Best Waterproof Camera:
The top models shoot it out

Bill Livolsi, August 13, 2012

Best Waterproof Camera:
Panasonic Lumix TS4

The Panasonic TS4 is an evolutionary step beyond its predecessor the TS3, making minor improvements to the TS3's already winning formula to help keep abreast of current technology without changing what makes the camera great. However, current TS3 owners may not find much of a reason to upgrade.

Where before the TS4 was our uncontested Best Waterproof Camera, it now shares this title with the Olympus TG-1 due to that camera's exceptional still photo capability. However, the TG-1's shortcomings in video mean that the TS4 is still the movie shooter's best option.


The Good

Mostly the same as the TS3. The TS4 looks just about identical to the TS3, save for a red stripe down one side of the case. Inside, they're mostly the same as well; the two cameras use the same imaging sensor and have most of the same capabilities. The TS4 does have some improvements over its predecessor, including better GPS performance and slightly sharper images. Other features, like a time-lapse shooting mode and a real panorama mode, make the TS4 stand out.

PhotoScope: Compare the Panasonic TS4 vs Panasonic TS3

Other than that, the TS4 has all of the strong points that the TS3 had - its menu system is largely unchanged, image quality is excellent (compare the TS3 and TS4 in our PhotoScope to see just how excellent), and it has the best drop, water, and freeze protection of all the cameras in this shootout. If you want to get a better idea of those capabilities, read 2CameraGuys' evaluation of the Panasonic TS3.

For Panasonic TS4 memory cards, see Camera Accessories

Best GPS performance. While all of these cameras have some kind of GPS, the TS4's system is arguably the best. In addition to latitude and longitude, the camera comes with a DVD full of landmarks for different parts of the globe, which is useful if you'll be traveling. The GPS also captures altitude and barometric pressure -- so yes, in addition to taking pictures, your camera can give you a weather report.

Sharper images. While the TS4 and the TS3 share the same sensor, software tweaks mean that the TS4 produces slightly sharper pictures by default. Keep in mind that this is just a software change, and it can be canceled out by adjusting the picture settings in the menu. Many people will enjoy the sharper-edged look that the TS4 provides, while others might be bothered by the occasional sharpening artifact.

Manual mode. Enthusiasts will be happy to hear that the TS4 offers a full manual mode, which the TS3 did not have. Now, you can directly adjust shutter speed and aperture to more closely control your photos. While it's not as extensive as the manual mode you'd find on a DSLR, mostly due to the lens's aperture restrictions, it's a step in the right direction.

Panoramic shots. The TS4 does in-camera panorama stitching, a feature that the TS3 lacked. This puts it on par with the other cameras in the shootout and removes one more factor that would rule out the TS4 for some people. When you're on vacation and want to capture that picturesque vista for the folks at home, panorama mode is what you'll want to use.

The Bad

More expensive. For a camera that's mostly the same as the TS3, the TS4 comes with a substantial price hike. Towards the end of its life, the TS3 was selling for $280 or less, while the TS4 currently costs $399 at most retailers. The reasoning is simple; the TS4 is new, and new cameras cost more. But when there are relatively small changes between two models, it is often more cost-effective to buy last year's version if you're trying to save some cash.

The Verdict

No question, the Panasonic TS4 is as good as or better than the TS3 in every way. If you can make use of the camera's upgraded GPS system or panorama modes, the TS4 is the camera for you. However, if none of the new features of the TS4 are important to you, there's no reason not to purchase a TS3 instead and save some cash -- many major retailers still carry last year's model, and the price difference is nothing to sneeze at.