Good underwater

Started 7 months ago | User reviews
sbszine
Regular MemberPosts: 425Gear list
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Good underwater
7 months ago

I bought a TG-2 as an underwater camera, something relatively cheap that I could take snorkelling or diving. Mainly I didn't want to go to the expense and risk of putting a larger sensor camera and a fancy lens into an underwater housing. My first use of the TG-2 was during a holiday on the Great Barrier Reef. For the price, I'm very happy with how it performed, though there are a few missing features (e.g. raw format) that I would have been happy to pay more for.

In the Box

In the box you also get:

  • a silicon body jacket (thanks Oly!)
  • wrist strap (not adjustable, so you may want to buy a 3rd party strap)
  • a spare coloured lens ring, in the same colour as the camera body
  • an AC adapter
  • the usual cables, software, quickstart documentation, and PDF manual

Operation / Nerd Stuff

The main selling point of the TG-2 over other underwater compacts is its F2 lens and aperture priority mode. In order to avoid diffraction, the A mode doesn't actually stop down the lens. Instead, the first press first applies a one stop ND filter, then the second press adds an additional three stop ND filter. So at its widest setting, the A mode cycles through F2, F2.8, F8, and at the long end it's something like F4, F5.6, F16. You can set the aperture / ND either using the arrow buttons on the back of the camera, or by banging on the top and bottom of the camera body. The banging is aimed at people wearing gloves in the snow, and it doesn't work so well underwater. I found the regular buttons worked OK underwater, since they are quite large.

In practice the aperture priority mode works really well, and became my default shooting mode. Since doesn't really stop down the lens, I was worried about fringing / chromatic aberration, but I didn't see any either above ground or underwater. The quick access to the full four stops of ND allow for wide angle shooting against bright light (common on tropical islands!), despite the max 1/2000 shutter speed.

Autofocus is very fast and accurate, except in macro mode. Macro is strictly a spray and pray proposition with the TG-2.

Image Quality

IQ is very good, both on land and underwater, giving sharp images with good colour. WB is very good with no colour cast, though I found that the auto white balance gave better results than the underwater white balance mode. The underwater WB seemed to be a bit 'auto' anyway, and would silently change to a daylight WB if you poked the camera above the water. I think the underwater WB is optimised for deep water, and does not work as well for shallow water activities like snorkelling or swimming. Just leave it on auto and you'll be fine in any case.

Underwater images can have poor contrast and saturation (since you're shooting through water). There's no contrast setting on the camera, so some PP is necessary to get a natural looking image. It is a shame the TG-2 doesn't shoot raw.

Low light shooting is good is up to ISO 400 thanks to the F2 lens and IS. Flash photography is poor unless you are using an external flash (the TG-2 acts as a remote controller for Olympus and Panasonic ILC flashes). As an alternative to the flash, there is a continuous LED light which can be activated by holding down the up arrow for a few seconds. This is a great idea but in practice this doesn't shed enough light to be useful.

Video is pretty good, but underwater video can suffer from lack of contrast.

Construction

Construction is solid and the underwater seals are good. I particularly like that the camera supports Eye-fi transfer and in-body charging, so that you never need to open the battery / card compartment once you have a good seal. Unfortunately, you do need to expose the USB connector to charge the battery. Induction charging would have been good here. Battery life is pretty good, and I was able to get through my week long holiday only charging it twice.

I found that if I charged the camera in an air conditioned room I did not have any condensation problems taking the camera underwater. On one occasion when I charged the camera in a humid room at 28C I did get some condensation (for about a minute) after returning to the snorkel boat from cold water.

A bigger issue than condensation is water droplets sitting on the outside of the lens when you poke the camera out of the water. The TG-2 is supposed to have a lens coating to prevent this, but it does happen, and all you can do is wipe them off or dunk the camera again and hope they don't reform.

The lens does not have an external cap or cover. Instead, the toughened front element is always exposed. I never felt worried about it being scratched, but I did accidentally smear sunscreen on it occasionally.

Pros

  • great aperture priority mode
  • good IQ
  • performs well underwater

Cons

  • no raw images
  • have to crack the seal to charge the battery
  • weak flash / LED

Sample Images

Underwater macro, in a rock pool

Landscape

Underwater in poor light

Sunset while swimming

 sbszine's gear list:sbszine's gear list
Olympus Tough TG-2 Olympus OM-D E-M5 Olympus PEN E-PM2 Panasonic Lumix G 14mm F2.5 ASPH Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6 II R +4 more
sbszine's score
4.0
Average community score
3.2
bad for good for
Kids / pets
good
Action / sports
good
Landscapes / scenery
excellent
Portraits
good
Low light (without flash)
good
Flash photography (social)
bad
Studio / still life
okay
= community average
Abbazz
Contributing MemberPosts: 620
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Re: Good underwater
In reply to sbszine, 7 months ago

Thanks for the great review and sample pictures.

I have been using the TG-2 for a few weeks and I do agree with your conclusions. It's a very good camera if you keep in mind the limitations of the "underwater p&s" category it belongs to: no raw format, picture sharpness limited by the folded optics lens and by noise reduction (even at base ISO) due to the small size of the image sensor, weak flash.

Even though details appear somewhat smeared when pixel peeping at 1:1, image quality is nonetheless pretty impressive on prints - at least for pictures taken in good light. I made some prints on 329 x 483 mm (13 x 19") Pictorico paper and the pictures do look great with plenty of details and superb colors.

