The insect photographer Kazuo Unno talks aboutthe evolution and attraction of the Tough (TG) series

Kazuo Unno, a photographer of insects who travels the globe in search of photographs, has reviewed the Olympus Tough (TG) series cameras, including the evolution points of the TG-6, the latest model in the lineup.

Publication date: June 13, 2019

Kazuo Unno

Born in 1947 in Tokyo. He has photographed insects and the natural world for more than 50 years. For 20 years, beginning in 1999, he has provided daily updates to his web-based Komoro Diary. He has also appeared on television programmes such as "Wildlife" and "Darwin's Amazing Animals!". His work has appeared in close to 200 publications. In the last two years he has published "Papilionaidae Evolution and Diversity" : Heibonsha, "Kazuo Unno's Insect Photography Techniques" : Soshisha, "Illustrated Field Guide for Identifying the Insects Around You - Revised New Edition" : Seibundo Shinkosha. He is chairman of the Society of Scientific Photography, and chairman of the Ikimono no Shashin Little League executive committee.

Digital camera

Tough TG-6

TG series accessories

FCON-T02 Fisheye Converter

A camera that fits in your pocket to take everywhere

The TG series are the kind of cameras I just can't let go. I always carry one with me in my pocket so I can take it out quickly and click away when I want to shoot a subject close by. In particular, from the third generation TG-3 onwards they feature a Microscope Mode that lets you approach as close as 1 cm and zoom in, making them a must-have for insect photography.

In addition to being waterproof and dustproof, these cameras feature shockproof and freezeproof performance. You can also store information such as the position (latitude/longitude), temperature, and altitude at which you are shooting. TG series cameras are more than just a great choice for macro photography, they cover all the basics needed in the field.

On this trip I used the TG-6, the latest model in the series, to shoot in Thailand, Australia, and the Solomon Islands. It gave me a feeling for how this model has evolved, and reinforced my opinion of just how good these TG series cameras really are.

Steady progress has been made with focus stacking, macro shooting, and video shooting

TG series cameras have continually progressed. Looking back, in-camera focus stacking arrived with the TG-3, which made it extremely easy to use for photographing insects. With the TG-4, the shooting range in Microscope Mode expanded from 1 to 30 cm, making macro shooting much easier to achieve. The TG-5 brought with it major improvements, with an on-board Pro Capture Mode that records advance frames before the shutter button is pushed. The Pro Capture Mode on the TG-5 / TG-6 starts pre-capture when the shutter button is pressed halfway, recording approximately 5 frames from the half second before you press the shutter button. Fleeting movements of insects, such as the moment in which a butterfly flaps its wings, are out of one's grasp with normal sequential shooting due to the time lag that occurs even if you press the shutter the moment you see it happen, but the Pro Capture Mode gives you more assurance that you can capture movements that happen before you release the shutter. It's safe to say that this is an essential function when photographing insects.

What's more, the TG-5 supports shooting 4K videos, and can even film high-speed movies at 120 fps in full HD. Recently there has been a growing need to take video in a range of fields, including nature photography, and my impression of the TG-5 is that it has all the features that people want, and thus has evolved in the right direction.

This is a Lamproptera Meges urinating, shot using the TG-6s Pro Capture Mode—the kind of subject that I was never able to record without the Pro Capture Mode.

 A movie shot with the TG-5 (An intimidating pose from Prohierodula Picta)

A 120 fps high-speed movie shot with the TG-5 (Sphex Tomentosus digging a hole)

The latest model, the TG-6, which has only just arrived on the scene, features a range of functional improvements, such as the ability to record video in 4K when using Microscope Mode. The ability to shoot 4K video in the ultra-macro configuration for which the TG series is known is unique to the TG-6, making it a camera that can be used for an even broader range of applications than previous models.

In my use thus far, I have found that the increased resolution of the 1.04 million dot TG-6 monitor is a significant improvement, offering good visibility, and allows you to view the photos you have taken, even when in bright locations outdoors. Additionally, the programme has a faster shutter speed than that in previous models, and you can take quicker shots than before thanks to it. *It appears that keeping blurring of subjects down when taking photographs is easier now, even when shooting moving subjects like butterflies. Even the detailed areas of the TG-6 are easier to use.

* You can configure the lowest S/S setting, even when using ISO AUTO.

The TG-6 now allows you to select the number of shots for Focus Stacking

What I really want to nail down here is the fact that with the TG-6 you can now set the number of shots to use for Focus Stacking. In previous models this was fixed at eight shots, but the TG-6 allows you to choose from between three and ten shots.

Focus Stacking allows you to keep everything in focus, from close-up objects to those in the distance, even in shots with a long depth of field, which is a tremendously effective function for insect photography. Since the days of the TG-2 I have tried to do this by taking shots with different focal lengths and overlaying them on a PC. From my feedback, TG-3 included Focus Stacking, and I am very attached to this function. The ability to select the number of shots that the TG-6 brings makes me very happy.

