Given the only-slight update from the TS3, MSRP has mercifully been left at $399.99. The TS4 will replace the TS3 completely, so–theoretically–Panasonic has improved this spot in their lineup without additional cost to the new customer. That is, unless our test results say otherwise....

Check out our 7-camera waterproof shootout to see how the year's best tough-cams compare.

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Box Photo

• Panasonic LUMIX DMC-TS4 digital camera

• rechargeable battery pack

• wall charger

• wrist strap

• side door debris brush

• A/V cable

• USB cable

• Basic Owner's Manual

• underwater use warning card

• registration card

• software CD-ROM

The small, rectangular lens opening is located off to the top right side of the front panel, directly in the way of carelessly placed fingers when shooting with two hands. The TS4 is not equipped with an automatic lens cap, like many standard compact cameras, but the lens is covered by a layer of hard plastic. This will protect from foreign objects, but definitely won't protect from smudging, so keep your fingertips well away.

Panasonic has retained the same CCD sensor for use in the TS4, and while sensors of this type aren't as strong in low light, we imagine most of this camera's use will take place in the bright outdoors. We think this is a good move, the TS3's CCD offered decent performance and this recycling probably helped keep the TS4's price down.

Underneath a sturdy plastic sheet on the rear panel is the camera's LCD monitor. It measures only 2.7 inches diagonally, offers only 230,000-dot resolution, and doesn't render previews very accurately to the final shot. However the monitor is very well suited to outdoor use, with brightness that's more than sufficient and a nice wide viewing angle. Brightness can even be set to change automatically based on outside lighting conditions.

The TS4's flash emitter is a rather standard bulb with good recycle speed. But right next door are three small, very bright LEDs which are used for autofocus assistance in low light, or illumination for video shooting. The feature seems inspired by the excellent Pentax Optio WG-1, which used an array of LEDs around the lens for improved macro illumination.

Flash Photo

The flash emitter pops up from the top of the body via a mechanical release.

All ports are housed underneath a gasket-sealed compartment on the right side of the body. You'll find a microHDMI port here, as well as a microUSB terminal that can be used for both A/V and PC connectivity. It is not possible to charge the battery within the camera using one of these ports.

Durability features have not been upgraded since the previous model, however that still puts the TS4 ahead of all competition. The camera is waterproof down to a depth of 40 feet, equally suitable for light use in a pool or more demanding applications like scuba diving. The armored body is also shockproof from a 6.6 foot drop, dustproof according to IPX8 and IPX6 standards, and freezeproof down to -10 degrees Celsius.

It seems Panasonic has retained not only the same sensor, but the same optics of the TS3. Image quality has been improved, but only slightly. And while we do see a big jump in sharpness, this is due to new software, not a sharper lens.

Sharpness has been dramatically improved since the TS3, but since the lens apparently hasn't been reconfigured, we're guessing this upgrade is due to software changes. Such techniques are able to fool our tests, but real world images are rendered in a less flattering way. Our sample photos support this theory: close crops with the TS4 show far more haloing than those captured with the TS3.

And even though Panasonic has made improvements within their product line, this isn't to say the TS4 is particularly sharp versus competitors, especially non-toughcams. Rarely was this camera able to resolve more than 2000 MTF50s of detail in our resolution test. 1450 was average, with some zones plummeting below 500. More on how we test sharpness.

Image stabilization, on the other hand, is empirically better in this camera than most on the market, just like the TS3 before it. In a device specifically intended for outdoor adventuring, stabilization can make or break the product. We're happy to report Panasonic has carried over the TS3's extremely effective optical stabilizer for use in the TS4. With the feature turned on, we measured a whopping 51% sharpness improvement in our shaker test, and absolute sharpness was some of the best we've seen.

Statistically, the TS4 earned almost a perfectly average color accuracy score, clocking in at 2.97, or only 0.03 points better than average. Saturation was over by about 6%, again, quite average. More on how we test color.

