by Shawn Barnett
and Mike Tomkins
Review Date: 04/07/09
Panasonic, maker of the ToughBook series of notebook computers, has launched its first rugged digital camera: the Lumix TS1.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS1 is a rugged shockproof, waterproof, and dustproof digital camera with a sensor resolution of 12.1 effective megapixels from a 1/2.33" RGB CCD image sensor, and Panasonic has coupled this to an image stabilized, Leica DC Vario-Elmar branded 4.6x optical zoom lens with a useful 28-128mm-equivalent wide-angle zoom.
Panasonic Lumix TS1 Features
There's no optical viewfinder, with the Panasonic TS1 instead opting solely for a 2.7-inch LCD display with 230,000 dot resolution. The Panasonic TS1's lens has a maximum aperture that varies from f/3.3 to f/5.9 across the zoom range. The minimum focusing distance for the Panasonic DMC-TS1 is ordinarily 30 centimeters, but drops to just five centimeters when switched to Macro mode. That rugged body is one of the biggest selling points, though, capable of surviving some pretty harsh usage. The Panasonic DMC-TS1 is capable of surviving repeated drops from 1.5 meters onto five centimeter thick plywood with no more than cosmetic damage, and is rated waterproof and dustproof to the IP58 standard, meaning that it can be used three meters underwater for sixty minutes at a time. Note, though, that to maintain this level of waterproofing, Panasonic recommends annual replacement of the camera's seals, a service that must be paid for.
The Panasonic DMC-TS1 has an 11-point multi-area autofocus system which also includes a single-point "high speed" focusing mode. As with many digital cameras these days, there's also a face detection function, with Panasonic's implementation using the information to adjust both focus and exposure to properly capture your subjects' faces. Panasonic has gone a step further by enabling the Lumix DMC-TS1 to recognize specific individuals' faces, and prioritize these over other detected photos when capturing photos, or search for photos containing a specific face in Playback mode. The Panasonic Lumix TS1 also has an implementation of autofocus tracking, which can monitor a subject as it moves around the frame, continuing to update autofocus as required. Panasonic's AF tracking is linked to the face detection system, allowing the camera to continue tracking a face even if it briefly turns to a side profile (although it should be noted that the face detection system does require the subject be looking toward the camera to achieve its initial detection).
ISO sensitivity ordinarily ranges from 80 to 1,600, with the ability to extend this as far as ISO 6,400 equivalent in High Sensitivity Auto mode. Shutter speeds from 1/1,300 to 60 seconds are possible. The Panasonic DMC-TS1 uses Intelligent Multiple metering, and offers six white balance settings including Auto, Manual, and four fixed presets. A whopping selection of twenty-seven Scene modes let users tailor the look of their images, useful given that the Panasonic TS1 doesn't offer aperture-, shutter-priority, or fully manual modes. There's also an Intelligent Scene Selection function, which can automatically select from a subset of the available scene modes. A five-mode flash strobe includes red-eye reduction capability, and has a rated range of up to 5.1 meters at wide angle, or 2.8 meters at telephoto. There's also digital red-eye correction, and Panasonic's Intelligent Exposure and Intelligent ISO functions as seen on past models. Also included is Intelligent Auto, which can now also enable the AF Tracking and Intelligent Exposure functions.
As well as JPEG still images, the Panasonic TS1 can capture movies with sound at up to 1,280 x 720 pixel resolution or below, and the compression used is AVCHD Lite which is based upon MPEG-4 AVC / H.264 video, so file sizes should be good. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS1 stores its images and movies on Secure Digital cards, including the newer SDHC types. MultiMedia cards are also supported, but for stills only. There's also a generous 50MB of built-in memory. Connectivity options include a USB 2.0 High-Speed connection, plus standard definition NTSC / PAL video output. The Panasonic TS1 can also output high-definition video via an optional HDMI cable, and is compatible with Panasonic's proprietary "VIERA Link" system that allows the connected TV's remote control to be used to navigate the camera's slideshows. Power comes from a proprietary lithium-ion battery, rated as good for 300 shots on a charge to CIPA testing standards. The software bundle includes PHOTOfunSTUDIO Viewer v3.0 HD, ArcSoft MediaImpression, and ArcSoft Panorama Maker.
