Correct focussing with the Olympus TG-6 in microscope mode

After the many positive comments about it here in the forum, I recently bought a Olympus TG-6 to expand the lacking macro capability of my DLSR setup (I hate changing lenses in the field…).
This weekend, I had my first extensive test run with it mushrooming in the woods using microscope mode to capture those tiny mushrooms. :mushroom:

While some pictures got really beautiful in terms of focus, when trying to photograph the lamelles/ underside of the mushrooms or really tiny mushrooms or mushrooms against a busy leaf background, the AF was often a hit and miss since it doesn’t seem to love brown mushrooms in brown leaves :sweat_smile:.
My guess this problem is because I am really new to the camera and its functions (and completely lost in the manual) and more used to a different manual AF system coming from the DLSR.

So any good life hacks from other (experienced) TG-6 users: how do you get the camera to focus really close up (that sweet spot before 1 cm), especially in difficult light and motive situations? What camera settings do you use and what are other tricks? :camera:

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Holding a brightly coloured object, leaf, etc. on the level of the object you want to photograph may be a good tip. I used this camera a lot.

I found it a lot better at AF when I (a) used microscope mode specifically (b) zoomed in a bit instead of getting super close.

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  1. When the AF can’t find your subject, and is focusing only farther away, point it at your hand very closeup so that the background is blocked out. After it focuses on your hand, point it back at your subject and try the AF again. Once the camera focuses on something very close, the next time you try to focus it starts out searching in the closer range before searching farther back.

  2. Buy the FD-1 Flash Diffuser. More light will give you a greater depth of field, and the finer grain that comes with a lower ISO (The LG-1 LED Light Guide is a different accessory, and not as useful in my opinion).

  3. After the focus locks, move the camera back and forth to make sure it is focused on your subject. Usually you can tell what is in focus.

  4. Taking many photos makes it more likely that one of them will be well focused.

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Macro performance is better in Microscope mode, and with the zoom cranked up all the way or almost 100%

Spot metering/focus helps a lot.

From a photographic standpoint, we shoot in absolutely abysmal light and have never seen the need to invest in the vastly-overpriced FD-1 or LG-1 accessories.

the “Scene” function set directly to microscope can be a quick way to get the results you want.

Get out there and keep practicing!

If you are used to a DSLR with full manual control the TG6 can be frustrating. But don’t give up!

One thing that no one tells you is that you do need to zoom in one click for the auto focus to kick in.

Have you played with the stacking function or the focus bracketing? Those may help.

You could try switching from microscope mode to A mode. Once there you can select super macro mode (AFSM), and you have some control over your Aperture. There are three aperture settings: 2.0 to 2.8 physically decreases the size of the aperture. The switch to 8.0 is achieved with a filter, so it is only simulating the aperture change. Note you can’t use the stacking function in A mode.

Adding light can be a big help for the autofocus too.

Whilst they focus on underwater, the team at Backscatter.com have lots of really useful videos on the TG6 and you can learn a lot about the quirks of the camera there. The Oly supplied manual is pretty hopeless, tbf.

Good luck!

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Did you try manual focus (MF) instead of AF? I think for static objects like mushrooms it should be a valid way to set the manual focus real close and then just move the camera back and forth as you need it.

I have a TG-5, but I think the focus works the same way.

For microscope mode, I use manual, especially when there’s no high contrast edges in the subject area (the AF really depends on high contrast to work properly). And so many critters are experts at blending into their backgrounds, or hiding behind natural screens like foilage etc.

To engage manual focus in a difficult situation, you first focus lock on something within the range you’re after (while in AF), say by using a hand or finger, tapping the shutter half down to set the focus to this range, and while holding that half-shutter, you hit the ‘OK’ center button. That brings up a little green rectangle in your focus centre with the word ‘FOCUS’ under it, meaning the focus is now locked to that distance (even between shots), so you can now release the half shutter and move in for your shots. The focus will remain locked until you hit the ‘OK’ button again (or menu twice).

