Panasonic Lumix TS3
The Panasonic TS3 is easy to use, fully-featured, and capable of taking some great photos. It has a lower megapixel count than its competitors (12MP versus 16MP), but in practical use that doesn't matter at all. Head over to our PhotoScope and see for yourself, if you like.
PhotoScope: Compare the Panasonic TS3 vs Nikon AW100
Compare the TS3 to the AW100 and you can see more fine detail in certain areas of the picture, better clarity in the corners, a more accurate, higher-contrast exposure and more accurate color with better saturation.
PhotoScope: Compare the Panasonic TS3 vs Sony TX10
Likewise, if you compare the TS3 to the Sony TX10, you can see the extra detail in the TS3's image, especially in the corners, in the cap of the rum bottle, and in the poppy seeds near the bottom center. The TS3 takes great pictures, is easy to use, and includes the features people want from a small pocket camera. The only feature it really lacks is a panorama mode, which the other cameras have. But in terms of image quality and ease of use, the other cameras simply did not measure up. At $239 from major retailers, the TS3 is also the least expensive camera in the shootout.
The TS3 has a 12MP sensor housed in a sturdy reinforced body. The front plate is held on by small stainless screws which are probably there for aesthetic reasons rather than functional ones. It has a similar body design to the Nikon AW100 -- a plain front plate emblazoned with the name of the camera and logically-placed controls all over the back panel, along with a lens mounted on the top right corner of the front plate. The rear LCD at 2.7" diagonal is not the largest, but it still shows plenty of detail. LCD brightness can be adjusted in the menu; a dimmer screen will save battery, but will also be harder to see in sunlight.
Our favorite part of the TS3 is the great picture it takes. For years, camera makers have pushed the idea that more megapixels are better, and that's simply not true for most people. Unless you are making very large (and I'm talking much larger than 8x10) prints, the extra megapixels don't do a thing. In fact, we saw more detail in the TS3's pictures than on either of the other two cameras. While megapixels don't matter, the lens certainly does, and the TS3's lens shows less distortion than the lenses of the other two cameras. Since point and shoot cameras don't have interchangeable lenses, this is pretty important - you're stuck with whatever's on the camera until you get a new one.
The TS3 did a good job with this scene, which has extreme dynamic range.
Rather than spend a lot of time talking about how the pictures look, though, we encourage you to go check out the TS3 in our PhotoScope utility and see for yourself. The other things we like about the TS3 mostly relate to how easy the camera is to use compared to its competitors.
Intuitive menu system. For the most part, we enjoy shooting in the TS3's "Normal Picture" mode, which is just a straight image capture mode without any of the fancy Scene effects applied. In general, we find that Scene modes slow down shooting, which is why we don't use them often, but the TS3 has a wide array of Scene modes in case you don't feel the same way.
In "Normal Picture" mode, the menu is about as simple and straightforward as it gets. You can run the camera in Program mode, which automatically selects settings appropriate for the scene in front of you, and the TS3 does a better than average job at selecting the proper exposure. You can also adjust all of the camera's settings using the full menu, if you're so inclined. There's an additional Quick Menu option for those who like to fiddle with the settings. Scene modes complicate things a bit, but the menu updates contextually based on what mode you are using.
The TS3 automatically calculated the proper exposure for this shot.
Best water/dust/shock protection. While there is no way to test these claims without a whole stack of cameras and several weeks to devote to them, the TS3 claims to have the best environmental protection of the bunch. It is waterproof to 40 feet (as opposed to 33 feet on the AW100 and 16 feet on the TX10) and shockproof to 6.6 feet (versus 5 feet for the AW100 and TX10). It's an extra little bit of leeway that might come in handy one day.
Burst modes. All of these cameras offer some kind of fast continuous shooting mode. The TS3 will take full-resolution pictures at two frames per second for three seconds, which is good if you're trying to catch your kid doing something cute. There's also a much faster version that will shoot ten frames per second for eight seconds (that's eighty pictures, folks) at a resolution of three megapixels. This is still just fine for 5x7 prints, and much more than enough for Facebook. If you want to catch action shots of your child playing sports, you can select High Speed Burst mode and just hold down the button.
Close focus. Sometimes, it's fun to take pictures of small things, or things very close to the camera. Macro mode, which tells the camera to focus very close to the lens, isn't as good on the TS3 as it is on the other two cameras. The TS3 can focus at something two inches away, while the others can focus at something only half an inch away. However, unless you plan to do a lot of close-up shooting, or that's your primary purpose for buying the camera, it's not a huge concern.
Panoramic shots. When you're on vacation, it's natural to want to capture the view from your hotel room or from some scenic landmark. These shots always look more dramatic in panorama - that is, a really wide picture. Both of the TS3's competitors have one-button panorama modes, where you push the shutter and then swing the camera across the scene. The TS3 doesn't have this. Instead, you have to take separate pictures and then stitch them together on your computer at home. For most people, this is too much hassle.
The Panasonic TS3 is a great all-around snapshot camera. It makes great pictures, has a very fast burst mode, and costs less than either of its competitors. The best waterproofing and shock-proofing on the market make it a no-brainer for vacation use, and to top it all off the menus are easy to use. We'd recommend the TS3 to just about anyone.