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By insect photographer Kazuo UnnoTG-4 + FD-1 Review

We gave renowned insect photographer Kazuo Unno the opportunity to try out the Olympus Stylus TG-4 Tough camera and the FD-1 flash diffuser, and here's what he thought.

Posted on March 29, 2016

Macro mode usability has improved dramatically

The Stylus TG-4 Tough is one of my favourite cameras. It is in my pocket wherever I go. Its optical zoom is capable of capturing subjects 7mm long at full frame without compromising image quality. As I often photograph insects that are less than a centimetre in length, this is an essential camera for me.

One item from the newly updated TG-4 firmware that deserves a special mention is the dramatic improvement to macro mode usability. Before the update, the flash, LED light, white balance, and ISO balance settings, along with AF target position, Would reset if the camera was turned off when in macro mode. At high sensitivity settings on the TG-4, the image quality was inferior to the OM-D. As the setting was reset each time, I had to readjust them in order to photograph at low sensitivity settings. However, the update makes it possible to save these settings so there is no need to reset them each time, making shooting so much easier.

Image quality close to that of interchangeable lens cameras

I've always thought how wonderful photos would be if I could use the flash in super close-ups (macro), and that time has finally come. When the FD-1 flash diffuser accessory (made available at the same time as the TG-4 firmware update) is attached, the TG-4 becomes a different camera. When the FD-1 option in the TG-4 menu is turned on, the ISO speed setting menu disappears. I had fears that the camera would automatically set a high sensitivity, but to my surprise, it automatically sets a low sensitivity. I had groundless fears that the camera would automatically set a high sensitivity, but it automatically sets a low sensitivity. The camera also sets the widest possible aperture setting without making images too bright. This is truly an amazing programme setting. What this all means is that with the FD-1, the TG-4 can be used for easy macro photography with excellent image quality close to that of interchangeable lens cameras.

Water droplets after a rain shower. I used the FD-1 for flash photography.

This is a long-horned beetle with long legs on the back of a leaf. Here I used the FD-1 for lighting.

This cousin of the Indo-Pacific mantis, shot using the TG-4 in Microscope mode.

Using the FD-1 flash diffuser adds variation to the photo. The compound eyes and pseudopupils are clearly captured.

Efficient Programme Auto

The TG-4 with its new firmware truly responds to my desire to shoot at the lowest possible sensitivity with a fast shutter speed. For macro photography that falls within a distance of 20 centimetres, the camera automatically uses ISO 100. For locking the aperture to its widest setting when shooting a subject 20 to 30 centimetres away, ISO 100 to 200 is used. Programme Auto is far more efficient than manually setting the ISO speed. The problem of lowering the aperture and the shutter speed, which results in a blurry photo, has been overcome.

This weevil, slightly over 1 cm long was photographed in the normal Microscope mode without using the flash.

Shot with the FD-1 flash. Colours are clear even with the backlighting.

Because I always want to capture photos with high image quality I use the FD-1 even in landscape shots, and I never worry about the battery even when shooting all day. What's more, JPEG and RAW image formats can be recorded simultaneously.

There are significant advantages in using the FD-1

A flash slave mode was added to the new TG-4 firmware. This proves to be very useful when using FD-1 for focus stacking. Shooting nine sequential shots takes from 5 to 10 seconds, but hand-held shots are possible for still subjects. Because it is difficult to keep the entire frame in focus when photographing insects, I used the 30 shot setting in focus bracketing and then composited 24 of those shots in Photoshop. The light from the FD-1 is soft and perfect for this kind of macro photography. With focus stacking and focus bracketing, I focus on the back third of the screen and then move the focus to the foreground to shoot.

This is a jewel weevil. I chose the 30-shot setting and composited 24 of the shots. This results in a photo that is perfectly in focus from edge to edge.

I focused on the jewel weevil specimen's eyeball and captured the shot using focus bracketing.

