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Panasonic TS4

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This camera was featured in our Waterproof Camera Shootout 2012. To find out how it compares head-to-head with five other rugged, element-defying compact digital cameras, click here!


Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS4 Review

by David Elrich and Stephanie Boozer, with Shawn Barnett
Review posted: 06/22/2012

Rugged cameras are pretty standard, but fortunately Panasonic's Lumix DMC-TS4 goes a bit beyond the ordinary. Put the TS4's many flat-bodied competitors in a pile and you'll typically find non-telescoping zoom lenses, waterproof capability ranging from 10 to 33 feet, cold resistance, and enough ruggedness to handle a five-foot drop. The Panasonic TS4 has an optically stabilized 4.6x Leica zoom lens (28-128mm eq.) and, rather than the usual 6 feet, the Lumix can swim with the fishes at 40 feet for an hour. The TS4 is also freezeproof to 14 degrees, and dust-resistant; all important factors when considering a truly versatile rugged camera. The Panasonic TS4 can capture Full HD AVCHD video as well.

While enthusiasts may scoff at this relatively short list of attributes, the great thing about cameras like the Panasonic TS4 is their ability to take punishment with nary a cause for concern. Oh, they'll get scratched after falling onto rocks, but they still work afterward. Simply put: their raison d'etre is grabbing snaps in places where mere mortal digicams would never venture and survive.

In terms of control, rugged cameras rarely offer little more than intelligent Auto, Program AE, a few scene modes and the ability to take movies. That's pretty boring when you think about it, but if you're into serious imaging go buy a Sony NEX-7 or Nikon D7000. But forget about taking those very fine cameras anywhere near the water or rock climbing, unless you also want to invest in a waterproof housing.

As noted, the Panasonic TS4 lets you adjust some settings, but this means two aperture adjustments, depending on your focal length, and a full range of shutter speeds (60 seconds-1/1,300). In keeping with its rugged DNA, the Panasonic TS4 has a Quad Indicator which uses the built-in GPS to give you latitude and longitude data, plus there's a compass, an altimeter and a barometer. The altimeter even works as a depth meter when you're underwater! Pretty neat if you're an outdoors person of the extreme sort, or even the non-extreme type (me).

I used the $399 Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS4 over the course of a month, shooting locales in the Northeast and Southwest. Since it was a bit too cool to use the camera in New Jersey's spring weather underwater, we gave it a workout in a pool in Las Vegas where temperatures hovered around 90. As you can tell, I may test rugged cameras, but I'd rather they do the suffering.

Our review sample was an orange-bronze color which is garish, but sure stands out in a pool filled with turquoise water. Going beyond the exterior, the Panasonic TS4 feels incredibly solid. Hold it in your hand and you might get the urge to toss it up the air and let it hit the concrete. In fact I did that many times and the camera was hardly worse for the battering. Also reassuring was the lock on the door covering the battery/card input/output compartment. If you don't lock it, you'll see a sliver of red, warning you to give the sliding lock a final push. This system is very impressive, yet easy to use, and the camera had zero issues handling the water.

I couldn't get to 40 feet below the surface verify Panasonic's maximum-depth claim, but I'm sure their legal team wouldn't let them make that claim without support. Another small point I liked was the sliding lock on the wrist strap. Just press down and move it close to your wrist for a secure hold. It never came loose even with some vigorous shaking. For the record, I reviewed another rugged camera that had no lock on the strap, and I missed it. It's not the difference between 10 or 40 feet underwater, but it is a good indicator of the thoughtfulness that went into the overall design of the Panasonic TS4.

The Panasonic TS4's control layout is very simple and you'll make most of your changes via the menu system. On the rear are raised W and T buttons (for Wide and Tele) for adjusting the zoom. A toggle switch would make more sense, especially if you were wearing gloves, but since it was warm weather, that wasn't an issue. Other controls include Playback, Mode, Display and Delete. There's the classic four-way control dial with center Menu/Set button. The four-way navigator buttons give you access to the flash, focus type, self-timer and exposure compensation. The icons are engraved, which makes them hard to see. I wish Panasonic had colored them to make the options easier to find. I'm all for subtle styling, but some contrasting type would be most welcome.