Panasonic Lumix TS1 Pricing and Availability
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS1 ships from April 2009, with an expected price of US$400.
Panasonic Lumix TS1
by Shawn Barnett
What's built like a truck and takes pictures? The Panasonic TS1. Though it's not the first ruggedized digital camera to hit the market, it certainly looks the part. Panasonic's long history of building ToughBook computers seems to be an inspiration for the industrial design of the Panasonic TS1. The new camera is waterproof, dustproof and shockproof, just like most of that impressive line of computers; having used several, I can attest to their ruggedness.
The Lumix TS1 was not built to handle quite the same abuse as a rugged notebook, but it was designed for the average consumer photographer who tends to be careless with his precious camera: taking it to the beach, tossing it on the counter, dropping it on the ground, taking it out in the rain. But the Lumix TS1 was also built so you could use it outdoors, at the beach, on the boat, and even under the water when snorkeling or just swimming.
Look and feel. Available in three colors -- Silver, Green, and Orange -- the Lumix TS1 has the basic configuration found in the Olympus Stylus SW and Tough cameras, as well as the new GE G3WP, leading me to wonder who the contract manufacturer is for all three. Given that Panasonic is merging with Sanyo, a known contract manufacturer of digital cameras, might that be the joint source for the innards of these similar cameras? Tough to say, and it could be Panasonic itself that's the source; regardless, the similarities are noticeable, even if the outer skin looks very different. The lenses look the same when you peer down inside, the doors function with the same locking and sealing mechanisms, the dials are very similar, and the TS1 is the first non-Olympus rugged camera to offer a bright white LED to illuminate subjects at close range (the GE G3WP is the other new camera to offer this feature, and it too has the same dial, door, and lens arrangement).
Still, there are plenty of differences built into the Panasonic TS1, many of them particularly related to the HD video capability of the TS1, so it's more curiosity as an admirer of cameras that makes me seek out the similarities.
The Panasonic TS1 looks quite a bit bigger than the Olympus 1050SW, and it feels lighter too. It feels like the Panasonic TS1 has more room to take a hit and still protect the components inside. One thing's for sure, it stands out in both a shirt and a pants pocket thanks to its thickness and bold edges, making it better suited for a jacket pocket. The brushed metal finish looks almost gun-like, and though it's not as thick as a pistol slide, the metal does feel substantial, hardly giving when I press down on it.
For service outdoors, though, I prefer a bit more substance in a digital camera. For a little extra security, Panasonic has included a wrist strap with a sturdy toggle lock which you can tighten around your wrist.
Controls. Turning on the Panasonic TS1 can be frustrating, because unlike most digital cameras on the market, you have to hold the button down for a second or two. Turning it off is much easier, requiring just a momentary press. This does make it less likely that the camera will turn on accidentally in a bag, so there's at least a plus side.
The shutter button is large, with a knurled surface, which helps when the camera is wet. I'm not as fond of the zoom slider, which is clumsy to use and so close to the shutter release that you can easily activate one while using the other.
Your thumb rests on the knurled Mode dial when you're shooting with the Panasonic TS1, and the knurl protrudes up from the dial, so you can turn it with just the surface of your thumb, rather than having to pinch the dial with two fingers, as is necessary on the Olympus Tough cameras. Though I said these dials were very similar, this is the one way they differ. The navigation and menu buttons below are metal and fairly easy to press and use. The Four-way buttons are beveled, making for easier activation with a larger thumb. The controls are still fairly cramped, though, so if you're not very dextrous with your thumb or are wearing gloves, you might have some trouble here.
Regardless what mode you're in, you can begin recording video at any time by pressing the red Record button just below the Mode dial. Lately I shoot about fifty percent video and fifty percent stills, so I like features like this. Of course there is a danger you could press this button without knowing it, but the Mode dial is tall enough that this should be rare.
The Panasonic TS1's 2.7-inch LCD is just right, with good contrast and nice sharpness. You can see the pixels, because it's not one of the new-fangled 920K pixel screens, but it really is nice at showing you both what you're about to capture and what you've shot, even in sunlight. There's an option to automatically brighten or dim the LCD display as the light changes, which I recommend turning on by default. I also turn on the histogram to help judge the relative exposure when shooting, because an adjustable LCD can sometimes fool you.