Looking over the gamut, we can see that accuracy issues are restricted almost exclusively to reds, green, and blues. Red shades seem to be genuinely off, however greens and blues are suspicious. It may be the camera is deliberately highlighting the color of trees and the sky, in order to improve those outdoor shots most users will be capturing.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

This result is an improvement over the TS3, albeit a modest one. But interestingly, this small boost is enough to best some of the competition's heaviest hitters. Including the Nikon AW100 and Sony's TX10. Pentax's awesome WG-1 still wears the toughcam color crown though.

Four independent color modes are available, they are Standard, Vivid, Black & White, and Sepia. Though you may be tempted, we do not recommend shooting with Vivid mode. This setting caused color errors to spike up to 4.4 in our test, and oversaturated shots by 25%.

We've only begun full detail white balance testing on compact cameras this year, so we don't have comparative data for the TS3 in this particular test. But we can say the results were somewhat peculiar. The TS4's automatic white balance is relatively accurate under incandescent "tungsten" light, which seems strange given the camera's intended use. On the other hand, accuracy under daylight is relatively poor which, again, seems strange.

It's worth noting the custom white balance function is much more accurate in daylight, so if you're serious about your shots, we do recommending bringing along a small white card or (here's a pro tip) wearing a white watch.

Hopefully you'll be doing all your shooting in bright daylight, because at ISO 100 noise rates are quite impressive: only 0.67% on average. After that, noise rates immediately cross 1.00% at ISO 200, increase to 1.21% at ISO 400, and remain steady there as noise reduction software attempts to compensate. The technique is quite aggressive and results in very grainy shots at 1600, the maximum sensitivity level.

This isn't a strong low light camera, but it doesn't have to be, right? Stick to outdoor shooting and you won't have any problems here. More on how we test noise.

The ISO spectrum is modest, extending from 100 to 1600, and again, this limitation is in keeping with the camera's intended use. A High Sensitivity scene mode is available, and this ups maximum ISO to 6400 at the expense of resolution.

Chromatic aberration is relatively minor, but does occur in the form of purple or yellow fringing along the borders of high contrast areas. Although the effect was easily observable in our test, sample photos are victim to only a small amount, usually in very bright spots. By a hair, this is the best chromatic aberration score of any competing toughcam.

Distortion isn't quite as severe in the TS4 as it was in the TS3, but since we know the lens is identical, we can assume this is a software tweak. It's impossible to eliminate distortion in a lens of this size, but since the effect is constant and predictable, many manufacturers use internal software to quickly fix the effect before outputting an image. Panasonic has taken a less aggressive stance with this product line, and so has Sony. Nikon and Pentax do correct for distortion, so their scores are a little bit stronger.

With the TS4, distortion is most severe at the extremes of the focal range. So if distortion is a real concern for you, simply zoom in halfway to diminish the effect.

While the spec sheet boasts 1920x1080 videos at a 60i frame rate, this is an interpolated value. Output from the sensor is only 30p, and this does result in some less than smooth video. Moving objects have a stutter to them, and some patterns are downright headache-inducing. Take a look at the black and white pinwheel in our sample video for example, but have some aspirin ready when you do. More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.

The TS4 was only capable of resolving 300 lw/ph of detail horizontally and 400 vertically. Pretty poor, but the footage behaved somewhat strangely. We shoot all our video sharpness tests while panning, and we do so partly to weed out cameras just like this one. Sharpness skyrocketed beyond 600 lw/ph when the camera was still. Therefore, if you plan to shoot most of your videos from a tripod, you may want to take our low results with a grain of salt. More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

The TS4 scored off the charts in our low light sensitivity test. In that we don't score cameras that can't achieve a certain level of sensitivity.

Even at 45 lux, the camera couldn't manage 50 IRE of image data. At this level we no longer award points, and do not test any higher. Interestingly, the camera's built-in LED lights were turned on for this test, but only contributed about 2 lux of illumination.

Many of the factors we consider for this section are hit or miss. Handling, for example, is decent but has its share of problems and quirks. So do the buttons and the menus. We get the sense Panasonic didn't dedicate much effort to this model's simplicity of use, but by no means should this be considered a clumsy or awkward camera on the whole.

An intelligent auto mode is available for beginners, although we wouldn't quite call it beginner- "proof." Some advanced features aren't locked out, like focus tracking and much of the menu system. This approach certainly appeals to consumers like us, but we think all our grandparents might be confused by the extra options.