As for the Menu, the Panasonic TS4 features a mixed bag of icons and a linear text system which you navigate via the control points (up/down, left/right). It's not an iPad, but is still workmanlike. Hit the Mode key and your main recording options pop up, which range from Intelligent Audio (iA), Program, Manual, Sports, Snow, Snorkel, Underwater, Miniature Effect, Scene (14 options) and 3D. It's a good mix. If you want to shoot a video, the red dot button is available on the top near the shutter. A Quick Menu is available to adjust major settings such as the GPS on/off, resolution, white balance, burst mode, video quality, LCD brightness and turning the LED light on or off. Sprinkle in easy access to exposure compensation in Program (but surprisingly not Manual!) and the Panasonic TS4 is well-featured for this type of camera.

I did all of my shooting with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS4 at maximum resolution (4,000 x 3,000 pixels) at the Fine compression setting while using the Standard color space. The camera offers a Happy mode, which other brands call Vivid. There is no RAW capability.

Videos were shot in the AVCHD format also at best compression (GFS, 17 Mbps). Everything was recorded on a Class 6 SD card (Class 4 and higher is recommended). If you're simply interested in emailing your clips, MP4 is also available. Panasonic's Power O.I.S. was also engaged for stills and movies.

Shooting with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS4 is quite enjoyable. The camera is responsive with little grabbing for focus. The 23-point AF system is a winner. The Panasonic TS4 is also rather speedy, with a stated 3.7 fps for 6 full-resolution shots (up to 10 fps for 100 3-megapixel shots). Don't for a minute think you're likely to capture a cover photo for a sports magazine, however. I tried several shots of pitchers on Opening Day at New York's Citi Field and blurry shots were the best I could get.

The Panasonic TS4 did reasonably well as a dry-weather camera as well as wet and underwater conditions when set to wide-angle, but even a little zooming revealed flaws in the lens. Click here for the rest of our Gallery images.

I shot some early blooms of spring with the Panasonic TS4 and the colors were quite good. Now, I wouldn't enlarge them to gallery sizes, but 8x10-inch prints were good. The biggest problem we noticed was pixelation around green foliage, and lens flare seemed to be the culprit when zooming the lens, with bright subjects glowing noticeably.

Wide and telephoto shots show the reasonable zoom range, from 28-128mm equivalents, but we weren't crazy about how the camera rendered the green trees and grass in these full-sunlit shots.

I had a lot of fun tossing the Panasonic TS4 around the pool area in Las Vegas. I literally threw it into the center of the pool--the orange color came in quite handy for retrieving it. I also dropped the digicam many times on the surrounding concrete and the TS4 kept humming along. Shots taken under and near the surface of the water were also good. I shot scenes using the Snorkeling setting with forced flash and available light--the flash was potent enough to grab some quality images of tiles, feet and so on.

The LCD screen was generally good, but not great. The 2.7-inch display is rated 230K-dots and there's an auto-adjust sensor to deal with various levels of ambient light. For the most part it worked well, but on several occasions the combination of strong sunshine and pool water were simply too much. I had to move into a different position to get anything viewable. This wasn't a deal breaker; I'm just reporting a flaw. Bumping the resolution a bit to 460K would be good, but again it's not a make-or-break issue for the Panasonic TS4.

GPS. Location shown in Google Earth.

The Panasonic TS4 uses a 12-megapixel CCD, so I expected noise at higher ISOs--and I wasn't disappointed. In my real-world shots the camera had problems beyond ISO 400 (the available user adjustable range is 100-1,600 but High Sensitivity takes it to 6,400). Looking at our test subjects confirmed what was captured on my SD card. Colors were fairly accurate up to ISO 400, but deteriorated above that level. Certain elements in images, like foliage, don't render as well as we'd like, looking rather pixelated and blurred. See our image analysis below.

Battery life for the Panasonic TS4 was surprisingly robust. It has a CIPA rating of 310 shots, but this doesn't include the GPS. I've used rugged cameras with GPS that lasted about a minute (or so it seemed). In this case the GPS did not seem to drain the battery like a hungry vampire. Even so, a spare battery makes a lot of sense if you won't be near an outlet during your adventures.

I review camcorders and have been somewhat impressed with the improvements in movie-making capabilities of newer cameras. Clips from the Panasonic TS4 were respectable, with little of the rolling shutter and jelly effects I've seen on other cameras. You will be able to hear the sound of the zoom in quiet situations, and it can be amplified underwater. Some videos I shot blurred as I zoomed; others stayed focused. At the baseball game, the Panasonic TS4 did an acceptable job capturing a pitcher taken at full telephoto from the bleachers. Still, a more potent zoom would definitely come in handy.

