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Camera for the trail - Panasonic FT4 Review

Trail riding is an active outdoor pass time and the elements often com into play in a whole host of ways, rain, snow, big splashes and every ones favorite, the water crossing. You can get to some incredible places and see some fantastic views and lets not forget, you and your mates can end up in all sorts of situations from being stuck in the mud to falling in a hedge. You don't want to miss the opportunity for a funny or fantastic picture. 

So when I wanted a new camera I went looking for something that could brave the elements and I wouldn't be afraid of getting it out to take a picture when ever and where ever I was. Over the last couple of years there have been a new range of camera's emerging that have been designed for the outdoors happy snapper. Small enough for your pocket and rugged enough to take a knock. No need to stick them in a Tupperware box to protect them or in a watertight bag. Just get them out and use them. So that is where I started my investigation. 

At the time there was a number of contenders:
  • Nikon AW100
  • Panasonic FT4
  • Olympus TOUGH
  • Pentax Optio
Reading reviews on these sorts of things can often be overwhelming and information overload. A point from me on these reviews. A number of the reviews on camera sites regarding compact cameras can sound a little damning as there is a bit of a habit to compare them to more expensive professional cameras.Try and weed these reviews out when you are looking and put them to one side. It's worth looking at the reviews on sites like Amazon to get a 
gauge because they tend to be real-world users more like you and I. When it comes down to it, a lot of them are generally good camera's in context of what they are. However, I short listed the AW100 and the FT4 primarily on having a good range of reviews and there size. Some of the others at the time where a little large. Then pretty much on positive feedback from people I knew and previous experience of the Panasonic brand I shortlisted the FT4. And it is fair to say I have not been disappointed. 

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT4 (also known as the DMC-TS4) is a waterproof, shockproof and dustproof digital camera. The FT4 can be used underwater to a depth of up to 12 meters and is drop proof from a height up to 2m, freezeproof to -10 degrees C and dustproof. In addition, the 12.1 megapixel Panasonic FT4 offers a 28mm wide-angle 4.6x optical zoom lens, 1920x1080 full-HD movie recording, 3D photo mode, an on-board GPS module, a compass, altimeter and even a barometer. Panasonic has also added three new shooting modes, including Time Lapse Shot, Miniature Effect and Panorama Shot. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT4 / TS4 is available in black, blue,
white or orange and costs around £200.

It is worth saying at this point, the Panasonic FT2 FT3 and FT4 are all basically the same camera so if you can pick up one of the older models you could grab yourself a bargain. The main differences between the FT2 and FT3 is that they added GPS tagging. FT3 to FT4 improved GPS tagging. But the camera bit that you want is the same.

Also, since I bought mine Panasonic have released an FT25 which despite the number is a lower model. It isn't as rugged as the FT2 to 5 range but it is still drop proof and waterproof and boasts many of the the features of it's more expensive brothers. The attraction for some will be that it can be had for a little over £100 and it still gets good reviews. Worth a look if you are considering a new camera. 
So what is it like to use? In short, a doddle. If you just want a point and shoot, just switch it on and shoot. The auto mode on this camera is really very good and although there are 100's of settings you can play with, I often don't feel the need to. Switch on time from cold is very brisk taking only a second or two to be ready to take a picture so you're sure not to miss anything. The controls are easy to use and you can just about get away with operating it in gloves (trail gloves at least). 

Features I like to use on the trail:
  • Panorama - great feature for catching the scenery  
  • Multi shot - great for taking a burst of shots to make sure your get the image you really want.In fact, in day light hours I tend to leave it in this mode all day. Just point and shoot for one picture, hold the shutter longer to take multiple images.
  • Waterproof - I will get it out whether it is gleaming sunshine or if I'm stuck in the middle of a river
  • Shockproof - I have dropped it and it has coped with everything I do.
  • GPS - I was never really bothered by this feature but I now quite like that it tags the photo's when I'm out and about. When I look at them you can see on google maps where you were.
  • Zoom - handy to get you closer to the action
  • Night mode\Night portrait - although not used that much I do find it works quite well and it is worth turning it on. I'm tempted to say the nigh portrait is better because you often want a shot of the bike without washing the view out behind.
  • Video mode - I tend to not use this that much on the trail but it is worth mentioning that the quality is really very good for a hand held camera and there is one feature that I particularly like and it is one that swung me to this rather than other camera's. It has a separate shutter and video start button. Now that might sound a bit odd, but you don't have to faff with the camera to put it in video mode, just press the shutter to take a picture and if you decide to video instead, just hit the record button and away it goes. 
Things I don't use:
  • Digital zoom - no point, it degrades the quality.
  • Compass, altimeter etc - still haven't really figured out the point of this.
  • Maximum image resolution, I just find it creates images larger than I need. I mostly have it set to 5mp.
The only negative I have ever had with this camera and it is a little unfair to say it is a fault of the camera. If you have it in your pocket and then take it out when it is cold, the lens can mist. Now, it is covered with glass so you can wipe it quickly and easily and it is the glass that is misting and not a fault of the camera. Since I bought mine the FT5 has been released which allegedly has an anti-mist lense.I can't comment if that actually works but it is a good sign that Panasonic look to make these things better and it's not always the technical wizardry that needs improving.

Well that's my short and sweet review of the FT4 and you know what they say, a picture paints a thousand words so here is a selection of trail riding pics taken over the last few months. All images are full resolution so if you click on them you will be able to view the full image, each will open in a new window where you can zoom to full resolution. 

Normal pics

Panorama shots 

Night shots (and one shooting into the sun)

Action shot using the burst mode