Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT1

      Photo Review 9

      In summary

      A solidly-built, shockproof and waterproof slimline digicam that can record HD video clips with monaural sound.The Lumix DMC-FT1 represents a new concept for Panasonic: a tough, slimline digicam that is shockproof to 1.5 metres, waterproof to a depth of three metres and dustproof to the IP58 standard. Olympus has already been down this ‘tough camera’ track but Panasonic is the first manufacturer to add the ability to record high-definition movie clips in the new AVCHD Lite format with a frame rate of 30 frames/second. . . [more]

      Full review


      The Lumix DMC-FT1 represents a new concept for Panasonic: a tough, slimline digicam that is shockproof to 1.5 metres, waterproof to a depth of three metres and dustproof to the IP58 standard. Olympus has already been down this ‘tough camera’ track but Panasonic is the first manufacturer to add the ability to record high-definition movie clips in the new AVCHD Lite format with a frame rate of 30 frames/second.
      This feature gives it a huge advantage over its Olympus competitor, the Mju Tough 8000 which has the same 12.1-megapixel resolution and 1/2.33-inch sensor type. The Olympus model is $50 cheaper but can only record VGA and QVGA video clips. Its zoom range is only 3.6x, whereas the FT1 offers 4.6x optical zoom. Panasonic is promoting the FT1 as a ‘hybrid’ model and the claim is justifiable; the camera is equally easy to use for shooting stills and video and the video from this camera is as good as we’ve seen from the HD camcorders we’ve reviewed.


      The FT1 is offered in four fashionable colours. (Source: Panasonic.)

      Essentially, this camera is designed for active snapshooters and will, therefore, be welcome to Australian camera buyers for the features it offers to make point-and-press picture-taking successful. In addition to Panasonic’s MEGA O.I.S. image stabilisation system for minimising camera shake, the FT1 offers the popular iA (Intelligent Auto) mode for both still and video capture.
      Face Detection automatically detects a face in the frame and adjusts focus, exposure, contrast, and skin complexion for optimal results. Intelligent Exposure continually checks the ambient light level and adjusts the exposure setting accordingly, while the Intelligent Scene Selector automatically switches between Normal, Portrait, Macro, Scenery and Low Light modes to match the subject of each shot.
      The AVCHD Lite video format has been developed jointly by Panasonic and Sony. A subset of the AVCHD format, it restricts recording to 720P, with resolution at 1280 ø— 720 pixels using a variant of the MPEG-4 codec (H.264). Its resolution isn’t as high as the full 1920 x 1080 pixel high-definition format but should produce video clips that look good on HDTV screens – particularly at the higher bit rates.
      The main purpose of AVCHD Lite is to enable users to record high-definition movie clips with efficient compression, allowing longer video recordings without loss of image quality. Clips can be played back on Panasonic’s Viera HDTV sets by inserting the memory card from the camera in the built-in SDHC/SD Memory Card slot on the TV set or connecting the camera via an optional mini-HDMI cable to a Viera Link-equipped TV. Slideshows of still images can also be displayed by either method.
      Design and Ergonomics
      Physically, the FT1 resembles a standard slimline point-and-shooter, although its body is squarer and more solidly constructed. Rubber padding plus reinforced glass and carbon resins inside the camera ensure the body is airtight so water, dust and sand are kept out. The illustration below shows an ‘exploded’ view of the camera and its internal components. (Source: Panasonic.)


      The only places anything can enter the camera body are through the rechargeable lithium-ion battery and SD/SDHC card slot, which share a compartment in the base and the port cover on the side panel (just below the strap eyelet), which covers the HDMI and AV/Digital/Multi sockets. The lift-up lids to both compartments have a thin rubber seal, which works like an O-ring.
      Panasonic’s instruction manual warns users to be vigilant against cracks or deformations and foreign objects or fluids on the seal; recommending the seal be replaced annually by an authorised service centre – particularly if you’re using the camera for underwater photography. (The camera comes with a 12-month warranty that should cover these seals. Extended warranties are available.)
      The wrist strap is an important component for users planning water-based activities because, unlike most waterproof housings, the FT1 does not float. Although both compartment doors resemble those of non-waterproof cameras, they fit more closely into the camera body and a red indicator on each compartment cover shows when the door has not been securely closed. A brush is provided for keeping the seals clean and comprehensive camera care instructions are provided in the user manual.
      The 4.6x optical zoom lens uses folded optics in its construction so it doesn’t have to protrude from the camera body. Of necessity, it’s not particularly fast, with a maximum aperture of f/3.3 at the wide position and f/5.9 at full tele zoom. But its wide angle coverage, which is equivalent to 28mm, is handy for underwater shooting and its close focusing to 3cm provides scope for some good macro shots – especially with the Macro Zoom setting.


