Get the best from your Olympus TG5 underwater. Part one: Accessories

Anne and I spent Christmas in Egypt at Red Sea Diving Safari's Marsa Shagra resort where I had some time using an Olympus TG5 in an Olympus housing kindly loaned to us by Brett Thorpe at Nautilus. 

The TG5 is a very popular camera for underwater photography and having the right accessories for it alongside understanding the settings you can use will give owners better results. Of course this applies equally to any compact camera setup for underwater photography. Over the week I tried the camera with a range of accessory combinations from just camera and housing upwards.

The Housing

I chose not to do any dives without the camera in a housing despite it being 'waterproof'. Most of my dives went at least for a short time below the TG5's 15 metre depth rating but even if not going that deep I wouldn't recommend taking it underwater without a housing. Where a small leak on a housing will seldom kill a camera especially if spotted during the dive, a leak on  a battery door will almost certainly destroy your camera and you won’t know during the dive until it stops working. (For more about the issues surrounding so called waterproof cameras go to my previous blog on the subject-here)

Ergonomics and controls were excellent on the housing and it didn’t add all that much bulk to the camera. Tthe Olympus housing has a window and diffuser allowing for use of the camera’s built-in flash as a light source.

You can achieve some pretty good results just using the built-in flash as in this shot but most third party housings for the Tg5 and its predecessor don’t allow you to use this. In my view this is a big point in the Olympus housings favour especially for the newcomer to underwater photography who may not want to be encumbered with a strobe or lighting setup, or is on a tight budget.

You can achieve some pretty good results just using the built-in flash as in this shot but most third party housings for the Tg5 and its predecessor don’t allow you to use this. In my view this is a big point in the Olympus housings favour especially for the newcomer to underwater photography who may not want to be encumbered with a strobe or lighting setup, or is on a tight budget.

The housing is plastic and has a depth rating of 45m if you wanted to take your TG5 tech diving you could invest in the 100m rated metal Nauticam housing but you’ll need much deeper pockets. (more on the differences between metal and plastic housings here)

Adding the housing doesn’t just increase depth rating and add protection from flooding it also allows more scope for adding accessories. The Olympus housing has a tray attachment plate on its base that has three threaded holes that take 1/4” screws used on most tray systems and also standard on tripods. Having more than one screw hole makes for a more stable attachment when mounting a tray for strobes or lights and if you so desired the middle screw hole would allow you to mount the housing on a tripod.

The port has a 52mm thread to attach wet lenses from many manufacturers, I’ll come on to these very shortly. The housing also has a cold shoe mount on top for placing a focusing light or even an action camera with the appropriate mount.

Wide Angle Lens

If you do have the housing you then have the option of adding wet lenses, other than those made by Olympus to fit directly on the camera. For our Egypt trip I used a Fantasea UWL-400F domed wide angle wet lens on loan from Brett at Nautilus.

The UWL-400F looks quite big on the petite TG5 housing but compared to some of its more expensive cousins it’s quite compact and easy to handle. Always wise to keep the dome covered when not in use as like almost all domed wet lenses, it’s coated polycarbonate and if scratched can’t just be polished by hand.

The UWL-400F looks quite big on the petite TG5 housing but compared to some of its more expensive cousins it’s quite compact and easy to handle. Always wise to keep the dome covered when not in use as like almost all domed wet lenses, it’s coated polycarbonate and if scratched can’t just be polished by hand.

After a bit of use both with available light and strobe but not built-in flash as this was blocked by the lens, I was impressed by the UWL-400. While not being as wide angle as its similarly priced cousin the UWL-04 the optical quality is definitely better making for sharper images and at 120º it will work well for those folk newer to underwater photography who may not be comfortable getting very close to subjects. In those circumstances an ultra wide angle lens will turn your subject into a speck in the distance, and on a small sensor camera like the TG5 cropping your image a lot afterwards to make the subject larger isn’t a great option.

The lens screws straight on the port without an adaptor and with the camera lens zoomed right out to its widest there was no vignetting (dark areas at the corners of the shot). You could fit any M52 thread lens to the housing or get a stepping ring to use an M67 lens such as an INON UWL-H100 or the higher end Fantasea UWL-09F, UWL-09Pro or Nauticam WWL-1

This sandperch over the bottom was taken using the Fantasea wide angle wet lens and a single strobe. Due to shooting facing the sun there is a little bit of lens flare visible below the fish. I would’ve taken a few shots from different angles but these fish are very skittish and it didn’t hang around to give me another chance.

This sandperch over the bottom was taken using the Fantasea wide angle wet lens and a single strobe. Due to shooting facing the sun there is a little bit of lens flare visible below the fish. I would’ve taken a few shots from different angles but these fish are very skittish and it didn’t hang around to give me another chance.

