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Many tough cameras sacrifice image quality for robustness, but the TS2 seems to have the best of both worlds, shooting good looking photos and standing up to rough treatment.
In the Box
• The camera
• DMW-BCF10PP 940mAh battery
• Silicone shield
• Wrist Strap
• Brush (to clean dust from the port covers)
• Software CD
• USB cable
• A/V out cable
Panasonic is definitely doing something right when it comes to the accuracy of the colors that the DMC-TS2 captures: in our tests, we found that the colors in captured images were very accurate. We test this by photographing a color chart under tightly controlled conditions and then using the image analysis program Imatest to analyze the difference between the original chart and the captured colors. For this camera, the differences were mostly minimal: we only found some slight color shifts in some blues and yellows. More on how we test color.
The DMC-TS2 offers a number of different color modes, but we found that the mode with the most accurate color was the Natural mode. The Standard mode is very close, though; the main difference is that the colors are a little more saturated, and the blues are a little less accurate.
Seven different color modes are offered on this camera: Standard, Natural, Vivid, Black & White, Sepia, Cool and Warm. If color accuracy is your aim, go with the Natural or Standard modes, both of which produce very accurate color. The Vivid mode lives up to the name, producing images that have a somewhat cartoonish look with bright colors.
All digital cameras produce some noise: if you look closely at the photos they take, you'll see a grainy pattern. That's caused by the noise generated by the circuitry of the camera doing its job. But a good camera will do what it can to minimize this noise, and the TS2 did a great job here: we saw little noise in images at ISO levels of below 800, and the noise in images at higher ISO settings wasn't hideous. You can see examples below. More on how we test noise.
To further explore how this camera performed, we shoot images at two light levels and look at how the noise changes. The two light levels are 60 lux (about what you get with indoor lighting) and 3000 lux (outdoor lighting). At both light levels, the noise increased as the ISO went up, which is typical for cameras. But it remained low, even when shooting at lower ISOs in dim light, which required a 1 second shutter speed.
When we compare the noise levels of the DMC-TS2 to other cameras, you can see that it performed well; the noise in images is consistently lower than most other cameras across the range.
The DMC-TS2 has an ISO range of 80 to 1600 shooting at full resolution. If you want to push it further, the High Sensitivity scene mode can push the ISO level up to 6400, but at a reduced resolution of 3 megapixels.
NOTE: The images above are not used in our testing or scoring, but are included here to show real-world examples of the differences between cameras at the various ISO settings.
We found that the images that the TS2 captured had decent, but not spectacular resolution. While the images were pretty sharp across the zoom range and had low distortion, there was also some evidence of chromatic aberration at the edges of the frame. More on how we test resolution.
We found that the TS2 had low distortion in our tests, with just over one percent at the wide and mid points on the zoom range. There was very little at the telephoto end of the zoom range. The around 1 percent we saw at the wide and mid points is not enough to be a major problem: as the examples below show, that is only just visible
We found that the TS2 had decent sharpness in the center of the frame across the zoom range, so faces in the middle of the shot should look pretty sharp. But the edges of the frame were rather soft; details tended to become slightly obscured by a soft hazes.
Chromatic Aberration ()
There was some evidence of chromatic aberration at the widest zoom setting: here we saw some evidence of the color fringing that indicates a problem with the lens diffracting colors of light by different amounts.However, this wasn't a major issue; in the examples below, you can see that it is barely visible, and this was much less noticeable at the mid and wide points of the zoom range.
Quality & Size Options
The TS2 offers a good range of image sizes, from the 14 megapixels of the maximum size down to a 0.3 megapixel size for web use. There are also two quality settings, but there is no option to save RAW image files: only JPEGs are available.
The TS2 uses an optical stabilization system, where an element of the lens moves to adapt for camera shake. We test this by shaking the camera on our test rig, and we found that it was moderately good at making the images sharper. With the IS system set to Auto, we found that images were consistently sharper than with it turned off. In addition to the auto mode that we tested the camera in, there are two modes: mode 1 has the stabilization system working constantly, while mode 2 only engages it when the shutter button is pressed halfway. More on how we test image stabilization.
