I took our two top-selling compact cameras–the Canon G7X III and the Olympus Tough TG 6–to Oahu, Hawaii. Here are some of my rambling thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of these two models.
But First….What do we Mean,”Compact Camera”?
Many cameras today are “compact”, and even the most high-end imaging solutions are miniaturizing as technologies like chips and sensors continually develop.
As such, the term “compact camera” is starting to feel a bit outdated…
For our purposes, compact cameras are “non-interchangeable-lens” (or, “fixed lens”) cameras –the most important distinction for this group.
They only have one lens that does not detach from the body, and as such, evaluating the lens of any particular compact model is also important.
To further distinguish our definition of compacts from other “not-so-compact-but-still-fixed-lens” cameras, let’s also add in the (obvious) criteria that compacts are small in form–normally able to fit in a larger pants pocket.
After these two main points, things start to get pretty hazy within this niche of cameras.
For example, is a GoPro Hero9 a compact camera? It’s small and has a fixed lens…
Some say yes, some say no, it’s an “action camera”.
Other definitions include a mention of sensor size–most compacts have smaller sensors, like 2/3″ or 1″ (take a look at the sensor chart to the left).
So is a Leica Q2 (with a 47mp full frame sensor and 5k+ price tag) not a compact camera anymore? It’s small, and has a fixed lens…I don’t really know. I think most would call that a “high-end compact”.
Lastly, this ambiguous grouping of machines is also known as “point-and-shoot”, but given the level of sophistication and adjustments now creeping into many compacts, I’m not a fan of this term at all.
In sum, I think I sort of hate the term “compact camera”. It just doesn’t work anymore! But, we’ll still use it here. Moving on…
Camera specs and lists of features are useful, and I spend (“waste”?) ridiculous amounts of time reading such reviews, but there is something to be said for getting out in the field and ignoring all the technical specifications.
As such, while I will share some of the important technical differences between two of our most popular compact (again, terrible term..) models, I will focus more in this article on what I liked and what I didn’t like about actually using these cameras.
I’ll also include feedback from my friend and dive buddy Kiana, who is not professionally involved with underwater photography, for a different perspective.
If you’re deciding between these cameras, hopefully this article will help.
So, without further ado, let’s dive into some of the specifics of our two competitors!
* Actually one more thing…
As I mentioned before, comparing these two models spec-for-spec doesn’t make a lot of sense; they have different strengths by design.
It’s an apples to oranges kind of thing.
I say this as a preface to the following section not to “defend” either model, but to suggest that you should not use these specifications alone to inform any choices you make about these cameras.
If you wanted to do that, you could just go to cameradecision.com or a similar site, which will auto-generate a list of side-by-side features and pick a winner.
This, in my opinion, is not a good way to choose a camera.
So why compare them at all?
Mainly because one of the most common types of emails we get at Mozaik is “can you help me decide between…”, and within that, the most common “between” is the G7XIII and the TG 6. Sometimes with the RX100 VII thrown in.
But, we’ll save that last one one for another day. Again, moving on….
The Canon G7X III
The G7X III is a 20-megapixel camera with a 1-inch BSI-CMOS sensor. As I said earlier, I’ll try to not delve too deeply into these nitty gritty specs, but this one is pretty important.
Another important aspect of any compact is the lens: in this case, the G7X III has a 24-100 mm F1.8-2.8 zoom.
It also features a tilting LCD screen, optical image stabilization, and a zippy 30fps frame rate.
The G7X III’s primary operation modes are Auto, P, TV, AV, M, C, SCN, and Video.
We’ll be using this camera in a Fantasea FG7XIII housing, our most popular option, but housings are also available from other manufacturers like Ikelite.
The Olympus TG 6
The TG 6 features a smaller, 12 MP 1/2.3-inch BSI-CMOS sensor and a 25-100 mm F2.0-4.9 zoom lens.
The screen on the TG 6 is fixed, and the camera is capable of shooting at 20fps. It also includes strong image stabilization (sensor shift).
The TG 6 is environmentally sealed, and waterproof to 15m/50 feet. It is also crushproof, shockproof, and freezeproof; in short, a very “tough” camera.
We’ll be using this camera in an Olympus PT-059 housing, but housings are also available from other manufacturers.
First Impressions: Cameras
Out of the box, both of these cameras feel nice and solid. They’re similar in size, and, in my opinion, both good looking.
