Then there are four active outdoor scene modes for shooting water, beach, and snow scenes as well as access to 25 other scene modes (SCN) for those times when you want to get specific with your auto shooting or get creative. For the most part they are the ones you'd find on any point-and-shoot, but there are a few artistic ones like High Dynamic and Pinhole as well as a Handheld Night Shot that takes several 3-megapixel pictures in a row and then combines them into one image to reduce motion blur and noise. It does improve noise and detail, but the downside is that it really only works if your subject is stationary.
The last spot in the mode menu goes to the TS3's 3D mode, which works by clicking off multiple shots as you move the camera horizontally across a scene and then picks the two best for overlaying to create a 3D MPO file that can be played back on 3D-enabled TVs, computers, and digital photo frames. The results are good, but your subject has to be motionless, as does everything in the scene. Any movement really kills the effect. It's a nice extra to play with, but not a must-have mode.
There is no dedicated movie mode you enter to shoot video clips. Instead, you choose your movie recording settings in the main menu and push the record button on top next to the shutter release. (For more information on all the capabilities of the TS3, head to Panasonic's global site.)
Shooting performance is very good. Shutter lag is low thanks to a fast and accurate autofocus; it's just 0.4 second in bright lighting and 0.7 second in dim lighting. From shot to shot without the flash is only 1 second; adding the flash drags that time to 2.2 seconds, though. The TS3's time from off to first shot is 1.9 seconds. Its continuous burst is capable of up to 3.6fps, but in our lab tests it averaged 2.5fps. Still, that's pretty fast for this class of camera.
The TS3 looks and feels like it can take a beating. Judging by user reviews of Panasonic's previous rugged cameras, one might wonder if the TS3 will hold up to its durability claims. I had no problems with my review camera, but that doesn't mean problems can't happen. However, as with all rugged and waterproof cameras, there are handling precautions you need to take to keep water and dust out of the camera. Panasonic has stored information about these precautions in the camera for easy reference and a warning pops up when the camera's turned on.
Fortunately, even with all this protection, the TS3 still functions like a regular point-and-shoot. Controls are easy to master, as is the interface. Actually, the TS3's all-button controls are nicer than on Panasonic's compacts that use switches for power and to change from shooting to playback.
One of the main attractions of the TS3 is the built-in GPS. Using it is fairly simple, and the process has been streamlined from Panasonic's previous GPS cameras thanks to a dedicated spot in the menu system. Once you've turned on the receiver--this can be done from the Q.Menu or from the main menu--you can have the camera retrieve the GPS information for your current location. In tests this took anywhere from less than a minute to several minutes depending on how much open sky was above me. Once locked, the TS3 can display country, state, city, and landmark information and continues to update itself every minute. You can then go into the GPS Area Select menus and pick the correct information for your location. For example, if you're standing in the middle of New York, it could quite possibly have a couple pages of landmarks to pick from. Also, you can choose to limit what area information is attached, in case you only want the name of the city, for instance. The area information covers 173 countries or regions all over the world and more than half a million landmarks in 73 countries or regions.
For everyday shooting, attaching GPS information is probably not that exciting. But if you do a lot of traveling, hiking, or other activities where you might want to remember where you were, then it's a great feature to have. Longitude and latitude is seamlessly added to the EXIF data and, again, you can have the camera include country, city, state, and landmarks. The TS3 also has a built-in compass, altimeter, and barometer, which makes it a nice backup device for those things should you need them.
AVCHD movies can be recorded with GPS data as well. However, the location information can only be viewed when videos are played back on a computer using the bundled software or directly from the camera connected to a TV. If you don't want to view your clips with those methods, you'll probably want to stick with the non-GPS AVCHD format option to save on battery life.
One last thing regarding the GPS: once you've turned it on, the receiver stays on until you turn it off, until 2 hours have passed since it refreshed its position, or until the camera has been off for 3 hours. So even if you shut off the camera, it'll continue to update its location every 15 minutes. This is fine if you're shooting for an extended period of time, but it'll eventually make your battery run down. If you want the GPS to turn off when you shut the camera off, you must select the Airplane mode option from the camera's menu. This is all explained in the manual, but again, battery life is definitely something to keep in mind with features like GPS.
The battery, SD card slot, and Micro-HDMI and Micro-USB ports are all behind a locking door on the right side of the camera. Battery life is good, being CIPA-rated for 310 shots. On the other hand, if you're going to be away from a power outlet for an extended period of time, you have little choice but to buy extra batteries; there is no option to charge via USB. That's not unusual, but with a rugged camera like the TS3 it's more of an issue.
At almost $400, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3 is expensive for a point-and-shoot that produces fairly average photos and movie clips. Of course, what you're really paying for is the privilege of shooting those photos in conditions where other cameras--and smartphones--won't survive. The addition of GPS certainly makes the package more attractive, as does its relatively speedy performance.
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