Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT4 tough camera
A go-anywhere camera that supplies reasonable image quality and a decent user experience
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT4 tough camera is designed for adventure, allowing it to endure a reasonable amount of thrills and spills. It's waterproof down to 12m, shockproof from 2m, and it's also dustproof and freezeproof (perfect for use during sandstorms and snowstorms, if you ever get caught out there). The design of the camera is elegant and it has good controls that don't feel overly spongy. Importantly, its picture quality is quite good for a tough camera, offering passable colour and clarity.
- Can handle a few knocks
- Doesn't mind the drink
- Not hard to use
- Image quality is a little muddy
- GPS sometimes way off
- Screen can be hard to view in sunlight
Panasonic's Lumix DMC-FT4 is a tough camera that's designed for the great outdoors. It supplies decent enough image quality for a camera of its type and it even packs in features such as GPS tagging and a panorama scene mode. It's easy to use for the most part, although its screen can be hard to view when shooting outdoors on a sunny day. All up though, a good camera to choose before embarking on some adventurous photography.
Design and features
The FT4 has a 12-megapixel sensor that sits behind a 4.6x optical zoom lens, which can shoot from 28mm to 128mm. It's a decent range for a compact camera, and especially for one that has such small, integrated optics. The lens itself sits inside the body of the camera, protected by toughened plastic in front of it, which acts as a permanent lens cover. You have to remember to clean this often, especially if you've been in the water. Another thing you'll have to keep in mind is the position of the lens: it sits in the top-left corner, which means you have to mindful of your fingers as you hold the camera — they can easily get in the way and ruin the shot.
A 3in screen on the back allows you to frame your pictures, and you'll get the sharpest possible results if you place your subject of focus directly in the centre of the frame. The layout of the shutter button and menu controls is comfortable and logical. The shutter could use more of a distinction in its focusing step though. Instead of a zoom rocker, you get separate zoom in and zoom out buttons, and these can take a while to get used to. These zoom buttons feel a little spongy, but they are tolerable. The other buttons don't feel spongy at all, but the on/off button and the dedicated video recording button can be hard to press because they are set flush with the camera's body.
It's quite an easy task to take photos with this camera, epecially if you just leave it in inteligent auto mode. You can also choose to use program mode, which allows you to play with the exposure compensation, ISO, white balance and focus settings, or you can choose manual mode. It's not a real manual mode as it only allows you to change the aperture value, and even then it only has two values to choose from: f/3.3 and f/10. There are scene modes that can be used as well, including "beach and snorkeling", "underwater" and a useful sweeping panorama mode. All of these modes can be accessed by pressing the mode button on the camera — is no dial.
Before taking the FT4 out and about, you'll have to make sure that its cover is closed and locked. The cover has a plastic prong that clips into place when you close it, and there is a sliding lock under it that holds the main lock in place, ensuring that it can't easily come out. It doesn't feel like a very sturdy lock though, and we'd prefer it if Panasonic used metal prongs rather than plastic to hold the cover closed — the Fujifilm FinePix XP150, for example, has metal on its cover and the way it closes feels a lot more reassuring. On the inside of the cover, there is a rubber water seal that is just under 2mm thick — the Fujifilm tough camera has a little more rubber in its seal.
The camera is appropriate for shallow water shenanigans, as well as snorkelling adventures. It has a maximum depth rating of 12m, but as is the case with all tough ratings, it's best not to take it to the extreme. We didn't hit the water in Sydney's cold weather, but we did leave the FT4 submerged in a third of a metre of water for a few hours; the seals managed to keep all the water out and the SD card we left in there remained dry. It's important to remember not to take the SD card out before the camera body is completely dry.
As for taking photos underwater, your results will vary depending on how much light is available to you. Without enough light, the images will look blurry. You may also need to adjust the white balance of photos once you transfer them to a computer. Changing settings while underwater can be difficult, so it's best to just leave the camera in one of its auto modes (or in underwater scene mode). We took some underwater shots with this camera back in February and you can see some examples in our preview article.
On land, the FT4's camera can capture well-saturated images (as long as the light is strong) and an adequate amount of detail. Photos will look good enough to share online, to view on Full HD TVs, and to print out in the form of photo books. Heavily cropping images will expose the camera's lack of definition at the pixel level though, which means you should frame your photos in such a way that cropping won't be required. In dim lighting situations, images shot with a value up to ISO 800 will look reasonably free of noise, but will have noticeable muddiness. Where possible, try not to use anything above ISO 400. In some high-contrast scenes, discoloured edges can be a problem and we noticed this when shooting black objects on a white background.
Overall, this is a fine camera for anyone who wants a camera that can be taken pretty much anywhere without much fear of it breaking. Its image quality isn't up to the standard of most regular, non-toughened compact cameras, but it's nevertheless good enough for displaying pictures online, on TV or in photo books.
• Related review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ7 digital camera
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