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.
To test the rugged performance of the TS2, I repeatedly dunked it into a sink of water to see if there were issues. Before I used the TS2 in water I made sure that I followed the directions completely, checking the seals and making sure it was locked before I put it in the water. After testing the unit underwater, we didn't find any problems and assume that it functions to the full 33 feet in Panasonic's published specifications.
To check the durability of the weather seals I took the camera to the beach on a very windy day last week, with 10-knot winds. The camera was sealed up and did incur a lot of sand all over the camera body. I was able to shoot with ease and the sand stayed out of the camera, making sure no roadblocks were in the way.
As far as drop testing, I did test this feature out. I dropped the TS2 from a height of four feet onto some tile. I picked up the camera and found no scuffing or further damage when I turned on the camera. The TS2 is an all-around performer when it is pushed to the limits.
The TS2, according to published specifications, takes 1.1 seconds to start up, and according to my usage in the field, this is an accurate estimate. The TS2 fires on quickly, and once you're ready to shoot it will find focus in 0.26-seconds, which is second among comparative models like the Casio G1 and the Olympus Tough 6000. Shutter lag didn't hold up to the spec sheet in our lab testing, it is rated at 0.005-seconds, but our tests show 0.05-seconds, a few ticks of the clock slower than stated.
Editor's Note: We tested shutter lag with a number of different camera settings and found that Panasonic's claimed time of 0.005 was correct when we turned image stabilization off. However, it's likely that users will keep stabilization enabled, so we've kept our original measured time of 0.05 seconds.
Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
|Casio Exilim EX-G1||0.01|
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS2||0.05|
|Olympus Stylus Tough 6000||0.06|
|Canon PowerShot D10||0.08|
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
|Casio Exilim EX-G1||0.20|
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS2||0.26|
|Canon PowerShot D10||0.36|
|Olympus Stylus Tough 6000||0.83|
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS2||3||1.6|
|Canon PowerShot D10||∞||1.2|
|Olympus Stylus Tough 6000||2||1.1|
|Casio Exilim EX-G1||∞||0.5|
* Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.
For burst shooting, Panasonic says that the TS2 is capable of 1.8 fps with a max of three images in its highest quality. Our studio tests show slightly slower performance, clocking in at 1.6 fps for three images at its highest quality. But there is also a high-speed burst mode that takes 3 megapixel images at a frame rate of 10 images per second, and this worked well.
The flash on the TS2 has a few options: Auto, Auto/Red-eye Reduction, Forced On, Slow Sync/Red-eye Reduction and Forced Off. The Auto function works well for fill, but leaves an intense amount of lighting, almost making it look unnatural. However, the Slow Sync/Red-eye Reduction option is great, filling in a low-light scene to look more natural. The reach of the flash ranges from wide at 16.7 feet, and a telephoto range up to 9.2 feet.
Flash On Auto
As far as image stabilization goes, the TS2 uses the new Power O.I.S. instead of the older Mega O.I.S., which uses a low-frequency vibration hand-shake component when you press the shutter. This helps get an even cleaner handheld shot in low light. In my experience with the TS2, shooting mainly in shaded areas, the Power O.I.S. worked just as expected.
Battery life on the TS2 is rated at 360 images per charge according to CIPA standards, and does hold its charge this long.
The TS2 has a 4.6x Leica DC Vario-Elmar optical zoom lens with a maximum aperture range of f/3.3-5.9 (f/3.3 - 10 wide angle and f/5.9 - 18 telephoto). The TS2 showed a slight amount of barrel distortion with some pincushioning in the middle of the frame at the wide end, but at telephoto I found some of the edges a little soft.
As far as chromatic aberrations are concerned, when blown up to 400% in Photoshop, I noticed slight purple fringing in high contrast scenes, but nothing of much note. Levels of artifacts are acceptable, and they aren't very noticable unless you enlarge the image.
Some images were soft at default settings, with not much in-camera sharpening taking place. Macro zoom was quite good, allowing you to get up to 0.16 feet away from your subject, which in my case was a small purple flower. The detail of the image was quite good.
The TS2 captures HD video in AVCHD Lite or Motion JPEG (which is best for email and Web purposes) at 1280 x 720 at 30 fps. The AVCHD Lite format, co-developed by Sony and Panasonic, is the best quality video without lossy compression that is capable with Motion JPEG.
The video I captured was HD underwater video that worked and looked great. I turned the TS2 to automatic mode and just pressed the red record button. The video looked great on my HDTV, which is beneficial if you want to take the camera underwater and still get great 720p video.
