When it comes to compact travel cameras, what’s the best waterproof digital camera? Here’s a hint: it’s not a DSLR or mirrorless camera, such as the wildly popular Sony a6000. And it’s not a GoPro either. Instead, it’s the Olympus Tough TG-4.
It’s no secret that I have been a longtime fan of Canon cameras, particularly the EOS 6D, which has been my preferred travel camera for years. Olympus hadn’t been on my radar until a chance meeting in Mexico. I snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef of Belize and even held a shark in my arms. But the images captured with my GoPro were less than stellar. I remember being bewildered when I saw that another member of the tour had taken way better underwater shots with his point and shoot. I found out he was shooting with an Olympus Tough camera and soon added it to my travel photography gear kit.
Olympus Tough Specs
The Olympus Tough line of cameras has been around for years. The current flagship model is the Olympus Stylus TG-4 Tough, which was originally released on May 22, 2015. Given that timeframe, it’s expected that its successor, the TG-5 should appear soon.
For a point and shoot, the Olympus Tough packs a ton of features to make it the best waterproof digital camera available. While it’s not an interchangeable lens camera, you can purchase waterproof lens converters that add ultra-wide angle and teleconverter features to the camera. You can even get a LED ring light attachment for enhanced macro photography.
- 4X wide-angle optical zoom
- Lens focal length of 25mm-100mm
- Fast f/2.0-f/4.9 lens
- Max shutter speed of 1/2000
- Ability to shoot in Aperture priority mode
- 16MP BSI CMOS sensor with RAW image capture
- Waterproof to depths of 50 feet
- Freezeproof to 14 degrees F
- Shockproof to 7 feet
- Crushproof to 220 lb
- Underwater shooting modes including Underwater HDR
- Powerful Variable Macro Shooting modes with 1cm macro focus range
- Built-in Interval (Time-lapse) shooting mode
- Built-in flash
- Focus stacking and bracketing
- Built-in Wi-Fi, with incredibly accurate GPS tagging and e. Compass
- 1080P HD video
- Comes in black or red
Accessories for Olympus Tough Underwater Camera
Foam Float Strap – without this, the Olympus Tough can easily sink to the bottom
SD memory card – the camera uses a standard SD card
Fisheye converter (FCON-T01) – waterproof and adds a fisheye effect
Tele Converter (TCON-T01) – waterproof and allows for extra zoom
Can’t I just Waterproof my Existing Camera?
If you want to turn your non-waterproof camera for use underwater, you actually can. It’s costly and of course risky, but it’s totally possible. On the higher end of your options is Ikelite underwater housing. It’s pricey but more reliable than the more affordable DiCAPac casing option. Generally speaking, I’d say avoid the risk and just shell out for a dedicated waterproof camera instead.
Best Features of Olympus Tough
Even though I bought the TG-2 with the intent of using it primarily in underwater scenarios, I found myself choosing the Olympus Tough as my go-to all around travel camera. Sure, it took some adjusting to using an LCD screen instead of a viewfinder. But overall, it was a relief to be able to take a comfortable stroll with just a point and shoot, and not have to worry about leaving my heavy, expensive DSLR unattended while I took a dip in the ocean.
1. Impressive Macro Shooting Modes
The Olympus Tough has always had impressive macro modes which have been greatly enhanced in the TG-4. Microscope Mode gives you a shooting range from 1cm to 30cm, while Microscope Control mode lets you switch magnification like you were changing the lens of a real microscope. The TG-4 also retains the Underwater Macro mode that lets you shoot close-up even when swimming.
2. Five Underwater Shooting Modes.
The Olympus Tough isn’t considered the best waterproof digital camera for no reason. Its waterproof features are top-notch with five different modes for shooting underwater. Options include two Underwater wide-angle modes, Underwater macro, Underwater snapshot, and Underwater HDR.
3. Diverse Shooting Modes
Like all of the best best-and-shoot cameras, the Olympus Tough offers all core shooting modes and some interesting extras. Dramatic art filters can give your images some Instagram flair, and there’s even a “cuisine” mode for taking better photos of food.
Drawbacks of Olympus Tough
For all of the excellent features of the Olympus Tough, there are some limitations.
1. Complicated to enable RAW shooting
You need to manually adjust your settings to Sequential shooting if you want to take more than one photo in RAW. Otherwise, the camera will default to shooting in JPG. Finding the RAW/JPG settings are not the most intuitive.
2. Non-standard USB charging cable
To charge the Olympus Tough, you simply plug the camera into an outlet. There’s no need to remove the battery. The downside is that the Olympus uses a unique non-standard charging cable, meaning you absolutely cannot lose or misplace it.
3. Limited Aperture Priority control
While the Olympus Tough does let you control aperture, you are limited depending on your focal length. At the widest angle, the aperture can only be f/2.0, f/2.8 or f/8.0. Meanwhile, your longest lens setting limits aperture choices to f/4.9, f/6.3 and f/18. These limitations can be frustrating for those looking to have more creative control over the camera.
All in all, the Olympus Tough TG-4 is a beast of a camera. It isn’t perfect, but this is the camera you want on hand when you travel and don’t want to risk damaging expensive gear. In these regards, I argue that it is definitely the best waterproof digital camera on the market today.
Olympus Tough TG-4 Waterproof Camera
- Fast f/2.0 lens
- Virtually indestructible
- RAW shooting mode
- Multiple underwater shooting modes
- Option to add wide-angle and telephoto converters
- Limited Aperture Priority control
- Non-standard USB charging cable
- No pop-out LCD display
- Low battery life