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Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 Review

by Mike Pasini and Stephanie Boozer
Review Posted: July 12, 2012

If you can get GPS in a package as small as your smartphone, you should be able to get it in a 20x digicam, right? Panasonic thinks so.

The 20x optical zoom in the Panasonic ZS20 extends to 40x with Panasonic's Intelligent Zoom, which applies digital zoom with "minimum deterioration." And it starts from a wider-than-usual 24mm equivalent, making the Lumix ZS20 a pretty compelling travel partner.

Toss in Full HD Video and, even if you already have hundreds of shots of your favorite destinations, you have one good reason to go back.

Don't tell anybody, but the ZS20 (like the ZS10 before it) also features a touch screen, which comes in handy now and then without getting in the way. You can actually use the camera as if it weren't there, still an innovative concept in touch screens.

Last year we found the ZS10 mystifying and recommending skipping it in favor of, well, this year's model. Were we right? Well, let's see what's changed.

Look and Feel. The Panasonic ZS20 body -- which comes in black, silver, red and white -- is a little thicker and longer than a deck of cards, but not much more. Like the ZS10, it easily slips into a pocket, so don't worry about finding a shoulder strap for it. The included wrist strap is just the ticket.

Unlike a lot of compact digicams, the Panasonic ZS20 has a nice grip. It's such a nice grip that there ought to be a law requiring just such a grip on every camera. It's not too big and not ornamental, but just right, with a rubbery cover that makes it a pleasure to use.

Unfortunately, the camera is so small that the grip may position your middle finger so it blocks light from the flash to the right of your scene. The trick here is to make sure your middle finger sits low on the grip, away from the flash.

Still the Panasonic ZS20 has some design to it, losing the tacky silver highlights of the ZS10, adding texture to the grip and integrating the radio into the curve of the lens. It's a more handsome camera.

Controls. On the top panel, the very small bump where presumably the GPS radio lives serves as a platform for the stereo microphone. That provides little protection from the wind and not much separation for stereo, but the Panasonic ZS20 is a small camera to begin with.

Behind it is a GPS status indicator that blinks periodically when the Panasonic ZS20 is off to remind you GPS is on. Even with the power off, the GPS keeps polling satellites, draining the battery. You can turn GPS off or enable Airplane Mode, which disables GPS when camera power is off.

To the right of these a single speaker grill sits midway to the Mode dial. That Mode dial slightly overhangs the back so your thumb can rotate it. Next is the Shutter button surrounded by the Zoom lever.

It's not a particularly smooth zoom in either still or movie mode, but it does have two speeds in still mode if only a slow speed in movie mode.

Panasonic put the Movie Record button just to the right of the Shutter button, a smart move that avoids pushing the camera forward with a button on the back panel. You get pretty clean starts and stops with the top-mounted Movie Record button.

Just behind the Movie Record button is the Power switch. I greatly prefer a plain switch for powering the Panasonic ZS20 on and off. It's easy to find and easy to use, unlike the small recessed buttons commonly seen.

On the Panasonic ZS20's bottom panel, a metal tripod socket sits about halfway across with the card/battery door under the grip.

On the side of the camera near the grip you'll find the wrist strap eyelet and a door covering the HDMI and AV Out/Digital USB port.

The back panel is mostly taken over by the 3.0-inch touch screen LCD with 460K dots and an anti-reflective coating. To its right is the four-way navigator just above tiny Display and Quick Menu buttons. The arrow buttons on the navigator also control EV (Up), Flash (Right), Focus mode (Down), and the Self-timer (Left).

An Exposure/Map button is just above the navigator to adjust the shutter speed or aperture in ASM modes or display a map in Playback mode. And just above that is the Record/Playback switch, which is bordered by a grid of bumps that serve as a thumb grip.

The combination of a Power switch and Record/Playback switch works well for efficiently reviewing images without extending the lens, but you can't switch back to Record mode by simply half-pressing the Shutter button like you can on cameras with a Playback button.

Touch. The LCD itself is something of a control, responding to finger taps and dragging. The screen is pressure sensitive (with an eerie crunching feel when you apply force with the power off). It doesn't respond to fingernails or styli, Panasonic says, and screen protectors may require using more force.

Odd, though, that last year's ZS10 came with a stylus. I tried a Wacom pen on the screen and to my surprise it worked a lot better than my finger. The screen was much more responsive.