Concerning the "A" mode (aperture priority), I think the TG-2 lens assembly in fact uses a combined shutter/diaphragm with two "mechanical" aperture settings (wide open and 1 stop down), in order, as stated in your review, to limit diffraction. So you go from wide open to a second setting where the diaphragm is actually closed down 1 stop and then to a third setting (4 stops down from wide open) where a 3 EV neutral density filter is also applied.

You can verify this by shooting a newspaper double page with the lens at its widest setting and at full aperture (F/2.0) and then stopped down to F/2.8 as well as F/8. You will notice a sensible improvement in image quality between F/2.0 and F/2.8, especially at the edges, which would not be the case if the stopping down were obtained only by applying an ND filter. On the other hand, there is no improvement when you go from F/2.8 to F/8, indicating that there is no actual stopping down of the lens.

I see two other points that make the TG-2 stand above the other rugged P&S on the market, which are the "Super Macro" mode and the ability to equip the lens with optical complements, like a filter, a sun shade or a conversion lens.

The Super Macro mode does just what it says: it allows the user to shoot a subject literally touching the lens' front element and I found out that the autofocus works much more reliably in Super macro than when shooting at short range in normal mode.

As for optical complements, it's always nice to be able to add a polarizer, a gradated filter, or an additional ND filter when the need arises. Olympus also offers two different converters that can be added in front of the lens to turn it into a 170 mm equivalent telephoto (TCON - T01) or into a 19.5 mm equivalent fisheye (FCON - T01).

I bought the fisheye converter, which works as advertised and offers good image quality in the center and adequate edge quality, especially when the lens is stopped down 1 notch. It is really useful underwater, where it widens the lens' field of view and allows to shoot closer to the subject, thus minimizing diffusion from particles in suspension in the water.

The main drawback with these optical accessories when used underwater is that the adapter ring (CLA-T01) which attaches them to the body is designed to let the water enter the space between the front element of the lens and the rear of the optical accessory mounted in front of it. Therefore, when the user takes the camera in and out of the water, there is always a delay during which it is not possible to use the camera, because this space is partially filled with water. Also, when taking the camera out of water, it is often necessary to wipe the water droplets from inside the optical assembly before being able to resume shooting.

In conclusion, I would add that I bought the TG-2 to complement my other cameras (DSLRs and mirrorless + Sony RX-100) when shooting in adverse conditions and, to my surprise, I found myself using it a lot as a go everywhere, good quality, everyday camera. I will not leave my RX-100 live permanently in my trousers pocket without any protection anyway - and the RX-100 takes much longer to extend its delicate telescopic lens assembly, making it less suitable to use as an always ready camera.

Cheers!

Abbazz

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The 6x9 Photography Online Resource: http://artbig.com/

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Wm. L.
Senior MemberPosts: 2,145Gear list
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Re: Good underwater
In reply to sbszine, 7 months ago

Thank you for the review and some insights.

I got this camera for the 1080 video my Panasonic WG60 lacks, and because of the faster lens. The current Pentax shares same lens but format and colors are unappealing to me with both lacking the simple design, and quality feel of my older Pentax.

The whole class of product from a few makers seems like the industrial designers are trying too hard if compared to the simple small shape of my WG60. What a shame Pentax doesn't have updated video and performance in the same great shape.

For now my only testing is in frigid conditions with snow. One thing that seems to stand out is slow response between individual shots. I've tried a class 4 card that responds well with my Panasonic p+s and the Pentax and it still seems slow between shots. My frame of reference for p+s performance is a Panasonic ZS-7, Canon elphs, and the Pentax WG60.

One area of initial criticism for the TG-2 is the proprietary USB cable and no charger to hold the battery.

With travel coming up, I'm considering a silicon jacket like I have for the Pentax and spare battery. Add that I'll test for waterproof if only in the sink while getting to know it. I'm also planning on a floating wrist strap so I can hand the camera off to my kids with less worry.

Before it sounds like I'm too critical I will qualify that I chose this over the Nikon AW1 that's 3x the price and lacks image stabilization for underwater. Lack of image stabilization stood out with underwater video and the older Pentax, or when the camera was in my kids' hands.

Any insights on using the SCN mode under water options vs aperture priority would be appreciated. So far I've tried SCN mode with snow setting and for a gray day didn't see it any better than the P mode. Snow setting in bright late day snow had good exposure.

Thanks again.

P.S. I was glad to find the black lens ring in the packaging, but wonder about the posts I read where some owners got the silicon cover. Mine came from redeeming airline miles in the USA.

 Wm. L.'s gear list:Wm. L.'s gear list
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 Olympus Tough TG-2 Canon EOS 70D Canon EF 35mm f/2.0 Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM +5 more
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sbszine
Regular MemberPosts: 425Gear list
Like?
Re: Good underwater
In reply to Wm. L., 7 months ago

Wm. L. wrote:

Any insights on using the SCN mode under water options vs aperture priority would be appreciated. So far I've tried SCN mode with snow setting and for a gray day didn't see it any better than the P mode. Snow setting in bright late day snow had good exposure.

I found I got the best results out of A mode with Auto WB and manual ISO, even underwater. The metering seems pretty good and I haven't had to dial in any exposure comp yet. SCN mode sometimes got the white balance wrong, and with no raw file that's annoying to correct.

Thanks again.

P.S. I was glad to find the black lens ring in the packaging, but wonder about the posts I read where some owners got the silicon cover. Mine came from redeeming airline miles in the USA.

My silicon jacket came in the box (in Australia). We get a slightly different package for Olympus products and a different warranty also. The price was a little higher than in the USA.

 sbszine's gear list:sbszine's gear list
Olympus Tough TG-2 Olympus OM-D E-M5 Olympus PEN E-PM2 Panasonic Lumix G 14mm F2.5 ASPH Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6 II R +4 more
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