There are significant advantages to using the FD-1 during macro photography. Because the flash firing time is short, blurring can be reduced. The flash intensity on the FD-1 can be switched between two levels. In general I use the weaker setting when shooting wide-angle shots and the strong setting when shooting telephoto shots. However, I use the strong setting for wide-angle shots when the subject is far away or when it is black coloured. On the other hand, when I'm worried about overexposing a subject, I use the weak setting for telephoto shots. More creative shooting is possible if you take advantage of the flash output intensity adjustment capability on the FD-1 and use exposure compensation on the TG-4. The new firmware on the TG-4 makes it possible to separately set the flash compensation and exposure compensation. When setting ±0 on the flash and -2 in exposure compensation, shots are sharp and beautiful. This is a convenient feature.

This is a cousin of the Machaerotidae, a bit over 1 cm long. The subject was in the shade, the wind was strong, and the natural background light was too strong so I set exposure compensation to -2 and shot in Focus Stacking mode. Using the FD-1 flash produced a softening effect.

Never been able to capture subjects this small with such sharp detail

Because I wanted to capture the appeal of tiny insects in ultra close-up photography, I grabbed my FD-1 flash adapter and headed to Thailand. The main subject I selected was the tiny treehopper. The treehopper, with its strange horn sprouting from its chest, is an appealing subject. Because it lives in symbiosis with ants, it is an extremely interesting creature from an ecological perspective. Because of its tiny size at approximately 5 mm long, it is a difficult subject to photograph with an SLR camera, making the photographer unconsciously back off when attempting shooting. However, when the FD-1 is attached to the TG-4, an unbelievable level of image quality can be obtained.

The first place I visited was the Sri Nakhon Khuean Khan Park on the shoals of the Chao Phraya River meandering through the city of Bangkok. This park, rich in greenery is filled with living things. However, because it is so big, I had a hard time finding trees with treehoppers. Because treehoppers are a mere 5 mm long, they were difficult to find for old eyes such as mine. I did find lycaenid larva living along with ants. The weevils on the leaves of bird of paradise flowers were a mere 2 mm long. Even such tiny subjects are no match for the TG-4 where I used the flash and Focus Stacking mode to shoot. In the photos you can see hairs that are invisible to the naked eye. I have never been able to capture subjects this small with such sharp detail using other cameras.

The first tiny weevil I found, only 5 mm long.

This is how small the weevil is.

Normal shot with the FD-1.

Focus Stacking mode shot with the FD-1.

I always keep the FD-1 attached

Next I visited the Khao Yai National Park where I photographed a beautiful type of amata fortunei, a young mantis, and a bee hive on the back of a leaf. Flash photography with the FD-1 is also possible for subjects up to 30 cm away even when not using macro mode. There are no problems using it as auxiliary lighting within 1 m. Further than that and it can be used as a catch light, so I always keep the FD-1 attached to the camera when shooting.

I shot the bee hive from a bit of a distance. The light from the FD-1 covers nearly the entire screen.

A beautiful amata fortunei on a flower. I used the FD-1 flash in weak setting. While bringing out the blue scales on its abdomen, exposure compensation was applied to use the backlighting.

This is a jumping spider hiding in the shade of a leaf. The FD-1 shows its amazing effectiveness even when photographing subjects in the shade.

This is a cousin of the polyura eudamippus photographed up close with the FD-1.

Be brave and stand up to the challenge

To photograph the treehopper, I made the town of Sriracha, 120 km southeast of Bangkok, my base. It is a town of industrial parks and many Japanese people. The person who showed me around is a larva enthusiast who works at a local construction company and is very familiar with the treehopper. Many treehoppers live in the hills at the back of the town. This close-by place was a surprisingly little-known spot and would have been difficult for me to find on my own. Thanks to my guide I was able to find the treehopper. After spending a week of hard work shooting around the southeastern and central areas of Thailand I was able to capture photos of a variety of treehoppers.