Turns out there was nothing special about the Wacom pen. A swizzle stick did just as well.

Operations are restricted to a certain few so it's a little like signing to a gorilla. In Playback, for example, the common gesture of swiping a finger across the screen to move to the next images doesn't actually work as you might expect from using your tablet or smart phone. Instead you have to drag your finger slowly across the screen. If you use the Zoom lever to magnify an image, you can drag your finger around the screen to pan the image (no swiping allowed, again). You can't, however, drag the navigator box's small target to move the image around.

In Record mode, look for buttons on the screen to activate a touch command. You can tap, for example, to set the focus point and exposure. Or lock Autofocus Tracking on a subject you tap. Or tap the shutter button to take the exposure. Or tap the Zoom button to move a slider up and down the right side of the screen to zoom. But there's absolutely no advantage to using the screen to zoom rather than the Zoom lever. The Zoom lever is far more responsive.

These days you expect more of a touch interface. But it has its usefulness in, say, a darkened auditorium where the camera controls are difficult to see.

Lens. The Panasonic ZS20 sports a newly-developed 20x Leica DC Vario-Elmar lens whose nano-surface coating minimizes flare and ghosting.

Its 12 elements in 10 groups (including 3 aspherical lenses with 6 aspherical surfaces and 2 ED lenses) plus the use of ultra thin lenses shortens the zoom's length enough to fit in the ZS20's slim body despite an optical range from 24mm to 480mm in 35mm equivalents.

The 4x digial zoom extends the range to 1,920mm, although Intelligent Zoom is restricted to 2x or 960mm. If that isn't close enough, buy a ticket.

Maximum apertures range from f/3.3 to f/6.4. At wide angle, they range from f/3.3 to f/8.0 and at telephoto from f/6.4 to f/8.0, a respectable range for this size sensor and that long a telephoto focal length.

The Lumix ZS20 enjoys Panasonic's Power O.I.S. optical image stabilization, but the 24mm to 480mm optical range for still shooting shifts to 28mm to 560mm for video recording.

Modes. There are 10 options on the Mode dial covering everything from the standard PASM with two Custom setups to Creative Control to 3D and the typical Scene modes (including a few like Hand Held Night Shot and HDR that aren't so typical).

PROGRAM. In Program mode, you can change exposure using the EV Compensation button.

APERTURE PRIORITY. To select an aperture, set the Mode dial to A and press the Exposure button to switch the Left and Right arrow keys into controls for the aperture. Options vary depending on focal length between f/3.3 and f/8.0.

SHUTTER PRIORITY. To select a shutter speed, set the Mode dial to S and press the Exposure button to switch the Up and Down arrow keys into controls for the shutter speed. Shutter speeds from 8 seconds to 1/2,000 second are available.

MANUAL. To set both the aperture and shutter speed, set the Mode dial to M and press the Exposure button to switch the arrow keys into controllers for the aperture (Left-Right) and shutter speed (Up-Down). Press the Shutter button halfway down to display an exposure scale indicating the approximate over or under exposure.

Apertures vary depending on focal length between f/3.3 and f/8.0. Shutter speeds from 60 seconds to 1/2,000 second are available. There is no Bulb mode.

INTELLIGENT AUTO. Set the Model dial to the red iA camera icon and press the Shutter button halfway down to prompt the Panasonic ZS20 to identify the scene and set the camera appropriately.

The Lumix ZS20 can detect people, landscapes, night scenes with or without people, night scenes without a tripod, close-ups, and sunsets. It also reads subject movement to avoid blur when the scene isn't otherwise identified.

CREATIVE CONTROL. Set the Mode dial to the palette icon and use the Up and Down arrows to select a style:

Expressive

Retro

High Key

Low Key

Sepia

Dynamic Monochrome

High Dynamic

Toy Effect

Miniature Effect

Soft Focus

SCENE. The 18 Scene modes include Portrait, Soft Skin, Scenery, Panorama Shot, Sports, Night Portrait, Night Scenery, Hand Held Night Shot, HDR, Food, Baby1, Baby2, Pet, Sunset, High Sensitivity, Glass Through, Underwater, and High Speed Video.

Hand Held Night Shot is one of my favorites. Glass Through is an unusual but very handy option for shop windows or picture windows, which often confuse focusing systems.

