In my quest to find an action cam that will suit the sort of video that I want to produce, I’ve gone through several camera iterations and have been disappointed every time. So once again I went in search of another action cam and this time took a completely different approach. This story is about the Olympus Tough TG-5, a versatile compact camera, and why I think it may well be the ideal camera for use as both an action cam, all round video camera (as well as a regular stills camera) and a great addition to any DSLR or mirrorless camera kit. I’ve come to the conclusion that with certain products you simply won’t be happy buying at the bottom end of the market and It’s not that cheap is always bad, but with things like action cams, cheap usually means bad. And then there are other things to consider.
Now the first thing many may ask is, ‘Why didn’t I buy a GoPro?’. Well, when I started along this path, I didn’t want to spend the amount of money that GoPro was asking and then have to spend more for a bunch of accessories to suit. Note that GoPro makes their cameras such that you can’t use the cheap housings and many accessories available on eBay, you have to use the genuine products (despite what is often stated). So the GoPro was out of the question while I worked out what I wanted/needed. I started with a cheap Chinese action cam that cost about $60 (a 4K version), which failed to work right out of the box. And by failed I mean the video looked like stuff from a 1990s phone camera, so it went back. Then I bought a 1080p version from a local Australian supplier that had a good reputation and, while the unit worked, the WiFi didn’t. The supplier replaced the camera, but I still found that I couldn’t connect the camera to my phone. Anyway, I kept the action camera as the results weren’t too bad, until the camera failed exactly one year after purchase.
So after the failure of the action cam on our last Cruise where I really wanted it to work, I decided to buy a brand name product. As there were Black Friday sales going on everywhere at the time, I bought a Sony HDR-AS50 action cam that seemed to get good reviews from every report that I read. It arrived and, sadly, it must have been defective as the video quality was woeful. Everything was mush, no matter what type of memory card I used it failed the usability test. And to be quite honest, my dash cam footage was infinitely better, especially for a camera that was four times cheaper. Unfortunately the dash cam can’t be used outside the vehicle (no housing available), so I couldn’t use it for what I wanted. So the Sony went back and, after further reading and recommendations from a friend, I decided to get an Olympus Tough TG-5.
While not an action cam by general definition, the TG-5 has many of the features found in actions cams and one major feature is that it’s fully sealed from the get go. You can take it virtually anywhere without any additional housing, take video, stills etc and it looks and works just like any familiar compact camera. It’s not a little cube with a delicate front lens element that you pretty much have to use with a mobile phone. The now defunct action cam did have a rear screen, but it was about the size of a small postage stamp and practically useless outside. And as I pointed out, the WiFi was hopeless, which is something common with all of these cheap Chinese action cams. If you can get WiFi to work via their very flaky software, it’s a miracle. That said, the WiFi with the Sony software was also pretty flaky. It connected, but then disconnected constantly. That really was the driving factor for me to forgo these action cams that rely on an external control device. Yes, the TG-5 can be used with a WiFi connection to a mobile phone, but it’s just as functional without and the WiFi does seems to work reasonably well.
Given that the TG-5 isn’t designated as an action cam, it doesn’t have a lot of accessories that you normally get with action cams. However, all is not lost, as I can use all the accessories that came with my now defunct action cam, other than the waterproof housing (which is redundant anyway). The accessories aren’t ideal, but then they weren’t all that ideal with the action cam. The TG-5 weighs only 100g more than the action cam in its housing and 70g more than the Sony HDR-AS50 in its housing, so it’s not very heavy. But the accessories really weren’t up to my needs, so I decided go another route and scrounged around in my photography parts bin and came up with a far better bullbar mount than previously. I’m working on an in-car mount as well, but that depends on whether I can get the materials I need.
Now the main reason for buying the TG-5 is because I want to use the camera for video in conjunction with my existing cameras. The TG-5 will be the all-rounder video camera supplementing my other cameras on my bush trips and, given it’s capabilities and being made by the same manufacturer, there’s a great deal of compatibility when processing video and stills. And talking about compatibility, I’m also very pleased that the menu system is ostensibly exactly the same as that for my existing E-M1 MkI and E-M1 MkII, so there was no learning curve required when setting up or using the camera. The only thing that I miss is the Super Control Panel (SCP) available on my other cameras. The SCP is a really quick way to access settings that you tend to change on a more frequent basis.
The TG-5 also comes with GPS, compass, manometer, temperature sensor and accelerometer, what Olympus calls a Field Sensor System. You can see some of this information on the camera screen and other information on your mobile phone, but these features will affect battery life. And to test the battery life, I set the camera to record video at 1080p/50fps. After 86 mins the card was full, so I formatted it and started again. The battery indicator started flashing red shortly after, but the camera continued recording and didn’t stop until it had managed 118 min total recording time. That was with the rear screen on all the time but none of the Field Sensors, so with the camera app where the rear screen turns off, the recording time may be greater. I repeated the same using 4K/25p and the battery lasted for 60 min exactly. That’s not too bad and given that the camera will be vehicle based, topping up will be easy.
Another excellent feature is that the TG-5 records sound at 48kHz/16-bit which is the same as what I use with my other cameras and the same as what I’ve set on my Olympus LS-14 sound recorder. This setting ensures that you record all potential sound levels and don’t miss what might be subtle, yet important sounds. It also means that all cameras will be recording in the same format so that if combining sound recorded by each camera, it’s going to be much easier to blend those sounds together and make them seamless (more or less). If the sound was recorded at different settings, it would be somewhat similar to recording video at different formats and then trying to match them. You can record at a higher level and then reduce without noticeable issues, but you can’t record at a lower level and then try and increase to a higher one, not effectively anyway. But when used on the bullbar, I won’t be recording sound as there’s too much noise.
So that’s most of the technical bits and bobs covered, and why I’ve chosen this option. There were some other cameras that In considered as well, but that’s perhaps for another discussion. So what about the actual ability to take photos and video? Well, given that this has become somewhat longer than I anticipated and there’s still quite a lot to cover, I’m once again going to break it up into parts (only two I hope). In Part 2 I discuss the features and performance of the TG-5.