If you made a mistake in the focus distance, you can manually adjust the focus distance while the focus is locked using the up and down switches on the main dial. Or the top control dial that’s beside the shutter button. But I find in practice, the up and down switches work best and are most convenient in cramped, quickly changing situations.

The nice thing with the manual focus is that the Peak indicator (usually a red highlight) turns on, as well as a zoom-in, to really help you set the focus to a specific point. That kind of specific visual focal feedback you just don’t get with Auto Focus.

In a dark space (like when you’re head is inside a hollow tree, for example), I keep the LED illuminator on just so I can see where I am. It usually doesn’t spook the subject and helps when you’re focussing.

Mind you, I also tend to shoot most of my in-woods shot at 10000 ISO. Noisy, yes – but it nearly all magically vanishes when I run the RAW file through DxO’s PureRaw batch correction software.

IMHO, if you own an Olympus TG-6 (or 5) the money spent on PureRaw is worth it as it extends your ISO options so dramatically – like gaining extra f-stops, in that sense. And if you’re lucky, if you have other cameras, they will be supported on the list of compatible cameras that PureRaw supports. To tell you the truth, if the TG hadn’t been supported by PureRaw, I’m pretty sure I would have not purchased it. I use it on my Sony Alpha too were I can push the ISO even higher.

Almost every macro tutorial or site I’ve read online mentions the importance of getting a flash and a diffuser in there as an absolute necessity for good shots. And yes, I don’t disagree that this can help tremendously for sharpness, colour, detail. But, OTOH, it ain’t always possible to fit a diffuser or an external flash into a field shooting situation. And with the TGs, the whole pocketability thing makes the idea of lugging extra gear along seem to defeat a lot of its best feature — pocketability! Which is why I prefer to stick to available light/high ISO and when needed, the LED illuminator. If the shot is in bright sunlight (it rarely is), different game – I adjust the ISO down to get better exposure control.

The ring flash accessory does look like it would be a great to have for bug shooting but for me, I can’t (at least not yet) get myself past paying almost as much for the accessory as I did for the camera (bought it used for $150 CDN). And I’m not exactly happy with the stuff I’ve seen taken using the ring.

I mean, it looks great for flat stamps and coins, but it tends to look, at least in comparison to high ISO available light shooting, pretty flat with bugs. (Or maybe I’m just trying to rationalize my cheapness?)

The only big issue I have with the TG? The light purple hazy blob that will pop up under certain zoom/light and contrast situations. They say it’s an artifact reflection of the sensor? In any case, it’s been there in the TG-4, TG-5, and even the TG-6, so I figure it’s not an easy thing to squeeze out of the camera’s optical architecture.

Overall though, I still love the little TG cameras! I also like the 4K video for faster and flightier creatures. Often the best hope is a solid frame grab. (Though shooting video in manual focus is usually much tougher than a still.)

I’d also echo using stack focusing when you’re pretty sure of enough stillness. I find that after 3 attempts at a stack focus shot, the TG-5 I have at least, locks up and I have to shut right down and pop the battery out and in again to get it working!

A lot of how you use any camera depends on what you are trying to get to. The thing I like about iNat observations is that the principle goal is identification. Aesthetic composition, background/foreground contrast, perfect focus, interesting angles… all great things if you’re a macro photographer hoping to make a splash with your nature shots. But there’s nothing wrong with thinking about ‘getting’ a difficult observation shot and not worrying about all those other things. For me, at least, it’s all about minimizing the ol’ “ones that got away” list. (aargggh!!)

The TG cameras go a long way to helping you get there.

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very interesting you posted this

I’ve been using a TG-5 extensively (150,000+ photos) over the past 4 years or so, and it’s been fantastic. However, in the last few months it’s clearly been reaching the end of its lifespan, with photo quality noticeably declining. I’ve used it in a huge range of environmental conditions, from near 0 degrees all the way up to 50, in rain, underwater, in sandstorms, etc., so no big deal.

