Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FT1 digital camera

A rugged Panasonic digital camera that's suitable for just about any outdoor activity, and it also shoots HD video

Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FT1
  • Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FT1
  • Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FT1
  • Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FT1
  • Expert Rating

    3.75 / 5

Pros

  • Waterproof down to 3m, shockproof up to 1.5m, can record HD video at 1280x720 pixels, versatile focusing modes

Cons

  • Has a zoom slider instead of buttons, slow shooting performance, poorly placed rotational dial, no tap controls, a little pricey

Bottom Line

There's plenty to like about the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FT1 apart from its rugged build — it takes great still images and good videos, making it a true hybrid. We think Panasonic should ditch the zoom slider and replace it with buttons, and also make the rotational dial a little tougher. But apart from that, we had tons of fun using this camera and you probably will, too.

Would you buy this?

For $699, Panasonic brings you the LUMIX DMC-FT1, which you can drop on the ground, in the snow, in the water and on the sand, without damaging it. It's the company's first toughened camera, and the only rugged camera on the market to date that's also capable of shooting high-definition video.

We first played with the pre-production model of this camera in February and were largely impressed with its features, user-friendliness and picture quality. Now that we've got our hands on the actual retail model, we still think it's a great camera, but it could still be a little better.

It has a 12.1-megapixel CMOS sensor and a 28mm wide-angle lens with a 4.6x zoom. Like most Panasonic cameras, it uses a Leica lens, so its picture quality is a cut above the rest, and this was shown in our tests. Its images were a little sharper than those produced by competing tough cameras from Olympus (the Tough 8000 and Tough 6000).

The Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FT1 is $100 more expensive than the 12-megapixel Olympus Mju Tough 8000, but it doesn't have all the innovations of the Olympus, such as tap control, nor does it match its rugged specifications. However, as mentioned, it does produce slightly sharper images and its zoom has a little more reach.

You can take the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FT1 diving in water up to 3m deep, and you can drop it from up to 1.5m without damaging it. Rubber lining on the doors that conceal its ports and card slot prevent water and sand getting in.

The camera feels very sturdy and has a nice finish. The lens is located in the top-left corner, and because it is set so deep in the body the wide-angle lens can easily capture the edge of your index or middle fingers (depending on how you hold the camera) unless you hold it close to its base.

On the back of the unit are a 2.7in LCD screen, a rotational mode dial and a five-way controller. There are four more buttons which allow you to play back your pictures, initiate a video recording, quickly access the camera's settings, and change the amount of detail displayed on the LCD display. The rotational mode dial is a little too easy to turn, and it can easily be knocked out of place (it's located where you would normally put your thumb while shooting). Unlike the Olympus cameras, the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FT1 has a zoom slider instead of zoom buttons, which means that you will have to watch out that sand and dirt don't get in it.

There is a frame around the 28mm lens that is prone to accumulating dirt or sand if you use the camera at the beach, and this can hamper the image quality so it needs to be cleaned thoroughly. The glass in front of the lens also needs to be cleaned after you've been in the water, to ensure your images don't look like they've been shot through fog or mist.

To start shooting straight away, you can use either the program or the intelligent auto modes, and both of these modes do a very good job of determining the correct exposure settings for your photos — as long as you aren't facing the sun. Scene mode is very useful, too, and the dial also has shortcuts to the scene modes for the beach, the snow and sporting events. One thing that's noticeable when shooting with the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FT1 is its sluggishness. It takes a while to write data to the SD card before it is ready for you to take the next shot. There is a burst mode that can be activated, but this is also quite slow (it has to stop after three shots in order to write them to the SD card).

The focusing ability of the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FT1 is impressive. It has face recognition and tracking modes, and both of these work very well. Faces are picked up quickly by the camera, and you can even program it so that it focuses on the people you want all the time. Object tracking was accurate in our tests; it was able to track objects as they moved across the screen as well as up and down, and kept a lock on them as long as they didn't become too small in the frame. Apart from these modes, you can use the 11-point focus mode, one area focus mode or spot mode. It's quite versatile in this regard.

The camera doesn't take good macros though, as it can't get close enough to subjects to get crisp and detailed shots, and it doesn't blur the background. For this task, other compact cameras, such as the Canon IXUS 95 IS, are much better. However, its overall picture quality is very good.

There is barely any noticeable lens distortion along vertical and horizontal lines, chromatic aberration wasn't noticeable and colours weren't overly rich. It captured good detail and was reasonably sharp. It performed capably in sunny and cloudy conditions, but it did blow some highlights when shooting in very bright conditions.

When shooting underwater, many shots will turn out blurry due to a lack of light, unless you use the flash. In saying that, the camera has an optical image stabiliser and its ability to shoot in low-light conditions (while on solid ground) is exceptional; you can get clear handheld shots with a shutter speed as low as 1/25th of a second. You can manually limit the maximum automatic ISO speed that the camera uses in low light so that your shots don't get overcome by noise. We had good results shooting at up to ISO 400 before noise became apparent.

You can also take great looking videos with the LUMIX DMC-FT1, which uses the AVCHD format (which is based on H.264) to record high-definition videos at a resolution of 1280x720 pixels (720p). Videos play back smoothly and look vibrant. Indeed, the DMC-FT1 is a viable video camera if you don't want to splurge on a dedicated camcorder. You'll have to use the supplied software to convert the video to MPEG-2 format if you wish to edit and burn it to DVD. Alternatively, you can directly view the videos on your TV by using the camera's HMDI port.

There's plenty to like about this camera apart from its rugged build — its image quality is good for both still images and videos. We think Panasonic should ditch the zoom slider and replace it with buttons, and also make the rotational dial a little tougher, but apart from that, we had tons of fun using this camera and you probably will, too.

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