Group test: Waterproof Compact Cameras
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3
12.1MP | 28-128mm (4.6X) ZOOM | $275/£264
In 2009 when we published our first waterproof compact camera group test, we selected Panasonic's first waterproof camera, the DMC-TS1, as a co-winner alongside the Canon D10. The TS1 came out top thanks to its image quality and advanced feature set. Fast-forward to 2011, and in terms of features, the DMC-TS3 checks off all the boxes necessary to compete in this category, including 1080i video mode - matched only by the Sony Cyber-shot TX10.
In addition to the increased video resolution, the DMC-TS3 offers a number of feature upgrades compared to its direct predecessor the DMC-TS2. Panasonic has added GPS capabilities, as well a digital compass, an altimeter, and a barometer (pressure gauge). Rounding out its travel-ready feature set are the all-important waterproof, freezeproof, dustproof, and shockproof abilities - the TS3 is actually rated to the greatest depth of any of the cameras in this group, at 12m (39 ft). Also present is a new sensor with a smaller pixel count (12.1MP compared to 14.1MP in the TS2) and an updated 'Venus Engine FHD' image processor. Considering the depth of its spec sheet, the DMC-TS3 is priced competitively at $275 (pricing is for the Silver colored body).
Click here for full product information including reader reviews and image samples (opens in new window)
Design / Key Features
In terms of its design, the TS3 has a very similar look and feel as the DMC-TS2, but there are a few key differences. The TS3 has a small hand grip, and the exposure mode dial on the TS2 has been replaced by a mode button and menu interface. The dedicated movie record button sits on the top of the camera, and rather annoyingly, the TS2's zoom lever has been replaced by two, rather harder to manipulate zoom buttons on the back of the camera.
Like four of the six cameras in this group, the TS3 uses a 2.7in, 230k-dot LCD screen. At 197g the TS3 is the second heaviest camera here, but it still feels reasonably light in the hands. Adding to the TS3's rugged, utilitarian styling are large, probably not completely necessary bolts on the front and back of the body, and a dual-locking battery and memory card door.
|The DMC-TS3 has a very handy quick menu button that provides the user with access to all core shooting settings (other than the shooting mode). The animated gif to the left shows all settings available from the quick menu while in in the standard 'normal picture' shooting mode.|
The DMC-TS3's main menu system is accessed by two other buttons, a shooting mode button ('mode') that does what its name implies, providing the ability to toggle through all shooting modes, and a main menu button ('menu/set') that covers everything else. The menu button is surrounded by a 4-way controller that provides access to flash, exposure compensation, self-timer and macro mode. Between the 4-way dial, the mode button and the quick menu highlighted above, we didn't find ourselves needing to delve into the camera's main menu very often.
One feature Panasonic did not include in the TS3 is in-camera panorama stitching, something that most of the cameras in this test offer. Instead, the TS3 features a 'panorama assist' mode that helps the user line up pictures to be stitched later on via software.
- 12.1 effective Megapixels
- 28-128mm equiv lens with optical stabilization
- 2.7 inch LCD with 230,000 dot resolution
- 1080i 30p HD video (AVCHD)
- ISO sensitivity up to 1600 (High Sensitivity Mode expands to 6400)
- waterproof to 12m (39 ft)
- freezeproof to -10 °C (14 °F)
- compass / altimeter / barometer
- GPS tagging with landmark identification
- Optical IS during stills and movies
- 3.7 fps continuous shooting with full resolution
- 10 fps in high speed burst mode
- 29 still image scene modes
- 7 movie recording modes
- 3D still image capture
Performance and image quality
The Panasonic DMC-TS3 is a fairly responsive camera in terms of startup time and shutter lag. It powers on in 2 seconds and if the shutter button is held down, focus lock and shutter release take place within a second (assuming that focus can be acquired). In general, autofocus is very fast with focus lock being achieved in under a second (often much less). Using the video record button, video capture can be initiated in under a second - the fastest in this test.
In our studio and real world testing the DMC-TS3 performs extremely well. Of all the cameras in this group test the DMC-TS3 showed the most consistent image quality across all areas of the frame, and sharpness is generally very high. The camera meters very evenly with only the occasional blown-out highlight area, but even under mixed lighting white balance and exposure are generally perfectly acceptable.
Indoors, the DMC-TS3 also turns in an impressive performance, and renders colors, including skin tones accurately. Inevitably, images from the TS3 are noisier at ISO sensitivities above 400, but unlike the Sony TX10 and Olympus TG-810, for example, Panasonic's noise reduction is less aggressive, so details are preserved comparatively well.
The Panasonic DMC-TS3's 1080i video is very good. The identically-specified Sony TX10 just pips the TS3 in terms of overall clarity, color, and sound, but with this exception, the TS3 is head and shoulders above the rest of the cameras in the test. In the first video below there is a mixture of sunlit and shaded areas, yet the TS3 is able to expose the scene really well throughout the video, which included some zooming.
The second video shows the TS3's longest zoom ability with a distant subject - a plane landing, Despite standing on a moving dock, with the TS3's image stabilization we were able to pan and track the plane without too much motion showing up in the video.
|1920 x 1080 30 fps, .MTS file, 38 sec. 75 MB Click here to download original .MTS file|
|1920 x 1080 30 fps, .MTS file, 15 sec. 30 MB Click here to download original .MTS file|
Our only complaint with the TS3's video is that when in underwater shooting mode, the LED light does not turn on. In most underwater situations the lighting is poor, so it would have made more sense to have this feature either turned on or available as an option in the quick menu. However, to get around this you can shoot underwater movies in 'normal picture' mode and turn on the LED light.
In virtually all respects, the Panasonic DMC-TS3 does everything it is designed to do, and extremely well. We have a hard time finding fault with any of the design choices, aside from the slightly fiddly zoom control and relatively small, low-resolution LCD screen on the back, but these weaknesses are not unique to this model.
As far as image quality is concerned, results from the TS3 are consistently at or towards the top of our tests in this group regardless of the shooting scenario. In everyday shooting, the TS3's images are perfectly usable for everything from web use to reasonably large prints.
The TS3 doesn't have all of the bells and whistles offered by some models in this group (we really like features like 'one-touch' panorama modes and it's a shame that the TS3 can't offer a direct equivalent). But with priced right in the middle range of the group test, the TS3 is highly recommended for anyone looking specifically for a rugged go-anywhere and do-anything camera.
Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3 (Lumix DMC-FT3)
Category: Waterproof / Rugged Compact Camera
Ergonomics & handling
Exposure and focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Movie / video mode
The Panasonic DMC-TS3 is one of the best-featured and best-performing cameras in the 'rugged' compact camera class. It is capable of delivering consistently high quality images and video in just about any circumstances, and its operations are very straightforward.
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