I wanted a camera to take to Costa Rica that could handle itself well in all situations (in the bright day but also in dimly lit restaurants) whilst providing protection from water, sand and humidity. I settled on the Olympus TG5 as it rated higher than any other ‘Adventure’ camera in all of the online reviews, and nobody I spoke to who had one had anything bad to say about it.

Which is probably because they never actually used it whilst on an adventure holiday!

All the images I’m going to show you here were taken on the RAW setting then fixed up using Adobe Photoshop Express (a free program) unless otherwise stated. The images tend to come out slightly overexposed when put on the auto and mode settings, so mostly I just had to darken a little and increase vibrancy and saturation.

I’ll start with the camera’s major fault. I’m shocked that no review site that I looked at mentioned it. Basically, there is lens flare which takes the form of a light purple haze in the centre of the photo, when pointed in a certain direction, which I can say broadly is when the sun is quite high and in front of you (between about 10am and 2pm in Costa Rica). Think shooting contra jour in the middle of the day and you have your danger area. Here’s how it looks when you get it wrong and the purple haze appears.

You can try to use your hand to block out the sun but it’s difficult to do as you’re looking into the sun in a contrasty situation and the purple haze isn’t easy to see on the screen. There was no problem when the sun was lower, earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon, though.

Here’s another contra jour shot which I think the camera dealt with very well. Very contrasty lighting but it picks up detail in the figure nearest me and there’s no purple flare. This was about 9am, and the image hasn’t been altered in any way, it’s how it came out of the camera.

The purple haze also happens in low lighting, indoors, when the light is at the same angle – just above and in front. The way to counter this is to buy a lens hood, which my camera shop didn’t stock or suggest to me at first (I found out about it after I complained about the purple haze to the camera shop staff and we worked out what the issue was together) but which apparently you can get online. Now I know about this design fault and google it, it seems it’s a commonly complained about thing with this model. It’s a shame the review sites didn’t mention it before I bought it, otherwise I’d have got the lens hood before I’d headed off on my adventures!!

The other negative is that whilst it’s meant to be waterproof to 50 feet, it actually only works until 40 feet before it starts shutting down or malfunctioning. Here’s an image taken whilst scuba diving at 35 feet.

That’s not bad at all. But then going deeper, at 40 feet a Hammerhead shark approached us and the camera started giving error messages and refusing to focus, before shutting down. You don’t see this sort of shark every day, in fact it was my first, so having the camera refusing to work when it was still 10 feet within it’s working limit wasn’t good at all. Here’s an image taken of the shark before the camera shut down. Crap, huh? It wasn’t that far away and visibility was pretty good but this makes it look far away and blurry. Other scuba divers I met in Costa Rica said that yes, they’d heard that this camera shut down at 40 foot depth, so it wasn’t just my camera that was at fault, it seems like another design issue.

The final problem is that neither the screen or the lens are protected, meaning if you throw it in your travel bag after using you are risking scratches. Not a big deal on the screen, very big deal on the lens. Again, you can buy a lens cover but it’s an optional thing, not included in the basic camera package. This is a huge disappointment, as this is an adventure camera which can be ruined very easily if you treat it as it’s meant to be treated, without paying out more for a lens cover.

Ok, onto the good stuff. If you’re just snorkelling or diving shallow, you get some pretty good images. The screen is relatively easy to see with a diving mask on (before the mask inevitably fogs, as they mostly do when they are rentals) and the controls are basic. Here’s a snap I took, not cropped at all, with the camera on underwater snapshot mode.

I think the quality is great considering the price and the fact that it’s not a dedicated underwater camera.

The other set modes are fine if you don’t want to bother too much with your exposures/general creativity but pleasingly there’s also the option to go manual in most situations. You can’t change the shutter speed beyond the preset, but for sunsets, jungle, beach, interiors, etc you can make the image your own by fiddling about a little with the controls. Here’s a restaurant snap, the light was low, you can see there’s not much noise, with more practice with this camera I could have also added some gentle fill in flash.

And here’s another low light effort, plenty of contrast, colour and different light temperatures to deal with but again the camera did very well.

The focusing is good when confronted with complicated situations, such as furry monkeys in jungle. I had this on maximum optical zoom and was about 1.5 metres away.

For this next shot I put the flash on manual. It was midday and there was high contrast between shade and sea/sky. I’m very pleased with the results here, if I worked it up on Photoshop it’d be an excellent shot.

A feature I really enjoy is the macro. There’s a few settings, my favourite is the bracketed close up, which enables you to get good depth of field. Here’s a shot taken in shade, with the camera handheld 1cm from the spider. The spider itself was only about 2cm in size.

I figured that the Olympus TG5 wouldn’t offer as good a image quality as my Nikon SLR but I wanted something more compact whilst not compromising TOO much on image quality for web/home printing use. Overall I was happy with it.

Make sure you get a lens hood and cap, and stay shallow on your scuba dives, and I think you’ll have a happy experience with this camera, too. It has it limits, and I’ve highlighted the ones that affected me on my trip, but overall this camera delivers. And of course it’s far more portable and adventure-resistance than the average SLR or iPhone.

There are many more features to talk of, but the other online reviews take care of the tech pretty well so I shan’t go over that ground. There’s also an online manual available for free that helped me get to grips with the camera fast – I had about 4 hours looking through it before I felt confident enough to travel with it as my main camera – that you can download if you want to check out more before you buy.

If my camera turns up any more things I think are worth passing on when I use it next in a different adventure environment I’ll update this review. In the meantime, I hope this review helped you and if you have a specific question that you think I can help further with, the email is dave@trekandrun.com