The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS1 is the company's first attempt at a rugged compact camera and, generally speaking, it's a success. The camera isn't as impervious to shock and the elements as some of the competition; it is waterproof up to a depth of 10 feet, shockproof from falls up to 5 feet, and is dustproof. On the other hand, it looks and performs better than its competition, and it has some great features including HD movie capture, a wide-angle lens, and a long battery life.
Its photos aren't faultless, mainly they lack sharpness, and you're paying a premium for the rugged body. However, if you're looking for an everyday compact point-and-shoot that can take some water, dust, and drops, with a design that doesn't scream "look it me, I'm waterproof!" the TS1 is what you want.
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS1
Aside from four exposed screws on the face and back, little else would tip off a casual observer that the TS1 is a shockproof and waterproof camera. Both sides are covered in nice-looking brushed metal; the available colors are dark green, orange, or dark silver. In front is a 28mm-equivalent wide-angle lens shielded by an easily cleaned piece of glass or plastic. On top is a power button (which needs more than a cursory push to work), a spring-loaded slider for the 4.6x optical zoom, and a textured shutter release. For some reason, Panasonic thought it a good idea to make the zoom and shutter release the same size and place them one directly behind the other. If you're not paying attention, it's very easy to miss a shot by mistaking the zoom for the shutter release.
Otherwise, the remaining controls on back are relatively large, easy to use, and logically arranged. Plus they work well with gloved hands and in water. A Mode dial sits at the top giving your thumb something to rest against and lets you easily slip between shooting options--a little too easily, actually. Below the dial are standalone buttons for playback and movie recording. A general Menu button sits at the center of the four navigational buttons that double as exposure, flash, macro, and timer controls. The main menu system features three tabs: one each for setup, photo settings, and movie settings. A Q.Menu button on back at the lower right brings up a vertical bar of shooting-mode-sensitive options. The menu systems are uncomplicated and for the most part self-explanatory.
|General shooting options
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS1
The TS1's feature set is very similar to the company's nonrugged FP8; if you don't need the "proofing," you'll want to check out that model, which is priced about $100 less than the TS1. For shooting options, things are geared toward automatic users. A program AE mode called Normal Picture gets you the most control over results with settings for focus, light metering, color effects, white balance, ISO, and exposure. You also get access to Panasonic's Intelligent ISO for limiting the sensitivity to a maximum of ISO 400, 800, or 1,600 as well as the capability to set a minimum shutter speed from 1 second to 1/125. If you like scene modes, the TS1 has 27 of them with three of them on the Mode dial--Beach & Surf, Snow, Sports. Of course, there's a fully automatic mode--Intelligent Auto (iA)--that determines the most suitable Scene mode and helps correct any blurring, focus, and brightness issues. The last spot on the dial goes to a Clipboard mode that stores low-resolution images to the camera's 40MB of internal memory for fast recall. Panasonic recommends using it for taking pictures of bus/train timetables and maps, which is made more useful by the wide-angle lens. As mentioned earlier, the camera's Movie mode gets its own record button on back; one press and you're recording. The TS1 is capable of 720p HD-quality video capture using the AVCHD Lite format. You get full use of the optical zoom while recording, too.
Though our lab tests don't necessarily exemplify speedy performance, the TS1 is, overall, the fastest rugged compact camera we've tested. It also felt fairly fast during real-world testing, particularly in bright lighting. Start-up to first shot is 1.2 seconds, while average shot-to-shot times were about 1.9 seconds. Turn on the flash and you'll wait a little longer: 2.3 seconds. Its shutter lag was a bigger issue at 0.5 second in bright conditions and 1.2 seconds in dim lighting. Fortunately, its burst speed--limited to three shots at the camera's finest quality--is quick 1.9 frames per second.
Its photos were very good for its class. Photos were never completely sharp, which I'm attributing to the extra glass protecting the lens. There is a slight grainy salt-and-pepper noise across all ISOs, but as usual, the higher the ISO and the larger you view the photos the more likely you are to see it. Between ISO 200 and 400, photos get a bit fuzzier and softer from noise reduction, but their detail is still fairly good. At ISO 800 and even ISO 1,600 there's some decent detail left to make them usable on the Web or for smaller prints as long as you're not terribly picky. One last note: the auto white balance, while tolerable outdoors turned everything indoors yellow. Use the presets and you'll be fine, though.
There is no barrel distortion at the lens' 28mm-equivalent widest, but there is very slight pincushion distortion at its longest position. Also, there was no discernible purple fringing in any of our test shots. Overall, color and exposure were very good. When not using the auto white balance, colors were reasonably accurate and natural looking across the board.
Unlike Canon's PowerShot D10, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS1 is well suited for double duty as a rugged and everyday pocket camera. People concerned with appearance and size, but want the best image quality and better durability would be better off with the D10. If photo quality is less important, but you need something very durable, the Olympus Stylus Tough 8000 is the way to go. However, the TS1 gets my vote because you get a reasonably strong and waterproof package with very good photo quality and performance. If I'm going to drop $300 to $400 on a rugged point-and-shoot camera, it should not have a design that looks out of place away from the water.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
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