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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT3 review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT3

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Design and features

After proving its tough camera chops with the previous FT1 and FT2, Panasonic's third generation of subterranean, go-almost-anywhere cameras has come into its own.

Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-FT3_1.jpg
8.2

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT3

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The Good

GPS is responsive. Tough, rugged chassis can withstand most situations. Easy to use.

The Bad

Image and video quality falters in less than optimal light. Not crushproof.

The Bottom Line

Like all tough and waterproof cameras the FT3 has its downsides, though it's one of the best models you can buy.

In terms of significant changes, the FT3 has acquired a GPS, compass, altimeter and barometer for all your sea-faring ways. These are all accessible via the display button, which you need to press a few times to bring the options up on screen. The GPS responds quickly and provides a location lock within 20 seconds, provided you are in an open area and not indoors or surrounded by trees. Location information can be displayed on the screen if an appropriate place is found from the FT3's list of over 1 million landmarks.

Underwater it can now last to 12 metres and can be dropped from 2 metres, freeze proof to -10 degrees Celsius and dustproof. Don't try to stand on it or leave it in your back pocket, though, as it's not crushproof. Overall, the body design has improved vastly, with a side grip making it easier to hold and to use. There's a double-locking side panel that opens up to reveal a slot for SD/SDHC/SDXC cards as well as the battery, micro-HDMI and mini-USB port. Buttons at the back are all well placed, with the zoom rocker replaced by physical buttons. We could imagine trips to the snow with chunky gloves might make for some interesting shots given the buttons are so small.

The FT3 has eight main recording modes: intelligent auto, normal picture, sports, snow, beach & snorkelling, underwater and scene options. This is on top of the other picture modes that Panasonic Lumix cameras have long been endowed with, including "happy mode" for saturating colours in photos, as well as the more standard black-and-white/sepia tones.

Hands on with the Lumix TZ20 and FT3

See all photos

Like the TZ20, the FT3 also has a 3D photo mode that takes a series of shots and combines them in-camera to produce the 3D image (which can only be viewed on a compatible TV or photo frame). Lens specifications remain largely unchanged from the earlier model, though — it still has a 28mm wide-angle and 4.6x optical zoom in an internal folding lens design. The microphone is rather inconveniently placed just in the position over the lens where your fingers naturally fall to hold the camera, so beware when shooting video.

The FT3 comes with a silicone case in the box, which can be used to cover the camera even further for protection against scratches. The lens, flash and rear panel all remain exposed.

Compared to

TG-810 vs. FT3

Olympus Tough TG-810 Panasonic Lumix FT3 Sony Cyber-shot TX10
14-megapixel CCD 12.1-megapixel CCD 16.2-megapixel Exmor R
3-inch LCD (920,000-dot) 2.7-inch LCD (230,000-dot) 3-inch LCD (921,000-dot)
Waterproof 10m, shockproof 2m Waterproof 12m, shockproof 2m Waterproof 5m, shockproof 1.5m
5x optical zoom 4.6x optical zoom 4x optical zoom
28mm wide angle 28mm wide angle 25mm wide angle
GPS tagging GPS tagging No GPS tagging
HD video (720p) HD video (1080i) HD video (1080i)
AU$499 AU$549 AU$449

Performance

General shooting metrics (in seconds)

  • Time to first shot
  • JPEG shot-to-shot time
  • Shutter lag
  • Panasonic Lumix FT32.210.4
  • Sony Cyber-shot TX101.31.60.4
  • Olympus Tough TG-8101.520.7

Continuous shooting speed (longer bars indicate better performance)

  • Sony Cyber-shot TX1010
  • Panasonic Lumix FT32.5
  • Olympus Tough TG-8100.6

Panasonic rates the battery for the FT3 at 310 shots. We couldn't quite get the FT3 to reach its claimed 3.7-frames-per-second shooting speed in continuous mode.

Image quality

The biggest issue that rugged cameras have is overall image quality. There's always a price to pay for having the meanest and toughest-looking body around, and, unfortunately, that's also the case with the FT3. Things aren't all bad, however, as this camera is definitely able to deliver some very nice-looking photos in the right situations. Colours are vibrant and punchy without being over-saturated, while exposures are accurate.

The issues are really the overall noise profile of the FT3, giving images at full magnification some speckles that we'd much rather not be there. Also, sharpness isn't particularly strong for the lens, particularly when zoomed in to the full extent, which is to be expected given the internal zooming configuration. White balance also suffers from some warm tinges when used indoors or under artificial light.

FT3 ISO 400

An image taken at ISO 400 showing plenty of colour noise (100 per cent crop inset). (Credit: CBSi)

Underwater the FT3 performs well, but it's unlikely that images will be clear enough to make significant-sized enlargements. Certainly for web display, colours are good, particularly when using the dedicated scene modes.

Video is now in full 1080i HD AVCHD and the camera also comes equipped with Power OIS (optical image stabiliser) active mode, which is designed to decrease blur in videos, particularly in moving video. We tested it out in a jet boat (video below) and, while it was not perfect, it definitely looks better than if the footage was shot without the feature activated.

Like other tough cameras, the HD video produced by the FT3 is not good enough to surpass a dedicated camcorder, but is fine for web use and some TV display. Like its image quality, the FT3's video has a punchy and bright image with good exposures (all automatic). Sound quality is fine.

Image samples

Exposure: 1/1000, f/3.3, ISO 100

Exposure: 1/640, f/3.3, ISO 100

Exposure: 1/80, f/3.3, ISO 1600

Exposure: 1/320, f/5.3, ISO 1250

(Credit: CBSi)

Conclusion

Like all tough and waterproof cameras the FT3 has its downsides, but it's one of the best models you can buy. Primarily, the decision will come down to image quality — the FT3 is good, but not great at taking photos. The Sony TX10 edges it out slightly in this respect, but then it's not as strong or as fully featured as the FT3. The FT3 is available in silver, orange, red and blue, and Australia is also getting the optional marine case (AU$449), which extends the waterproofing to 40m, as well as a flotation carrying strap and case.