Focus Stacking (TG-6)

Standard shooting (TG-6)

The ability to set up to 10 shots may make you think that it's better to just take more, but the trick is to choose the right number of shots to suit the situation and the subject. In fact the TG series, which have a large depth of field compared to an Interchangeable Lens camera, don't need so many shots, with three or four shots being sufficient for subjects like large insects and flowers. The more shots you use the more time required to take them, during which insects are likely to move their bodies or antennae, causing blurring that ruins the shot. Use a large number of shots is fine for cameras like the OM-D E-M1X or E-M1 Mark II, but for the TG-6, the secret to success is to reduce the number of shots as much as possible. I recommend trying three or four shots initially when photographing insects or flowers.

Conversely, for taking large shots of static objects indoors, or small subjects that don't move, using a low number of shots can cause the edges and corners of the subject to go out of focus. In such cases, it's better to choose seven or eight shots.

Compatible with a range of accessories such as the FCON-T02 Fisheye Converter

Another attractive aspect of the TG series is the wide range of photography accessories available.

One of the accessories that has been added in conjunction with the release of the TG-6 is the FCON-T02, a waterproof fisheye converter. A characteristic of this converter is that changing the zoom position allows it to be used as either a circular or diagonal fisheye, and zooming further from the diagonal fisheye to the telephoto end provides the angle of view of a normal wide-angle lens. Despite the wide angle there is no obvious distortion, and the image quality is good. Being able to use a wide angle, diagonal fisheye, or circular fisheye without removing the converter is really convenient.

FCON-T02 Fisheye Converter

Circular fisheye (TG-6, using the FCON-T02)
Focal length (35 mm equivalent): 8.0 mm

Diagonal fisheye (TG-6, using the FCON-T02)
Focal length (35 mm equivalent): 17.0 mm

Circular fisheye (TG-6, using the FCON-T02)
Focal length (35 mm equivalent): 8.0 mm

Wide angle (TG-6, using the FCON-T02)
Focal length (35 mm equivalent): 19.0 mm

The FD-1 Flash Diffuser spreads the light from the camera's built-in flash to provide bright lighting when taking macro shots, making it a must have for TG series cameras from the TG-4 onwards. You can also use this accessory for focus stacking, and in fact I use it so much that it's regularly found on my camera. For focus stacking using the FD-1, the secret is to reduce the amount of light emitted by the camera flash. With the TG-6 and TG-5, I recommend setting the manual flash level to about 1/16, and working with the light level switching lever on the FD-1 open (its default position). This will let the built-in flash charge quickly and allow you to continue taking pictures using high-quality images with good response.

FD-1 Flash Diffuser

Shot using the FD-1 (TG-6)

With the flash off (TG-6)

Many of the accessories for the TG series are waterproof, and all converter lenses, including the FCON-T02 Fisheye Converter, can be used as-is in water when attached to the camera. The FD-1 Flash Diffuser is also waterproof and can be used for underwater photography, so you can use it in bad weather without worrying about it breaking.

Microscope Mode lets you enjoy taking ultra-macro shots of the world close at hand

Lastly, I'd like to talk about how much fun it is to use the Microscope Mode feature on all TG series cameras from the TG-3 onwards. This mode allows you to zoom in from as close as 1 cm to the subject, almost as if you were viewing it through a microscope, for easy enjoyment of the world of ultra-macro photography.

It's fun using Microscope Mode to shoot everyday objects like coins and accessories, as well as natural subjects such as insects and flowers. You can capture the ultra-macro world that can't be seen with the naked eye, which leads to new discoveries. It's also a great function to try out with children—there's so many different things you should try!

The LG-1 LED Light Guide is the perfect accessory for taking ultra-macro shots in Microscope Mode. Attaching this accessory directs the camera LED light in a uniform manner, eliminating shadows even when shooting from as close as 1 cm away from a subject, and for flat subjects you can place it over the camera for shooting.

FD-1 Flash Diffuser

Shooting an LCD monitor in Microscope Mode (TG-6)

Shooting a colour-printed matter in Microscope Mode (TG-6)

The perfect camera for observing and photographing nature

From the TG-3 onwards, the TG series are some of the best cameras available for observing and photographing nature. Recently, I almost always take a TG-6 with the FD-1 attached, and an OM-D E-M1X or E-M1 Mark II with an M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100mm F4.0 IS PRO mounted when I head out on a shoot. For close-up subjects I use the TG-6, and for things a little further away I tend to use the E-M1X or E-M1 Mark II.

The TG series—particularly when teamed up with a SLR camera and macro lens—is my recommendation for people taking photographs of natural subjects such as insects and flowers if you're worried about image being blurry or out of focus. Ultra-macro shooting is easier on a TG series camera than on a SLR cameras, reducing the amount of failures and making photography more fun. The TG-6—the latest model in the series—features video filming functions that you can also use for professional shooting, such as Microscope Mode and the ability to take 4K video. Don't stop at stills, try using the TG-6 to take video.

Gallery

Products

Tough TG-6

The Olympus Tough series can withstand the most punishing environments and delivers superior quality. The TG-6—the latest model in the series—brings improvements to the already-great macro shooting functions and underwater photography modes, and can even shoot 4K video in Microscope Mode. This camera has evolved to deliver a wider range of expressive power than ever before.

FCON-T02 Fisheye Converter

A waterproof fisheye converter that lets you capture both circular and diagonal fisheye shots, simply by changing the zoom position. Enjoy unique expression that makes the most of the characteristic fisheye lens distortion. The interior of the lens is filled with nitrogen gas, preventing internal fogging due to temperature differences.

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