It's a fairly well-established rule that electronics and water Do Not Mix. Or, rather, it used to be. Panasonic has made a habit of bucking that trend recently, with such notebooks as the ToughBook CF-Y5 - which was happy even after being buried in the snow! - and camcorders like the SW20 and its successor, the SW21.
Panasonic has instilled similar water- and shock-proof credentials on its Lumix DMC-FT1 compact camera and deemed to invite me out to go sailing with Skandia Team GBR in Palma to put the claims to the test. That's not quite as strange an invite as it sounds. For a start, Panasonic is not only a sponsor of the British Olympic sailing team, but also a major sponsor of the 2012 games.
The Olympic team's coaches use Panasonic's waterproof cameras and camcorders as part of their training programmes, enabling sailors to review their performance on-the-water back on the shore. As such, jumping on board a selection of coaches' RIBs and taking a quick cruise in a Laser Bahia sounds like a perfect test of the FT1's performance. And as a sailor myself, getting to meet the likes of Nick Dempsey was rather awesome, to say the least.
Anyhow, to business: On the outside, the FT1 doesn't look much different from your average compact camera. The right and lower edges are the key giveaways, with chunky clips holding closed the covers of the video-outputs and battery and SD card compartment respectively.
While easy to open and close when wanted, these did their job of denying water access to the FT1's internals admirably. Panasonic rates the FT1 as waterproof to three metres but I'm pretty sure that's decidedly conservative because the unit I had still worked after going a good five metres under, thanks to a rather over-enthusiastic jump into the sea.
At the FT1's rear is a 2.7in, 230k dot, LCD. Two brightness modes are available (three if you count Off as a mode); either Auto Power LCD or Power LCD. The former adapts the brightness of the display to suit the shooting conditions, as determined by the camera while the latter bumps the brightness up fully and is the setting I'd recommend - especially underwater as the display is otherwise quite hard to read.