Most buttons on the rear and top panel have great tactility for a toughcam, however the labels are etched into the chrome, making them difficult to read and adding to the overall learning curve. The layout has not changed since the TS3, meaning a nice dedicated mode button is located directly below the playback button. It also may be worth noting the exposed bolts at the right corners of the rear panel actually look sort of like buttons, and even we have to admit we tried to press them once or twice.

14 scene modes are available from the mode menu and since the camera is intended mostly for outdoor use, you won't find the vast selection of options that another model would feature. There are settings for pets, babies, sunsets, etc. But the most useful scene mode must be high sensitivity, which uses pixel binning to increase maximum ISO to 6400, but reduces resolution down to only 3 megapixels.

In-Camera Editing
Built-in photo editing options are quite limited, and only include functions like crop, resize, and some light video editing. We don’t expect many photographers to edit their photos on the top of a mountain, or under the sea, so this isn’t a huge drawback.

The TS4's menu designs are dated and unintuitive, but the software is so fast and responsive that we actually don't mind too much.

This series' menu hasn't been updated for awhile. The TS4 uses both a quick menu and a main menu, and both are necessary to shoot effectively. The quick menu is convenient and contains most of the options you'll need from day to day, with a few critical omissions. Most notably, custom white balance (which is relatively important with this camera) is not located beside white balance presets in the quick menu, and is instead restricted to the slower main menu.

All options are at least legible, so if you're anything like us, you'll quickly master the menu's quirks and find yourself getting faster and faster with it.

A printed Basic Owner's Manual ships with the TS4, though you'll really want to pop in the included CD-ROM, which contains an electronic version of the full length manual. No in-camera help features are available.

The worst part of handling the TS4 is the inconveniently placed lens. Anytime you're shooting with two hands, you're in danger of obscuring the lens with an errant finger. We recommend shooting exclusively with one hand, but this introduces its own problems....

Handling Photo 1

The armored chassis is quite slippery in the hand, and with no dedicated rear traction, the thumb needs to rely on the zoom buttons for support. That's sort of a cruel coincidence, because the zoom buttons are by far the muddiest, and give the worst tactile feedback of any keys on the entire body. So it's hard to detect when your thumb is accidentally pressing one in.

Handling Photo 2

Many of these problems will alleviate themselves with practice, but they're still annoyances that add to the learning curve.

Handling Photo 3

Most buttons on the rear and top panel have great tactility for a toughcam, however the labels are etched into the chrome, making them difficult to read and adding to the overall learning curve. The layout has not changed since the TS3, meaning a nice dedicated mode button is located directly below the playback button. It also may be worth noting the exposed bolts at the right corners of the rear panel actually look sort of like buttons, and even we have to admit we tried to press them once or twice.

Buttons Photo 1
Buttons Photo 2

Underneath a sturdy plastic sheet on the rear panel is the camera's LCD monitor. It measures only 2.7 inches diagonally, offers only 230,000-dot resolution, and doesn't render previews very accurately to the final shot. However the monitor is very well suited to outdoor use, with brightness that's more than sufficient and a nice wide viewing angle. Brightness can even be set to change automatically based on outside lighting conditions.

Image stabilization, on the other hand, is empirically better in this camera than most on the market, just like the TS3 before it. In a device specifically intended for outdoor adventuring, stabilization can make or break the product. We're happy to report Panasonic has carried over the TS3's extremely effective optical stabilizer for use in the TS4. With the feature turned on, we measured a whopping 51% sharpness improvement in our shaker test, and absolute sharpness was some of the best we've seen.

A dedicated mode button is located directly above the directional pad. This opens up a simple menu covering the auto modes, some special modes for certain shooting scenarios (action, portrait, etc.), as well as the new full manual mode.

One of the few totally new additions to the TS4 is a full manual shooting mode. Control over both shutter and aperture are unlocked, though aperture may only be set to one of two positions. The only thing absent is manual focus, but we rarely miss this feature on fixed-lens cameras.

21 total shooting resolutions are available in varying levels of detail. Five for each of the available aspect ratios (4:3, 3:2, 16:9, and 1:1), plus an extra one for 4:3. Two levels of JPEG compression quality are available, but lossless RAW encoding is not supported.

