Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT30 Tough camera
It won't provide great image quality, but it's rugged, small, and easy to carry
The main point to remember about Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-FT30 Tough camera is that it’s very small and easy to carry with you on all types of adventures, whether they are on land on water. All the usual hallmarks of a rugged camera are incorporated in the product, such as waterproofing down to 8m, shockproofing from up to 1.5m, and freezeproofing down to -10 degrees Celsius, and this is all in a body that’s small enough to hide in a regular pants pocket.
You can accidentally drop the camera from a standing height onto a hard surface without inflicting any serious damage, and you can dump it into a typical pool or take it into the shallows at the beach without fear of shorting it out or ruining the memory card. That is, of course, as long as the proper precautions are taken as far as the camera’s seal being securely closed (the camera reminds you of this every time you use it). Panasonic also supplies a silicone case for the body, which is meant to prevent the battery compartment door from opening when around water (even though there is already a lock for the door), and it can guard against scratches if the camera is dropped.
It's important to note that the waterproof rating, which is IPX8, is designed to keep the camera safe underwater for periods no longer than 60min, and no deeper than 8m. We didn't have up to 8m at our disposal, so we settled for vase with a water depth of 20cm and didn't use the silicone sleeve. After an hour, we removed the camera, dried it, and found that only a slight amount of water remained close to the vicinity of the O-ring seal, perhaps falling into the O-ring's groove as we opened the compartment.
As a further test, we then left the camera 20cm underwater for approximately 90min. This time, we noticed that water did indeed get inside the sealed compartment and into the SD card slot and near the battery. The camera remained operational after we wiped it dry, and so did our SD card.
For a camera like this, the usability needs to be basic, which means you won’t find too many opportunities to make changes to the exposure, and in most cases, you’ll want to just use the auto modes because it will be too awkward to make changes while underwater or out in bright environments. There is a 2.3in LCD screen through which to frame your photos, a two-step shutter that’s easy to press, a separate button to initiate video recordings, and a typical array of menu navigation buttons on the rear that are flat and mostly user-friendly -- though the zoom buttons feel a little too soft.
It’s a simple thing to operate, but it’s not always a fun thing to operate. The LCD screen on the back isn’t of a high quality, and you can’t use it with ease unless you are staring at it square on and while not in direct sunlight. Indeed, it can be hard to see what your framing and exposure looks like when shooting outdoors, which can stifle creativity in terms of the types of angles and lighting you want achieve. Furthermore, playback of your photos on the screen will sometimes not tell the whole story of how a captured photo actually looks.
The lens is tiny and fixed in place at the top-left corner of the body. There is no cover for it when the camera is not in use, so it’s always exposed. You have to make sure that this lens is always clean and free of any fogging, especially if you have just taken the camera out of the water, or if you've been carrying it in your pocket. There were instances during our tests where smudges were present on the lens, and we couldn’t detect them when we played back our photos while out and about -- we only noticed them once we got home and looked at the photos on a laptop screen.
Because of the placement of the lens, you have to be careful of the way you hold the camera. Using a little too much left hand to keep the camera steady can increase the chances of you capturing an inadvertent portion of a finger in a shot, and this might not always be picked up when reviewing a shot if you’re in a rush. The more you use the camera, the more you become aware of how you need to hold it to avoid this type of situation.
In terms of quality, the lens has a 4x optical zoom that goes from 25-100mm, and it has a maximum wide aperture of f/3.9 when you are not zoomed in. This lens sits behind a 16-megapixel CCD sensor. Don’t expect this camera to be able to capture excellent looking shots. The clarity isn’t high, bright whites are often captured with too much brightness, there is some haloing and softness visible in high contrast areas, the sides can be noticeably softer than the centre of the frame, and the wide angle can put a noticeable bend in straight lines.
The photos are fine for sharing on sites such as Facebook at a small size, but they don't look good at their native size, and they don't take kindly to cropping.
A couple of different auto modes can be used, depending on your needs, with iAuto mode being the one that takes complete control of the camera to select the best scene mode for what you are trying to capture. We found this mode best for scenes with lots of dynamic lighting as it kept the highlights from being overexposed. However, it wasn’t great when we wanted to take macros, with the focus point often going beyond our subject and landing on the background instead. For macros, we preferred the Record mode, which is an auto mode that lets you change focus type, from normal to macro as needed.
Video can be shot at the touch of a button, but don’t expect clear quality. We found the results to be a little too fuzzy, and we noticed that the lens had a problem keeping a fixed focus, often pulsating in and out. It doesn’t record in Full HD, favouring regular HD instead (that is, 1280x720 pixels), and we don’t think it’s a great camera if you plan on recording a lot of a video footage.
In fact, you should only consider this camera if you specifically want a small and relatively inexpensive rugged camera for basic shots. It’s a camera you can put in your pocket and carry easily on your adventures, and its layout of flat buttons makes it easy to operate.
Otherwise, consider one of Panasonic’s larger tough models, such as the DMC-FT6, which costs about $150 more, but which offers a better sensor, better optics, and an ability to shoot video in Full HD.
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