Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT1 Hands-on

The FT1 sports a lens with a 4.6x optical zoom (equating to a 28-128mm, 35mm equivalent range) which doesn't feel particularly zoom-y but does make composing underwater shots a fair bit simpler, thanks to the wide angle of view.

As well as shooting up to 12.1-megapixel still images, the FT1 can record 1,280 x 720 HD video in AVCHD Lite. Regardless of the capacity of SD (or SDHC) card used, clips are limited to 15 minutes in length because, I'm told, a device doing any more than that constitutes a camcorder, not a stills camera - levying additional taxes. I don't think that's a problem, though; 15 minutes should be more than enough for most.
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Image quality in both stills and video is commendable. The Intelligent Auto manages to live up to its name for the most part. There's about as much detail in the JPEGs produced as could be asked from a 12.1-megapixel camera. That such detail is discernible even in under-water shots is a bonus; though of course I'd expect as much considering that's where the FT1 is designed to be used.
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The built-in Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS) system also works fantastically. Though it doesn't look it, the shots of the windsurfers on this page were taken from a RIB whizzing along at a good 15 to 20 knots on moderately choppy water. Obviously OIS isn't powered by magic and when zoomed in it's less effective, but nonetheless when it works, it works well and I'd definitely rather see it featured than not. When OIS fails, Focus Tracking can help compensate for movement either in the target or your own platform.
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One niggle I have is the omission of a floatation aid from the FT1's packaging (as bundled with the SW21 camcorder, for instance). Used in no deeper than three metres of water, the camera won't particularly need it, but I'd still like one in the box just in case.

I only had a short time with the FT1, but I was definitely impressed with what I saw. At around £300 there's undeniably a fair bit of competition out there in terms of image quality - not least from the utterly fantastic Lumix DMC-LX3 - but if you need a waterproof camera you could do a lot worse.

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