Panasonic Lumix FT4 £349.99
15th Mar 2012 | 16:20
Armoured outdoor compact that won't get lost, thanks to built-in GPS
Overview and features
It's a tough life being an armoured camera; your chunky, flight case-like exterior invites careless owners. Announced alongside the 16 megapixel Panasonic FT20 comes the 12.1MP Panasonic FT4.
Confusingly, despite the lower headline resolution, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT4 has the tougher attributes. It's water resistant to a depth of 12 metres, which is twice that of most rivals and well above the FT20's 5m. It's also able to withstand drops from 2m, rather than the FT20's 1.5m.
But, Panasonic says that if the Lumix FT4 is dropped too often, this may affect the effectiveness of the waterproofing.
Despite the workhorse exterior, complete with Bob the Builder screws in the four corners of its faceplate, rubber padding and reinforced glass protecting the internally stacked lens, Panasonic's point and shoot camera isn't a professional tool.
Active families (including those with inquisitive toddlers), adrenaline junkies and holidaymakers are the target audience here.
Although the toughened qualities are what you'll inevitably be paying a premium for, they're not the full story. The more you drill into the feature set, the more the Panasonic FT4 reveals itself as a potential Swiss Army knife of digital compact cameras.
Indicated by the small hump on the top plate, it comes with integral GPS antenna with over a million place names stored. It was able to pinpoint our local district rather than just the general borough, picking up a signal both indoors and out, which isn't always the case.
Plus, for more adventurous types, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT4 packs in a compass, altimeter and barometer.
Add in the now ubiquitous Full HD video, with choice of AVCHD or MP4 formats and a dedicated button for recording, plus software-enhanced 3D stills capture, miniature digital filter effect, auto, manual and intelligent auto capture, and you have a high-end feature set.
The price is also towards the top end, however, costing £350 in the UK or $400 in the US, where it's called the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS4. This could almost buy an entry-level DSLR. So, given the above, is the 4, um, fantastic?
Build quality and handling
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT4 certainly looks the part, with its toolbox type exterior and lens lurking behind toughened glass. We also get an integral flash and autofocus (AF)/self-timer lamp.
Plus, along one end of the faceplate is a raised hand grip. A rubber coating to this section would have better facilitated a stronger hold, however.
The shutter release button on the Panasonic FT4 is large and obvious. And another practical concern is that the other buttons are too small to be operated with gloves, while the shiny front and back surfaces are slippery with dry fingers, never mind wet ones.
This camera may be tough, but Panasonic realises it still has to draw the eye of potential buyers too, and didn't want to go too big and bulky. As it is, the camera surface feels more slippery between the fingers than we'd have liked. Good job then that it can cope with being dropped.
Pictures and video are composed via the 2.7-inch LCD display at the back, which offers a standard resolution of 230k dots. While that's so-so, it's not the Panasonic Lumix FT4's main selling point, so the best you can say is that visibility is adequate, although you'll still be cupping a hand around it in strong sunshine.
While there's no shooting mode dial here, there is at least a mode button that summons up a self-explanatory menu of mode icons.
Presumably to aid damp digits, there's no lever or rocker switch for operating the 4.6x optical zoom, the equivalent of 28-128mm in 35mm film terms. Instead, we get two separate buttons ranged alongside each other that your thumb hops between to arrive at the framing desired.
Otherwise, a multi-directional command pad is provided for tabbing through menu settings, with a central menu/set button for calling them up and effecting any changes.
To avoid having to fiddle around in this manner in the wet or cold, Panasonic has provided its Q.Menu (Quick menu) button, which is now default across the Lumix range, to provide a shortcut to key settings such as resolution and ISO speed.
Handling is overall pretty straightforward, although bigger buttons, or even controls with a roughened non-slip surface, would have gone down a treat.
As is often true with fashion-conscious pocket cameras, image quality can play second fiddle to the exterior when it comes to toughened compacts. Will the Panasonic Lumix FT4 buck this trend and reveal that we can get results with real impact, not just a camera that can withstand them?
If you ignore the fact that Panasonic provides an on-screen prompt about the camera's waterproof capabilities on power-up, you can be shooting with the FT4 in as little as two seconds. The camera glides through the entirety of its optical zoom range in around three seconds.
Take a shot and, unless Miniature mode or suchlike has been chosen - whereby the camera takes around 10 seconds to process the effect at the point of capture - users can be shooting again within two to three seconds.
The Panasonic FT4's 3D mode can be set to generate a 2D Fine or Normal quality JPEG alongside a 3D file in the MPO format that is only then visible on a suitable TV set or monitor. At least this way you have an image to view on the back of the camera just after you've captured the scene, which involves panning the camera in a tight arc.
