Olympus’ Fabulous Focus Stacking TG-3


By Neil Eschenfelder

Selling cameras for more than 40 years, I find each new year’s manufacturer offerings fascinating. Usually we we see bigger stronger faster and cheaper. It seems lately, though, we see smaller, stronger, faster and cheaper.

Earlier in spring, 2014, I received a call from my friends at Olympus America telling of a new weatherproof camera with some pretty special features among which included stacking focus, microscope setting, LED ring light and others. Since I continuously search out equipment making my dental photo education easier, I came up on Olympus’ radar as someone capable of commenting on their new TG-3’s suitability for intraoral and dental surgery photography.

Stepping back a long way in Olympus’ history, the company began offering weather resistance equipped film cameras as far back as 1991. Entering our current digital era, at store events Oly reps frequently demonstrated a Stylus digital camera sitting in an aquarium under several inches of water. Always garnering attention from store visitors, Olympus pretty much owned weatherproof camera customers.

Since, in the camera business, nothing stays proprietary for long, other manufacturers brought weather resistant offerings to market; Stylus look alikes with similar features including dust resistance, splash proofing, modest zoom capability, few exposure mode over rides and more. Proving competition good for customers, feature sets expanded to include submersion capability to depths of 6 feet, then 30 and, with Oly’s new TG-3, 50 feet. Always dropping your camera? 6 feet onto concrete is no longer a problem. Now your 3 year old can have a really tough camera to break. Your local hockey team has a spare puck when they lose theirs.

iPhone White BackgroundI won’t go into TG-3’s specs. A quick visit to www.getolympus.com lands you in their fountain of knowledge regarding this and all their cameras. I want to talk about their feature set. Featuring a hefty feel and even more stout build, one can’t help but believe this is a camera you could take to infinity and beyond. A quick tip of the hat to smart phones, point and shoot cameras slowly fade into imaging history with each passing day. Adhering to the old saying, “The best camera is the one you have with you,” P&S’s succumb to smart phones with little resistance when it comes to convenience. From my retailing vantage point, only P&S cameras equipped with special features such as weather resistance, ultra tough construction or big zooms along with, possibly, a few other niche offerings have any hope of survival.

While TG-3 competes in heavyweight class, its still portable enough for your highest mountain climb, greatest depth for the average snorkeler (no SCUBA or world free diving record attempts, please!), longest trek into the deep jungles of New Guinea, Tuareg guided camel trip to the Sahara or, as earlier mentioned, survival when accidentally left within reach of a three year old.

_DSC3596 EditThis article’s readers likely know about auto exposure modes. Olympus’ rear facing command dial offers all the regulars such as Aperture & Shutter Priority, Manual, Intelligent Auto and Scene Modes. The special feature I see on no other camera is the diminutive microscope mode. Now this is different. Set to Microscope, TG-3 reveals what makes it tremendously cool.

Just about all P&S cameras and most smart phones allow close up focusing. Regrettably, most users confuse close camera to subject proximity with good close up photography. Just because your camera focuses within an inch or two from your subject there’s no guarantee your subject looks large enough to impress. Most P&S cameras enter their close up focusing modes in wide angle zoom configuration. Making close proximity a breeze, wide based close up configurations result in visibly barrel distorted images. Flowers, peeled paint, stamps, coins and many other close up subjects suffer little, though, from such lens design shortcomings.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome medical specialties employ P&S’ close up modes for “before’s” & afters.” If their subjects require little accurate aspect rendition as in a flat lesion, scar recovery, suturing, scrape and small wound imaging, normal P&S cameras and even smart phones adequately perform. Dental imaging requires good aspect control. Baseline maxillofacial images as well as intraoral baselines and dental procedures require teeth and mouth tissues rendered in natural looking, distortion free relationships to their surrounding tissues. Dental photography also works best at greater distance from subject patients. Point and Shoots as well as Smart Phones fall short in the world on Intraoral photography. TG-3 is no better than most other P&S camera for proper aspect close up shots.


If your close up needs extend beyond what others consider close, TG-3’s Microscope mode offers what amounts to a digital zoom showing extremely high magnifications. Thanks to its 16 megapixel sensor, TG-3 high magnification images hold up pretty well.

