Assembling a camera like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS2 that can withstand the elements is tough. Tough to hit on just the right build quality, tough to create a digital camera that can protect itself from water, shock and dust, and it's tough for a camera manufacturer to find a niche in the market for it. The new Lumix TS2 takes on those challenges, and it's the successor to the TS1. With the release of the TS2, Panasonic has made just a few minor adjustments, like adding higher resolution (now 14.1 megapixels compared to the TS1's 12.1), HD video capture, Power O.I.S. instead of Mega O.I.S. (supposedly better than its predecessor), brand new shooting modes like HDR, and Happy Mode that automatically captures images with brighter and more vivid colors.
The Panasonic Lumix TS2 features the same size image sensor as the TS1, but with two more megapixels; the 1/2.33 inch CCD chip hosts 14.1 effective megapixels. By adding on 2 million more pixels on the same size sensor, pixel density will be an area we will look closer at later in this review. In most cases, higher pixel density means more noise and artifacts, as well as negative effects to dynamic range.
Other notable features of the TS2 include a nice 28mm equivalent wide angle of view, and a telephoto focal length of 128mm, rounding us off with a nice range that can pick up wide and relatively distant shots with its 4.6x optical zoom. The TS2 also features the fast Sonic Speed AF that pushes AF acquisition harder, giving us 0.24 seconds for wide-angle shots and 0.28 second telephoto images. Panasonic also boasts the shutter lag "is as fast as 0.005 seconds," but we'll take a closer look at that with out findings in the laboratory.
Of course, the biggest features of the TS2 you'll want to see tested are its rugged abilities. The TS2 is shockproof up to 6.6 feet, which means you can safely drop it from a table and it will stay in one piece. It is also waterproof up to 33 feet, freezeproof at 14 degrees Fahrenheit, and dust proof. So you might be asking by now, is a rugged camera with all of these features worth the introductory price tag of $399, and can it top the Olympus Tough series? There's only one way to find out ... Read on for the full review.
BUILD AND DESIGN
Panasonic's Lumix TS2 has a rugged exterior and a stainless-steel body. It's also been tricked out with reinforced glass on the lens cover, a more protective cover over the 2.7-inch LCD screen, rubber padding around the lock points including the memory card/battery door and HDMI/USB camera outputs, and carbon resin rings on those two doors to make sure that no harmful elements are introduced inside.
Ergonomics and Control
The Lumix TS2 uses a small amount of buttons, seemingly in effort to decrease the amount of interior entry points for things like water and dust to get into the camera. Like most point-and-shoot cameras, the TS2 has three buttons on the top, including a recessed power button, the shutter release and zoom lever. On the back of the TS2 is a small, dime-sized mode wheel that lets you choose scene modes, auto mode and Intelligent Auto, a four-way controller with a menu button in the center that accesses the self-timer, EV steps, etc.
Other buttons include a dedicated movie and video button that enacts the HD video capture, a playback button, a Quick Menu button that lets you change white balance, image quality settings, and auto focus modes, among other things, and a Display button that allows you to change LCD screen settings such as adding grid lines for assisting in the shooting process.
In the hand, the camera feels substantial, solid and ready to handle any weather condition. The TS2's body has the look of an underwater camera, but in miniature form. Eight screws line both the back and front of the camera, and an indent on the front creates a spot for your right-hand fingers to rest.
If you'd like to use the camera with both hands, you might be out of luck. As we found in our Casio G1 review, the lens position makes one-handed shooting the best option. If you try to take a picture with both hands, you will find that your left hand becomes a problem, making it important, especially if you're shooting in water, to use some sort of strap so that you won't lose the TS2.
Menus and Modes
Menus are quite straightforward and easy to navigate, especially if you are familiar with Panasonic's menu system. That's not to say if you come from another brand of camera that you will get lost. Unfortunately, camera manufacturers have been getting rid of bulky paper manuals lately, and Panasonic has followed suit. It has provided the TS2 with a quick start guide and a CD-ROM with an electronic manual.
To change menu settings, either press the menu button in the middle of the four-way controller, or to make a quick change, press the Quick Menu. Pressing the menu button brings up three tabs: image capture, video and set up. Things like aspect ratio, image size, Intelligent ISO, white balance, and other criteria can be accessed in the image capture menu. In the video section, you can change from AVCHD Lite from Motion JPEG, enact the continuous LED light on the front of the camera, and the AF settings. The setup menu takes you to settings like time, formatting, and resetting the camera to its default.
The Panasonic TS2 offers some control in terms of manual settings. For instance, you can change the camera's shutter speed in increments of the fastest 1/125 second to 1 second, but there is no real manual control. Options on the mode dial are Auto, Intelligent Auto and Scene modes. Here's a rundown of your options:
The Panasonic TS2 has a nice 2.7-inch LCD with a 230,000-dot resolution and an AR (Anti-Reflective) Coating to prevent smudges from fingers. The area of coverage is a wide-angle 100%. When in use, the AR coating works quite well. The image on screen is quite good, and is a high enough resolution to show detail when you zoom in on images.
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