Concept: 3 out of 5
Execution: 3 out of 5
Yeah, but: The best gets even better accessorized.
The Long Version: English is full of three-word phrases that have special meaning and significance, but few are more touching than "Free With Purchase". Panasonic Canada has taken it upon themselves to release a silicone skin and floating strap for the TS3, and for a while was even giving it out for free to people who had already bought the camera. How cool is that?
Officially called the "DMW-TS3 Kit", there's almost no information about this accessory bundle online, and what little there is all seems to be from Canada. Sorry, rest of the world – but perhaps there's something better scheduled for you.
The silicone skin is that translucent milky-white that makes me wish I had never heard Ray Beschizza say the phrase 'the colour of semen'. Otherwise it's very nicely made, fitting the camera perfectly with crisp cut-outs for the controls, LCD, and lens. The material adds tremendously to the grippiness of the camera and takes it even farther by putting circular depressions across the hand grip.
The floating strap is fabric-covered neoprene that's orange on the outside and blue on the inside, nicely complimenting the most popular camera colours. (If you bought their dirty-lipstick-red colour, well, what did you expect?) When the camera hits the water the strap is plainly visible and stands about an inch above the surface, making it easy to grab. It doesn't tighten down the way the string wrist strap does, but it fits my average-sized wrist snugly and the broad band keeps it in place.
Naturally, there are a couple more things that need to be said. The silicone skin blocks the camera's battery and card slot, which should help to keep sand way from the locking mechanism, but it needs to be pulled aside for access. It also traps water beneath it, so it needs to be completely removed if the camera has been immersed. The grippiness of the silicone also makes it more difficult to put in a case or a pocket, so even though it adds shock and scratch protection, I may not use it most of the time.
The floating strap, which stays wet for a really remarkably long time, is too big to pass through the skin's little cutout for the attachment point. Instead it uses a quick-release clip on its tether; if the standard strap used the same clip life would be easier, but instead the strings need to be unlooped from the camera the hard way. It's tough to casually switch back and forth, but the floater is certainly worth putting on before getting into the canoe. The other alternative is to daisy-chain the floating strap to the original one, which is what I'll do when I just want to throw the camera into the pool.
I have to say that I'm really happy with the strap and case, and it's worth checking with your local camera store to see if they're offering it as well. Do be warned, though, that some stores would rather sell these accessory kits for $30 each. I can't blame them, and it's a good kit – the floating strap is the best I've seen – but I really was handed mine for free just because I'd already bought the matching camera. Naturally, Panasonic's website makes no mention of any special offer for present or future owners of the TS3; I'll add more detailed information if I can get it.
updated december 2011: not everything that I write can withstand the test of time. When I wrote this Panasonic was providing this for free from a few special retailers, but unfortunately that program has come to an end. I can still say that this is the best floating strap that I've seen, and very good silicone skin, but whether that's worth the $30 that these kits now retail for is a personal matter. I'd probably have bought it, just to have the dedicated accessories, but they do have their specific niche.
last updated 15 dec 2011