I have spent the last 15 years traveling the world as world as a business consultant (I have conducted business in at least 30 countries) and advanced PADI certified scuba diver.
I picked up my first digital camera in Singapore in 2000 (a rectangular 2 megapixel device) and worked my way up various semi-pro Canon dSLRs and scuba diving cameras.
Mid April, I was heading to CUBA for a beach vacation with my family (wife and 2.5 year old) and started to think about what camera I wanted to take. I didn't want to carry my dSLR with all its accessories but I was afraid a point and shoot would be too limiting (bad quality, slow shutter, limited control, etc).
After spending a couple of weeks reading and researching, I decided to use my vacation to test a couple of the most popular waterproof cameras available.
This review is my experience with the one I liked the most, the Panasonic Lumuc DMC-TS5.
Instead of writing my verdict at the end, I will just go ahead and give it to you now. I love this camera. I mean I really loved it.
It impressed me so much, I will likely go out and buy one with my own money.
Marketing straight goods
The Panasonic DMC-TS5 is waterproof (to 43 feet), shockproof from a 6.6 foot fall, crush-proof to 220 lb and freeze-proof down to -10 degrees Celsius.
The lens was coated with a special hydrophobic coating that made sure most of the water was removed from it, which means pictures looked good even when coming out of the water (aka no droplets of water creating spots on your pictures).
In the photo department, the DMC-TS5 comes with a 16 megapixel sensor couples with a 4.6x (optical zoom) lens. It takes great shots and 1080p (full HD 1920x1080) AVCHD videos.
The auto scene detection mode is smart enough to automatically choose the proper scene mode to deliver the best possible results (it knows whether you are taking a portrait, a beach shot or a hand held night-shot).
For the love of WIFI
This camera has WIFI and Panasonic has implemented it right. I connected the camera to my home WIFI and downloaded the GPS assist data (which makes GPS position identification much faster). You can download the Lumix mobile app and use your smartphone as a remote trigger (cool feature but not something I found useful).
You can also use the app (IOS or Android) to pull pictures to your smartphone (or tablet) and share then via email, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc. You can also configure the app to send pictures via WIFI to your smartphone (or tablet) as you are taking them.
When I compare the WIFI settings and features to the other cameras I tested, the Panasonic Lumic DMC-TS5 is easier to configure, easier to use and worked everytime.
The kit came with everything I expected:
- The camera
- The Battery Charger
- a LI-ION battery
- A bunch of cables
- Their software on CD-ROM
- and manuals
The wonderful world of GPS
When shooting with my dSLR, I always carry a Sony GPS-CS1 to record my location and then use a software to record the GPS location of each picture (matched using the pictures time compared to my GPS log). This is tedious but useful 3 years later when you want to know where a picture was taken.
This wonderful little device comes with a GPS receiver built in so it automates one more activity making my life that much easier.
With the new standard battery that came with the kit, I was able to take pictures for about 1.5 days. This is between 250-300 pictures (some with flash, and some without). The battery life was extremely good.
The Quad Indicator
This is a term created by Panasonic but something I really liked.
- GPS - The first indicator is the GPS that I already mentioned. In addition to standard lattitude and longitude information, the camera comes with over 1 million points-of-interest directly in the camera. Which means if you take a picture of at one of those locations, it adds that POI information straight into the picture.
- Barometer - It will automatically record the barometric pressure reading when the picture is taken.
- Altimeter - It will record the altitude at which the picture was taken.
- Compass - It will records the direction you were facing when you took the picture.
Remember that all of this data is recorded in the EXIF data of each picture. I know many people will ask if they need all this information and my answer is always yes. There is no such thing as too much information because you never know what cool tricks you will be able to perform in the future if you have this data. 10 years ago, no one GPS tagged their pictures but today it is a must for most people. I feel the barometer, altimeter and compass will go through the exact same adoption process.
Like any other waterproof camera, there are some special care instructions you should follow to keep your device operating in tip top shape.
After using the camera in salt water (aka the ocean), I made sure to rince it out with fresh clean water for a couple of minutes. Every evening, I submerged the camera in a pool of clean water for 10 minutes (gently moving the camera around to make sure I get all the salt off).
I then dried it with a soft scratch free, lint free cloth and removed the battery for charging.
If you haven't used a scuba camera before then this may be new to you but you should follow these simple steps to keep your camera "healthy". You will also have to change the waterproof gasket (around the battery compartment) once a year. This gasket is cheap and can be changed in under 10 minutes.
In the real world
Here are some samples for you to consider. The first picture was taken at night, hand-held. When I compared this exact same shot to a mid level Nikon dSLR, the DMC-TS5 image was very close in quality, luminosity and clarity.
When I got close to a subject, the camera automatically switched to Macro mode and made the required adjustments.
I tested the camera in harsh direct sunlight, backlight, shade, night, under rain and in every situation, it produces a very good image without having to fuss with settings. It just worked.
Here is a sample of an image I took at about 4 feet of depth when the water was "dirty" with sand because of strong waves and currents.
The DMC-TS5 has great color reproduction. Images aren't too vivid, the color saturation felt just right.
I think this picture really summarizes everything I like about the camera. Even when you blow up this picture, it still looks like a professional postcard taken with a much more expensive camera (except it was taken with the DMC-TS5 which is pocketable and easy to carry).
Go read my verdict at the beginning of this post. Comparing this to the other rugged cameras I tested (the Nikon Coolpix AW110, Olympus TG-2 iHS and Fuji FinePix XP170) this one if my favorite and the one I will buy with my own money and carry on trips.
But it's not a dSLR
I know many of my readers are semi-pro photographers and would never be caught dead with a point and shoot. I understand and this camera isn't for you. My dSLR is wonderful and the camera I will use often when at home but when I travel, I want something small and rugged. I have done many trips lugging my dSLR, lenses, flashes and accessories and can confidently say those days are behind me. I popped this in one of my Scottevest jacket pockets and had it with me everywhere.