Cameras are getting significantly cheaper for the tech spec that gets crammed into increasingly lean bodies. When I
Here, we meet the FT20, which sits alongside its older sibling at the 'rugged' end of Panasonic's current camera line-up. Costing around £160, its native resolution beats the F3 by a full 4 megapixels. What's more, the FT20 is both slimmer and lighter than its predecessor. But is it any better?
The price and size aren't the only specs that set the two apart. The FT20's zoom is 4x, equivalent to a respectable 25-100mm on a regular 35mm camera. On the FT3, the zoom extends slightly further to 4.6x. There's also an optical image stabiliser on the FT20 to even things out at the longer end.
The reason it's not exactly a superzoom is quite simple: like its predecessor, the FT20 is built like a tank, with no protruding parts, so it can't accommodate an external lens arrangement. It's designed to be freeze-proof to -10C, dust-proof, waterproof to 5m and able to withstand being dropped 1.5m. So, in every physical respect, it's the ideal traveller's camera.
Shutter speeds top out at 1/1,300 second at the fastest end of the scale, and 8 seconds at the slowest, each of which should be fine for all but the most esoteric conditions. At 8 seconds, you shouldn't have any trouble taking attractive night-time shots of illuminated buildings or streaking headlights.
Many of the FT20's core specs are pedestrian. Sensitivity stretches from ISO 100 to ISO 1,600, with a fairly narrow compensation of +/-2.0EV in 1.3EV steps. To go any further, you'll have to enable the high-sensitivity scene mode, but this reduces the maximum resolution to a poky 3 megapixels.
Certainly bear these compromises in mind when choosing your snapper, but consider that each one has been made because you've opted for a rugged camera. Allowing the specs to dictate your buying decision would be short-sighted. This is a camera you'd buy because you want something that can withstand more than the occasional knock or touch of dampness. In that respect, it's got very little competition outside of Panasonic's line-up.
We set the FT20 to Intelligent Auto mode throughout these tests to best emulate how most buyers would put it to use. In general, the camera did a great job of picking the most appropriate sensitivity, aperture, shutter speed and point of focus in each frame.
Viewed full screen, the results were impressive. However, when zoomed to 100 per cent, so that each pixel in the image is given its own pixel on screen, some deficiencies become more obvious.
This image of a church and its grounds appears sharp when zoomed to fit your display. But closer examination of the lower-left corner, which isn't as brightly illuminated as the rest of the frame, reveals a pointillist effect -- it looks more like it was painted than photographed.
In many cases I found that the results were sharper at the centre than they were at the extremes of each frame. In this more evenly-illuminated shot, the clock at the centre of the tower is sharp, while the grass towards the edges starts to lose definition.
Similarly, while the colours on the front of this gatehouse are accurately captured, detail is lost in the surface of the driveway while the clock, which is in full sun, is overexposed. This led to further loss of detail, in particular on the painted motto beneath it, and on the minute hand.