I’ve noted previously that there’s barely a camera that can’t take decent photographs or video and much the same applies even to mobile phones nowadays. So I was really keen to find out how the TG-5 performed, especially in the role for which I’d bought it and that was video in place of my earlier action cams. But I won’t ignore still photography, as this camera has some features that are quite surprising and, if they work well enough, potentially quite rewarding. I also wanted to get away from the typical action cam, fisheye lens, look and the modest wide to telephoto zoom of the TG-5 is perfect for what I want. So continuing on from Part 1, I want to produce video that is along the lines of traditional movies, not more examples of some extreme sports fanatic’s YOLO world view. The latter is one reason, amongst several, why I wasn’t interested in the Olympus TG-Tracker action cam.
First off, the TG-5 allows some fairly reasonable control over the various settings, but far less than some might like. This doesn’t worry me greatly, as I didn’t buy it as a replacement for my existing cameras, but mainly as a video camera. So what it does as a video camera is mostly ideal. If my wife decides to use it on her holidays, then the Auto or Program settings will be more than sufficient for her needs. In this respect, I want it to be just a simple point and shoot camera, as easy as possible to use. So I’m not going to go into technical details or shortfalls that some may perceive when it comes to customisation or full manual control, I’ll just show what can be adjusted.
I mentioned in Part 1 that the TG-5 has familiar features to that of my other cameras, but another important factor is that it’s also compatible with all of the software associated with those cameras. That means I don’t need any new software to mange firmware updates, process RAW files (it allows RAW and I only use the RAW format) or work with the video MOV files (which is a common format). The TG-5 is also compatible with other Olympus accessories, such that it can control my wireless electronic flash units, should I wish to do so for any reason. I never thought about this when I decided on the TG-5, but was pleasantly surprised that it complements my other cameras and system so well.
One thing that I personally always find a problem with these types of cameras is using the LCD in daylight or wherever there’s a strong backlight. I’ve always had difficulty seeing the screen as everything is often washed out, which is also a problem that I had/have when it comes to my older Olympus Pen cameras and phone cameras as well. I’ve tried various third party pop-up hoods and even purchased a Hoodman LCD hood years ago to try and defeat this problem. They all work with varying degrees of success, but I’ve never found one that’s truly useful or that doesn’t create a lot of hassle to carry around, attach or use, and the cheap flip out ones usually fall apart very quickly. But to be fair, there’s not much that you can do when it comes to shielding an LCD screen, it’s either a partial fix or an awkward compromise.
As a compact camera, the TG-5 has all the usual photography modes found in many compact cameras, such as panorama, underwater and action modes, and the scene modes are pretty common to all and can simplify some situations such as when photographing people, landscapes, night scenes etc. But then there are a number of features that I’m not aware are available in other cameras such as Live Composite mode where you can set the camera up to take a photograph of a scene where the lighting changes constantly and the camera will only record the additional light. Then there is the Pro Capture mode, something available in the latest Olympus OM-D cameras, which is a mode that allows you to start photographing subjects in anticipation of some action happening. And there’s the Focus Stacking and Focus Bracketing modes that allows you to take multiple shots of a subject and then combine the shots in-camera for more detail, ideal for macrophotography. Finally there’s the macro/micro mode that allows you to get up close and personal with very small subjects, without the need for any additional lenses or adapters.
While the TG-5 is designated as a tough camera, positioning the camera on the bullbar has its dangers, even though my intent is to only use it while on tracks, crossing rivers and the like. However, there is still the potential for rocks to fly up and hit the filter element that’s positioned just in front of the actual lens and to have this happen in the bush means that the camera becomes useless until the element can be replaced. So some protection is prudent and, to achieve this, I bought the CLA-T01 Adapter that’s used with the fisheye and telephoto lenses, but which also takes a regular 40.5mm filter. I already had a couple of high quality 40.5mm filters in my parts bin, so all I needed was the adapter. To make things even better, I also found a collapsible rubber lens hood from a lens that I once owned, which hopefully will shield the lens from the inevitable flare that you get from the sun and which often spoils photographs and video.
As I found out, hand holding the TG-5 and videoing is not an easy task at all. Things that I can do with my other cameras are significantly more difficult to do well with the TG-5. The low weight of the camera makes hand-held panning etc much more difficult than when using my other much heavier cameras. Once again, it’s a matter of balance. So when it comes to video that doesn’t involve my vehicle, I tend to use a tripod with a fluid head. There’s simply no way around this if you want steady video, and the same applies when using my longest lens with my other cameras. Anyone that’s into video would know or will know this soon enough. So if you plan on doing a reasonable amount of video, forget the ball heads and gimbals, get a decent fluid head from the outset, you’ll be glad you did.
Now when doing video, the camera has some weird limitations for which there is no explanation in the manual. When using 4K/25 fps, you will only be able to take video in 5 min 27 sec intervals and when using 1080p/50 fps it’s 10 min 47 sec (actual times). Lesser video quality settings allow slightly longer durations. Another odd feature is that if you use the WiFi control for video, it will not allow Full HD, compression/bit rate drops to fine and frame rate to 25p, rather than the highest rate. Also, you can’t use the 120fps mode in anything but the video mode, which is unfortunate as it would be very handy in micro mode, especially as it also makes hand holding appear steady. Anyway, the major revelation came after I attached the filter and lens hood and took the camera for a drive. The immediate thing that I noticed when I reviewed the video was that it was richer and more saturated. I think the combination of the adapter, filter and lens hood have all contributed to getting rid of flare, which was dramatically reducing the quality of the earlier video. I would absolutely recommend this modification to anyone.
With the likes of the TG-5, Olympus has produced a great camera; however, Olympus still can’t get many things right. Looking at this from just the video perspective, something that has long been the Achilles Heel for Olympus, there are a number of things that make no sense at all. Not allowing video to run the full length of EU dictated 29 min is nuts. Not allowing the WiFi to control the video at full resolution, even just a simple start/stop without live feed, is nuts. Not allowing high frame rate or 4K in every mode, something that is perfect for micro mode, is nuts. Not allowing you to change video format (to 4K/high speed) from the control panel while in video mode, but requiring you to go to another mode first, is nuts. These are just simple things that hit you almost immediately after using the camera for a few days. Didn’t anyone notice these things during development and testing, and think likewise? I can easily live with these omissions, but they simply make no sense.
Update 1. Following some discussion on YouTube, I just wanted to make a note about the recording times available. The 10 min 47 sec recording times that I got are based on using 1080p superfine mode. If you drop the quality to normal, you can record up to 29 min and with the fine setting, up to 17 min. You can find this information on Page 103 of the PDF manual available here.
Normally I’d post this on Friday, but with Christmas close by and with a number of other things on my agenda, I thought I’d do an earlier post this time around.