The real crux of the TS2 is its ability to go underwater and record video and stills. To test it, I chose a few scenarios. The first idea was to go surfing with the camera, but I was worried about dropping it or keeping it submerged too long. So instead I chose a controlled environment; I set up an object in a well-lit sink in hopes of capturing stills and video.
The results were above average, and once you look at the video you can see that the TS2 performed well. Upon closer inspection, with the camera at default settings in auto with the standard color mode, the still images looked great with no visible degradation, and the video was the same.
The camera seems to have produced some pretty drowned out images that were kind of soft in the standard color mode, but there are options to fix it. The one color mode that rendered the most accuracy and solid images in terms of dynamic range and saturation was the natural color mode. It seemed to outplay the standard mode, providing me with more natural color for my images. To make sure that images were consistent, I set the camera on a tripod, put it on auto and used a self-timer to ensure that exposure was consistent all the way through output.
The standard output with default settings, including automatic shooting with no water or sand produced a pretty respectable image. I ran into some trouble with metering, though, shooting on a day with intense light. The TS2 turned in some images that almost looked too soft and drowned out to work with. Overall, the images were a little soft out of the camera. Some sharpening in post needs to be done to see the true potential of images shot with the TS2.
There are a total of seven different color modes, which I like to see in point-and-shoot cameras, because you really never know what kind of situation or light you might find yourself in. The modes include Standard, Natural, Vivid, B/W, Sepia, Cool and Warm. Vivid wasn't too overarching; it was actually pretty consistent output that didn't oversaturate like some color modes. Warm gave a nice film feel, while B/W and Sepia gave a nice monotone color reproduction.
Also included in the scene modes are two cool new ones that I really enjoyed, the High Dynamic and the Pinhole options. The HDR images came out really nice, almost looking like a true HDR image. Pinhole is another nice effect that creates vignetting around the edges of the frame and is nice if you are going for this look.
High Dynamic Range
There is only one way to light meter for exposure, and the TS2 does this by using Intelligent Multiple area metering. For all intents and purposes, the metering does work well, but as you will notice in some of the samples, the light was very intense. More metering options would have been beneficial.
There are five different White Balance options to choose from, including auto white balance, daylight, cloudy, shade and incandescent. As you can see from the lab tests using AWB in incandescent lighting, the image turned out completely warm, performing quite poorly in a controlled setting.
Auto White Balance, 3200k incandescent light
When shooting in good light, white balance doesn't suffer much, and can pretty much bring out the desired white for an image. I tested this by shooting a palm tree in my front yard at around noon and the images came out nicely.
For noise, we tested it in the studio to see how well it performed in a controlled environment. The TS2 is equipped with an ISO scale from 80-1600. ISO 80-200 gave us images with little or no noise, but once the TS2 was pushed to 400, we started to see more little grains entering the frame. Anything is usable up to 200, but if you hit 400, you start to see some noise.
ISO 80, 100% crop
ISO 100, 100% crop
ISO 200, 100% crop
ISO 400, 100% crop
ISO 800, 100% crop
ISO 1600, 100% crop
I wouldn't recommend ISO 800-1600, as the images are riddled with grain. This is probably a result from the 1/2.33-inch image sensor with 14.1 megapixels, which has an increasingly large amount of pixel density on this tiny sensor. Sometimes there is such a thing as "too much."
Additional Sample Images
The Lumix TS2 offers some pretty cool features, the most notable of which is its durability against the elements. To spend $400, you have to be sure that the camera fits your needs. If you need to take the camera out surfing, scuba diving or camping in the snow or rain, this might be your ticket.
The camera has some obvious limits though, including noise at higher ISOs, not much in terms of manual control, too many megapixels on such a small image sensor, and soft images at default settings. At the same time, there are some benefits that help tip the scales in a positive way, like great HD video, the ability to withstand most weather conditions, its compact size and ease of use.
So how does it stack up to the competition? With Olympus and its Tough cameras, and even the new Casio EX-G1, the Panasonic DMC-TS2 advances just far enough to compete in the ring with these durable cameras from both manufacturers. The biggest strike against it is its $400 price tag. Cameras like the Olympus Tough-6000 or the Casio EX-G1 cost under $400, and the TS2 is at least $100 more expensive.
I would be lying if I told you that this camera is going to be an all-around solid performer, and the only camera you need. But the Panasonic DMC-TS2 is made for the rugged outdoorsmen, not your basic buyer. I would say if the price was right, snatch one of these guys up. But if you don't have shock, dust, water-proof needs, this camera just isn't going to cut it for you.