If you’ve ever harboured fantasies of being the next Jacques Cousteau but lacked the resources, here’s a little help. The Lumix DMC-FT3 is an entry-level compact camera that is shockproof and waterproof up to a depth of 12m, making it perfect for that snorkelling trip to Bali – or to create those quirky shots at the local pool. Its function is immediately clear: This is a camera made for the outdoors. You can tell just from the rugged build, and its military-industrial grips and bumps. The first thing you’ll notice when you pick the camera up is how solid it feels in your hand. The slightly-raised grip on the left-hand side does add to the bulk – this is not a camera you can easily slip inside a shirt pocket – but it gives you a reassuring handhold on the camera, which is great for action-packed shooting.
As with most compacts, there is no viewfinder, but the large LCD screen is more than satisfactory. The controls are easy enough to master, with the trigger button and a separate movie-record button at the top, and quick access buttons to exposure, flash, timer and macro settings on the back. The only issue with the controls came when using the zoom buttons while filming video: Its position on the back caused significant shaking in the video whenever the buttons were depressed. A scrolling control would have made for smoother zooming. With a whole variety of preset scene modes and an Intelligent Auto mode, the camera is easy enough to operate for the casual point-and-shoot user. However, those who want more control over the images will find the menu design clunky and a lot of work to go through. The FT3 comes with a fixed wide angle lens that is great for landscape shots. The lens performs well for a compact camera, producing beautifully crisp images in the area in focus, and the digital zoom on the camera is decent.
However, there was slight, but noticeable colour distortion in the background, especially for photos taken in lower light conditions. Although we weren’t expecting DSLR-quality images, in these times when some phones come with compact lenses that take stunning photos, the subpar performance on this Lumix is a tad disappointing. The FT3 records full HD video in AVCHD format, allowing you to squeeze more than 30 minutes of high-resolution, TV-quality footage on an 8GB SD card. The video function is a simple “start and stop” operation and its LED light is handy for shooting close-ups in dim conditions. You can even record video while underwater, but don’t expect much in way of sound, as the microphone is clearly not designed to work while submerged.