Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3
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|
|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|
|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.
The last spot in the mode menu goes to the TS3's 3D mode, which works by clicking off multiple shots as you move the camera horizontally across a scene and then picks the two best for overlaying to create a 3D MPO file that can be played back on 3D-enabled TVs, computers, and digital photo frames. The results are good, but your subject has to be motionless, as does everything in the scene. Any movement really kills the effect. It's a nice extra to play with, but not a must-have mode.
There is no dedicated movie mode you enter to shoot video clips. Instead, you choose your movie recording settings in the main menu and push the record button on top next to the shutter release. (For more information on all the capabilities of the TS3, head to Panasonic's global site.)
Shooting performance is very good. Shutter lag is low thanks to a fast and accurate autofocus; it's just 0.4 second in bright lighting and 0.7 second in dim lighting. From shot to shot without the flash is only 1 second; adding the flash drags that time to 2.2 seconds, though. The TS3's time from off to first shot is 1.9 seconds. Its continuous burst is capable of up to 3.6fps, but in our lab tests it averaged 2.5fps. Still, that's pretty fast for this class of camera.
The TS3 looks and feels like it can take a beating. Judging by user reviews of Panasonic's previous rugged cameras, one might wonder if the TS3 will hold up to its durability claims. I had no problems with my review camera, but that doesn't mean problems can't happen. However, as with all rugged and waterproof cameras, there are handling precautions you need to take to keep water and dust out of the camera. Panasonic has stored information about these precautions in the camera for easy reference and a warning pops up when the camera's turned on.
Fortunately, even with all this protection, the TS3 still functions like a regular point-and-shoot. Controls are easy to master, as is the interface. Actually, the TS3's all-button controls are nicer than on Panasonic's compacts that use switches for power and to change from shooting to playback.
One of the main attractions of the TS3 is the built-in GPS. Using it is fairly simple, and the process has been streamlined from Panasonic's previous GPS cameras thanks to a dedicated spot in the menu system. Once you've turned on the receiver--this can be done from the Q.Menu or from the main menu--you can have the camera retrieve the GPS information for your current location. In tests this took anywhere from less than a minute to several minutes depending on how much open sky was above me. Once locked, the TS3 can display country, state, city, and landmark information and continues to update itself every minute. You can then go into the GPS Area Select menus and pick the correct information for your location. For example, if you're standing in the middle of New York, it could quite possibly have a couple pages of landmarks to pick from. Also, you can choose to limit what area information is attached, in case you only want the name of the city, for instance. The area information covers 173 countries or regions all over the world and more than half a million landmarks in 73 countries or regions.
For everyday shooting, attaching GPS information is probably not that exciting. But if you do a lot of traveling, hiking, or other activities where you might want to remember where you were, then it's a great feature to have. Longitude and latitude is seamlessly added to the EXIF data and, again, you can have the camera include country, city, state, and landmarks. The TS3 also has a built-in compass, altimeter, and barometer, which makes it a nice backup device for those things should you need them.
AVCHD movies can be recorded with GPS data as well. However, the location information can only be viewed when videos are played back on a computer using the bundled software or directly from the camera connected to a TV. If you don't want to view your clips with those methods, you'll probably want to stick with the non-GPS AVCHD format option to save on battery life.
One last thing regarding the GPS: once you've turned it on, the receiver stays on until you turn it off, until 2 hours have passed since it refreshed its position, or until the camera has been off for 3 hours. So even if you shut off the camera, it'll continue to update its location every 15 minutes. This is fine if you're shooting for an extended period of time, but it'll eventually make your battery run down. If you want the GPS to turn off when you shut the camera off, you must select the Airplane mode option from the camera's menu. This is all explained in the manual, but again, battery life is definitely something to keep in mind with features like GPS.
The battery, SD card slot, and Micro-HDMI and Micro-USB ports are all behind a locking door on the right side of the camera. Battery life is good, being CIPA-rated for 310 shots. On the other hand, if you're going to be away from a power outlet for an extended period of time, you have little choice but to buy extra batteries; there is no option to charge via USB. That's not unusual, but with a rugged camera like the TS3 it's more of an issue.
At almost $400, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3 is expensive for a point-and-shoot that produces fairly average photos and movie clips. Of course, what you're really paying for is the privilege of shooting those photos in conditions where other cameras--and smartphones--won't survive. The addition of GPS certainly makes the package more attractive, as does its relatively speedy performance.
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