The Panasonic TS1's access doors are sturdy, releasing with a springloaded latch. A rubber seal presses against a raised ridge that surrounds each vital area. The Panasonic TS1 reminds you when you enter sports modes to check the seals for dust, sand, and hair when entering wet environments; failing to do so could easily result in leakage and subsequent damage to the camera. It's better to do this when you load the camera's battery, checking and cleaning both the connector and battery doors before you leave home to start your water activity so that you don't contaminate the seals in a place where you can't really clean the seals as well.
Overall, the Panasonic TS1's controls are easy to use and follow the usual conventions, making it easy to switch from another brand to this one, and despite the clumsiness of the zoom slider, I'd call the TS1 a pretty well-designed digital camera.
Lens. Like most of its competitors' waterproof designs, the Lumix TS1's lens is a folded optic that zooms internally. It's a smart approach to rugged camera design, because no lens elements extend from the front of the camera where they could get damaged by impact. Unlike Olympus and GE's offerings (as of this writing), the Panasonic TS1 offers a wide-angle zoom lens that ranges from 28-128mm equivalent. In an outdoor setting, a wide-angle lens is particularly important, especially for scenics, but also for getting more of your friends and even yourself in your pictures.
As with every Panasonic digital camera, the Lumix TS1 has Mega Optical Image Stabilization built in, where an element inside the lens is moved in response to camera movement, resulting in more clear shots overall. You can set it to compensate in all four directions (Mode 1) or just one as you pan after a moving subject (Mode 2); I prefer to just set it to Auto and let the camera detect what's happening.
It's also noteworthy that the Panasonic TS1 doesn't have a lens cover of any kind. We're assuming it has a very hard cover glass, but we can't confirm it as of this writing.
Modes. The Mode dial selects among the seven major modes for the Panasonic TS1: Intelligent Auto, Normal Picture, Sports, Snow, Beach, Scene, and Clipboard.
Intelligent Auto is probably the best mode for the unsophisticated user, as it guesses pretty well. Earlier attempts at intelligently guessing what a scene contained didn't work quite as well as this, but most companies have this down pretty well. Most cameras have a good selection of Scene modes designed to optimize the camera's performance for an array of photographic circumstances, but companies observed that most people didn't use them much. Face detection goes a long way to helping the camera decide whether to shoot in Portrait mode, optimizing exposure and color settings for better skin tones. But the camera as quickly switches to Macro mode when it detects a close object, nearly eliminating out-of-focus closeup shots that are so common among those unfamiliar with a camera's Macro setting.
Panasonic further deduced that most people use Sports, Snow, and Beach modes, especially with a camera designed to be used outdoors, so those are the only Scene modes they left on the dial. You can access 24 other Scene modes via the SCN setting on the Mode dial, including Portrait, Soft skin, Transform, Self-portrait, Scenery, Panorama assist, Night portrait, Night scenery, Food, Party, Candle light, Baby1, Baby2, Pet, Sunset, High sensitivity, Hi-speed burst, Flash burst, Starry sky, Fireworks, Aerial photo, Pin hole, Film grain, and Underwater modes.
Clipboard mode is a special mode for storing copies of documents, maps, and other important items you might need to access quickly in a digital form. You can select from one or two-megapixel image sizes, and the camera will store them in internal memory so that they're always available regardless whether you change memory cards mid-trip.
Face detect vs recognition. The terms used to be interchangeable, but the Panasonic TS1 includes actual Face Recognition in addition to detection, where you can teach the camera which faces to watch for and quite literally focus on. It's intended both to prioritize which face is usually in focus, but also to help you find pictures of your family members as you look through your photographs later on your computer. I did a quick test using a few photographs around the office and put together a video to show the feature in action. Results were mixed at best, but remember that this isn't exactly a real-world test, and some of the faces were captured in low light. I'm unsure how much the camera will learn as it goes along, but I don't think I'd rely on it to organize a set of photos at this point. It's still interesting technology.