The TS2 includes a video mode that capture video at a 1280 by 720 pixel resolution, the same as a 720p HDTV. This video is captured in the AVCHD Lite format, which can be imported and edited into a range of video editing applications, such as iMovie. Videos can also be captured in the more widely used AVI format using motion JPEG compression, but this takes up much more space. Options are also offered for capturing standard definition video at a number of different resolutions.
The zoom lens of the TS2 can be used while shooting video, although the speed of the zoom slows down somewhat. The upside if this is that there is little or no zoom noise, though. The TS2 records mono sound to go with the video, which has decent quality. There is no way to attach an external microphone to this camera to replace the built in one.
We found that the videos captured by the TS2 had adequate, but not particularly accurate color. Although most of the colors were reasonably close to the originals found in our color test chart, the video was rather oversaturated, which made them overly bright and vivid. More on how we test video color.
We found that the movies captured by the TS2 had moderate, but unspectacular sharpness. Fine details were captured, but anything more than a slight movement in the video caused them to break down into a blurry mess. However, the TS2 is certainly no worse than other cameras in this respect: all of the point and shoot cameras that we have tested have similar issues, and produce video that is good enough if you just want a quick, short video to upload to sites like YouTube.com. More on how we test video sharpness.
The TS2 provides the ability to view the photos held on the memory card in a number of ways, including zooming in up to 16x and out to view either 12 or 36 thumbnails on the screen at once. Images can also be sorted by capture date or by type, where the camera filters the photos automatically, based on either the scene mode or another criteria, such as those that show faces. Panasonic refers to this as category play.
Slideshows, complete with music can also be created within the camera, either by showing all images or by the same category play described above.
The tools for editing images are rather basic, but the essentials are there: you can crop and resize images, as well as removing red-eye. You can also level an image, a useful tool that lets you do small rotations on an image if the camera wasn't quite level. It isn't as good as the auto leveling tools that some SLRs offer, but it's a nice feature to have.
The video editing tools are extremely basic; the only thing you can do is to split a video clip into two parts.
Direct Print Options
The usual printing options of DPOF and PictBridge are present; images can be flagged for later printing, and the camera can connect directly to a PictBridge printer. This allows images to be printed without a computer; the camera controls the printer through a direct USB connection.
There is no viewfinder on this camera: everything is done through the LCD screen.
On the back of the camera body is a 2.7-inch LCD screen with a resolution of 231,000 pixels. That puts it at the lower end of the scale for sharpness, and this shows in the images, which don't show fine detail well. Fortunately, you can zoom in on captured images up to 16x to check on the sharpness of fine details. The screen is fairly bright, though, and automatically adjusts to current lighting conditions. You can also manually up the brightness if you need to with the Power LCD mode.
The small flash is located to the left of the lens. Although it is rather diminutive, it did seem to be pretty powerful: we found that, with the camera in auto mode, it could illuminate objects up to about 12 to 15 feet out, albeit with slightly grainy and dull looking photos.
In between the flash and the lens is the AF assist light, a small bright LED. Although it is bright enough to illuminate dark places out to a few feet, this can't be used in place of the flash: it is purely for helping the camera to focus.
The lens of the TS2 is a Leica branded one with a focal length of 4.9 to 22.8 mm (4.6x), which translates into a 35mm film camera equivalent of 28 to 128mm. That's a decent zoom range for a compact camera, with an above average wide angle that should be wide enough for large groups and landscapes.
The aperture range of this lens is rather small; f/3.5 to f/5.9, with no stops imbetween the two. That's a little limiting; it doesn't give the camera a lot of options to use when deciding how to meter for a particular situation.
The camera is powered by a small Li-ion batter that can hold around 940 mAh of charge. That's not a lot, but Panasonic claims a battery life of 360 shots. This feels a little optimistic, though; we didn't get through more than a couple of days of serious shooting before the camera ran out of juice.
SD and SDHC cards are the TS2's preferred diet when it comes to memory cards. The memory card fits into a small slot above the battery, below a waterproof cover that keeps the internals dry. This cover includes a locking latch that prevents it from being accidentally opened. When the red locking dot is showing, the cover can be opened, but sliding the locking latch over the red dot firmly locks the cover in place.