The first thing that stood out when setting things up was the battery charging. Or, in the case of the TG 6, the lack of external charger included. Out of the box, the only way to charge the camera is by connecting the camera to a power source directly.
In comparison, the G7X III comes with an external charger as you would expect, and battery charging is done externally.
This was a little annoying, and, for a longer trip, I would strongly suggest picking up an optional, external battery charger (and probably a spare battery or two) for the TG.
Moving on to the camera functions, one measurable advantage of the G7X III is the Manual mode–for photographers used to shooting completely manually, the G7X III is the way to go here.
For others that shoot in Aperture Priority mode, this is not a big deal.
Both cameras shoot in RAW format (a relatively new feature for the TG line), a great feature that I would not want to be without. Both models also shoot 4k video, which is also relatively new to the TG line.
First Impressions: Housings
While the size of these two cameras is similar, the size of their respective housings is more diverse. The Fantasea G7XIII housing has a much larger protrusion for the lens than the Olympus housing, and this is immediately felt when the housing is in hand.
The shutter control also stands out as an immediate difference: Olympus opted for a toggle-type shutter control, while Fantasea has a push-button shutter control. These two controls feel very different, and overall, these two models do not feel very similar in my hands. More on this later.
Inserting the TG 6 into its Olympus housing was very intuitive, and I had no problems there.
However, I encountered an interesting issue with the Fantasea housing and the G7X III–when I first inserted the camera into the housing and tested the setup, zoom functionality was limited at best and sometimes completely non-functional.
After discussing with Fantasea, I learned that the mode dial on the G7x III housing must be pulled up (it sort of pops up a little on the housing) before you insert the camera.
If not, the mechanism inside will not align correctly and the zoom performance will be affected.
Once the cameras were charged up and assembled, my friend Kiana and I headed out to put them through their paces on a patchy inshore reef near Kailua, Oahu.
Conditions were pretty terrible for underwater photography as it turned out–low visibility and heavy cloud cover–but this review isn’t so much about stunning images as it is about our thoughts actually using these cameras. Excuses excuses…
I used the TG 6 first, while Kiana used the G7X III, and then we switched.
Here are some thoughts after the afternoon.
Olympus TG 6 in Action
The first thing I noticed with the TG 6 was the ergonomics. To me, the camera/housing was very comfortable in the hand, and focusing and firing the shutter was a simple exercise.
I usually shoot Nauticam housings, which is maybe why the toggle-type shutter felt immediately comfortable to me–this is somewhat similar to Nauticam’s mechanism.
I used Aperture Priority mode pretty much exclusively, which is what I use with any camera when I’m near the surface and not using strobes.
One thing that I absolutely loved, especially after using the TG series cameras of the past, was the ability to use Super Macro Mode without leaving Aperture Priority mode.
This basically means you can use this camera in Aperture Priority Mode alone, and never need another mode to access all of its features.
Super macro (and macro in general) is a huge strength of the TG 6.
Essentially, super macro mode allows you to focus on subjects up to 1 cm from the lens, with the lens zoomed in 1.2x or more.
And, new to the TG 6, you can access this super macro mode within the Aperture Priority setting by simply toggling the super macro button. This is excellent.
With a minimum focus distance of ~1cm, I don’t know if you can find a compact camera that’s better at taking photos of very small things right out of the box than the TG 6.
I found the screen easy enough to see, even in intermittent sunlight–this LCD is definitely noticeably sharper than the previous LCD on the TG5.
TG 6 Autofocus and General Performance
The autofocus was good, and I did some additional tests tracking breaking waves in the surf. I didn’t last long, as I was getting absolutely pounded by some of the larger waves…but I do remember being glad that the TG 6 itself is water and shockproof…luckily, the Olympus housing was up to the task as well.
The camera had no trouble tracking frothy details in the waves, and exposures were pretty good. I was too focused on not eating sand to really adjust many settings, so these photos are more of a product of the camera’s own abilities than anything I did.
The 20fps that the TG 6 shoots was more than enough for me, even with the face-paced nature of the surf break environment.
Overall, I didn’t have many complaints; the TG 6 was very fun to use above and below the surface.
Canon G7X III in Action
Unlike the TG 6, the G7X III felt somewhat awkward to hold and shoot, especially one-handed.
Kiana and I both agreed that it was much easier for us to use the toggle trigger of the TG 6 than the push button of the G7X III.