Regardless of your close up requirement, optical physics dictate shallow depth of field renditions during close up photography. Smart phones, DSLR’s, as well as point and shoots exhibit shallow focus depth in close up. Modern software such as Photoshop, Helicon Focus and others circumvent this problem through focus stacking. Since most of us don’t know much about stacking, and few if any of us have time to try it, including focus stacking as a standard feature in TG-3 allows close up photography in this camera like no other. Select Focus Stacking in Microscope mode and shoot! After about 6 exposures (I never could count shots fast enough) or so, voila! TG-3 shows non stacked along side your stacked image.


Rousettus Leshenaultii
Not Stacked


Rousettus Leshenaultii
Focus Stacked












Lamprima Adolphinae
Focus Stacked




TG-3 even accounts for camera shake (within certain limits; no Starbucks before shooting!) with great results. Whilenot quite as cool, it also offers Focus Bracket. Stacking increases depth of field appearance, even at relatively wide open apertures, while focus bracketing allows selective focus field choices at reduced depth of field.





My good friend Jean-Michel Arrigona owner of Midvale, Utah’s very unusual store, “Natur,” www.naturshowroom.com, allowed me free rein to photograph his many fascinating insect and animal specimens he prepares for the finest museums. My first subject was Rousettus Leshenaultii, a small bat. Thinking about close up photography and its special requirements, Olympus provides an LED illumination system on TG-3. The LG-3 “light pipe,” accessory directs diffused LED light directly to and surrounding close up subjects. Choose continuous light from TG-3’s flash menu. A daylight color light source, LG-3 provides shadow filling detail making close up a simple process with the highest possible quality images. While I could see no specs, I strongly believe it helps focus as well.

LG-3 is a must have accessory for TG-3. Using Ray-Flash like “light pipe,” like technology, it seemed to me Olympus would have a better product if they ducted flash through LG-3. Flash would certainly provide a lot more light to the subject. Olympus didn’t have a lot of tech data on TG-3 during my May, 2014, testing. I suspect, since focus stacking Rousettus Leshenaultii under LG-3 LED light technology requires several exposures in quick succession, flash probably couldn’t keep up multiple pops and short recycle times. Adding quick flash extinguishing at such close distances may add too much cost to TG-3. Yes, flash would be cool but TG-3’s LED light system is quite adequate.

TG-3 adds another uniques feature called “Story,” providing templates for 3 image montages. I used it at Natur, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAcombining 3 insect images into a small story board. Now photographers can easily compose complex story board images in camera.

I found myself carrying TG-3 everywhere. Its 16 megapixel sensor provides excellent image quality. Oly’s True Pic VII imaging engine creates great color controlling contrast and all Story image parameters well. As with most Olympus camera bodies all the way up through their pro level EM-1, TG-3 features ultra cool art filters I first tried with Olympus’ E-PL5. I really liked E-PL5’s Art Filter Bracketing feature. Saving lots of Photoshop time, one shutter push resulted in all art filters rendering an image. TG-3 has as many but requires a separate shutter push for each. I looked everywhere in the menu for Art Filter Bracket but couldn’t find it! Individual art filter image rendition comparisons work best with your TG-3 on a tripod.

This small listing of TG-3’s marvelous capabilities concentrates on close up because I this feature differentiates it from everything else on the market. Yes, you can submerge the camera to 50 feet underwater. Pretty remarkable though for most people, 50 feet of water between the camera and you means a trip to the photo store for a new one. Heck, 10 feet means the same. At least you’d know your camera is comfortable and not leaking at 50 feet, ready for discovery during some future generation. _DSC3593

Olympus says TG-3 acquires GPS satellites in only a few seconds. I think I’d agree. It seemed in 10-15 seconds GPS coordinates showed up on the monitor. Worried using GPS would suck down the battery in short order, I really never saw any detrimental effects. Shooting for over an hour saw no drop on battery capacity reading. Very good compared to GPS battery drain on my DSLR.

I added a few images from TG-3 for fun.  Easy to use,  TG-3 provides great images and offers features sure to make you your group’s most irritating travel companion. It also looks extremely cool.





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