Underwater photography equipment

I use an Olympus TG4 with Ikelite housing and DS51 Ikelite strobes. I only use one strobe at a time because my tray is missing an arm and I only have one TTL receiver and fibre optic cable. I bought it all second hand for very good prices and have been extremely happy with this equipment for the past few years.

Unfortunately, it has all been dying a slow death for a while now and last week an internal piece of the housing broke. The cost of sending it to Ikelite for servicing and fixing is quite expensive and I don’t really want to shell out for a replacement housing since I think the camera itself will not last much longer. So I’m looking to upgrade and would like to hear from other underwater photographers!

The most obvious thing to do would be to simply upgrade and buy a package TG5 or 6 with housing. I’m leaning towards this option for a number of reasons:

  • I’m familiar with the TG series already
  • They have very impressive capabilities
  • Within my price range
  • Small enough to be easily transportable
  • Idiot proof! Even if the housing floods the camera will likely survive because it’s good to 15m depth by itself.

Having said this I have been considering upgrading to a DSLR for a while but haven’t because spending money on a replacement camera when I had a perfectly good one already was unnecessary. I use the camera on land as well where the TG doesn’t fare so well. My primary interest is underwater photography but improving my ability to photograph tricky things like butterflies and birds on land would be good.

Have you switched from a compact to a DSLR? Any thoughts or advice about the switch would be appreciated or recommendations on models and equipment.
Or, do you dive with the TG series? Thoughts on the best housing/setups for them would also be greatly appreciated.
Any other thoughts on underwater camera gear welcome!

3 Likes

Hope this is relevant to the topic and maybe makes the discussion relevant to more readers.

I have been really enjoying taking underwater photos with a waterproof point-and-shoot (Nikon Coolpix W100) for the past couple years and am curious what it would take to upgrade to get higher quality images. This camera’s flash just illuminates all the dust in the water between the lens and the subject plus of course the photos are P&S quality. On the other hand I don’t want to spend too much money on it because it does what I need for iNatting and I’m also wanting to upgrade my terrestrial photography equipment…
What options are out there? Would something like the TG-4 be the next step?

I’ve been using a TG-5 for 3-4 years now, and it’s absolutely fantastic; I occasionally will use it in an underwater context (rockpools etc), but 99% of the time I use it on microscope mode for macro shots of insects, flowers, etc. About a month ago I decided to get the TG-6 as my 5 was getting a bit battered, slowing down a bit, which was understandable given how much I use it and the conditions I’ve put it through (still working fine though). What I found is that the TG-6 takes worse close-up shots! I was trying to take pics of a few insects, and I just couldn’t get as close to the subject as I normally would with my TG-5; all my close shots were blurry/crappy resolution. I took out my TG-5 which I had in my bag, photographed the exact same subjects, and had no issue at all.

One of my mates was in the same situation as me; used the TG-5 for a number of years and then recently bought the TG-6, and he had the exact same experience, i.e. the TG-6 seems to be a worse camera (at least for taking close-up shots).

2 Likes

We mostly use Olympus TG-5 or TG-6 in housings, no strobes.

Our experience is that they’re really good for macro at depth (with internal flash) or for shallow wide-angle (no flash).

As someone else said, they’re really good because the cameras themselves are pretty idiot-proof and tough. We flood them with depressing regularity. Ours are used by lots of different amateur photographers and they’re great for that.

To have a look at what we get from point-and-shoot with this setup, feel free to scroll through our observations.

https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=any&user_id=tracc&verifiable=any

2 Likes

I purchased a TG-6 late last year, and so far, have been amazed by its underwater macro capabilities. Having the option to shoot RAW is also a huge plus. I haven’t had the need to buy an underwater housing (shallow-water snorkeler here), but have been using the FD-1 flash diffuser – which I would definitely recommend for anyone on a tighter budget. Unlike its predecessors, the TG-6 allows you to shoot macro (“microscope mode”) while in aperture priority mode, which gives you an extra layer of control. Flash and a narrow aperture can get you those crisp black backgrounds that many macro photographers strive for.

