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Cameras for aid workers and Peace Corps (update)

February 3, 2019

TD;DR? The Olympus TG5 is still my pick for best Peace Corps camera for 2019!


So a while ago I recommended the Olympus TG4 as my pick for a rugged, pretty good quality, waterproof camera that you can keep in your pocket and that doesn’t draw attention like a DSLR. I was conflicted about it, because the camera definitely had its drawbacks, but it seemed the best of the toughened compact cameras.

Well, last week I killed it (not in a good way). After using it on a whitewater rafting trip, it was still in my life jacket front pocket – I tossed the jacket onto the ground with a bunch of other wet boating gear, and later found I had managed to smash the front element that protects the lens. So much for being shock proof to 7 foot drops!

I was pretty upset to have thousands of very sharp pieces of glass in my life jacket pocket, and annoyed at the camera failing me, but also kind of excited to look at a replacement! Well, after doing my own research, and asking in a couple of forums, I did what I thought I wasn’t going to do, and bought another Olympus!

Having used it for a week, I can tell you that the Olympus TG5 is the camera that I wanted the TG4 to be! I’m glad I got over my anger about the TG4, because Olympus has fixed nearly everything that irritated me about it:

  • It no longer spontaneously changes shooting mode if you put it in your pocket switched on – which is awesome! The new selector dial on the top makes changing settings a lot easier and less random.
  • It now shoots burst mode in RAW – if you don’t know what that is or why you might want to that’s ok, but for people coming from DSLRs it’s nice! Likewise you can focus stack in camera in the very fun super macro mode, and it has a pro-capture mode which completely eliminates shutter lag.
  • It now shoots 4k video.
  • Olympus has switched to micro USB for their charging / sync cable, rather than the infuriating proprietary USB connector they used to use. Thank you.
  • They have dropped the res from 16 to 12mp, keeping the same sensor size, which means better low-light performance.
  • I got the optional lens adaptor that gives a lens cap. It irritates me that this is an optional extra!

OK, so, the downsides – battery life shooting 4k is mediocre, the lens will not win any sharpness awards, especially at its widest, and zoomed in it is noticeably soft even in the center, pretty fluffy on the edges. RAW files look soft – and make you realize how aggressively the camera applies sharpening to its JPEGS. But, these are all things that if this type of camera at this price point are par for the course.

I still miss my Nikon when I’m using it, but I can’t fit my D700 in my life jacket pocket, and the best camera is the one you have with you! I no longer have much confidence in the toughness of this one, and if you don’t need the waterproofing there are better options, but I recommend this to anyone who needs a small waterproof compact.

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