      Front view of the orange model showing the lens, flash and self-timer light.

      The only other items on the front panel are a self-timer indicator light and slim electronic flash tube. The top panel is sparsely populated with only an on/off button, zoom slider and shutter release button. The on/off button is tiny and recessed; most users will only be able to engage it by pressing with a fingernail – and you have to press pretty hard to trip the power switch. The shutter button is relatively large and textured for easy recognition by touch. The zoom slider has a short ‘throw’ but allows reasonably precise focal length adjustment in steps.


      Rear view of the orange model showing the LCD monitor and button controls.

      The rear panel is dominated by the LCD screen, which has average resolution and doubles as a viewfinder for framing shots. No optical finder is provided – and few users are likely to miss one. Camera controls lined up along the right side of the LCD panel include a small mode dial with click-stops at each of the seven mode settings.
      Below the mode dial is an array of four buttons, centred around a five-button arrow pad. Above the arrow par lie the playback and direct movie buttons, while the display and quick menu buttons are below. Most of these buttons are square in shape and small enough to be difficult to use with gloved hands. Above the playback button a tiny status LED is set into the rear panel. It lights up for a second or so when the camera is switched on and off.


      Top view showing the on/off switch, zoom slider and textured shutter release button.

      A plastic-lined tripod socket is located next to the battery and card compartment. It’s slightly off-centre but not enough to affect the camera’s balance. No finger rests are provided on either the front or rear panel and you need to keep the fingers of your left hand clear of the lens when shooting with the camera held in both hands.
      One-handed shooting is possible (particularly in the fully-automatic modes) and the heavier-than-average weight of the camera (compared with non-waterproof slimline models) makes it easier to keep steady. This additional weight (and lack of buoyancy) also makes the camera more comfortable to use underwater, particularly when shooting video.
      Image Sizes
      Three aspect ratio settings are provided for recording still images, all of them in JPEG format. Two quality settings are available, Fine and Standard. Compression rates are similar to other Panasonic digicams. Typical file sizes are shown in the table below.

      Aspect ratio






      4000 x 3000




      3264 x 2448




      2560 x 1920




      2048 x 1536




      1600 x 1200




      640 x 480





      4000 x 2672




      3264 x 2176




      2560 x 1712




      2048 x 1360





      4000 x 2248




      3264 x 1840




      2560 x 1440




      1920 x 1080



      Continuous movie recording is supported for up to 15 minutes – or 2GB. AVCHD Lite video clips are always recorded with a 16:9 aspect ratio, while Motion JPEG clips can be recorded in 16:9 or 4:3 format. Two picture sizes are provided for HD video clips and four for Motion JPEG video clips, all with frame rates of 30 frames/second. Typical recording times are shown in the table below.