For more about why being able to add a wide angle lens is an important feature for an underwater camera go -here and for some info about the issues surrounding domed wet lenses look here

Strobe

As well as using available light and the built-in flash on different dives I also used a strobe (external flash) on a number of dives with and without the wide angle lens. For my shooting I used a Sea & Sea YS-D2 which is quite large and can be temperamental regarding which cables it will work with. An INON S2000 would be ideal for use with a TG5, not very large, reasonably priced but with good output and a manual mode or for those who dive in cold water with thick gloves look at the INON D200. If you want to light shots more evenly than with built in flash you need at least one strobe. Video lighting is an option but isn’t as good for stills photography, lacking the power and ability to freeze movement that a flash gives. I combined the strobe with a tray with just a left handle and held the housing in my right hand to operate the shutter. I used my usual arrangement of 1” ball and clamp arms which I prefer to flexi arms.

This squirrel fish image was taken using the TG5 and a single strobe. Using a single strobe results in more shadow than using a pair. In this shot the angle of the fish has put one side of its face slightly in shadow.

This squirrel fish image was taken using the TG5 and a single strobe. Using a single strobe results in more shadow than using a pair. In this shot the angle of the fish has put one side of its face slightly in shadow.

The Olympus housing comes with an attachment piece for a pair of Sea and Sea style fibre optic connectors, that clips on to the flash diffusor. I did find that with the wide angle lens on the camera there wasn’t a lot of room for the fibre optic cable connection. You certainly couldn’t unplug the cable with the wide angle fitted but this situation would vary somewhat depedning on what lens you used. With the UWL-400F there wasn’t an issue but bear this in mind.

I’ll talk more about settings in a follow up blog but for all the shooting I did with a strobe, I had it set to manual and the camera flash also set to manual at 1/64 power.

For more about strobes, including why I don’t recommend using TTL and why having manual flash control on your camera as the TG5 does is a useful feature take a look at my last two blogs here and here

Housing, strobe setup and focusing light ready for a dusk dive.

Housing, strobe setup and focusing light ready for a dusk dive.

Focusing Light

For lowlight conditions whether at night, at depth or inside an overhead environment you’ll need something to help your camera to focus and you see. Helpfully the Olympus housing has a cold shoe mount on top of it. This is where most underwater photographers would mount a focusing light if using one. For my evening dives I fitted a Big Blue AL1100RAFO focusing light to my set up, using a cold shoe 1” ball mount and a clamp to hold it. This light is a specific underwater photography focusing light with an auto flash off function to turn the light off whenever your flash fires, so you don’t suffer from uneven lighting. You could use it as a light source for stills or video but it has a narrower beam (55 degree) than a video light so would really only be suitable for closeup stuff.

Many of the larger strobes have focusing lights built-in to them but while they make for a useful backup, I find that many of the strobe positions I utilise result in the focusing light not being pointed directly at my subject rendering them fairly useless.

Macro Wet Lenses

I actually didn’t try any macro lenses on the housing although it is feasible to add them you’d need a stepping ring (I didn’t have one with me) for most as the better ones tend to be 67mm threads. It could be argued that a macro wet lens is unnecessary as the TG5 has the very close focusing ‘microscope mode’ but as this mode uses an electronic sensor crop to squeeze more from the cameras lens you may get better image quality from using a wet lens instead.

Next time I have access to this setup I’ll get a stepping ring and do a comparison with some different lenses.

One of the advantages of using strobes rather than video lights is that many marine creatures don’t find them as annoying. Most turtles for example will happily let you take multiple shots using flash but will move off quickly if you shine a bright light at them. If a creature appears distressed by you taking its picture find something else to photograph and if you need a focusing light keep it set low whenever possible.

One of the advantages of using strobes rather than video lights is that many marine creatures don’t find them as annoying. Most turtles for example will happily let you take multiple shots using flash but will move off quickly if you shine a bright light at them. If a creature appears distressed by you taking its picture find something else to photograph and if you need a focusing light keep it set low whenever possible.

Conclusion

Hopefully you’ve gathered that adding accessories to the TG5 will enhance it’s abilities but bear in mind that just in its housing it can produce good results and starting things simply can help you get used to the task load of handling a camera underwater while keeping your costs down. Don’t rush at buying the cheapest accessory options there’s almost always a reason why they are cheap. It’s better to wait till you have the funds to buy a quality piece of kit that will give you long term use and can be carried over to another setup if you decide to upgrade down the line.

All the images in this blog were taken at Red Sea Diving Safari’s resort at Marsa Shagra where we’ll be running Red Sea Photo Camp in June 2019 with Paul ‘Duxy’ Duxfield get in touch or follow the Events page link below for more info. I’m going to leave things there and in the next blog I’ll talk about settings and techniques I used.

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