Tough, durable cameras seem to be en vogue this year, with several manufacturers releasing sturdy models that can withstand treacherous conditions. Canon has the D10, a quirky looking waterproof camera for family vacations and Olympus has the TOUGH 6000 and 8000 that look like they can withstand arduous mountain treks. None of these cameras, however, manage to blend durability, quality, and style the way the Panasonic Lumix TS1 does. The TS1 is a very good, durable ultracompact camera with a satisfying array of features. It does not sacrifice quality or potential for strength, and that's what one should look for in a good, vacation-friendly camera.
The TS1 also features some advanced features; in addition to its 12-megapixel still photos, the camera can record videos in high-definition using the new AVCHD Lite codec.
Design: Tough But Attractive
The Lumix TS1 is a slim, square ultracompact camera that small enough to fit comfortably in a pocket. Unlike its durable competition, it's not bulky at all, even with the bolted metallic body. The TS1 is virtually indistinguishable from a traditional compact camera until you pick it up and feel the solid construction and lack of weak plastics in the body. It's a reassuring feeling, strong and sturdy, but not heavy. The TS1 is still very light and easy to carry.
The front of the camera is simple, a brushed steel facade with the lens, flash, and an LED lamp for underwater illumination. The TS1 is available in three colors, silver, green, and bright orange. The latter might be a good pick for consumers who plan on using this extensively underwater. The brightness of the orange will stand out if you happen to lose it in the surf; silver and green might be a lot harder to find on the ocean floor.
The back of the camera features a large, vivid 2.7-inch LCD display and some simple buttons that make interacting with the menus easy on land or in the water. The most intriguing button, however, is the big red "record" button that starts HD video recording. Rather than segregate video to its own mode, Panasonic has made it so users can start recording a video whenever they want, regardless of what mode they are currently in. It's a smart, straightforward innovation that makes common sense and improves the overall user experience.
Durability: Waterproof, Shockproof
The Panasonic Lumix TS1 is, first and foremost, a tough camera. It's shockproof from five feet, so you can drop it a few times without having to worry about damaging the internal mechanics of the camera. It's also waterproof to 10 feet, for snorkling and shallow diving excursions. In underwater tests, the camera performed very well, capturing highly-detailed, colorful photographs. The camera survived the immersion, and water did not make its way into any unfortunate nooks or crevasses.
Drop tests were fun, and I knocked the TS1 off tables, tossed it against walls, and kicked it around the floor to better judge its ability to shake off a shake up. Again, the TS1 came through alright in the end. When dropped, the camera will lose its ability to focus and will appear, for a moment, as if it is busted. Users must simply power off the camera and turn it back on to restore its full abilities. Then, regular photo taking can commence.
It's important to remember, however, that although the internal mechanics are protected, drops can still damage the camera body. Scuffs and cracks are possibilities, and this could seriously violate the integrity of the camera's waterproof seals. If you do drop the Panasonic TS1, be sure to check that the camera's body is still in good shape before you decide to take it underwater. That way an unfortunate drop won't lead to an even more unfortunate flooding of the camera down the road.
Performance: Excellent Image Quality, Great Video
As you can see in the sample photos provided on the right-hand sidebar, the Panasonic TS1 provided excellent, high-quality photographs. The colors are very bright and well balanced, with a sharpness that captures the moment accurately and with gusto. Fine details can be discerned in large photos, thanks to the sensitive 12-megapixel sensor, and as noted, underwater photos were clear and well focused. Though Panasonic has had difficulties with excessive noise due to pixel density (as noted in our review of the FX580), the TS1 seems to manage better photographs even though their sensors are practically identical. Considering that the TS1 is intended as an outdoorsy camera, where photos will often be taken in bright conditions, low-light noise is not much of a concern, anyway. The TS1 is certainly among the best "durable" cameras when it comes to image quality.
The TS1's video mode is similar to that of the Lumix ZS3. Both use the AVCHD Lite video codec, developed by Panasonic and Sony to provide a more manageable version of the AVCHD technology found in high-end camcorders. Compared to other supposedly HD video modes on digital cameras, the AVCHD mode stands out as a clear winner. Videos came out very well, and truly seemed to be of high-definition quality. The TS1 is capable of recording video at a resolution of 1280 x 720 (720p), and thanks to the handy record button on the back of the camera, engaging the video mode is simpler than ever. The only downside is that AVCHD videos are still not supported by all video playback and editing software suites, so it may be difficult (but not impossible) to do any significant work to videos taken with the TS1.
Ultimately, the blend of style and substance makes the TS1 a winner. If you're in the market for a summer vacation camera that can withstand the elements but doesn't feel too bulky or look goofy, this is a solid choice that can not only stand up to tough conditions, but bring back exceptional photographs as well.