      Video format

      Aspect ratio

      Picture Mode

      Picture size

      Bit rate

      Recording time/2GB card

      AVCHD Lite



      1280 x 720

      17 Mbps

      23 minutes 14 seconds *


      1280 x 720

      13 Mbps

      30 minutes 42 seconds *


      1280 x 720

      9 Mbps

      43 minutes 21 seconds *

      Motion JPEG



      1280 x 720


      8 minutes 20 seconds


      848 x 480


      19 minutes 00 seconds



      640 x 480


      22 minutes 10 seconds


      320 x 240


      64 minutes 00 seconds

      * estimated
      n.a. – no bit rate provided for Motion JPEG recordings

      Camera Functions
      The mode dial offers the following options:
      – Intelligent Auto (iAuto) mode, which sets exposure automatically but allows users to adjust image size and quality and LCD brightness and turn the LED flash on and off or select one of the continuous shooting modes;
      – Normal picture mode, which allows users to adjust the AF mode, white balance and ISO;
      – Sports mode, which provides the same adjustments as the normal mode but favours fast shutter speeds;
      – Snow mode, which compensates for potential under-exposure in bright, snowy conditions;
      – Beach & Surf mode, which sets the camera for taking underwater and beach shots;
      – Scene mode, which accesses the Scene presets sub-menu; and
      – Clipboard mode, which lets users photograph maps, timetables and other printed information and stores the images in the on-board memory from which they can be called up for future reference.
      The main menu is accessed by pressing the Menu/Set button in the centre of the arrow pad. The Record mode has separate still and ‘Motion Picture’ sections, with four pages in the former and two in the latter. Functions like image size and quality, aspect ratio, sensitivity, white balance, AF modes, Intelligent Exposure, continuous shooting, digital zoom, stabilisation, colour mode, minimum shutter speed, audio recording and AF assist lamp settings are found in the former.
      The Motion Picture pages contain settings for the recording format (AVCHD Lite or Motion JPEG), quality (bit rate and picture size), white balance, AF modes, Intelligent Exposure and LED light. It also provides a wind cut filter for reducing the effect of wind on the soundtrack of video clips.
      The Setup menu pages are the same for both Record and Motion Picture menus and include clock and world time settings, beep and shutter sound adjustments, monitor brightness levels, guide line and histogram superimposition and auto review and power-off settings. File numbering, USB and video out (PAL/NTSC) and video out settings as well as the reset and Viera Link controls are also located here. You can also choose how scene mode icons are presented, format the memory (internal or card) and select interface languages here as well as viewing a demonstration of the camera’s jitter detection system.
      Scene pre-sets include the standard Panasonic range (including two Baby modes where you can register a child’s name and birth date). A special Underwater mode is provided, along with ‘Pin Hole’ and ‘Film Grain’ special effects.
      We couldn’t find a way to use the Scene menu for video recording – and the manual provides no instructions beyond stating that the settings on the mode dial (Sports, Snow, Beach & Surf) can be used in conjunction with the motion picture button while other pre-sets will be matched to certain pre-set modes. For example, the two Baby modes will be matched with Portrait mode while the three Night modes default to low light mode and the high-speed and flash burst, Fireworks, Panorama Assist and Pet modes become normal motion picture mode.
      When the iAuto mode is selected, auto scene detection is engaged for both stills and video shooting and the camera will identify the scene type from four categories: portrait, scenery, low light and macro. Face Detection is also engaged.
      The FT1’s software bundle contains PHOTOfunSTUDIO HD Edition plus ArcSoft Panorama Maker and ArcSoft MediaImpression, along with the QuickTime viewer and a USB driver for the camera for users of Windows 98. PHOTOfunSTUDIO HD Edition is a Windows-only application, while the others are Windows and Macintosh.
      Designed to provide facilities for acquiring and viewing images and AVCHD Lite video clips, PHOTOfunSTUDIO HD Edition has a browser window to help users categorise images and video clips plus some basic still picture and video editing facilities.


      The browser window for PHOTOfunSTUDIO HD Edition.

      The browser window lets you upload pictures from the camera to a PC and determine the destination folder. You can classify them by date or category name and save them in separate folders. Still images are displayed with their file names, while the date is displayed below the thumbnail for AVCHD Lite video clips.
      Both still images and video clips can be played directly from the browser window by clicking on the thumbnail. Clicking on the Slideshow icon on the top tool bar plays the still images (but not video clips) as a slideshow.
      Images can be grouped into a Favourites folder for slideshow playback and the program offers several background music and transition effects choices. You can also upload your own music clips in M4A, MP3, WMA or WAV format to use as background music for slideshows.
      Still picture editing facilities are fairly basic and limited to brightness, contrast, hue, saturation and sharpness adjustments plus rotation and resizing. Negative, B&W and sepia conversion are also provided, along with red-eye removal and auto enhancement. Images can also be cropped or resized.


      Still picture editing.

      Video editing controls are also basic but straightforward to use. You can set start and end points for trimming clips, move back and forward frame by frame or in half-second jumps and add titles to the finished video. The result can be saved to card or disk as either AVCHD video or DVD video, the latter using MPEG2 compression.


