Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3 review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3

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The Good The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3 is a fast-shooting, easy-to-use rugged compact camera with excellent features to justify its high price.

The Bad The TS3's photos and movies look soft.

The Bottom Line GPS and fast shooting performance make the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3 a worthy rugged point-and-shoot even if its photos and videos aren't the sharpest.

7.6 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7
  • Image quality 7

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3 is the manufacturer's third shot at a high-end rugged camera. (It's the fourth if you include the more budget-friendly DMC-TS10.) The price continues to hover just south of the $400 mark, but Panasonic has again bulked up the feature set and durability claims.

The big add-in feature this time is GPS, which makes perfect sense for a rugged camera. After all, it's tough to mark down where you were when you took a picture when there are no street signs. The TS3 is just slightly more durable than its predecessor, the TS2, being waterproof to approximately 40 feet under water compared with the latter's 33 feet. It's also shockproof to approximately 6.6 feet, freezeproof to 14 degrees Fahrenheit, and dustproof. It's not crushproof, though, so you'll still have to be careful not to step on it or run it over.

Other key specs include a 28mm-equivalent wide-angle lens with a 4.6x internal zoom, a 2.7-inch LCD, and a 12-megapixel high-speed CCD sensor. The sensor is a new design, and it's paired with Panasonic's Venus Engine FHD processor. This combo allows for high-speed burst shooting--full resolution at 3.7 frames per second--and full HD movie capture in AVCHD format. There's also a bright built-in LED lamp to help when shooting in darker environments, which is good because low-light photos and movies aren't the greatest.

Key specs Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3
Price (MSRP) $399.95
Dimensions (WHD) 4.1x2.5x1 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 6.9 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 12 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 2.7-inch LCD, 230K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 4.6x, f3.3-5.9, 28-128mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/AVCHD (.MTS); Motion JPEG (.MOV)/MPO (3D photos)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,000x3,000 pixels/ 1,920x1,080 pixels at 30fps (progressive; 17Mbps)
Image stabilization type Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Li-ion rechargeable, 310 shots
Battery charged in camera No; external charger supplied
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXC
Bundled software PhotofunStudio 6.1 HD Lite Edition (Windows); Super LoiLoScope trial version (Windows)

The TS3's photo quality is like a lot of point-and-shoots--good with a lot of light, but noticeably worse in low-light conditions. Below ISO 400 you'll get very good results with nice color and decent detail. However, internal zoom lenses don't typically produce the sharpest results, and add in a rugged camera's extra lens protection and, well, you get fairly soft photos. Add in noise and noise reduction at higher ISO sensitivities and you may not want to view or print your results at larger sizes. Plus, there's a visible increase in noise at ISO 800 and above that causes color problems.

Basically, don't expect to be able to take this 30 feet underwater without additional lighting and be able to make huge prints of what you capture. It's more likely you'll end up with good photos you can share online, which for most people will be good enough. In shallower waters such as with snorkeling or in a pool, you'll get better results, though you probably won't have a lot of fine detail when viewing at 100 percent. As a pocket camera to take along with you to the beach, hiking in the woods, or flying down the slopes, it's a solid option, though.

Color is very good, but again, it depends the ISO sensitivity you're shooting at. With plenty of light you get bright, vibrant results. At sensitivities above ISO 400 colors start to look a little dirty and washed out. Exposure is generally good, too. The auto white balance is a warm under unnatural light, so you'll want to use the appropriate preset or take a manual reading when possible.

The lens has some barrel distortion at the wide end and slight pincushioning at the telephoto end. Despite its softness, the TS3's lens is consistent edge to edge and in the corners. There is fringing in high-contrast areas of photos, but it was typically only visible when photos were viewed at full screen or print sizes.

Video quality is slightly better than an HD pocket video camera; good enough for Web use and undemanding TV viewing. Panning the camera will create judder that's typical of the video from most compact cameras and you may see some ghosting with fast-moving subjects. The zoom lens does function while recording and is quiet while moving so it won't be picked up by the mic. However, there is the chance you'll get no audio at all because the mic is easily covered by your fingers when holding the camera.

General shooting options Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600
White balance Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Incandescent, Manual
Recording modes Intelligent Auto, Normal Picture, Sports, Snow, Beach & Snorkeling, Underwater, SCN, 3D Photo
Focus modes Face Detection AF, 1-point AF, 23-point AF, Spot AF, AF Tracking
Macro 2 inches (Wide); 1 foot (Tele)
Metering modes Multi, Center-weighted average, Spot
Color effects Standard, Black & White, Sepia, Cool, Warm, Happy (only in iA mode)
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) 7 shots

Shooting modes are all for point-and-shoot use. A press of the Mode button brings up eight options. Intelligent Auto has you covered with simple put-it-there-leave-it-there shooting, while Normal Picture gives you a little more control with options for ISO, exposure compensation, white balance, and focus and metering selections.

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.