The TS4 features both full resolution and reduced resolution burst modes, both of which are very useful in practice. We clocked the full resolution version at 3.74 frames per second, however it maxes out at 6 continuous shots before the buffer fills up. The reduced resolution version, less useful in our opinion due to the megapixel handicap, fires at almost 7.5 frames per second, but maxes out at 48 shots.

Another one of the few new features found in the TS4 is an interval timer, used for performing time lapse photography. We're on board with this, and can imagine capturing some amazing sunsets and such while off exploring the outdoors. The controls for this system are fairly detailed too.

Traditional self-timer options are less robust, with only two options: 10 second and 2 second.

The TS4's upgraded GPS capabilities steal the show from the ruggedized, "adventure-proof" body. Although the TS series is still the segment's most durable, these specs are not improved over the TS3.

14 scene modes are available from the mode menu and since the camera is intended mostly for outdoor use, you won't find the vast selection of options that another model would feature. There are settings for pets, babies, sunsets, etc. But the most useful scene mode must be high sensitivity, which uses pixel binning to increase maximum ISO to 6400, but reduces resolution down to only 3 megapixels.

GPS Transceiver

A plethora of advanced GPS tracking and logging tools can be found on the TS4, and together they represent the single biggest improvement over the TS3. In addition to the location data that's already available on GPS-equipped cameras, the TS4 features an altimeter / depth indicator and log, a barometer to measure air pressure (that's right, a camera that predicts the weather), embedding of location data in both stills and movies, automatic clock setting via the GPS signal, and pre-programmed NAVTEQ points of interest.

This is by far the most complete GPS suite we've seen in a camera.

An abnormally large selection of video shooting methods are included in the TS4. Both AVCHD and MP4 methods are supported, and each of these are divided into a few different encoding quality settings and bitrates. It's also possible to embed GPS data into the AVCHD files. Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content

Zoom

Optical zoom is the only manual control unlocked while a recording is in progress. Adjustment speed is reduced, presumably to cut down on mechanical noise, however the lens doesn't seem to make any noise, so this technique's usefulness is a mystery.

Focus

Continuous autofocus is supported during video, and this option can be turned on or off manually in the main menu.

Exposure Controls

Exposure is completely automated during video, although the bright LED autofocus assist lamp can double as video illumination if you want it to.

A tiny mono microphone is the only real audio feature you get. Though a wind-cut option is available from the main menu.

Mic Photo

The hefty, rock-solid Panasonic TS4 is equally capable of inflicting blunt force trauma on your enemies, as it is capable of capturing gorgeous shots in extreme environments. It’s a handy combination, you never know what you’ll encounter in the woods, or underwater. Sadly we don’t test cameras for their viability as weapons, but strong image quality and a slightly (very slightly) improved feature set over the TS3 gives us plenty of other topics to discuss.

Search as hard as you want for a better in-camera GPS solution than the TS4’s. You won’t find one. This, plus the new interval timer and full manual control mode, are the key differences from the TS3. And if you think that implies everything else has remained exactly the same, well you’re pretty much right.

That’s a good thing though. The same strong image quality returns, along with some modest improvements to color accuracy and chromatic aberration. More aggressive edge enhancement boosts sharpness scores into contention with the Nikon AW100, though we don’t really think techniques like this actually help. But thankfully the TS3’s excellent optical image stabilization is unchanged.

The price too is unchanged, leaving us with scant few reasons to complain about the TS4 at all. Image quality is close to the Nikon AW100, and although the body isn’t stylish like the Sony TX10, the new GPS features offer a very compelling advantage. For true adventurers, the TS4 is an ideal hiking, diving, or climbing companion. And for the industry at large, this is how your replace a product in your lineup.

Meet the testers

Christopher Snow

Christopher Snow

Managing Editor

@BlameSnow

Chris was born and raised less than ten miles from our editorial office, and even graduated from nearby Merrimack College. He came to Reviewed after covering the telecom industry, and has been moonlighting as a Boston area dining critic since 2008.

See all of Christopher Snow's reviews

Checking our work.

We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.

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