Review: Olympus Tough TG-5 Underwater Camera for family outings & holidays

 In Gear Reviews

My active toddler loves playing in the water, so I’ve been looking for a compact underwater camera to capture great family photos by the pool, at the water parks and on the beach.  I wanted something small, with some of the features of a DSLR, so that I can control the camera settings to get the shot I want. 

Boy playing in swimming pool

After extensive research, I bought the Olympus Tough TG-5 Underwater Camera.   Here’s a look at how it performed in my initial tests…

Design, Handling & Convenience

There’s usually not much space left in my beach bag once I pile in the beach toys, towels, swim nappies, snacks, etc. so I love the small size of the Olympus Tough and the wrist strap is comfortable and looks like it’ll last for ages.

It’s a nice-looking camera with a slick design and a choice of two colours:  black or red.  I like the red – it’s fun and bright.

The camera is light (only 250g) and the built-in grip makes it easy to hold on to, even with one hand. 

As with any compact camera, the buttons are small and, without reading glasses, I can’t read the text on them (not a problem on my DSLR), so I’ve saved two of my favourite shoot settings to the C1 and C2 buttons (I’m super impressed that this small camera has these!) so I can just switch to those shoot modes without having to fiddle with settings.

Photo of toddler in action at the playground

Useful Specifications

Battery Life

At about 340 shots, battery life is not great so a second battery or two is essential if you’re going out for a full day of fun by the seaside.

Continuous Focusing

This is the weakest feature of the camera and resulted in lots of hit and miss shots as I photographed my toddler running around.  The photo below shows an example of this:  although I had a fast shutter speed and continuous focusing set, the camera has back-focused so the boy is a bit blurry while the background is sharp.  This issue is not noticeable when you look at the photos on the small LCD of the camera – you’ll only notice it when you get home and display them on a big screen. 

The main problem with the continuous focusing is how you activate it.  Instead of just being a setting, when you want to track a moving subject you must first press the shutter half way to focus on the subject and then, simultaneously, press the small OK button at the back of the camera to lock the focus on the subject.  This is fine if the subject is stationery, but almost impossible if the subject is already moving fast (which active toddlers are!).

The other issue with the continuous focusing is that it doesn’t work well.  As I track my subject, I often see the focus jumping to something else, even if I use face recognition. 

Back-focus issue with Olympus Tough

File Format:  RAW, JPEG, RAW + JPEG

I love that I can shoot in RAW and I’m quite impressed by how much detail I’ve been able to recover in highlights and shadows

The RAW photos are quite bland though, even with the Olympus Vivid profile applied, so you do need to edit them.  The series of photos below are quite overexposed, but I managed to salvage the highlights and boost the colours in Lightroom.

Original RAW file with Vivid profile applied

RAW photo edited in Lightroom


There’s a built-in Flash which is handy when you want to pop a bit of fill-light into the shadows.

Lens: 25mm – 100mm (effective Full frame equivalent range)

I find this range quite adequate for my needs – usually I’m pretty close to my subject and I wouldn’t want a much wider angle as that would cause too much distortion.

ISO: 100 – 12800

This is a decent ISO range, necessary for the kind of photos you’d take with an underwater camera.  The below shot was taken indoors at ISO 6400 – I had to push the ISO this high to avoid movement blur as my little guy is constantly on the move.  There’s quite a lot of noise at high ISOs (photo bottom left), but with a bit of editing and noise reduction in Lightroom, I’m able to produce a fairly decent photo (bottom right). 

ISO performance at 6400

LCD shooting/No Viewfinder

Typical of these compact cameras, there’s no viewfinder so I find it very difficult to actually see what I’m photographing out in in bright sunlight.  I pretty much pointed and hoped for the best.  These cameras are much easier to use in the shade when the glare on the LCD is minimised. 

Shoot Modes

The camera has 3 main shoot modes:  Auto (iAUTO) | Programme Auto (P) |Aperture Priority (A)

As other reviewers have mentioned, the lack of a Shutter Speed Priority mode (S) is a real pain, and Manual mode (M) would have been nice too.  However, you can overcome these limitations by shooting in A and using ISO to achieve the speed you want.  You can over- and underexpose by +- 2 stops to get the brightness levels right.

The camera also has a Microscope mode which delivers incredible close-up photos – I’m going to try this on tiny sea shells next time we go to the beach. 

It’s also got an Underwater mode which one would think would have a very high shutter speed, for example, to freeze the mo

vement of fish, kids, etc., but in my tests the speed was far too slow for capturing great family shots in the water.   

Custom Shoot Modes

The C1 and C2 buttons are my all-time favourite and most-used buttons on any camera so I’m thrilled they’re included in the Olympus Tough TG-5.  I’ve already set them up for fast action (C1) and shallow depth of field portraits (C2).  Awesome!!!!

Scene Modes

The camera has a bunch of Automatic modes.  I experimented with a couple of these a few times, but got much better results from my C1 and C2 buttons.  Novices might enjoy them:  Portrait, e-Portrait, Landscape, Portrait +Landscape, Hand-held Starlight, Nightscape, Portrait + Nightscape, Children , Sport , Candlelight, Sunset, Fireworks, Beach & Snow, Panorama, Live Composite, Backlight HDR.

Whichever mode you use, you’ll probably get the best results for underwater photography when you shoot in RAW and edit the photos yourself using software like Lightroom.

Shoot Speed:  High & Low options | Up to 20 frames/second

I’m impressed by the shoot speed which is fast enough to capture a fun series of shots of my little guy jumping in the pool.

Olyumpus Tough TG-5 Review for action photographyShockproof

I haven’t tried it, but apparently you can drop this camera from up to 2.1m and it should survive the fall unscathed.  No doubt, with a little one around, my camera will take some bashing so this feature will definitely come in handy.


You can take this camera as deep as 15m below sea level and if you’re a diver and want to go lower, you can get an underwater housing for it.  Taking the camera into the water means I can get some really interesting shots from a completely different perspective.

Shooting into the sun at the pool


You can wirelessly control your Olympus Tough TG-5 from your smartphone and share photos between your camera and phone – great for those eager to share their photos online. 

Saying that, I haven’t been able to get my Tough to connect with my i-phone – I keep getting an error.  So setting it up can be more tricky than one would hope.  I’ll need to spend a bit more time trying to get it going.



Overall, I’m really pleased with my purchase of the Olympus Tough TG-5.  It’s got a great set of features so I can create the shots I want.  The only reason this camera is not getting a 5 star rating is because of its lack of Shutter Speed Priority mode and the issues with Continuous Focusing. 

The Olympus Tough TG-5 is a great little camera for family outings and holidays where you want something tough, compact and waterproof.  My little one loves to play with it and it’s a relief not to worry about it falling on the ground or ending up in the pool. 

I used to always be outside the water taking photos from afar with my DSLR, but now I can take my Tough into the water and capture lots of fun moments while enjoying playtime with my family.

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