Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT25 Review
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If you’re after a tough, waterproof camera and have at least £200/$300 to spend, you’ll be spoilt for choice. It’s much tougher to find a tough camera for less money, but Panasonic has come to the rescue with the Lumix DMC-FT25/TS25 which can be had for a more budget-friendly £129.99/$179.99. It’s a not built to survive the same level of abuse as it’s bigger brother, the DMC-FT5/TS5, but the FT25 will keep shooting 7m underwater and after a 1.5-metre drop. It’s also freezeproof to -10°C and also dustproof. Elsewhere the FT25 is a close match for much pricier rivals as it packs a 16.1-megapixel CCD sensor and 4x optical zoom lens with a 25-100mm-equivalent focal length and optical image stabilisation. Extra features like HD 720p video recording, twelve creative filter effects and a clever automatic time-lapse capture mode make the FT25 shape up well on paper compared to rivals like the Nikon Coolpix S32 (£99.99/$129.95) and Fuji FinePix XP70 (£169.99/$229.99). Now let’s see how it fares in the real world…
Ease of Use
Compared to the pumped-up, day-glow designs of some tough cameras, the FT25 has refreshingly subtle styling. At only 20mm thick, it’s also slightly slimmer than most rivals and slips easily into a jeans pocket. You don’t get quite the same feeling of solidity as some beefier tough cameras, but in our hands the FT25 survived plenty of drops from the rated 1.5 metres and a few from a bit higher, though it did occasionally need to be switched off and on again to keep shooting. Just like the fanciest cameras in the class, the FT25 features a double-locked door covering the battery and card slot which is unlikely to be opened accidentally when underwater.
Despite the slimline styling Panasonic has still incorporated a small ridge on the front panel to give you some grip, though it’s not particularly pronounced or rubber-coated. You won’t find much on the back to secure your thumb either, meaning the camera is easily droppable when wearing gloves.
The ergonomic issues also extend to the small, awkward controls. The shutter release is easy enough to press, but tiny power and video record buttons alongside it require a fingernail prod to work. Things don’t get any better on the rear panel, where the zoom controls could really do with being larger and raised higher. The zoom mechanism itself is also on the slow side, so even with a modest 4x optical range to play with, going from one extreme to the other can be sluggish. But the award for most inaccessible controls goes to the mode and playback buttons, which are both tiny and recessed to help keep all but the pointiest thumbs at bay. This all makes the camera frustratingly fiddly to use in average every day scenarios, but go underwater or don a pair of gloves and the FT25 is a struggle to operate.
Unfortunately the 2.7” LCD screen doesn’t help matters. It’s 230k-dot resolution is low by today’s standards and makes both image previews and menus look pixelated. However, limited viewing angles are more annoying as they cause the screen to wash out when composing a low-angle shot and darken considerably when reaching up for a photo. Panasonic has implemented a high-angle brightness pre-set to help with the latter, providing you’ve got time to activate it before snapping your shot. The screen’s colour and contrast also shifts considerably depending on your viewing position though, making it almost impossible to accurately review images on the go.
Thankfully setting up the FT25 is pretty easy, partly due to there being relatively few extras to bog you down, but also a result of the logical menu interface. Accessing image, video and general settings is done via the Menu/Set button located in the middle of the directional pad, or you can press the Q.Menu button in the lower left of the camera to bring up a quick settings overlay for fast access to options like image size and focus modes.
Assuming you’ve got fingers pointy enough to press the mode button, this’ll give you the choice of the default, scene-detecting Intelligent Auto mode, or the standard Normal Picture auto mode that allows control over white balance, autofocus and ISO settings. The camera’s dozen filter effects are accessible via the Creative Control mode, plus you can also select Sports, Snow, Beach & Surf and Advanced Underwater modes directly from the main mode menu. The remaining scene pre-sets are contained in the Scene Mode submenu, and lastly there’s an automatic panorama mode.
This captures pans as you sweep the camera right, left, up or down and handily it gives you the option of adding a Creative Control filter effect to the panorama before you start panning. The system also lets you stop the pan whenever you like, rather than forcing you to cover at least 120° like many cameras do. It’s certainly one of the nicer systems of its kind to use, but unfortunately the results let the side down. At under 600 vertical pixels, the FT25’s stitched panoramas are some of the smallest you’ll find from a current compact camera. Consequently huge amounts of detail is lost, resulting in images that are only really suitable for low-resolution social media sharing.
The camera’s Time Lapse Shot mode is much more like it though. This automatically captures images at pre-set intervals, letting you record slow-moving subjects like clouds or star trails for a selectable duration or until the camera runs out of juice. The image sequence can be played back as a slideshow in-camera, but additional software is required if you want to compile the images into a video. Nevertheless, it’s a nifty feature and a welcome inclusion on a camera at this price point.
Shooting regular still images with the FT25 is also a generally pleasant experience. The camera’s autofocus system is fast enough and finds its mark almost instantly in good light. Darker conditions slow things down fractionally, but not as much as you might expect for an entry-level model. However, the system isn’t totally reliable, as it occasionally indicates successful focussing when a scene is obviously blurred.
The camera’s exposure metering system is more dependable, invariably striking a good balance between preserving highlight and shadow detail. Auto white balance also works well and didn’t introduce any unwelcome colour casts during our testing. Activating Panasonic’s Mega O.I.S. image stabilisation system really helps iron out camera shake and is a huge help when shooting at arm’s length and zoomed in.
Lastly there’s the FT25’s battery capacity, which at 250 shots-per-charge may not be overly impressive, but it’s at least on a par with plenty of pricier tough cameras and even beats a few of them. We couldn’t replicate the exact CIPA testing standards, but after a day’s on-and-off testing, our battery life had only dropped one of three bars.