Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3 Last year’s Editors’ Choice Panasonic Lumix DSC-TS2 compact camera was a powerhouse, offering great image and build quality, and HD video capture—and this rugged shooter was waterproof up to 33 feet. Panasonic continues the trend with this year’s 12.1-megapixel Panasonic Lumix DSC-TS3, which keeps the same $399.95 list price, but adds an even tougher build that’s waterproof up to 40 feet, along with better video options, GPS, and a digital compass. Panasonic also throws in a barometer and altimeter for adventurous types who want to know elevation and atmospheric pressure information for each photo they snap. Despite producing images that are on the soft side, the Panasonic TS3 is a tough cookie that can withstand the elements. It’s tough build and innovative features make it our latest Editors’ Choice rugged point-and-shoot digital camera.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3 Design
The body of the TS3 comes in four metallic hues (silver, red, orange, and blue) and isn’t exactly minimalist. It actually looks tough: There are plenty of bumpers and exposed screws that help ensure that the camera can take a beating. The 7-ounce, 2.5-by-4.1-by-1-inch (HWD) body is waterproof up to up to 40 feet, freeze-proof to as low as 14⁰F, can withstand drops up to 6.6 feet (2 meters), and is dust-proof. The TS3 is as tough as compact cameras get.
Like most rugged cameras, the 4.6x optical zoom lens (28-128mm, 35mm equivalent, f/3.3-f/5.9) never extends past the camera’s body. The TS3 uses what’s known as folded optics: the zooming lens moves sideways inside the camera and a mirror bends its view perpendicular to the body. Adding more glass and bending light can affect image quality, which could explain the soft images the camera produces. The also-rugged and waterproof Canon PowerShot D10 ($329.99, 4 stars) doesn’t use folded optics, but its trade-off is a much larger body. Like with the D10, the T3′s lens is protected by a ruggedized window that you’ll have to regularly wipe down to clean fingerprints. The Olympus Stylus Tough 8010 ($399.99, 2.5 stars) fixes this problem by adding a sliding shield that protects it from fingerprints.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3 View SlideshowSee all (9) slides
The 2.7-inch LCD isn’t massive, and it contains the standard 230K dots. I’ve yet to see a rugged camera offer a higher-resolution display. This screen, though, shows significant motion blur, so moving images leave streaks when you’re framing your shots.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3 Specifications
- Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3 Type
- Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3 Compact
- 12.1 MP
- Media Format
- Secure Digital Extended Capacity
- 35-mm Equivalent (Wide)
- 28 mm
- 35-mm Equivalent (Telephoto)
- 128 mm
- Optical Zoom
- 4.6 x
- LCD size
- 2.7 inches
- Video Resolution
Panasonic’s user interface is simple to use, with multiple routes to access popular features. You can make adjustments through the regular menu, quick menu, or the typical dedicated buttons for video recording, timer, flash, etc.
Like the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V ($349.99, 4 stars) and the Casio Exilim EX-H20G ($349.99, 4 stars), the TS3 packs both a GPS and a digital compass. When you geotag a photo, in addition to its location, you can see the direction in which it was taken (with a free program like Picasa or Google Earth you can view your photos on a map). To track your location, the camera needs to have a clear line of sight to satellites, so you can’t geotag photos indoors or underwater. The Exilim EX-H20G is the only camera to provide a workaround; it pairs the GPS and compass with a pedometer and accelerometer so it can calculate where you are based on your last known location from the GPS.
Panasonic added two features I’ve never seen in a camera before: an altimeter and a barometer. You can use the altimeter to see your height relative to sea level or compare the height between two locations. The barometer displays the atmospheric pressure (measured in hectopascals) for your current location and time, the last 24 hours, or even in 90 minute intervals. All this information is actually shown on the camera’s LCD. In Playback mode, I was able to view the barometer and altimeter information for my captured images.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3 Performance
The TS3 is blindingly fast: powering up and shooting took an average of just 2.3 seconds. And once it gets going, the TS3 snaps individual photos with just 0.5 seconds of shutter lag, and wait time between shots averages just 1.2 seconds. You’ll be hard pressed to find a compact camera that’s faster, rugged or not.
In the PCMag labs we use Imatest to objectively measure image quality. The TS3 offered a soft, center-weighted average of just 1,347 lines per picture height. A comparably priced non-waterproof camera like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX700 ($399.95, 4 stars) or the Canon PowerShot S95 ($399.99, 4 stars) offer sharper images, with center-weighted averages of 1,817 and 1,858 respectively. In shots outside the lab, images from the TS3 looked crisp, but not eye-poppingly sharp. Despite the TS3′s soft pictures, the camera offers solid noise performance. It was able to keep noise levels below Imatest’s 1.5-percent acceptability threshold up to and including ISO 1600. This means good low-light-sans-flash shooting results.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3 One of the best compact cameras for recording video, the TS3 provides the option to record 720p30 video (at 6 megabits per second) in a file format that’s natively compatible with YouTube and Facebook. Or you can step up to a higher quality 1080p30, 17 megabits-per-second AVCHD format which is not natively compatible with YouTube and Facebook, but looks much better. Not only does video look fantastic (even when you shoot under water), but you won’t hear lens noise while zooming or refocusing while recording—that’s rare. Like photos, videos can also be geotagged.
You can also shoot pseudo-3D images with the TS3. The camera basically performs a trick that works well enough, but doesn’t produce results comparable with a true 3D camera with two lenses. In 3D mode, the camera directs you move from left to right, snapping 20 shots in the course of a few seconds. It then selects two images that are merged into one .MPO file, which is the industry standard for 3D.
Underneath a waterproof side compartment, you’ll find a micro-HDMI connection so you can plug the TS3 right into an HDTV to play back your pictures and video. The camera features an SDXC slot, which is also backward compatible with SDHC and SD cards. The camera uses a proprietary USB port, so if you don’t have an SDXC/SDHC card reader, you’ll have to tote the proprietary cable to transfer your images and video.
The $400 Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3 isn’t cheap, but for the price, you get plenty of bells and whistles. Images could be sharper, but if you’re the outdoorsy type who’s looking for a tough compact camera with excellent video and location-based features, the TS3 delivers.