Jacks, Ports & Plugs
There are two ports on this camera: a mini HDMI port and a proprietary port that provides analog video out and USB connections. Cables are included for the USB and analog video output connections, but these are proprietary: if you loose or damage them, you'll have to buy new ones from Panasonic. You'll also need to bring your own HDMI cables, but mini HDMI to HDMI adapters are widely available.
Both ports are located under another cover with a locking latch on the right side of the camera body.
The DMC-TS2 is waterproof to a depth of 33 feet (10 meters), which means it can be used for both snorkel diving and shallow tank dives, but not technical dives. If you go deeper than 33 feet, an optional case is available which can go down to 40 meters (130 feet): the DMW-MCFT2.
The DMC-TS2 is built to withstand being dropped onto hard surfaces from heights of up to 7 feet (2 meters).
The DMC-TS2 can keep taking photographs in temperatures of down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit (around -10 degrees Celsius), so it can be carried on the outside of your ski outfit and still take photos and videos as you speed down a double black diamond run.
There are no shortage of shooting modes on this camera, with two auto modes and a slew of scene modes. The two auto modes are the Normal mode and iA, which is short for intelligent auto. In the latter mode, all settings are automatically controlled by the camera, including the ISO, the flash mode and the focus. The user does get some minor degree of control, the picture size, burst mode can be altered. In the Normal mode, the user can control more of the options, such as directly setting the ISO level, white balance, etc. These can be set to auto, though.
Auto Mode Features
Focus - Six focus modes are offered: face detection, AF tracking, 11-area, 1-area (high speed), 1-area and spot focusing. The face detection mode uses detected faces as the focus points, while the AF tracking tries to keep the camera focused on a specific object as it moves. We found this to be pretty effective at keeping a fast moving object in focus. The 11-area mode uses all 11 focus spots and tries to get as many as possible into focus, while the 1-area high speed mode continuously focuses the camera on a single spot at the center of the frame to make focusing as quick as possible. The last two modes differ only on the size of the focus area, with the spot mode using only a very small area in the center of the frame.There is no manual focus mode.
Exposure - Up to 2 stops either way of exposure compensation can be added to the detected exposure, and the TS2 can also automatically bracket exposures, taking 3 shots from a single press of the shutter with 0, -1 and +1 stops of exposure compensation.
Metering - The TS2 does not offer the usual selection of metering modes: there is no specific spot metering mode. Instead, you have to rely on the cameras judgment and the Intelligent Exposure function, which tries to detect high contrast situations and meter more appropriately for them.
White Balance - Plenty of options are available for setting white balance: you can set it to full auto, any of 4 presets or use an evaluative mode. The latter will produce the most accurate results, but requires shooting a photo of a white object.
Aperture - At the widest point on the zoom range, the TS2 has an aperture range of f/3.3 to f/10. That range gets smaller at the telephoto end, falling to f/5.9 to f/18. That's no surprise (most zoom lenses do this), but it does mean that you'll have problem shooting in low light at the zoom end of the range.
Shutter Speed - The shutter speed range of the TS2 goes from 8 seconds down to 1/1300 of a second. That's a decent range, but it would have been nice to see a shorter shutter speed for capturing fast action.
Self-Timer - The usual options of a 2 and 10-second delay are offered, but there is no interval mode and no way to capture a photo when a face is detected.
There are also a number of scene modes: Sport, Snow and Beach & Surf are available on the mode dial, while 26 more are available from an on-screen menu by setting the mode dial to SCN. That range of scene modes should be enough to deal with pretty much any sort of lighting situation.
In iA mode, the TS2 offers 5 color modes, which are more special effects than real color modes. There is the standard mode, Natural, Vivid, Black & White and Sepia. In the iA auto mode, this selection is cut down to four: Standard, Happy, Black & White and Sepia. The only one that requires explanation is the Happy mode, which boosts the brightness and saturation of the images for a 'happier' look. None of these modes provide any control over the effect.
The TS2 has a burst mode, but the name is rather misleading. It's restricted to taking 3 shots at a speed of less than 1 frame a second. That is not so much of a burst of speed as a slight stagger.