This is the first square treehopper I photographed. It resembles a carpenter's square. (Shot on the TG-4 with the FD-1)

Square treehoppers look like this from above. (Shot on the TG-4 with the FD-1)

This bull treehopper is about 8 mm long. It is comparatively large for a treehopper. (Shot on the TG-4 with the FD-1)

Searching for a treehopper is also a search for ants. The green tree ant knits leaves together on a tree to build a nest. Green tree ants love the nectar excreted by the treehopper. By staying with the green tree ant, the treehopper is protected from predators. They live in a symbiotic relationship that is mutually beneficial. If you can find a green tree ant, the chances of finding a treehopper are good. However, the green tree ant is a highly aggressive insect and will quickly bite you if you touch its leaf. One or two ants aren't a problem, but you have to be brave and stand up to the challenge of shooting while being attacked by a lot of them. Although they are not venomous, they spray formic acid when biting, so it does hurt.

There are always many green tree ants around this interestingly shaped green hooded treehopper. (Shot on the TG-4 with the FD-1)

Because you can't tell when the treehopper larva will excrete its nectar I always had the camera in hand. Actually, this time I experienced the worst green tree ant attack. The moment I moved the camera away because I couldn't take any more, the treehopper excreted its nectar. Although I missed a great shot, I captured the best scene I've ever gotten, making the memory of the green tree ant attack a good one.

The green tree ant weaves tree leaves together to create a nest and attack outsiders. (Shot on the TG-4 with the FD-1)

I finally captured a shot of the green hooded tree hopper larva giving nectar to the green tree ants. (Shot on the TG-4 with the FD-1)

The FD-1 is really useful for shooting tiny creatures underwater

About three hours from Sriracha near the Cambodian border was a beautiful river, so I left the FD-1 attached to the TG-4 and put it in the river to photograph some small fish with the sky in the background. I also photographed some guppies in the pond at the hotel where I was staying. The soft light of the FD-1 means that you don't have to worry about losing detail in the fish. By setting exposure compensation a bit low, I was able to capture blur-free shots of even moving fish. The FD-1 is really useful for shooting tiny creatures underwater.

I put the camera into the stream of the small river and photographed small fish with the FD-1 and the sky in the background. I set exposure compensation to -2 to keep fish sharp and the sky from being overexposed. The ability to set the exposure compensation and flash sync separately is very convenient.

The LG-1 LED light guide is best for taking advantage of the surrounding atmosphere

At night I photographed a giant pseudophyllus titan that had flown onto the fence on the hotel's walkway. The FD-1 is great for capturing the insect itself while maintaining excellent image quality, but the LG-1 LED guide light is best if you want to include the surrounding atmosphere. Because it is not a high capacity flash, and uses the TG-4 LED light, the ISO speed tends to be high, but I was able to capture a photo that took advantage of the background.

This was shot with the FD-1 attached to the TG-4. Although the image is clear the background is pitch black and the atmosphere is lost.

This was shot with the LG-1 LED guide light. Although the ISO speed was raised to 1600, the atmosphere was captured in the photo.

The TG-4 is a powerful ally for outdoor shooting

The Stylus TG-4 Tough is, like it's namesake, a tough camera. It is at home shooting on land or in the water. It won't break even if you drop it from 2.1 metres. The TG-4 is a powerful ally for shooting outdoors. When combined with the FD-1 or LG-1, the TG-4 is an essential camera for macro shooting. This year, I plan to use this camera a lot for photographing small creatures.

Gallery

Products

Digital Cameras

STYLUS TG-4 Tough

This model is equipped with a bright f2.0 lens, Microscope mode, a variety of underwater modes, and GPS so you never miss the greatest moments even when shooting in the most punishing environments.

Accessories for Compact Digital Cameras

FD-1 Flash Diffuser

This accessory is for handheld macro photography. It uses the TG-4 built-in flash for lighting. It is best for macro photography in dark locations and for capturing moving subject such as insects.

Accessories for Compact Digital Cameras

LG-1 LED Light Guide

The LG-1 uses the TG-4 LED light for illumination when shooting so you can view the subject when taking photographs.