Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT3 £299

2nd Mar 2011 | 15:51

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT3

12.1Mp tough compact camera with GPS

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

Like:

Very solid build quality; Impressive specs, such as Full HD video recording, GPS and more; Focusing speed is excellent

Dislike:

Not a lot of manual control available; GPS system sometimes got confused in our test

Panasonic FT3 Review: Overview

Panasonic FT3 Review: Overview

The waterproof and hard-wearing compact category used to be a one few manufacturers were willing to enter. The selection used to comprise Olympus's former SW range, Pentax's various W series and a handful of tank-like models designed for more industrial use, but today the situation couldn't be more different.

Thanks to Canon, Fujifilm and Panasonic all pitching in with their own contributions, the once-stagnant sector is now awash with fun, colourful and even trendy models, complete with underwater-orientated functionality and an unprecedented level of resilience.

Having already made its mark with its lifestyle and superzoom cameras, Panasonic's Lumix series has expanded to offer an FT category, its models protected against water, dust, shock and freezing temperatures.

Now, in its third generation, the latest FT3 model maintains the same dust, freeze and shockproofing as its predecessor, but increases waterproof capabilities to a depth of 12m underwater. HD movie recording has been boosted to offer the full HD standard of 1920x1080 in the AVDHC format, and the model also comes equipped with a GPS system for embedding location details within image metadata.

Panasonic has also been generous enough to squeeze in a compass and altimeter too, as well as a barometer which can be used to show depth underwater.

Elsewhere, the model reduces pixel count slightly over the 14.1MP FT2, with its 12.1MP Hi-Speed CCD sensor allowing 3.7fps burst shooting at full resolution, as well as 7fps option in Speed Priority mode and a rate of 10fps at 3MP. Optically the new model matches its predecessor, with a 28-128mm lens covering a 4.6x optical range and the provision of a 30-140mm focal range while recording movies, with POWER O.I.S technology also included to correct for blurry images.

A Motion Deblur function now also features as part of the Intelligent Auto technology, which uses the Intelligent ISO system to regulate sensitivity (in turn increasing shutter speed), while a 3D option which combines two images from a pan of 20 to create a single 3D photo has also been thrown in.

There isn't a great deal of manual control available, with exposure modes limited to Intelligent Auto and Normal options in addition to a variety of scene settings, but the Normal mode does allow many shooting parameters to be altered.

Focusing option include AF tracking, face detection, 23-area focus, 1-area focus and spot focusing, while the long-standing Lumix colour options of Standard, Natural, Vivid, Black and White, Sepia, Cool, Warm are also on hand. These are joined by a 'Happy' colour option available from the Intelligent Auto menu, which heightens colour and brightness to make images appear a touch more jolly than usual.

Panasonic FT3 Review: Build quality and handling

Panasonic FT3 Review: Build quality & handling

The design of the FT3 departs a little from that of the previous FT models, with a more defined grip around the front and the mode dial dropped in favour of button- and menu-based operation. The movie recording button has also been relocated to the top plate, now sitting next to the newly-implement GPS unit in the former spot of the zoom rocker, which itself is now found on the back of the camera in the guise of two separate buttons.

Panasonic has also fashioned the FT2's plus-shaped menu pad into the more traditional rounded design, and placed the speaker which was previously found on the top plate directly above it.

The camera's solidity is immediately noticeable when handling it the first time, and the user is notified whenever the camera senses the side door is unlocked. All of the camera's buttons are responsive and travel well, although the two zoom buttons require a little extra pressure.

Some may find the steady pace of the zoom a little too slow for more spontaneous stills captures, but this steady pace is visually pleasing during movie recording and helps to keep everything in focus.

The menu system is also different to those found on other Lumix models, presumably to make it easier to use underwater. In place of a usual tabbed system, the FT3 offers individual icons for access to different parts of the menu.

The combination of black text on a white background make each list of options easy to read, and descriptions are also provided for all functions should you stumble into unfamiliar territory. Finally, while the LCD's specifications are fairly basic on paper, the screen is noticeably superior to equivalent types on cheaper models, exhibiting good detail and a more than satisfactory viewing angle. It also adapts promptly to any changes in scene brightness, while lagging is only really noticeable at longer focal lengths, which is somewhat expected.

Panasonic FT3 Review: Performance

Panasonic FT3 Review: Performance

During the test, the camera's GPS system did well to identify landmarks such as the British Museum, shopping centres and London Underground stations, although not without a few hiccups. Outside the British Museum, for example, it displayed the correct location, although once inside it mistakenly believed it to be inside the Cuban Embassy, a couple of minutes walk away.

Should this ocurr, the location can be amended for subsequent images from a list of nearby possibilities, and for any incorrectly named images that have already been captured the same list is stored so that embedded data may be amended at a later time.

Focusing speed is excellent, with the camera quickly identifying all relevant details and placing focusing points where necessary. Face Detection also works very well to spot subjects and highlight them with a box – during the test even managing to pick out the faces on statues – while AF tracking diligently locks onto subjects and keeps with them as they move.

It does very well underwater to maintain not just a clear view of the scene but its focusing speed too, while the menu remains readable. In quieter conditions it's also still possible to hear the various beeps as the camera focuses and is operated, and dropping it from a variety of heights up to the maximum 2m also shows no adverse affect on performance or operation.

The Panasonic FT3's metering system is reliable, but with a tendency to produce slightly bright images at default. This translates to a loss of highlight detail, and together with an occasionally cool auto white balance system can leave images lacking a little pep on the standard colour setting.

