Compact cameras have changed a lot in the last few years. Once they were simple point and shoot pocket cameras with pretty bad quality photos from their tiny lenses. These days compact cameras, especially Panasonic’s range of ruggedised cameras are all singing all dancing miniature boxes of modern technology. The idea being it can do everything you would want a camera to do and in any environment too. But are ruggedised compact cameras really that tough? Can they handle being bashed about and still make it easy to take great photos?
There’s only one way to really review a ruggedised camera and that’s by getting rugged yourself!
So we were sent to the adult adventure insanity that is Go Ape near Farnham in Hampshire, England. 4 huge courses suspended high up in the trees, containing rope ladders, zip lines, rope bridges and all manner of scary hanging pathways that are sure to test anyone’s vertigo thresholds! With the rain pouring before we arrived this was the perfect environment to test some rugged cameras and test ourselves too.
First a quick briefing on the cameras. We were testing the DMC-FT3 and the Panasonic HX-WA10. The DMC-FT3 is a standard sized compact camera with all the buttons in the places you’d expect. The HX-WA10 however is a new breed of upright cameras designed to be gripped in one hand.
Before we start the review here’s some handy camera statistics for you.
Panasonic DMC-FT3 Compact Camera
- Dimensions: 103.5 x 64.0 x 26.5 mm
- Weight: 197 grams (with battery and memory card)
- Megapixels: 12.1
- Zoom: 4.6x optical
- Features: GPS, compass, altimeter and barometer (for diving), 3D photo mode
- Rugged specs: Waterproof to 12 metres. Shock proof up to 2 metres and freeze proof to -10C
Panasonic HX-WA10 upright HD camcorder
- Size: 51.5 x 59.0 x 109.0mm
- Weight: 232 grams (with battery and memory card)
- Megapixels: 16
- Zoom: 5 x optical
- Features: 2.6inch display, full HD recording to MP4. Face detection
- Rugged specs: Waterproof to 3 metres.
Testing the Panasonic cameras at Go Ape
After a training session on how to use our safety harnesses, buckles and clips we were of in to the trees. Thankfully the rain had stopped but the course was damp and dauntingly high up. Our group began to ascend the first course, cameras in hand.
The first thing I noticed about the panasonic DMC-FT3 is that it was very fast to power on. In my experience getting a camera ready to shoot is not a quick task. This would usually lead to the occasionally missed photo opportunity. Not so with this camera. Every time someone launched themselves on to a rope bridge or zip line the camera was ready. Power on and click away. I didn’t need to wait and soon forgot it was ever an issue with cameras. I found this made me take more photos an power down the camera between shots. Usually if you’re in an active environment, like swinging through trees 20 metres above the ground, you would leave the camera powered up. No need with the Panasonic DMC-FT3. “It’s ready when you’re ready” is something I was quoted as saying during the day.
Zip wires and perilous bridges
With adrenalin at an all time high I screamed down some very long and fast zip lines, back to the ground which I was always happy to see. I often bashed the camera against a tree or, when holding it in my hand and attempting to cross a bridge, would knock it against things. The casing was strong and also came with a rubberised outer shell you can remove. It’s handy you can use that for very active situations like this and then remove for less active moments like a night out. Depending on how active your nights out are of course!
The camera occasionally had problems focussing. Rather than stopping me take a photo like DSLR cameras usually do, this one still took an out of focus shot. Sometimes I wouldnt notice until I imported the photos to my laptop. I’m used to taking multiple shots of the same thing so it wasnt too big an issue. Most compact cameras seem to have this problem. It could be annoying if you only took one shot of a moment and later discovered it was no good. Always take backup shots is the mantra I live by.
GPS geotagging and locating
One very nice feature with the Panasonic DMC-FT3 is it’s GPS geotagging of all your photos. Not only does it store this information with each photo it also can tell you where you are with a database of over 3 million locations stored in the camera. A nice touch although how useful that location info is when you’re out, I’m not sure.
It has some fun effects which were nice to play with. Not as many as other cameras I’ve use. It’s panoramic feature was also a bit of a let down. It helps you align each shot you take but doesn’t stitch them together for you so you have no idea if it looks ok.
If you have a 3D TV then you’ll love the 3D photo functionality on this camera
Technically it is only a 2D camera but in 3D mode it can help you produce some fun results that convert to 3D when plugged in to a 3D TV. I unfortunately don’t have one but I’ve read reports that it works quite well.
Panasonic Hx-WA10 upright camera review
On to the rather smart looking upright camcorder from Panasonic. Given the very active nature of our day out at Go Ape, gripping a camera firmly in one hand makes a lot of sense. Normal compact cameras and most horizontally shaped camcorders usually need to be held firmly with 2 hands to get decent video and still images from them. Having a camcorder designed around a one handed grip changes a number of things.
Firstly we were able to confidently film and take photos while swinging between trees and screaming like a girl (no offence girls!). Occasionally bashing in to catch nets and trees as we try not to look down at any point. Trying to operate HX-WA10 is just that. It’s power on button is in a rather peculiar place considering the active nature of it’s use, but once on it’s very easy to use.
One notable feature was the image stabilisation. The smaller the hand held camera the more you get natural wobble and vibrations passed to the camera and in-turn your video! At first it seemed this camera would suffer like so many others, especially as you’re not steadying the camera with your other hand. Thankfully the image stabilisation (known as E.I.S) does a fantastic job but only as soon as you hit the record button. Once you’re recording you’ll notice how smooth the video becomes, removing all those wobbles and shaky hand syndrome that hanging 20 metres above the ground by only a safety harness causes!
We were pleasantly surprised how well the cameras performed while we were subjected to all manner of crazy tree top challenges. In those conditions it was abundantly clear the cameras just had to get on with their jobs and do it well so that we could concentrate on trying not to fall, slip or possibly pass out from vertigo. Thankfully both the DMC-FT3 camera and the HX-WA10 upright camcorder did just that. We produced some very funny images and video from our tarzan like escapades and had a great day too!
It’s hard to pick a winner out of the two. Both do their job very well and can handle doing the other’s job well too. The DMC-FT3 compact camera wins for sheer number of features and ruggedised abilities, technically the most bang for your buck. The HX-WA10 upright camcorder wins for ease of handling and great stabilisation.
A big thanks to Panasonic for letting us test the cameras and to Go Ape who I think tested us more than we tested them! I’d highly recommend a heart rate increasing day out hurling yourself down zip wires and tarzan swings.
Here’s a short video made from all the footage shot by the bloggers who attended the Go Ape day with Panasonic. All of this was shot on the HX-WA10 and the DMC-FT3