For what it’s worth, I think that the camera is also great for terrestrial use – but I usually only use it for inverts. I probably wouldn’t want to be photographing mammals or birds with this. With a somewhat limited working distance you run the risk of casting a shadow on small subjects, and oftentimes this leads to a lot of focus hunting. The AF illuminator setting can help a bit, and in these cases flash is essential.

A DSLR would grant you full control over your photography and is superior in image quality, but as you mentioned, lacks the ruggedness and portability of the TG series.

2 Likes

I write from the perspective of uw macro which is my main interest.
I dive TG5 plus a single Inon S2000 strobe. On land I use full frame DSLR and a range of macro lenses so when I started to snap photos underwater it was a painful experience to return to a compact camera lacking the control. But I learnt not to care about the technical quality of my uw photos too much and I’m relatively happy with the setup now but I would not recommend it (external speedlights on arms for macro in TG-5 series are in my opinion hassle because of the short working distance in macro mode which restricts how the subject can be illuminated).

As @mesoplodon mentioned (and I was not aware of that) TG-6 added a bit of control to the macro mode. This seems to be an important update compared to TG-5 but I have no experience with TG-6.

Setups using DSLR versus TG series are extremely different tools - I suggest to clarify first for yourself what is your goal and budget in uw photography. Consider also mirrorless systems as an alternative to DSLR if you decide to go that way.

4 Likes

Thanks for your input everyone, lots of good advice given here. This post received more replies than I expected! I’ll be looking for olympus deals over the next few weeks I think.

Firstly, yes I absolutely recommend the TG4! It’s an amazing camera for an affordable price and I’ve loved using mine above and below water for years now. If you’re going that route it would be worth considering more recently released 5 or 6 instead.

Having said that, making the upgrade doesn’t necessarily mean better underwater images. There are some things you can think about though to try and reduce the amount of backscatter appearing in your underwater photographs and you can read about them here https://www.adorama.com/alc/how-to-avoid-backscatter-in-underwater-photography/

1 Like

How deep? My fairly plain Fujifilm Finepix XP is waterproof to 50 feet (15m). I’m not likely to go that deep, considering I’m not scuba certified.

The TG4 without a housing is waterproof to 15m/50 feet. In the housing, I’ve taken mine to 55m/180 feet. All the buttons on the housing jammed after 40m/130 feet though so although the camera was functioning I couldn’t actually use it…

3 Likes

@djscho: Here is my perspective as someone who takes pictures both under and above water as a life-long hobby…

I had the same question around five years ago. I was using two versions of Canon Powershot only for underwater for years and was very happy with those. Time to upgrade, and was wondering if I shall stick to compact, upgrade to mirrorless, or go to full frame.
I decided to upgrade to mirrorless and still happy with my decision.

  • Mirrorless gives me better control over my photography and better quality images than compact camera (but yes, less than full frame).
  • Mirrorless camera is less heavy than full frame; a critical point for my case.
  • Ability to change lenses to suit your occasion, which is very poignant above water.
  • In term of portability, I find it not much different. Yes i have a bigger casing, but that’s about it. The weight underwater can be adjusted as I wish. I clip the whole rig into the front of my body when I am not taking picture, the same way when I had my compact.
  • In term of ruggedness, I think it depends on the choice of the casing itself, and nothing to do with the camera.

I am just recently starting uploading old underwater images taken with my compact cameras to INat, and constantly amazed by the capability of my old cameras. When I use those images only for online consumption, it seems they are compatible with the newer ones. But once you zoom in, or trying to print them out, there is a lot of differences on details captured. Even advance post processing software can not help patching it up. On my local water, many of stuff is super tiny ~5mm, and the quality different when you zoom-in is striking.

I use Wetpixel and DPReview forums / websites a lot to get more info about cameras and casing; they have wealth of information and opinions from the pros, including compact users too! Maybe worth to check if you haven’t done so.

2 Likes