Movie mode. Movie mode is interesting, though when it was announced we were told that the Panasonic TS1 would be able to capture 60 frames per second at 720p in the AVCHD Lite format; however, the manual only states that the camera can record at 30 frames per second in this format. You can also choose to record in Motion JPEG format, which is much simpler, though still limited to 30fps.
If you shoot in AVCHD lite mode, you have to either ONLY watch your videos from your camera on your HDTV, or you must own a PC to run the PHOTOfunSTUDIO software to offload and read the files. The software is not compatible with a Mac, and neither are the AVCHD lite files, far as I can determine. Also note that most older PCs and Macs can't play HD videos in either format, because it requires a more modern processor or graphics card; so you may need to upgrade your computer to play the HD videos you capture with this camera.
I uploaded the AVCHD lite videos via the PHOTOfunSTUDIO's YouTube conduit, and though the process went relatively smoothly, the resulting quality was terrible. Uploading a video captured in Motion JPEG and uploaded through YouTube's normal Web interface resulted in far better quality. The camera recommends AVCHD format for watching videos on an HDTV, and using Motion JPEG for emailing and viewing on a PC. But unless you're going to keep all your videos on an SD card and watch them only via the camera, I suggest shooting only in the Motion JPEG format. AVCHD files are saved in an unusual format, consisting of multiple files that span a few directories on the card, so they're not just "drag and drop" simple. Since AVCHD has only limited support among video editing software vendors, it's best to stick to Motion JPEG for now.
Motion JPEG also offers more resolution options, including 1,280 x 720, 848 x 480, 640 x 480, and 320 x 240, all at 30 frames per second.
One great feature not included in most point & shoot digital cameras is the ability to zoom optically while recording (most are confined to digital zooming); but you can with the Panasonic TS1. That means you can start zoomed in and zoom out, or vise versa without much noise being captured in the movie. There is some clicking from the shutter button or zoom slider as you move the lever, but it's not bad. There's only one zoom speed, though, so you can't subtly zoom back or in for dramatic effect.
Because the Panasonic TS1 is always ready to shoot a still image or a movie, the LCD defaults to a 4:3 frame, with no mask to indicate what your video's aspect ratio will be, so you don't know until you start recording what you're going to capture. It's a little confusing, because the screen also goes blank for the first one to three seconds after you press the button, so you're never sure when your video actually begins recording.
Despite the initial buzz, there's less to be excited about with the Lumix TS1's Movie mode. Two things that do still stand out, though, are recording HD with a 28mm lens, and zooming in and out while recording. If the TS1 had multiple speeds for the zoom, this would be one great little pocket video camera.
Menu. The Panasonic TS1's Record menu is divided into three tabs, located on the left of the screen: Camera, Movie, and Settings. Navigation is pretty easy, and while each tab has more than one screen, these screens are numbered in the upper right corner, so you can tell where you are in the list. You drill into menu levels with the right arrow, and back out with the left, for the most part, then you select among lists with the up and down arrows, pressing the center button to select. Letters are large and readable, with accompanying icons to help explain each item.
The Playback menu is also divided into three tabs as well: Playback Mode, Playback, and Setup.
There's also a Quick Menu, brought up by the Q.Menu button in the lower right corner. This menu features a series of pulldowns that control more commonly accessed menu items.
Storage and battery. The Panasonic TS1 stores images on SD/SDHC memory cards. A 4 to 8GB card should be sufficient for stills, unless you plan to shoot a lot of video with the Panasonic TS1. The Lumix TS1 also includes approximately 50MB of built-in memory.
The Panasonic Lumix TS1 uses a 3.6-volt, 940mAh lithium-ion cell that they eloquently call DMW-BCF10PP. It is rated to capture up to 300 still shots on a single charge, which is better than average for most digital cameras. No figure is published for video recording, however. If you plan to use the TS1 for video, I suggest buying a spare battery, because my brief experiments with the Panasonic TS1's video mode had a large impact on the battery life.
Shooting. The Panasonic TS1 is very responsive in still capture modes, though video is slow to start up, as I mentioned. In Intelligent Auto, Scene modes are selected quickly, though a little slower than the Canon SD780 IS I just reviewed. Full autofocus speed is quite a bit better than the Canon, though (as is the image quality), coming in at 0.44 shutter lag at wide angle, and at 0.01 when prefocused.