This was partially because of the Fantasea Housing grip; the surface area to the right side of the camera body was slightly too narrow to hold comfortably with one hand.
After an hour of active swimming and shooting, my camera hand definitely started to complain.
This issue with the push button vs toggle shutter also led to a few complaints in terms of autofocus. While free diving, we had a more difficult time achieving accurate focus with the Canon than the Olympus, which I attribute again to the Fantasea Housing Shutter than the actual camera itself.
Outside of the housing, the G7X III was not difficult to focus.
Now, the good stuff!
The image quality and file manipulation ease from the G7X III was excellent overall.
Files had good color and plenty of detail straight out of camera, and were very workable in post.
Even in poor visibility, the G7X III provided enough detail and color depth to manipulate nicely.
In more controlled settings, the G7X III produced very clean, detailed images, e.g., in very shallow water with little current where I could hold the camera steady and easily achieve proper focus.
In more difficult environments, such as free diving to 15 meters with a bit of current, I struggled more to get good results in terms of focus and exposure with the Canon than I did with the Olympus.
This wasn’t necessarily the camera’s fault, it was mine–but the ergonomics of the TG 6 outperformed the G7X III in this regard and made things easier.
The Canon also produced very nice images above water, and the more traditional modes (especially Manual Mode) definitely offer more options for accurate exposure and creative effects.
Conversely, the lack of Manual Mode on the TG 6 is a bit of a frustration.
“Which of these cameras is better??”
This, in my humble opinion, is completely the wrong question.
Sometimes, there clearly is a better camera. Especially when it comes to two cameras that are both designed to do the same thing, one of those two models may do that thing better.
But in many cases (like this one), each camera does something better than the other, and the only way to decide which camera is right for you is to carefully decide what you want to do with that camera far in advance.
If your needs change, you may need to think about upgrading down the line–so it pays to really think about what you want to do with a potential camera now and a bit into the future.
But, because this is a “One vs. the Other” type of article, I will still give my overall thoughts.
Overall, I found the Olympus easier to use, more ergonomic, and better at getting close in on macro subjects. I was very happy with the addition of super macro to AV mode.
I must say that I enjoyed using the Olympus more than I did the Canon during this trip, as did my friend Kiana.
However, I did find the Canon files to be noticeably easier to work with in post, more detailed, and with better colors than the Olympus.
The Canon produced better quality files than the Olympus, for equivalent images.
So, how does this help a potential buyer choose between these models?
If you’re a snorkeler and not a diver, I would give Olympus the edge in this competition. It was just a lot easier to use and operate near the surface and during free dives than the Canon.
If you mainly shoot macro, and you are not interested in adding wet lenses or accessories to your setup (especially if you are looking for a quick, plug-and-play solution for mostly macro work), you may also prefer the Olympus.
And, if you’re someone who prioritizes size and travel-friendliness above all else, I would again probably suggest the Olympus. Especially since you can use it without a housing in most free diving or snorkeling environments.
If you can’t live without completely manual controls…go with the Canon.
If you’re a diver and are willing to invest more time and effort into your photos, the Canon also has the edge.
If image quality is your top priority, especially if you are willing to invest in accessories like wet lenses and strobes, Canon again has the edge.
And, lastly, if you shoot in low light environments and need a brighter maximum aperture, the Canon may be the better choice.
What about the cost!
I tried to keep this review free from price bias, but, unfortunately, this is usually an important consideration.
The Canon G7X III and Fantasea FG7X III bundle retails for $1029.95 USD.
The Olympus TG 6 and Olympus PT-059 bundle retails for $749.00 USD.
So, the Olympus setup ends up being about 25% cheaper overall. You can buy either of these (and many others!) from www.housingcamera.com.
Hopefully, something in here is useful to you.
If you’re trying to decide between these two (or really, any cameras), first carefully consider what types of environments you’ll be shooting in, the subjects you anticipate encountering, and your priorities. Don’t just pick the “better camera”– often, there’s no such thing!
An example from my own experience–I shoot two setups: one Micro 4/3 and one Full Frame. One costs about 3x the other.
A lot of people who read a lot of gear reviews would tell you that the Micro 4/3 is the lesser of my two cameras.
I would strongly disagree; there are many images that only my Micro 4/3 camera could have captured between my two setups, for a number of reasons, and the same for my Full Frame. There’s a moral to that story in there, somewhere!