Otherwise, auto white balance performance is excellent, retaining the mood of even particularly awkward lighting conditions with aplomb. It seems that rather than going with convention and optimising images to be more pleasing and colourful, Panasonic is going for a more lifelike result which some may find preferable.

The overall level of detail in images is very good, and perfectly respectable for a £300 camera, but at 100% it's just short of excellent. Nevertheless, sharpness is set to exactly the right point – sharp, but not too sharp to destroy any neutrality – and images are generally clean and free from artefacts, save for a little noise reduction patterning on all sensitivities.

It's difficult to make any significant improvements in post-production without compromising image quality overall, although the little distortion at wideangle can be easily rectified.

In terms of noise, the camera exhibits a slight texture on all sensitivities, and by ISO 1600 images taken in low light show heavy signs of noise removal and a shift in colour. It's perhaps just as well that the camera's uppermost sensitivity options which run to ISO 6400 are restricted through a separate scene setting, as these show plenty of blotchy, unsightly noise and little detail - although for such a camera it's by no means the worst performance.

Finally, movies recorded by the FT3 show plenty of detail and are rapidly written to even slower memory cards. There's a little ambient noise and some whirring from the lens as it zooms, but the slow pace of the zoom really pays off with regards to keeping everything focused. The only issues regard lost highlights, thanks to the metering system's slight bias towards overexposure, and somewhat tinny and muffled audio quality.

Panasonic FT3 Review: Image quality and resolution

Panasonic FT3 Review: Image quality and resolution
As part of our test we shoot our resolution chart at every sensitivity setting.

The higher the value quoted in the caption score, the greater the level of detail being resolved and the better the image quality.

Full resolution chart image

ISO 100: score 20
Resolution chart at iso 100Full image

ISO 200: score 20
Resolution chart at iso 200Full image

ISO 400: score 18
Resolution chart at iso 400Full image

ISO 800: score 18
Resolution chart at iso 800Full image

ISO 1600: score 16
Resolution chart at iso 1600Full image

Panasonic FT3 Review: Noise and dynamic range

Panasonic FT3 Review: Noise and dynamic range

These graphs were produced using data generated by DXO Analyzer.

We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using the DXO software.

Signal to noise ratio

A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.

Signal to noise ratio graph

Dynamic range
A high dynamic range indicates a better ability to reproduce a wide range of tones.

These cameras do not produce raw files, only JPEGs which are automatically processed in-camera to produce the best image possible in the view of the manufacturer.

Dynamic range graph

Panasonic FT3 Review: Photo samples

Panasonic FT3 Review: Photo samples

Panasonic ft3 review
1/250sec at f/3.3, ISO 100 (Click here to view full size version)

Panasonic ft3 review
1/80sec at f/4.7, ISO 320 (Click here to view full size version)

Panasonic ft3 review
1/400sec at f/3.3, ISO 100 (Click here to view full size version)

Panasonic ft3 review
1/80sec at f/3.3, ISO 100 (Click here to view full size version)

Panasonic ft3 review
1/60sec at f/3.9, ISO 125 (Click here to view full size version)

Panasonic ft3 review
1/200sec at f/3.3, ISO 100 (Click here to view full size version)

Panasonic FT3 Review: Price and Specs

Panasonic FT3 Review: Price and Specs

Panasonic FT3 Price
£300

Sensor
1/2.33-type Hi-Speed CCD sensor, 12.5MP total, 12.1MP effective

Lens
28-128mm f/3.3-5.9

Memory
SD, SDHC, SDXC, internal memory 19MB

Viewfinder
No

Video resolution
1920x1080 at 60i (AVCHD), 1280x720 at 60p (AVCHD), 1280x720 at 30fps (Motion JPEG), 640x480 at 30fps (Motion JPEG), 320x480 at 30fps (Motion JPEG)

ISO range
Auto, ISO 100-1600 (extendable to ISO 6400 in High Sensitivity mode)

Focus modes
1-area, 23-area, Face detection, Spot, AF tracking

Max burst rate
3.7fps (12.1MP) / approx 7fps in High-speed Burst Mode (12.1MP) / approx. 10fps (3MP)

LCD
2.7in TFT LCD, 230,000 dots, anti-reflection coat

Shutter speeds
8 - 1/1300 sec (Starry Sky Mode 15, 30, 60sec)

Weight
Approx. 175g without battery and memory card (approx. 197g with battery and memory card)

Dimensions
103.5 x 64.0 x 26.5mm

Power supply
DMW-BCF10E rechargeable lithium-ion battery (supplied)

Panasonic FT3 Review: Verdict

Panasonic FT3 Review: Verdict

The Panasonic FT3 is one of many hard-wearing compacts, and it's one of the priciest too. But its cost is reflected in its wide range of functionality and its cracking image quality.

While not without its flaws the GPS functionality does work well on occasions, and it's certainly an improvement on previous versions seen incorporated into other cameras, but it's not quite the flawless system that will no doubt grace many cameras in the future.

We like

Solid build quality and impressive specs, with Full HD video recording, GPS and more. Focusing speed is very fast.

We dislike

Not a lot of manual control available, and sometimes the GPS system got confused.

Verdict

If you need a hard-wearing compact and you're prepared to spend a little extra, the Panasonic FT3 should definitely be on your shortlist – otherwise, you may find the same money will get you an equivalent compact with a slightly larger LCD screen and none of the operation issues associated with sealing the camera against water.

Panasonic Lumix Compact Camera GPS
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