Shot to Shot ()
We measured the speed of the burst mode of this camera at a very disappointing 1.1 frames per second. There is no way to speed this up by sacrificing resolution, either.
The TS2 is large enough that the hand can get a good grip, but this doesn't feel especially tight: the lack of a ridge on the front and the slick metal skin makes for a slippery grip. Putting the included silicone cover onto the camera makes the grip tighter, but also makes it larger and less attractive looking.
We also found that it is a little easy for the ring finger of the left hand to slip and end up partially or completely covering the flash.
Buttons & Dials
The TS2 has a slightly unusual arrangement of buttons, with the shutter near the back of the top of the body and the two zoom buttons in front of this. Most other Panasonic cameras use a zoom ring around the shutter, but presumably this arrangement was sacrificed to help waterproof the camera. The new arrangement works adequately, but it is not comfortable, as you have to reach from the shutter to the zoom and the back again with your index finger.
The other controls on the camera are a pretty standard arrangement, with the mode dial on the back of the camera and
The menus of the TS2 are divided into two parts: the quick menu and the main menu. The quick menu (accessed by pressing the Q Menu button at the bottom of the back of the camera) contains the basic shooting controls that are used more frequently, such as ISO settings and image size. These are arranged along the top of the screen, and you use the directional control to move and select the desired option.
The main menu is accessed by hitting the menu button in the middle of the directional control and is where the more in-depth controls are located. These are divided into three tabs: Rec, Motion Picture and Setup. The Rec controls include features such as picture quality and the intelligent ISO settings in addition to all of the options on the quick menu.
Manual & Learning
The TS2 comes with a basic operating instructions printed manual, but the full manual is only available on the included CD-ROM as a PDF file. We found this manual to be well illustrated and generally well written. Unlike many camera manuals, it shows you what the features do rather than just include a pidgin English explanation.
Casio Exilim EX-G1 Comparison
Both of these cameras proved to be strong performers in our tests, but the TS2 has a slight edge, with better performance in some tests, including shooting more accurate color and having lower noise across the ISO range.
They are equally robust, though; both the TS2 and the D10 can manage dives down to 33 feet, drops from about 6 feet and temperatures down to 14ºF (approximately -10ºC). Neither camera is particularly stylish though, with the TS2 having a chunky, blocky design and the D10 looking a bit like a child's toy camera.
Pentax Optio W80 Comparison
If you want a camera that is going to easily fit into a shirt pocket or small hand bag, the Casio EX-G1 is the obvious choice between these two. At just 0.78 inches thick, it is much thinner than the TS2, and looks a lot more stylish. But being good looking doesn't mean you take good photos, and the TS2 proved to be the superior performer in our tests of image quality, taking photos with better color, lower noise and more detail. the TS2 also has a slightly longer 4.6x zoom lens (the Casio has a 3x) which also has a bigger wide angle: 28mm on the TS2, but 38mm on the Casio G1. That means you can get more into a shot, which is especially useful on an underwater camera where you have to get close to the subject to take a shot. Although the Casio looks more fragile, both cameras are equally robust, handling up to 33 feet of water and drop from around 6 feet.
The Pentax W80 is one of the cheaper waterproof cameras, at around half the price of the Panasonic TS2. It is also considerably smaller and more pocketable, but in our tests, we found that it was nowhere near as good a camera. Images taken with the TS2 had better color, more detail and lower noise than the Pentax. The Pentax can handle water up to 16 feet deep, about half the depth the TS2 can handle (33 feet). The Pentax does have a slightly longer zoom lens, though (5x, against the 4.6x of the TS2), and it is much smaller, more portable and a lot cheaper, so it really boils down to how much you can afford.
Many tough cameras sacrifice image quality for robustness, but the TS2 seems to have the best of both worlds. In our tests, we found that it shot good looking photos with strong color accuracy, low noise and decent sharpness. It's also a robust camera, handling water down to 33 feet, drops from up yo 6.6 feet and temperatures down to 14 Fahrenheit (-10 Celsius).
There are a few gotchas, though; we found that the images were not as sharp as some other cameras, and the videos that the TS2 captured had only adequate color and lacked sharpness. It is also a little more expensive than some other tough cameras: you can pick up cameras like the Canon D10 for $100 less.