Thursday, April 23, 2009

I Can Stop Any Time

I bought another new camera, but please, don't stage an intervention. It's to replace one that met an unfortunate end at the hands of, um... me. This past December I bought a Panasonic FX37, a great little pocket camera with only two main flaws: luminance noise even at low ISO (lame), and no way to turn off the red eye reduction flash when in slow sync mode (lamer).

Or maybe I should say, those are the two flaws I was initially aware of. But after only about two months of carrying it around in my lint-filled pocket, the camera had acquired a collection of dust inside the lens elements. Not on the surface of the lens, where it could be wiped off, but actually in the lens barrel itself, meaning that every picture had specks all over it. As an example, here's a photo of some contrails:


That doesn't look too bad, but here's what it looked like prior to a little "spot removal" in Lightroom:

Clearly that's not acceptable, which is why I took the camera apart. I was hoping to get the dust cleaned out of the lens, and I did. But I also think I damaged a tiny little ribbon cable connector in there, and when I put the camera back together, it would no longer focus. I sent it to the factory service center for warranty repair. Of course if they look at it at all (or read my blog) they'll be able to tell that I took it apart. But who knows, maybe they'll just toss it on a pile and send me a new one. Here's hoping.

In the meantime, I needed a new camera, but how could I know the new one wouldn't develop the same problem? I've never had this problem with any other camera, and I started to wonder if maybe it was due to the telescoping lens barrel. Every other pocket camera I've owned has had an internally telescoping lens, rather than a lens that protrudes from the camera body. The protruding and retracting lens seems like a likely culprit for dust vulnerability, and most point and shoot cameras today have that sort of lens, so what to do? Other than the dust, I was very happy with the Panasonic FX37, but didn't want to just buy another since the whole point of a "pocket camera" is sort of defeated if you can't, you know, put it in your pocket.

Enter the Panasonic TS1 "rugged" camera.

I've long been intrigued by the idea of having a rugged point and shoot, I think that would really come in handy, especially while traveling. But the options are pretty limited and, until recently, they've all had lamentable picture quality. But the TS1, which became available on Amazon a few days ago, looks pretty decent, with picture quality fairly equivalent to the FX37.

Inner Harbor, Baltimore

George Washington Memorial, Baltimore

So I got one. Theoretically it's dust proof, waterproof, and shock-proof, being submersible to 10 feet, and able to survive a five foot drop without damage. I have yet to put any of these theories to the test, but I have been carrying it around in my pocket with wild abandon.

This is the "Dear Panasonic" part of the post. Dear Panasonic, so far I'm quite happy with your TS1, but I do have a few comments. You already know how I feel about the noise issue and the red eye issue, but the TS1 has some additional problems. Despite being fairly heavy for its size (as one would expect), it should be possible to shoot one-handed with the TS1, but it's really not, due to a series of unfortunate design decisions. Let's compare it to the FX37:

- The FX37 has a nice, grippy, rubberized body. The TS1, by contrast, has a slippery, metallic body. You just want us to try out that "shock-proof" claim, don't you?

- The FX37 has a mode dial which is recessed on the top of the camera, leaving room on the back of the camera to place your thumb. The TS1 puts the mode dial flat on the back of the camera which not only eliminates the one spot you could put your thumb, it also makes it susceptible to accidental turning. I'm constantly pulling the camera out of my pocket and turning it on to discover that it's complaining "mode dial is not in the proper position."

- The FX37 has a raised switch which turns the camera on instantly. The TS1 has a recessed switch (which I can understand from a durability standpoint) which must be held down FOR TWO SECONDS before the camera will turn on (which I can understand only if Panasonic actually hates me and wants to make me sad).

- The zoom button and shutter button being right next to each other and exactly the same size and shape isn't great either, but that's the least of the problems.

To be fair, there are some handling improvements. For example, kudos on the dedicated video button, which allows shooting video at any time without switching the camera into a special video mode.

But basically, it's all about the ruggedness, and I can live with the shortcomings if the durability lives up to the hype. They wouldn't let me jump in the aquarium in Baltimore:

But one way or another I should have some underwater photos for you some day, assuming this thing actually works.


  1. How does one translate oneself from "camera design minutiae blogger" to "roving expert on 21st century design?" Clearly America is getting killed by the design by committee approach. You got my vote.

  2. Keep us posted on the performance of this guy. I had an FX37 as well and while I didn't have it long enough to get dust in the lens, it's significantly noisy images were enough to upset me just a little.

    Other than that, I think Panasonic has great products that defeat their Olympus and Pentax counterparts with ease and will give even the nicest Canon and Nikon cameras a run for their money.

    Looking forward to what you have to say about this guy in the coming weeks.

  3. Thanks Matthew, I'll keep you posted. One interesting thing to note is that the FX37, while having more noise at low ISO than some other cameras in its class, actually has less noise (and better detail) at high ISOs, than many other cameras in its class. (Compare it to the Canon SD790, for example.) Of course I couldn't call the high ISO performance "good," I could only call it "less sucky."

    Jonathan: If I successfully become a roving expert on 21st century design, I will definitely let you know.

  4. Scraped sky. Soooo beautifull!!!