So earlier this year I bought a TG-6 as a replacement camera. However, when using microscope mode, it’s garbage! I have all the exact same settings as my TG-5, but when using the TG-6, it cannot take clear photos at full zoom and micro mode. Any time I try to get close up shots of a springtail, flower details, etc., the photo turns out blurry, little overexposed, etc. It just does not seem to be able to take as close or as good photos as the TG-5.

Now if this was just me, I’d assume it was me being an idiot, accidentally changing a setting, etc. But two of my good friends are exactly the same; they’ve used the TG-5 for a number of years, then bought a TG-6 recently, but found it takes worse photos. So this is now a fourth person including me for whom the TG-6 takes bad photos in micro mode, which doesn’t seem like a coincidence to me, but rather a problem with the camera itself.

Since buying it and testing it out initially, my TG-6 has just sat in its case unused. My TG-5 has continued to decline in photo quality, and I’m unsure what to replace it with.

I wouldn’t. Unless I’m using the settings wrong or something the FD-1 Flash Diffuser widens the aperture when attached (lower f-number) and I find basically useless because of that and the resultant lower depth-of-field. Then again, like everything, it’s what compromises you’re willing to accept (I think it’s a negative, others do not)

I have owned 2 TG6 systems for about 4-5 years now, and while they sometimes give us a little difficulty with focusing, we use these cameras twice a week for hundreds of photos of mostly (very) small Andean plants, lichen, fungi and insects and manage to obtain (what I consider) generally get acceptable results, at least not excessively out of focus, with minimal adjustments required.

do you have a few photos you could share as an example? possibly from both, your TG5, and the TG6 units?

as one random example off the top of my head, both photos showing a Symplecta sp., both at my house, roughly same conditions

TG-5:

TG-6:

and trying to get any closer than that for the 6, wouldn’t focus at all

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With the shot from the TG6, did you utilize any zoom?

I experience some issues with focusing, particularly on close-ups/macro, when the zoom is fully retracted, and often have a lot better results with the zoom extended out, even just a little, I usually have mine “dimed” to 4 or 5X, whatever the max is for the TG6.

(I’m very poor with written communication, please understand I am trying to help and never am I doubting your proficiency with photography or the aforementioned equipment.)

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appreciate the help :)

both shots are at maximum zoom; the Tg-6 looks further back because I had to physically hold the camera further back otherwise it wouldn’t have even got this shot due to the blur

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Dang.

This is really quite strange.

When you describe it as being in micro mode, do you mean it is set Microscope setting on the dial and
then microscope mode, like this…

or

is it set to C1/C2 w/ your custom settings, and/or with AF/MF super macro focus?

Settings as shown in the picture

ESP or spot focus?

AF or MF?

This is interesting to me, because we use our cameras under such poor light and we only ever have serious difficulty with focus around dusk or in very dense tree cover.

I’m not a gear pusher, nor do I think this unit is the end-all of anything, but it should get you and anyone else for that matter, a “pretty good” close-up, even hand held, based on Oly’s specs you should be able to get a clear shot with a minimum distance of 1cm/.39"

Have you tried doing a factory reset on the unit and reprogramming?

AF

haven’t tried resetting yet, but will have to give it a go

as much of a pain in the hindquarters as that might be, it could be a solution. Sorry I don’t have better advice, I hate to see anyone with a $500 “brick”, it’s like having a guitar you don’t play, use it or lose it!

Let me know if the reset changes anything, part of my team uses the TG6 exclusively so I’d love to get to the bottom of this if possible.

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@thebeachcomber I found a discussion on DPReview about problems with TG-6 focusing. I don’t think you’re alone: https://www.dpreview.com/forums/thread/4414330

‘Lorraine’ fixed things by getting Olympus to exchange her unit. You might be in the same boat.

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