of the image. Although it’s not the highest resolution screen around, I found it has a wide viewing angle and gives a good view with the scene even being visible in very bright conditions.
By modern standards the TG-5’s menu is quite concise and it doesn’t take long to find the options that you want. There’s also a Live Control or quick menu which is accessed by pressing the OK button at the centre of the navigation pad. This provides a fast route to features such as Picture mode, white balance, AF mode, aspect ratio, image size and format, stabilisation and drive mode. The options are displayed in a column on the right of the screen and you just scroll up or down to the one you want, then use the left and right controls to find the right setting. It’s quick and easy to use.
Olympus Tough TG-5 Review: Performance
In its default settings the TG-5 produces attractive, vibrant looking jpegs. Simultaneously captured raw files are much flatter looking, but they can be adjusted to taste quickly – Adobe CameraRaw now supports them.
If you look at 100% on screen you may be able to spot some noise in images captured at ISO 100, but it’s subtle and not an issue. Shots taken at ISO 800 also look good but by ISO 3200 the image quality takes a dip with the effects of noise reduction smudging details in jpegs.
I would avoid using ISO 6400 or higher unless you really need an image. Luminance noise is visible at small viewing/printing sizes in the raw files shot at ISO 6400 in low light but it’s fine grained and uniform so they look better than the jpegs that suffer from significant loss of detail. In a jpeg taken at ISO 6400 in a woodland, for example, a patch of moss looks like curly green wool.
I mainly shot using the Auto white balance setting and the TG-5 delivered good looking colours that reflect the shooting conditions in most instances. It fairs especially well in bright sunshine, the type of conditions in which a ruggedised camera aimed at adventurers and families is likely to be used.
In good light the TG-5’s autofocus (AF) is snappy and although it drops off in low-light it’s fine for shooting stationary subjects. Its results in video were less impressive in low-ish light as there some hunting which makes for unappealing footage.
I found my dog was too fast for the Tracking AF, but it was able to cope with slower moving subjects that travel in a more predictable direction.
Most people are likely to use the TG-5’s general-purpose ESP metering all the time and I found it performs well in many situations, delivering good exposures. However, as is often the case, you need to keep an eye out for large expanses of bright overcast sky tricking it into underexposing the main subject.
I especially enjoyed using the TG-5’s Microscope or macro mode. When this is selected via the shooting mode dial you can focus on subjects just 1cm from the lens even if you zoom to the longest telephoto setting of the lens.
It’s at this point that the TG-5’s focus stacking features comes in to play, enabling you to capture images with greater depth of field than would normally be possible with such close focusing. It works by taking a sequence of shots with slightly different focus distances and then merging them together. The camera saves a normal and a stacked version of the image.
With the possible exception of the continuous autofocus performance the TG-5 produces high quality video, but it’s not really a replacement for an action camera like the GoPro Hero5 Black or Olympus TG Tracker. You also need to keep and eye on high contrast edges as there can be some prominent purple fringing.
Olympus Tough TG-5 Review: Verdict
While a compact camera with a relatively small sensor can’t quite replicate the image quality that you’ll get from a DSLR or mirrorless system camera with a Four Thirds, APS-C or full-frame sensor, the TG-5’s tough credentials allow to take shots that just wouldn’t be possible with these cameras without very expensive housings. Furthermore, the TG-5’s image quality is very good in many situations so the shots of your most exciting moments won’t disappoint.
If you fancy getting some shots of fun times on the beach or in the pool (or ocean) during your holiday, the TG-5 is a great choice. It’s easy to use, has a great collection of features and can deliver nice images in more standard conditions than the average smartphone. If you want to shoot lots of video of action, however, you will be better served by a GoPro Hero5 Black.