Building something that's both attractive and rugged is a tall order. In the FT5, Panasonic's just about pulled it off.
The latest in a fairly long line of rough, tough cameras, it's yours for around £350.
There's nothing subtle about the FT5, but then it has been built for an active, outdoor life. The battery and SD card compartment locks in place, there are no moving parts outside of the airtight case -- so the lens, for example, is captive behind a window -- and every opening has been carefully sealed. That's because it's waterproof to 13m (43ft), which is more than many casual watches. If you need to take it any further, you'll have to invest in a marine casing.
My test sample also came in a hi-vis orange case, which would make it easy to see if you dropped it while climbing, walking or swimming. There's a better than average chance you'd still be able to use it once you'd retrieved it too, as it's designed to survive a fall of 2m and being chilled to a distinctly frosty -10C (-14F). For mountain-climbing swimmers in Iceland it's pretty much perfect.
That also makes it a good choice for kids, or parents who won't necessarily be able to keep an eye on their camera the whole time, as short of it being thrown a significant distance, it should be able to withstand a fair amount of juvenile mishandling.
I tested it by knocking it off a garden table -- a fairly likely pub scenario -- putting it in a bowl full of water, and submerging it in a saltwater estuary. It passed each test with flying colours. The sturdy window to the front also meant I wasn't afraid to dry off the lens assembly using a regular handkerchief afterwards.
Under the hood
It's not all about what goes on outside, though, as under the hood the FT5 has some pretty decent specs. The sensor is a 16.1-megapixel chip producing 4,608x3,456 pixel stills. Despite being held captive behind a fixed window, the lens still offers an optical zoom of 4.6x, which in this instance matches its focal length to that of a 28-128mm assembly on a regular 35mm camera.
You have a limited amount of manual control, with an M mode allowing you to tweak both the shutter speed and aperture, although at any zoom level you have a choice of only two aperture positions, which is disappointing. At wide angle it's f/3.3 and f/10, while at full telephoto it's f/5.9 and f/18. Each of these metrics varies at zoom levels in between.
The minimum focusing distance at either end of the zoom is 30cm in regular use, and 5cm in macro mode. That's not especially close, so you may want to crop your results in post-production, but the image exhibits a pleasingly shallow depth of field to draw the eye nonetheless.
The results were also good when stepping out of macro mode, with the bust below shot using the regular minimum distance at wide angle. The exposure was a fairly long 1/8 second at f/3.3, but despite being hand held it's produced a crisp, clean result.
Maximum sensitivity in regular use is ISO 3,200, with a high-sensitivity option pushing it up to ISO 6,400 in extreme situations. Naturally, when you start to approach the extremes there's going to be more grain in your image. This was evident in my tests, with shots taken at ISO 3,200 significantly less clean than those taken at a more reasonable level. In these instances, fine detail was degraded and grain was evident on areas of flat colour.
Exposure compensation lets you stray two stops in either direction, in 1/3EV steps, and you can bracket each exposure by up to 1EV.
In regular use, the longest possible exposure is a rather disappointing four seconds, which isn't really enough for effective night-time cityscapes as your trailing headlights will be short, and buildings could be underexposed. Switching to the 'Starry Sky' scene mode uncaps it somewhat, and will leave the sensor exposed for up to 30 seconds.
Other recording modes include a dedicated advanced underwater setting for photography below 3m (10ft), and a less extreme beach and snorkelling setting.