Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS5 review

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS5 has some issues with image noise at medium sensitivities, but is otherwise a solid entry in the tough camera category.
Photo of Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS5

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS5 ($399.99 direct) is the company’s current top-end ruggedized compact camera. The 16-megapixel tough shooter can go as deep as 43 feet underwater and can survive drops from heights of 6.6 feet. Its sharp lens and excellent video quality impresses, but it doesn’t do as well in low light as competing cameras. A robust Wi-Fi interface with a remote control option works in the TS5′s favor. It’s a solid entry in the rugged market, but it doesn’t manage to oust the Olympus Tough TG-2 iHS as our Editors’ Choice.

Design and Features
The TS5 follows the design blueprint of many a rugged camera. The exterior is colorful, tough metal (our review unit was orange, but silver, black, and blue versions are also available), and the internally zooming lens is housed behind a glass port in the corner of the body, rather than at the center as you’ll find with most cameras. The size is pretty standard for a camera of this class; it measures 2.7 by 4.3 by 1.1 inches (HWD) and weighs 6.6 ounces. There are a couple other tough cameras that buck this design, notably the Pentax WG-3 GPS; Pentax puts the lens in the center of its body, and opts for a more candy bar shape with its 2.5-by-4.9-by-1.3-inch, 8.1-ounce tough camera.

The lens is a 4.6x zoom design covering a 35mm-equivalent range of 28-128mm f/3.3-5.9. The wide-angle capability is fine for dry land, but shooting through water reduces just how wide a wide-angle lens is; it’s better to have a 24mm or 25mm lens in that situation. Macro focusing is also a bit limited compared to the competition; the TS5 focuses on objects as close as 5 centimeters. That’s impressive on paper until you compare it to the TG-2; its 25mm wide-angle lens focuses as close as 1cm, and features LED lights around it to illuminate subjects at close distances. You won’t always need to focus that close, but when you’re shooting in cloudy water, you’ll want to get as close to your subject as possible.

The on-body controls deliver impressive tactile feedback. Tough cameras were plagued with rubbery, squishy controls for years. More recent models still have buttons with some give to them, but there’s a satisfying click to let you know that the button press has happened. The top plate features the power button, shutter release, and movie record button. On the rear there’s a zoom rocker (it’s never integrated into the shutter in waterproof cameras), and controls to adjust exposure compensation, the self-timer, macro focusing, and the flash.

Additional shooting settings are handled via the Q.Menu. Pressing that control, which doubles as the delete button during photo review, brings up an overlay menu that runs across the top of the LCD. It gives you access to the GPS, resolution setting, ISO, white balance, the autofocus area, the drive mode, video quality, screen brightness, and LED light control. The latter acts as a focus assist beam, but it can double as a flashlight when it’s enabled via the Q.Menu; to turn it on you’ll need to hold down the flash control button for a few seconds. The control layout is pretty standard as far as rugged compacts go. The Nikon AW110 is an outlier in this category, as its tap control system lets you change the shooting mode by tapping it on its side. That’s a plus if you’re wearing heavy gloves, or if you need to change settings during an outdoorsy activity that makes it difficult to fiddle with the camera.

The rear LCD is 3 inches in size and features a 460k-dot resolution. It’s adequately sharp with good viewing angles and adjustable brightness. It’s not the best-in-class display; the 610k-dot OLED in the Olympus Tough TG-2 is sharper and shows more contrast, but it’s a clear step-up from the 230k-dot panels that you’ll find in budget ruggedized cameras like the Panasonic TS20.

The TS5 is rated for use in 43 feet of water. I’m not a diver, but was able to dunk the camera in a sink full of water, pull it out, and capture some images without issue. It’s also rated to survive drops from heights of 6.6 feet; it handled a dozen drops without issue. It can go deeper than some others in this class, including the 33-foot-rated Canon PowerShot D20.

The Wi-Fi implementation here is impressive, not only allowing image transfer to an iOS or Android device, but also remote shooting control via that same device. Controls are limited, but you can adjust the focal length of the lens and fire the shutter via your phone’s screen; a Live View feed updates as the scene changes. It’s easy to set up via the free Lumix Link app, and direct pairing is supported with NFC or via a password. It’s also possible to view images wirelessly on a Wi-Fi-enabled HDTV and for your camera and phone to talk to each other if they are logged into the same Wi-Fi network. Photo transfer can take place on an image-by-image basis after capture, or you can set the TS5 to automatically transmit photos to your phone as they are shot. In addition to Wi-Fi, there’s a GPS radio; when enabled, it adds geographic location data to your photos so you can view them on a map. It worked well, locking onto a signal within two minutes of its initial use, and embedding accurate locations.