All the controls were responsive and were easy to see in most lighting situations. Menus, too, were plenty straightforward. I liked the wrist strap's toggle lock, since it adds a better sense of security.
Using the TS1 was indeed point & shoot easy: just raise the camera and fire. I found myself questioning the color on the Panasonic TS1, since I was shooting on an overcast day. The camera seemed to be leaving most of the shots quite cold, rather than warming them up a little, as I expected in Intelligent Auto mode. So I switched between IA and Normal Picture mode, which I'd set to a Cloudy white balance. Though the Cloudy white balance settings looked better on the LCD, when I got the shots back to the office, I more often picked the IA images because the ones captured with the Cloudy setting were too often orange rather than well balanced. I included a few samples of both in the Gallery.
Image stabilization was rock solid most of the time, even when I was shooting one-handed. Panasonic's stabilization is among the more effective solutions out there; I'm on the verge of saying it's the most effective in point & shoot cameras. Most of my shots were sharp, except those where I knew I was pushing it. Unfortunately, Panasonic's images are still marred by their poor demosaicing and luminance noise in most solid colors; and it gets worse in the shadows. But considering the Panasonic TS1's 12.1-megapixel resolution, most of it comes to nothing more than pixel-peeping unless you make very large prints.
Looking at the images after capture often fleshes out what I think of the overall shooting experience, because image quality can change going from the small screen to a much larger computer screen. At 12-megapixels, you have to qualify your judgments when looking at image quality at 100 percent on a screen, so we do qualify it by printing the images. So while onscreen we do see much of the usual luminance noise in the solids and shadows that Panasonics tend to deliver even at the lowest ISO, the printer hardly notices.
The Lumix TS1, like many recent Panasonics, makes good use of post-processing technology to improve the optical quality of its images. Barrel and pincushion distortion are processed-out of the images almost completely, as is most evidence of chromatic aberration. There's still plenty of coma distortion in the corners, but you can't tell what's real coma distortion and what's created by the image processor. There are some purists who will resent having the corners of their images cropped, but most consumers will just notice straight buildings, even horizons, and fewer rainbow edges in the corners of their pictures (if most shooters notice chromatic aberration at all).
As for negatives, I found myself accidentally covering the flash now and then, which is on the right side where your hand is, but most often my fingers were just a little lower than the flash. In Intelligent Auto mode, I think the Panasonic TS1 flashes automatically too often when the focus is set to infinity (why can it detect close focus but not infinity?), which can kill contrast and add dust to long shots unnecessarily; but at least the TS1 will contribute its sparkle to the ambience of sports stadiums around the world. Face recognition was also a mixed bag, but I wouldn't use such a feature anyway, so does nothing to diminish the Lumix TS1 as an excellent outdoor camera.
I'd rather have a lens cover on the Panasonic TS1 instead of the tough glass they've put in place. For that reason, I recommend a case for the Lumix TS1, especially when you're heading out into the wilds.
Ultimately, though, the Panasonic Lumix TS1 goes down as the best waterproof digital camera we've reviewed to date.
Panasonic Lumix TS1 Lens Quality
Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Very soft upper left
Tele: Slightly soft at center
Tele: Quite soft in upper left corner
Sharpness: The wide-angle end of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS1's zoom is, not surprisingly, quite soft from center to corner. At the telephoto end, corners are also soft, though fine detail is also slightly soft at center.
Wide: Very slight barrel distortion; hardly noticeable
Tele: Average pincushion distortion
Geometric Distortion: There is very little barrel distortion at wide-angle (about 0.1%), and an average amount of pincushion distortion at telephoto (0.2%).
Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle is minimal, and not too bright. Results at telephoto are also minimal, with a few visible red pixels. We think this is due to Panasonic's post-capture processing to greatly reduce the effects of chromatic aberration.
Macro with Flash
Macro: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS1's Macro mode captures a sharp image across most of the frame, with only minor blurring far into in the corners of the frame. Minimum coverage area is 1.83 x 1.37 inches (46 x 35 mm). The camera focuses so closely that the flash casts long shadows and results in an uneven exposure, so be sure to use external lighting for extreme closeups.
