Digital cameras for underwater photography have come a long way. Nowadays, it’s remarkably easy to find a solid camera that will take great photos underwater without splurging thousands of dollars on fancy equipment, such as strobe lights and special filters. But with so many great options, it’s difficult to narrow down your choices. Fortunately, I’ve had a great experience with one of my underwater cameras, so I decided to share a review of the Olympus Tough TG-4.
This is a rugged camera meaning that it’s made to take some abuse. Most relevant for snorkeling of course is that the camera is waterproof. The TG-4 is waterproof up to 50 feet. That’s 50 feet without any additional housing. That’s plenty of depth for your average snorkeler and even for discovery scuba diving which should be limited to a depth of 30 feet.
However, I don’t like to take chances with electronics, so I also purchased underwater housing for the camera. I went with the Olympus PT-056 underwater housing, which you can find on Amazon. This housing extends the waterproof depths all the way to 150 feet! This allows me take the camera on scuba dives and just rest easy about using it underwater in general.
The housing is superb and I find it very easy to still use all of the functions. Changing settings is very easy and I don’t have trouble manipulating the dials and buttons. It also comes with a rubber piece that provides the necessary shade you need to be able to see your LCD screen when underwater, which is very handy. If you’re interested in the Olympus Tough TG-4, I highly recommend getting the additional underwater housing.
So this is probably your main concern.
You want an underwater camera that will take high quality photos and not those grainy and dim, uninspiring underwater photos you so often see. When you’re snorkeling in water with good visibility, this camera is absolutely exceptional!
Take a look at several photos I took during a snorkel in Roatan, Honduaras. All of these images were taken with the Olympus Tough TG-4. You’ll notice that this camera captures brilliant colors in high quality thanks to its 16 Megapixel Live MOS Sensor. And it comes with the ability to shoot RAW, which is not something that many rugged cameras have been able to do in the past.
Keep in mind all of those photos were taken without any kind of additional lighting or filters.
This camera’s autofocus is quick, and I mean really quick with its wide aperture at f/2.0. The ability to capture light at f/2.0 and quickly focus is a vital feature for any underwater camera, especially when snorkeling.
It can be very difficult to get shots of moving fish when being tossed around the by the current or surge, but this camera will still allow you to capture detailed images even of fish quickly darting in and out of coral reef crevices.
I recommend holding the camera with two hands to stabilize the camera and allow for better focus.
There are a few different underwater settings you can use. There’s a mode for pool/shallow water shots, wide landscape shots, wildlife, macro, and even HDR. I typically keep the camera in landscape mode when snorkeling or diving and then change the settings depending on the subject I’m shooting. It’s really easy to switch between modes, too, since all it takes is hitting a couple of buttons.
This camera has one of the best macro modes in its class. With microscope control mode you can get 44.5x magnification from just 1 cm away. That’s truly impressive, especially for a rugged camera.
You can often capture exceptional detail if you can keep your hand steady enough in the surge. While the photos below are pretty close to their subjects, I’ve seen other photographers get much closer using macro mode and capture some pretty extraordinary detail with little reef critters.
I don’t often use the HDR mode on this camera but I’ve used it a few times when the conditions feel right. Below is one of my favorite HDR shots that truly captured the dynamic range and color in a way that’s pleasing to the eye.
The TG-4 shoots video in the following modes: 1080p, 720p, VGA, Time-Lapse Movie (720p), High-Speed 120fps (640×480), High-Speed 240fps (320×240).
Below is a video shot with the TG-4. This video was recorded around 50-60 feet in depth. Without any type of external lighting and/or filters, the picture is going to come out blue with pretty much any camera so you can’t fault the TG-4. Still, I thought the TG-4 did a great job of capturing quality footage in such low light conditions and if I would have had some type of external lighting, I’m sure the color would’ve turned out great.
This camera is perfect for people who are serious about getting high quality photographs and video when snorkeling but don’t want to drop a crazy amount of money on a new camera. If you just want to capture high quality and brightly colored images of wildlife and coral reefs, then the Olympus Tough TG-4 will prove to be one of the best snorkeling cameras you can get without breaking the bank.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.