A simple telephoto to wide video in MP4 mode. 23.8MB download.

An AVCHD video, including an underwater subject. 32MB download.

The Panasonic TS4 captures AVCHD clips but this is version 1.0, not the newer AVCHD Progressive version 2.0 used by many 2012 camcorders. The TS4 also captures MP4 videos. We've featured both here.

Overall, the Panasonic TS4 seems decent for water-bound snapshots, but it starts to struggle as soon as you zoom from wide angle, so we don't recommend it as an "everywhere" camera. That's a shame, because from fit to finish to function, we really liked the TS4. We can easily recommend it for water sports, but be sure to bring along another land-bound camera for the rest of your shots.

See the results of our test suite below, and scroll beyond that for the pro/con and conclusion!

 

Panasonic TS4 Lens Quality


Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Soft at lower left
Tele: Soft at center
Tele: Only slightly softer, upper right

Sharpness: The wide-angle end of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS4's zoom shows some blurring in the corners of the frame compared to what we see at center, though blurring is strongest in the lower left corner. However, softening doesn't extend very far in toward the center of the frame. At telephoto, however, the entire image is a bit soft, so that results in the corners aren't that much softer than what we see at center. Results are below average here (though we make some allowances for waterproof cameras).


Wide: Slight barrel distortion; only slightly noticeable
Tele: A small amount of pincushion distortion, slightly noticeable

Geometric Distortion: Barrel distortion at wide-angle is only 0.3%, which is only slightly noticeable and lower than average. At telephoto, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS4 produced about 0.2% pincushion distortion, which is visible but still low.


Wide: Low
Tele: Low

Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration is low at both wide-angle and telephoto zoom settings, with only a hint of a reddish tint visible along the target lines at wide-angle. Good results here.


Macro
Macro with Flash

Macro: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS4's Macro mode captures a sharp image overall, with strong detail in the dollar bill. Blurring in the corners of the frame is noticeable, but mainly along the extreme edges (a common limitation among consumer digital cameras in macro mode). Minimum coverage area is 2.18 x 1.64 inches (55 x 42mm), which is good. The camera's flash produced an uneven exposure this close, as its position to the far right creates a hot spot on the brooch and strong shadowing elsewhere. External lighting will be your best bet this close.


 

Panasonic TS4 Viewfinder Accuracy


Wide: LCD Monitor
Tele: LCD Monitor

Viewfinder Accuracy: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS4's LCD monitor showed about 99% coverage at wide-angle, and close to 100% at telephoto. Good performance here.


 

Panasonic TS4 Image Quality


Color: The Lumix DMC-TS4 produced good overall color, with only small nudges of oversaturation in strong reds and blues. Yellows are actually a little muted, as are some greens, though dark green is pumped. Hue shifts are noticeable in several areas, such as cyan toward blue, red toward orange, yellow toward green, and greens toward yellow. Dark skintones are strongly pushed toward yellow/orange, while lighter skin tones show only a tiny shift toward magenta. Overall pretty good results, though more hue shifts than average.


Auto WB:
Good, though slightly pink
Incandescent WB:
Too warm
 
Manual WB:
Very good

Incandescent: Manual white balance handled our incandescent lighting best overall, with just enough of a warm tint to make the scene feel natural. Incandescent mode came out a little too warm, while Auto actually produced better results than expected, though with enough of a cool magenta tint to feel off.


Horizontal: 1,800 lines
Vertical: 1,800 lines

Resolution: Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,800 lines per picture height in both directions. Extinction of the pattern occurred at around 2,500 lines per picture height.


Wide: Dim
Tele: Fair, but slightly dim
Auto Flash

Flash: Our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) shows dim results at the wide-angle rated distance of 18.4 feet, despite a small ISO boost to 320. Telephoto performance was a little better at the rated distance of 10.2 feet, though just a hair dim with a big ISO boost to 1,250.

Auto flash produced fairly bright results in our indoor portrait scene, with a relatively quick shutter speed of 1/60 second that should help avoid motion blur, but it retains very little ambient light to balance the flash. The Lumix DMC-TS4's exposure system automatically increased ISO to 320, to counterbalance that fast exposure. Shot taken at ~5 feet (~1.5m) on a stable tripod.