Although the result is an elongated widescreen ratio image, the 2D shot resembles a low-resolution video grab at just over 1MB in size, so is probably best just for reference only.
When taking regular stills, bright sunshine and reflective surfaces such as water can produce lens flare, but when dunking the camera in the wet stuff that's probably the least of your concerns.
Although the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT4 held up to our standard test for ruggedised models - being dunked in the Stygian depths of the local pond - upon retrieval we did notice some beads of moisture around the rim of the battery and card compartment when we opened it. So water had got inside it - if only to a limited degree.
With that happening at an arm's length dip, we would feel nervous about testing it to the full 12m.
As part of our image quality testing for the Panasonic FT4 we've shot our resolution chart.
If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the Panasonic FT4 is capable of resolving up to around 20 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.
See a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them please click here.
Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:
ISO 100, score: 20 (see full image)
ISO 200, score: 18 (see full image)
ISO 400, score: 18 (see full image)
ISO 800, score: 16 (see full image)
ISO 1600, score: 16 (see full image)
Noise and dynamic range
Our analysis shows that the Panasonic FT4 scores well for both signal to noise ratio and dynamic range. Signal to noise ratio results are good, comparing favourably against the Olympus TG-810, Fujifilm XP-30 and Canon D10, although the Olympus TG-810 does just show better results across the sensitivity range.
Dynamic range results showed that the FT4 is the clear winner at all sensitivities enabling the camera to capture a wide tonal range at all sensitivities an essential when shooting in lower light conditions underwater.
We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.
A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.
For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.
JPEG Signal to Noise Ratio
The Panasonic FT4 appears to handle noise well, just beating the Fujifilm XP-30 and Canon D10. Despite the Olympus TG-810 gaining better results, especially at the mid sensitivity range, noise is kept controlled throughout.
JPEG dynamic range
This chart shows that the Panasonic FT4 has good lowlight performance capturing a decent level of shadow and highlight detail across the sensitivity range.
2D REFERENCE: This image shows what the quality of 2D JPEGs is like when taken as a reference tool alongside 3D MPO files, which, unlike JPEGS, cannot be viewed on the Panasonic Lumix FT4's LCD screen.
POND LEVEL: The Panasonic FT4's obvious appeal is that you will use it in situations where it would be foolish to take a non-protected camera. You can therefore get shots you wouldn't have otherwise, such as this duck's eye view of the local pond, complete with lens flare.
WIDE ANGLE: A 28mm equivalent maximum wide-angle shot taken on the Panasonic Lumix FT4 that, while far from terrible, reveals some fall off of focus towards the edge of frame, if we're being picky.
ZOOM: Here we're zoomed right in from the same vantage point. An intelligent zoom effectively doubles the reach of the regular 4.6x optical zoom, for a softened but still usable result.
CLOSE UP: Used as a tool for close ups, the Panasonic Lumix FT4 delivers some more impressive results...
CLEAR AND CLOSE:… As this and the previous shot show. The berries here are almost good enough to eat.
Sensitivity and noise
Full ISO 100 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.
In truth, like most outdoor cameras, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT4's toughened specifications should be considered as an extra layer of protection for everyday plus occasional beach and poolside snapping, not really as a licence to throw the camera around and dunk it in drinks at parties.
Image quality is also little better than a non-toughened Lumix camera costing half the price.
Plus, you have to actively require the toughened qualities and GPS facilities here to consider them worth paying extra for, because for value and picture quality you'd be better served elsewhere.
Our advice is therefore to shop around and try to find the best deal that shaves some money off the asking price and makes the Panasonic FT4 less of a risk.
That said, and grumbles aside, you might be tempted to take this camera to places you won't even consider taking other electronic gadgets, and therefore get experimental shots that you wouldn't otherwise have even attempted. Which is never a bad thing in our book.
The Panasonic Lumix FT4's toughened qualities provide a degree of reassurance for those engaged in rough and tumble activities, or likely to place themselves in scenarios where the camera gets wet or particularly cold.
Added to that, if you get lost, the camera's built-in GPS may help you find yourself again.
The backplate buttons are too small and fiddly to be accurately operated with wet hands or while wearing ski gloves, image quality is no better than a considerably cheaper non-toughened snapshot.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT4 is a creme egg of a camera; unless there's plenty of light around to make the best of the fact that this is basically a snapshot camera in wolf's clothing, image quality is soft in comparison to the rock hard exterior.
Still, there is the potential to have a lot of fun with it and go where lesser snappers fear to tread.