Panasonic Lumix TS1 Image Quality
Color: Color is somewhat muted in some respects, especially yellows, some of which have a slight green tint. Blues are pumped more than reds, but color looks mostly accurate, rather than the usual tendency toward oversaturation that most companies employ to appeal to consumers. Hue is also a little off for colors like yellow and cyan. Dark skintones are a little more saturated, but lighter tones are pretty spot on.
ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is somewhat soft, even at ISO 80, though chroma (color) noise is quite low and remains low throughout the series. Luminance noise becomes more noticeable at ISO 200 and up, with detail completely obliterated at ISO 1,600. See Printed results below for more on how this affects printed image.
Wide: Slightly dim, ISO 400
Tele: Fairly bright, ISO 800
Our manufacturer-specified testing shows the wide-angle setting to expose a little dark at the rated distance of 16.7 feet or 5.1 meters, even though the camera increased ISO to 400. The telephoto test came out just fine at the rated distance of 9.2 feet or 2.8 meters, though the camera had to raise the ISO to 800. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS1's flash should be powerful enough for most wide-angle applications, but results at standard ISOs won't be bright at full telephoto.
Good, slightly cool
Incandescent: Auto white balance handles our tungsten lighting test better than Incandescent mode, with the latter rendering a very warm image.
Printed: The Panasonic TS1 has phenomenally good print quality. Its ISO 80 setting easily manages a 16x20-inch print size. Though some details are slightly soft at this size, the all sharpen up well at 13x19, or if you perform a quick Unsharp Mask in Photoshop. ISO 100 shots are essentially identical to ISO 80 shots. The Luminance noise that I mentioned earlier really isn't a problem at these sizes unless you get very close. ISO 200 shots start to soften at this enormous size of 16x20, but only if you pixel-peep; at arm's length, prints are just fine. ISO 200 shots still show a little softness up close at 13x19, but even that goes away at 11x14 inches. ISO 400 shots also look quite good at 11x14, with some low-contrast areas getting soft, but really not noticeably from a small distance. At 8x10, ISO 400 is just fine. Even ISO 800 is surprisingly usable at 8x10 and pretty sharp at 5x7. ISO 1,600 shots are too soft at 8x10, usable at 5x7, and except for some chroma noise in the shadows, quite good at 4x6 inches. Overall, a very good performance from a waterproof digital camera with a wide-angle zoom lens, let alone any small digital camera at all at 12 megapixels.
Panasonic Lumix TS1 Performance
Shutter Lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is good, at 0.44 second at wide-angle. Prefocus shutter lag is 0.011 second, quite blazingly fast.
Cycle Time: Cycle time is about average, capturing a frame every 2.03 seconds in single-shot mode. Panasonic claims 1.8 frames per second in continuous mode, but we didn't test that.
Flash Recycle: Panasonic TS1's flash recycles in a relatively quick 3.3 seconds after a full-power discharge.
In the Box
The Panasonic Lumix TS1 ships with the following items in the box:
- Panasonic Lumix TS1 body
- Battery pack
- Battery charger
- Wrist strap
- USB cable
- AV cable
Panasonic Lumix TS1 Conclusion
Conclusion. Panasonic has produced a real winner with the Lumix TS1: a digital camera that you can take anywhere, rain or shine, underwater, and you can even mistreat it and it'll still turn in better photos than many other digital cameras on the market. Although there are other rugged digital cameras -- some more rugged than the TS1 -- none so far comes close to the high image quality of the Panasonic TS1. Its 12-megapixel sensor performs very well, and though the Lumix TS1 still exhibits the luminance noise that we used to warn people about, it's of no consequence in the printed results, so not worth worrying about. Some of the heavily touted features of the Panasonic TS1 fall short, including the Face Recognition mode and some elements of the Movie mode, but I still like that one can zoom while capturing video, something most pocket digital cameras don't offer; and the image stabilization is excellent. When it comes to actually giving me most of what I want from a digital camera that I can take anywhere, the Panasonic TS1 really delivers. Its wide-angle lens lets me capture more of the outdoors, and I can use it regardless of the weather without a whole lot of thought -- either for the image quality or the camera's safety. For that reason, the Panasonic Lumix TS1 earns a 4.5-star Dave's Pick.