Rugged cameras have been around for years, but the new generation of steel-skinned snappers is stepping things up on the feature front – and the Panasonic FT3 is a perfect example. Not only can this compact camera take a bashing and a splashing, it comes with GPS, a compass, an altimeter and even a barometer.

Location location location

This clutch of sensory wizardry embeds your snaps with location info that goes way beyond mere geotagging: years later, you’ll be able to view an FT3 photo and know not only where it was taken, but which direction you were facing, what the air pressure was like and how high above sea level you were standing. You’ll also be told about nearby landmarks.

Do you really need all this info? Well, that’s something only you can decide – but if you do, the FT3 does a decent job of providing it. As with most GPS-toting gizmos, you’ll need to make sure you’ve got a satellite lock before taking geotagged photos, and this can take a few minutes, but you can help avoid this by leaving the GPS active while the camera is powered off. Clever move, Panasonic.

The FT3 is, naturally, a tough cookie. You can drop it a couple of metres onto a hard surface, dunk it in up to 12 metres of water, freeze it to -10 degrees C and shower it in dust or sand and it simply doesn’t care. And it works well if you want to take underwater shots, with buttons that actually feel responsive to the touch – unusual for a sub-aqua snapper.

Tough but still sharp

We were suspecting the FT3’s rugged build might come at some expense to the photo quality, but that’s not the case: shots look highly detailed and the camera keeps noise under control most of the time, and the 4.6x optical zoom is impressive considering the lens is completely internal.

Colours are realistic, metering is pretty accurate and the autofocus is swift, and the menu system – particularly the Q.Menu which appears on-screen while you’re framing your shots – makes using the FT3 a breeze.

There’s also a full HD movie mode, with Motion JPEG and AVCHD formats supported and a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. Video quality isn’t the sharpest and cleanest you’ll see from a compact camera, but it’s certainly more than serviceable – and you can film underwater too, which as a bonus feature is pretty darn impressive.

Stuff says... 

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT3 review

One tough son of a gun, but backs that up with first class features and strong performance