No camera looks more rugged than the FT5, the latest in Panasonic's rufty-tufty compact family. Some of the plastic parts of the case feel a tad flimsy but they're offset by the soid engineering of the metal front plate and thick rim around the lens. The FT5 feels good in the hand, considering the corners have been sheared off and the controls kept almost flush to the rear panel.
Similarly specced to the Nikon AW110, it'll swim down to 13 metres, survive drops of 2 metres and stay active in temperatures of -10 centigrade. The Panasonic adds an altimeter and hydro-barometer (for scuba-depth tracking) to the standard GPS awareness, with Wi-Fi and contactless NFC image transfer. It's the NFC feature that's most user-friendly; with the help of a free smartphone app, single pictures can be transfered wirelessly from the camera to a phone by bumping the two together.
A fairly substantial metal-effect door keeps the connections dry and free from other irritants, held shut with a pair of sliding latches. We didn't experience any major issues with it opening accidentally, but it's not the most refined system we've come across. More sturdy is the metal loop that will allow you to dangle the FT5 from your rucksack.
Despite a few holes here and there (that'll be the stereo microphones and a speaker), the FT5 came through our aquatic assault course without conking out or steaming up. It also dealt well with rapid changes in its environment, unflustered by sudden submergence or the brilliance of the sun as it came up for air.
While picture quality is admirable (see below), the FT5's strongest feature is its video quality. Ramping up the settings to 1080p at 50fps, the resulting footage is within touching distance of the very best. Detail and colour reproduction are bang on, and the smoothness gained by the higher framerate than its rivals really pays off when you're shooting fast-moving subjects, or if you're on the move yourself.
The FT5 is keen to pick up as much colour from your scene as possible, leaning slightly towards saturation but without looking unrealistic. Viewed up close, you'll notice a mottled effect to edges and details but this comes across as quite organic and natural when images are printed or viewed at typical sizes. Click on the sample image above for a higher-res view.
There's very little to choose between the FT5 and Nikon's AW110. If you're deciding between the two, much of the decision will come down to the importance of video (Panasonic wins) vs. still image quality (Nikon wins), and overall toughness (the Nikon wins again, by a broken nose).