Thanks for stopping by! In this article, I’m going to tell you a little about my experience using the Olympus TG4, a “tough” camera that takes fantastic underwater shots and is easy enough to use, you can hand it off to a 5 year old. (That puts it at the top of my list for best underwater cameras!)
Yup, that’s an affiliate link – at no extra cost to you at all, if you happen to purchase a TG4 through the link above, I’ll get a paltry little sum from Amazon as a thank-you. And thank YOU in advance. If you enjoy this article and find it helpful, I’d love if you used my link.
Last summer, I was mesmerized by all of the fun underwater shots my friends were posting (I’m looking at you, @ZaidaLucia.Photographer!) But I was definitely not in the market for a new camera. And I’m way too chicken for underwater housing. (Zaida used a Go Pro for her pictures last summer.)
Fast forward to this Spring…I was seeing those underwater shots again… I took the ClickinMoms breakout Behind the Scenes Vol. 2 where one of the instructors, Elizabeth Blank, shared video of her shooting and editing underwater images. So cool. (Then I got to meet Elizabeth at the recent ClickinWalk in Atlanta – she’s so sweet!) She uses her big girl camera with special underwater housing.
I most recently took Marcie Reif‘s breakout, Bringing Home the Story of the Beach, and she uses a special waterproof bag around her dSLR. She also demonstrated how to edit underwater pictures.
So….I kinda HAD to have one! I needed one!
I saw that the Instagram Hub @UnderwaterKids was having a giveaway for an Olympus TG4 underwater camera. I entered and crossed my fingers. But knowing my luck, I also started researching. I wanted to see what google thought were the best underwater cameras.
What I found is that the Olympus TG4 was pretty much the best underwater camera out there. What puts it over the edge? To be honest, the ability to shoot in raw. I didn’t see any other camera that was able to do that. I also saw that the aperture went to 2.0 and that was also attractive to me. (I also recall that this is the same type of camera that Natalie G mentioned in her live stream – hey, if it’s good enough for Natalie G…)
So…I begged the husband. We had a beach trip coming up, pool season was around the corner. And it was my girls’ first season of Swim Team. All my kids are finally old enough to hold their own in the water and the old ones go underwater easily now. I MUST HAVE THE UNDERWATER CAMERA.
After a week or so of begging, and showing him how hard it was to acquire this camera, he gave in! Hard to get? Yup! It was showing as Out Of Stock on most websites, even Amazon. I ordered it on backorder and hoped it would arrive by the time we left for the beach. It did!
I’ll also throw out a little disclaimer that some of you might relate to… I don’t swim much. Ok, not at all. I would say that there’s a good chance I haven’t gone underwater in a decade! I certainly haven’t opened my eyes underwater since I was a kid! I got contacts at about 11 or 12, and I definitely didn’t open them after that. (I got LASIK about 12 years ago.)
I love to lay out by the pool and relax, and I’ll dip in to cool off. I actually got annoyed (gasp!) when the kids were little and I had to get in and stay in the pool with them. It’s been fun now that they’re older and I can lounge on the sidelines again.
But this camera was about to change all of that. My hair was about to get wet. (GASP!)
Tips for using the Olympus TG4
The first thing is that you need goggles that really work (I tried two pair that kept filling up with water!) or you must be comfortable opening your eyes underwater.
When I go under, I’m concentrating so hard on seeing the viewfinder and waiting for the perfect moment, that every time I came up out of the water coughing! I wasn’t blowing bubbles out of my nose like I should have. Also, nose-bubbles blocked my view of the screen, so I just tried hard to hold my breath (not very successfully!)
To prepare to use my tg4, I read the manual cover to cover. It has some really cool functions! A few that I’ve been experimenting with are the fisheye filter and the star filter. The fisheye has some cool wide-angle distortion that I kinda really love (and it’s easy to adjust for in Lr (for the most part!)) The Star filter creates star-shaped bokeh which is kinda fun too.
One tip for shooting underwater is to first think about getting deep. I found it funny that I kept floating up to the surface so quickly. (I think Elizabeth may have mentioned that she sometimes weighs herself down!)
So, before going under, I had my settings right, I would get a big breath and then try to sink down as low as possible. That gave me more time under the water.
If one of my kids was going to go under or jump in, my husband would count to three. I would go under at 2, and my daughter would jump in/go under at 3. That seemed to work well.
Lastly, I also bought a memory card and a floating wrist strap – in case I dropped my camera in the ocean, it won’t sink to the bottom! (But I found that the ocean water on the Atlantic side (Hilton Head Island) is too murky – it’s not clear enough for underwater images. So, although I used the camera in the ocean, it was for above-surface pictures.)