      The video editing interface.


      Saving a completed movie.

      The outstanding feature of this camera is its video capabilities and performance and we believe the FT1 is worth buying for these features alone since it also represents great value for money. Clips captured both underwater and on land had plenty of detail and looked impressive on a flat-panel HDTV screen. The audio quality was also surprisingly good for monaural sound and, despite the limitations of the software, we were able to create movies as good as any we’ve produced with HD camcorders.
      Photographs taken with the test camera looked natural under most types of lighting and were surprisingly sharp and artefact-free given the size of the sensor and resolution of this camera. Saturation appeared to be well-controlled in shots, a factor confirmed by Photo Review’s Imatest testing, which also showed colour accuracy to be better than average.
      Imatest also showed overall performance to be close to expectations at ISO 80 and 100, although we found significant differences between centre and edge resolution, which were confirmed by test shots. Resolution declined steadily – and noticeably – as sensitivity increased. The graph below shows the results of our tests.


      Imatest also showed imaging performance to be best at the widest focal lengths with a slow decline as the lens was zoomed in. The graph below shows the results of our tests – and confirms the overall edge softening.


      The autofocusing system was accurate under most lighting conditions, with the exception of very low light levels. Some hunting occurred when shooting underwater video clips, resulting in unsharp pictures. However, this tended to occur only when light levels were low or brightness changed quickly.
      The image stabilisation system was very effective with both still pictures and video clips. Exposure metering was generally accurate, although backlit subjects were sometimes silhouetted and flare was evident with strong backlighting.
      Lateral chromatic aberration was generally low and we found only traces of coloured fringing in shots taken in contrasty conditions when they were enlarged to 100%. Taking long exposures was difficult with this camera because you have very little control over key settings. We used the Starry Sky scene mode to record a 60-second shot at ISO 80 after dark but had to swap to the camera manual mode in order to shoot with ISO 1600 sensitivity.
      The ISO 80 shot was noise-free and almost free of false colour artefacts. The ISO 1600 shot was severely noise-affected and resolution was noticeably reduced. We would not recommend such high sensitivity for long exposures.
      With flash, noise levels were much lower with high sensitivity settings and it was possible to make acceptable A5 sized prints from shots taken at ISO 1600. The flash required an ISO setting of 200 before it could illuminate an average-sized room. However, exposures were even from ISO 400 to ISO 1600.
      Auto white balance performance was similar to other slimline digicams. The test camera failed to remove the colour cast of either incandescent or fluorescent lighting. There’s no pre-set for fluorescent lighting and only a halogen setting for incandescent and neither provided full colour correction in our tests. However, manual measurement corrected both colour casts completely and delivered natural colours under both types of lights.
      Close-up capabilities were very good and the camera proved capable of rendering difficult hues like magenta and purple (plus in-between hues) with close-to-natural accuracy. Digital zoom shots were also less artefact-affected than average and usable at small output sizes.
      We measured an average capture lag of 0.7 seconds, which reduced to 0.1 seconds with pre-focusing. It took an average of 2.9 seconds to process each 12M image. The normal burst mode recorded three 12m shots at 0.7 second intervals. Selecting the infinity burst mode extended the length of the burst without noticeably slowing the capture rate. For both burst modes, processing appeared to be on-the-fly as we found shots were displayed within fractions of a second after capture.
      Moving to the High-Speed Burst mode in the Scene menu reduced the image size to 3M. Selecting Speed Priority in this mode allowed us to record 11 shots in 1.2 seconds. Swapping to the Image Priority mode reduced the capture rate to six frames/second, allowing use to record 11 frames in 1.8 seconds. Again, processing was on-the-fly with minimal display between when shots were recorded and displayed on the screen.

      Buy this camera if:
      – You’re looking for an ultra-compact HD video camera that can also be used for shooting stills.
      – You want good wide-angle coverage and competent image stabilisation for shooting both video and still pictures.
      – You require a tough, solidly-built underwater camera with an easy-to-use menu system.
      – You can live with high levels of automation.
      Don’t buy this camera if:
      – You require PASM shooting modes.
      – You want to shoot raw files (the FT1 can’t).
      – You want high burst capacity at high resolution.
      – You prefer using a viewfinder.
      – You require colour accuracy with auto white balance.





