The Lumix DMC-FT1 is Panasonic's answer to the Olympus mju Tough-8000. The FT1 is a waterproof, shockproof and coldproof snapper that's still smart enough to dangle from your wrist at a cocktail party. It's well-specced, too, with a 4.6x wideangle zoom and a 1,280x720-pixel resolution high-definition movie mode, although, for around £280, you're entitled to expect some decent features.
The FT1 doesn't have the dainty, precise feel of Panasonic's other metal-bodied compact cameras, but it's still pretty smart. It certainly feels tough, and, while you wouldn't want to drop it on purpose, it's comforting to know it will probably survive if you do.
The 3m depth rating is pretty handy, too, even if it isn't quite in the same league as the 10m-rated Tough-8000 or Canon's new PowerShot D10. You might want to choose one of these two for any serious diving, but, if you're just having a swim, the FT1's fine.
It's good in the cold, too, and will keep going right down to a teeth-chattering -10°C, so it's just as good on Alpine slopes as it is under tropical seas.
The pictures from the 12-megapixel sensor are crisper than the Tough-8000's, and the zoom range is usefully wider, going all the way from 28mm equivalent to 128mm. And, if you want to capture movies as well as stills, you can do so in glorious HD... well, 1,280x720-pixel resolution HD, anyway. You get a choice of AVCHD or Motion JPEG, too. The FT1's not a bad little movie camera, even allowing you to zoom during filming (most compacts don't).
So it's a clear winner, right?
Well, not quite. There are just a couple of things wrong with this camera. First, it's not tough enough. These ruggedised cameras cost a packet and, for that, you're going to want one hard enough to bang nails in with. That'll be the Tough-8000, then, not this. The Tough-8000 has its own faults, but it's as tough as hell, diving much deeper and surviving far worse than this will.
Secondly, the FT1's controls are cramped enough when you're working the camera with your bare hands, but, when you put on a pair of gloves, they're trickier still. And why is the mode dial so small? Why couldn't it be nearer the edge to make it easier to spin with your thumb? Why use slippery chrome for the buttons, and hard-to-see embossed icons? It looks smart, but it's hardly practical in the kind of environments this camera's designed to work in.
The worst thing, though, is the fact that the shutter button and the zoom button are right next to each other on the top of the camera, and they're even the same size and shape. It's far too easy to press the wrong one.
The Lumix DMC-FT1 doesn't really shine in any one particular area, but it does cram in quite a few desirable features, including water and shock resistance, a decent 4.6x wideangle zoom and an HD AVCHD movie mode. Its design is rather plain and unappealing, though, and its ergonomics leave something to be desired.
Edited by Nick Hide