Settings on the Olympus TG4
Most of the time, my settings are either totally auto in underwater mode (works great!) or aperture priority at 2.0 using exposure compensation to bring the exposure lower.
I loooooove editing, and editing a raw file is always preferred. (Note- the only Raw setting is raw plus jpeg. Which is kinda annoying. When I went to upload the pictures, it seemed there were a bunch of dupes and I really didn’t want to import all of these. Then I realized that .ORF is the “Olympus Raw File” format. In Lr, the photos weren’t in order, they’re kinda scattered and I started by unchecking all files. Then, I went through and checked the ORF files I wanted to import plus the videos. I will say, video recording under water is so cool! I think there’s a way to freeze a frame in Lr, and that might be preferable to taking a picture because you can choose the frame. (But the freeze wouldn’t be in raw…) There’s also burst mode/continuous shooting, but I don’t believe that mode produces raw files.
I also love the video recording capacities of this camera! I’ve been trying to take more video and it’s super easy with the TG4.
(A handy tip that I’ll show y’all is that you can make a JPEG still image from video. View the tutorial here: How to create a photo from a video in Lightroom.) I was having issues pressing the shutter at precisely the best moment for a picture. With this Lr feature, I can video record (which is fun underwater) and select the moment to create a still image. Not a raw file, but easy enough to edit, honestly.)
I found that the underwater setting was pretty great in terms of exposure and color. Although I played with other settings, that one does a great job on its own.
I also played with Aperture Priority. I’ve actually never shot anything other than manual, so I found this a little challenging. In A mode, I would set the f-stop to 2.0 hoping to isolate my subject and get some good bokeh/compression. (I can tell you that you’re not gonna get buttery bokeh with this one. So, set that aside – even at 2.0, the compression isn’t awesome.) I can adjust the ISO but not the shutter speed. I figured out (something that you Aperture Priority girls already know) that I had to adjust my exposure compensation. I pulled it all the way to -2.0. I felt this exposure was better. With no exposure compensation adjustment, the images were totally blown out. This occurred at both Auto-ISO or ISO 100.
The other thing to get used to was the focusing system. I’ve been using back button focus for a few years now. This camera uses the standard half-press shutter for focus, and you can recompose if you don’t want a center-focused subject. (I haven’t figured out if you can toggle your focus points…I kinda don’t think you can – I didn’t see anything in the manual and haven’t stumbled across any way to move the focal point from dead center. When it comes to recomposing, I’m not used to it and not completely sure how well it works with this camera yet.
But the BEST part of the easy focus system (not BBF) is that my kids can easily take the camera underwater and take selfies or pictures of each other. That’s actually been the most fun thing about the entire experience. My kids really can’t use my big girl camera (ok, I won’t let them!) but with this camera, they can have all the fun they like!
In fact, I’d say that some of the shots I like the best are the selfies my kids took of themselves! I know those will get old, and I’ll have to continue to learn and play with this camera and get better at it.
Oh, I also took it out in the backyard when it was raining. I used the aperture priority mode and am pretty pleased with the general shots this camera takes.
Again, if you’re hoping for buttery bokeh, this ain’t it. But the colors turn out well and I’m super happy that we got this camera. I would absolutely recommend it. That is…if you’re comfortable under the water, eyes open… or just hand it off to the kids and you’re sure to get some fun shots to keep and post on Instagram!
If you’re looking for more options, check out Elizabeth Blank’s resources on underwater photography. Her pictures are amazing! She’s a presenter at next year’s Clickaway conference in Amelia Island, FL. Her class is “What Lies Beneath: Exploring the Depths of Underwater Photography.” She also has a breakout, Capturing the Essence of Early Childhood and her underwater photography techniques are taught in Behind the Scenes Vol. 2.
You can also check out the ClickinMoms breakout, Bringing Home the Story of the Beach, by Marcie Reif. In it, she’ll show you her set up and take you through how she edits an underwater image. Marcie actually uses a waterproof bag around her camera, which is a bit more economical than housing.
I love being a clickinmom – I’ve met awesome ladies and have learned so much – I wish I had found ClickinMoms when I first started out! If you’re thinking of joining, I’d be so grateful if you used my link to sign up. (Affiiliate link – at no extra cost to you, I get a little sumthin sumthin if you sign up using my link.) BUT – you don’t need to be a member to take their breakouts and workshops. (A breakout is a 1-2 week topical class. A workshop is a 4 week intense deep dive into a certain aspect of photography.)
Do you have an underwater camera or use a bag or housing? What do you think?
Are you thinking of buying the TG4? What questions can I answer to help you?