100
200
400
800
1,600

ISO: Noise and Detail: Noise and noise suppression are already somewhat visible at the lowest ISO setting, with increasing blurring of detail as sensitivity increases. Though noise grain remains somewhat subdued throughout the series, the trouble comes in the camera's handling of noise suppression. By ISO 1,600 details are quite splotchy and difficult to make out. See Print Quality section below for how this affected printed images.


Print Quality: Because it's a 12-megapixel sensor, we rather optimistically printed a 13 x 19-inch image at ISO 100, but it was way too soft.

ISO 100 shots looked better at 11 x 14, though there was still a general softness over the image. Color looked good, though.

ISO 200 shots also looked fine at 11x14, about the same as at ISO 100.

ISO 400 images were too soft for 11x14, looking better again printed at 8x10.

ISO 800 shots were too soft for 8x10, but looked better at 5x7.

ISO 1,600 shots were pretty good at 4x6.

Overall printed image quality was disappointing. We expected a little more from a $400 camera, especially from Panasonic, which has historically made some of the better ones. Most people won't ever print an 11 x 14, though, so bear that in mind. If all you're printing are 4x6 images anyway, you'll be very happy with the Panasonic TS4.


 

Panasonic TS4 Performance


Startup Time: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS4 takes about 2.1 seconds to power on and take a shot. That's a little slower than average for its class.


Shutter Lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is also little slower than average these days, at 0.41 second at wide angle and 0.57 second at full telephoto. Prefocused shutter lag is 0.010 second, which is exceptional.


Cycle Time: Cycle time is quite good, capturing a frame every 0.95 second in single-shot mode. As mentioned, Panasonic rates full-resolution burst mode at 3.7 fps for 6 frames, which isn't bad for its class. Up to 10 fps is available at 3-megapixels.


Flash Recycle: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS4's flash recycles in about 4.3 seconds after a full-power discharge, which is pretty good.


Low Light AF: The camera's AF system was able to focus down to just below the 1/8 foot-candle light level without AF assist enabled, which is not bad, and the camera was able to focus in complete darkness with the AF-assist lamp enabled.


USB Transfer Speed: Connected to a computer or printer with USB 2.0, the Lumix DMC-TS4's download speeds are pretty fast. We measured 7,130 KBytes/sec.


Battery Life: The Lumix DMC-TS4's battery life has a CIPA rating of 310 shots per charge, which is a little above average.


 

In the Box

The retail package contains the following items:

 

Recommended Accessories

 

Panasonic TS4 Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • 12-megapixel CCD sensor
  • Beyond the usual "rugged" specs
  • Built-in GPS, altimeter, barometer
  • Reasonably good photos above and below the water
  • Solid 2.7-inch LCD screen rated 230K dots
  • iAuto Intelligent Auto option
  • Program AE and limited Manual modes
  • Power O.I.S. Optical Image Stabilization
  • 14 Scene modes
  • ISO range 100-1600
  • Full range of shutter speeds (60-1/1300s)
  • AF Assist lamp
  • Responsive 23-point AF system
  • Face detection
  • 1920 x 1080/60i AVCHD videos
  • 3D Photo mode
  • Accepts SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards
  • Almost no chromatic aberration
  • Good battery life
  • Fast download speeds
  • Won't quite replace a quality daily-carry camera except for snapshots
  • Lens soft at all but wide-angle setting
  • Menu system a bit quirky
  • Limited aperture options
  • Zoom not as powerful as some competitors
  • Toggle zoom design would be better
  • Button icons hard to read
  • LCD dim in direct sunlight
  • Flash underexposes at wide angle
  • Print quality was disappointing for a $400 camera

For all-weather play snapshots, I can easily recommend the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS4. It takes a beating and turns out good photographs and decent videos. If you're looking for an excellent everywhere, daily-carry camera, though, the TS4's image quality will disappoint you.

The entire concept of a rugged digicam is a good one. Just think--it can be pouring outside and you can have your camera with you for a snapshot or three--let alone the fact you can drop it without having a heart attack. Because it's a waterproof camera, we expected and found a compromise in image quality, so we can't quite as confidently say it's the greatest waterproof camera ever; but when the going gets tough, the Panasonic TS4 is a great companion. We think it's a pretty good choice for watersports photography if you don't plan to enlarge your photos much, but given its price/performance ratio, the Panasonic TS4 doesn't quite rise to the level of a Dave's Pick.