      Auto white balance with incandescent lighting.


      Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.


      Close-up (4.9mm focal length, ISO 80, 1/10 second at f/3.3)


      Digital zoom (22.8mm focal length, ISO 250, 1/125 second at f/5.9)


      Wide-angle (4.9mm focal length, ISO 80, 1/400 second at f/3.3)


      Telephoto (28.8mm focal length, ISO 80, 1/250 second at f/4.0)


      Long exposure using the Starry Sky scene mode (ISO 80, 60 seconds at


      Night shot with the normal shooting mode (ISO 1600,


      Flash exposure at ISO 80 (1/60 second at f/5.9)


      Flash exposure at ISO 1600 (1/60 second at f/5.9)


      Flare with contre-jour lighting (4.9mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/125 second at f/4.7)


      Wide brightness range subject (12.6mm focal length, ISO 80, 1/320 second at f/5.4)


      Underwater shot with flash (4.9mm focal length, ISO 125, 1/30 second at f/3.3)


      Underwater shot with wide brightness range (4.9mm focal length, ISO 400, 1/30 second at f/3.3)




      Image sensor: 6.13 x 4.6 mm CCD with 12.7 million photosites (12.1 megapixels effective)
      Lens: 4.9-22.8mm f/3.3-5.9 zoom lens (28-130mm equivalent in 35mm format)
      Zoom ratio: 4.6x optical, up to 4x digital or 9x extra optical zoom
      Image formats: Stills ““ JPEG (EXIF 2.21); Movies ““ AVCHD Lite plus Motion JPEG
      Image Sizes: Stills – Stills – 4:3 Ratio: 4000 x 3000, 3264 x 2448, 2560 x 1920, 2048 x 1536, 1600 x 1200, 640 x 480, 3:2 Ratio: 4000 x 2672, 3364 x 2172, 2560 x 1712, 2048 x 1360, 16:9 Ratio: 4000 x 2248, 3264 x 1840, 2560 x 1440, 1920 x 1080; Movies: 4:3 format: 640×480/320×240 pixels, 16:9 format: 848×480 pixels, HD(16:9 Aspect Ratio): 1280 x 720 pixels, all at 30 fps
      Shutter speed range: 8 to 1/1300 second (15, 30 or 60 seconds in Starry Sky mode)
      Self-timer: 2 or 10 second delay
      Image Stabilisation: Optical (MEGA O.I.S. with 3 modes)
      Exposure Compensation: +/- 2EV in 1/3EV steps
      Focus system/range: TTL AF with 11 or 1 area focusing; Normal/Macro/face Detection modes, AF tracking; range 30 cm to infinity; macro to 3 cm
      Exposure metering/control: Intelligent multiple metering
      Shooting modes: Program AE plus 26 Scene pre-sets for stills; 17 for movies (Portrait, Soft Skin, Transform, Self portrait, Scenery, Low light, Food, Party, Candle light, Sunset, Beach & Surf, Snow, Aerial, Pin hole, Film grain, Underwater and High Sensitivity)
      ISO range: Auto, ISO 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600
      White balance: Auto, daylight, cloudy, shade, incandescent light, white set
      Flash modes/range (ISO auto): Auto, forced on, forced off, slow synch; red-eye reduction available; range 0.6 to 6.0 metres
      Sequence shooting: 2 frames/second for up to s frames (Fine) or 6 fps at 3M or smaller
      Storage Media: Approx. 40MB internal memory plus SD/SDHC expansion slot
      Viewfinder: n.a.
      LCD monitor: 2.7-inch TFT LCD with 230,000 dots
      Power supply: ID-Security Li-ion Battery Pack (3.6V, 940mAh); CIPA rated for 340 shots/charge
      Dimensions (wxhxd): 98.3 x 63.1 x 23.0 mm
      Weight: Approx. 183.8g with Battery and SD Memory Card





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      Rating (out of 10):

      • Build: 8.5
      • Ease of use: 8.5
      • Image quality: Stills – 8.5; Video – 9.0
      • OVERALL: 9.0