Performance and Conclusions
The TS5 starts and fires a photo in just under 1.7 seconds, and its shutter lag is a mere 0.05-second—as close to zero as you’ll find in a compact. Burst shooting modes are plentiful, with a top full-resolution speed that we clocked at 8.2 frames per second. That mode is limited to 7 shots before slowing down, but you can go for longer (13 shots) at 4.7fps, or for 92 shots at 1.9fps. There are also lower-resolution settings that are clocked at 40fps and 60fps available. The TG-2 tops out at 5.3fps (for 50 shots), but it starts and shoots in 0.9-second and records a respectable 0.1-second shutter lag.

I used Imatest to check the sharpness of photos captured by the TS5′s lens. Rugged cameras often struggle with sharpness due to the nature of their design; lenses must be designed so they zoom without extending outside of the sealed body. The TS5 is one of the better performers; its lens manages 1,959 lines per picture height using a center-weighted test, better than the 1,800 lines required for an image to be called sharp. There’s some softness at the extreme edges of the frame, but for the most part it’s an impressive performer. It’s not the sharpest that’s passed through the testing labs; that’s the Nikon AW110, which scored an impressive 2,836 lines on the same test.

Imatest also looks at image noise, a detriment to image quality that generally creeps into photos as the camera increases its sensitivity to light (ISO). The TS5 doesn’t do a great job controlling noise; it’s only able to keep it under 1.5 percent through ISO 200. Close examination of images on a calibrated NEC MultiSync PA271W display shows that there’s a noticeable loss of detail at ISO 400, even though Imatest records a moderate amount of noise (1.6 percent) at that setting. At ISO 800 images exhibit 2.8 percent noise and detail is quite muddy. The TS5 is a fine choice for daylight shooting, but the Olympus TG-2 is a better choice for low-light; its lens opens up to f/2 and it keeps noise in check through ISO 1600.

Video recording is one of the TS5′s strongpoints. It compresses footage using AVCHD and can capture clips at up to 1080p60 quality. The footage is crisp and smooth with accurate colors. The lens can zoom in and out while rolling footage, but it adds a bit of noise to the soundtrack. This can be a concern if you’re trying to capture dialogue, but for the more action oriented shots that the camera is likely to capture it won’t be as big of a deal. There’s a double-locking door on the side that houses a proprietary USB connector, a micro HDMI output port, and the SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card slot. Panasonic does include an external battery charger, so you’ll be able to charge one battery and keep shooting if you choose to get a backup battery.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS5 is a solid entry in the rugged camera market, but it’s not the best in its class. It’s got a few things in its favor, including a reasonable depth rating of 43 feet, a fairly sharp lens, and built-in Wi-Fi. But, like Nikon’s AW110, its image quality suffers at high ISO settings, and its lens isn’t as wide in terms of field of view or aperture as others in this class. That’s why the Olympus Tough TG-2 iHS is our Editors’ Choice for rugged cameras. Its lens opens up to f/2 and delivers a 25mm wide-angle field of view when zoomed all the way out. It doesn’t have Wi-Fi, but it is rated for use in 50 feet of water—all for a slightly lower asking price than the TS5.

Specifications
Dimensions 2.7 x 4.3 x 1.1 inches
Interface Ports Proprietary, micro HDMI
Sensor Type CMOS
Megapixels 16 MP
Battery Type Supported Lithium Ion
Recycle time 0.12 seconds
LCD dots 416000
LCD size 3 inches
Touch Screen No
Media Format Secure Digital, Secure Digital High Capacity, Secure Digital Extended Capacity
Maximum ISO 3200
Type Compact
GPS Yes
Optical Zoom 4.6 x
Boot time 1.7 seconds
35-mm Equivalent (Wide) 28 mm
Weight 6.6 oz
Waterproof Depth (Mfr. Rated) 43 feet
Video Resolution 720p, 1080p
Lines Per Picture Height 1959
LCD Aspect Ratio 4
Image Stabilization Optical
35-mm Equivalent (Telephoto) 128 mm
Shutter Lag 0.05 seconds
Sensor Size 1/2.3" (6.2 x 4.6mm) mm
Viewfinder Type None

Verdict
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS5 has some issues with image noise at medium sensitivities, but is otherwise a solid entry in the tough camera category.
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