Hand Held Night Shot

The two Baby settings allow you to set a name and birthday for two different infants, which can then appear during playback or stamped on the recorded image using the Text Stamp feature.

Panorama Shot allows you to press the Shutter button, sweep across a scene (Panasonic advises going 180 degrees in four seconds), and press the Shutter button again to capture a panorama that is stitched in the camera. It's not a great implementation of what's come to be known as sweep panorama, after Sony's version, with its rapid fire shutter noises and sensitive sweep timing.

HDR is certainly fashionable but your scene has to be still for the three exposures to blend well. I prefer Hand Held Night Shot (which is HDR Xtreme) to HDR. And even Intelligent Dynamic for normal shooting, which I always enable (at a Standard setting).

3D. If you've got a 3D HDTV or think they will eventually be more fondly thought of than Betamax tape players, you might be interested in the 3D mode. In 3D mode, you have to take two shots, so moving subjects are not a good idea. You take the first slightly to the right side of center and the second slightly to the left. Getting too close to the subject (or too far away) spoils the fun. Bright outdoor sun is recommended. You get a JPEG rendering so you can see what you shot and the 3D image is restricted to a 2-Mp image size.

Full HD. 1920 x 1080 AVCHD at 60p. Click to download 27.5MB MTS file.

MOVIE. Formats supported are AVCHD, MP4, and QuickTime Motion JPEG for High Speed Video. Image sizes include 1,920 x 1,080 at 60p or 60i, 1,280 x 720 pixels at 60p, 1,920 x 1,080 pixels at 30 fps, 1,280 x 720 pixels at 30 fps, 640 x 480 pixels at 30 fps, and 320 x 240 pixels at 220 fps, all with stereo sound except for High Speed.

Optical zoom as well as optical image stabilization are supported during video recording including an Active mode for increased shake reduction.

A GPS option for 1,920 x 1,080 recording records location and place name information with the clip.

Slow Motion. 320 x 240 at 220 fps. Click to download 17.2MB MOV file.

High Speed Video takes a soundless 320 x 240 movie at 220 fps that playback at 30 fps (slow motion). What's nice about Panasonic's slow motion is the 4:3 aspect ratio. Many slow motion implementations only use a slice of the sensor that result in some strangely narrow aspect ratios.

Menu options are available for Continuous AF (or fixed at the start or recording) and Wind Cut to suppress wind noise.

Menu System. There are two distinct menu systems on the Panasonic ZS20, as there are on other Panasonic digicams.

The Main Menu system is accessed from the Menu/Set button in the middle of the four-way navigator. It's a button-based rather than tab-based layout (probably to facilitate touch interactions), which I find harder to navigate with the real buttons because you have to use four keys instead of just two to get around a single layer in the hierarchy.

That system addresses settings you won't want to change frequently, including Record functions like Autofocus mode (Face Detection, AF Tracking, 23-area focusing, 1-area focusing, Spot focusing), Digital Zoom, Stabilizer, and more. Movie recording options like Continuous Autofocus and Wind Cut are also accessed here. And all the GPS and Setup Options as well.

So that's four buttons: Record, Motion Picture, GPS, and Setup.

In Scene mode, you select a different Scene from the Main menu. All the Scenes have an icon of their own with a text crawl explaining them under the main icon display. And in Advanced Scene modes, the various refinements appear on a tab of their own as well.

Creative Control options are displayed in a list with a slider for some reason. The list is on the right side of the screen, each option abbreviated to no more than four characters to fit. But in the top left corner, the full name of the effect is spelled out. So you look one place for the name and the other to see what's set.

For settings that might change from shot-to-shot, the Quick Menu provides a handy menu that runs across the top of the LCD when you press the Q.Menu button below the four-way navigator.

In Program mode, for example, options include GPS, Picture Size, Sensitivity, White Balance, AF Mode, Burst, Video Recording Quality, and LCD mode. As you scroll across the top of the screen with the arrow keys, the menus pop down to display your options for each setting.

That makes it very quick to change any of those settings.

One we missed very much from other Panasonic digicams was the Aspect Ratio setting with options for 4:3, 3:2, 16:9, and 1:1. This was buried in the Main Menu system's Record settings.

Even worse than that, though, in some Record modes (like Scene and Creative Control) the aspect ratio was enforced with no menu option to change it. I had to switch to Program mode to change aspect ratio.

Storage & Battery. The Panasonic ZS20 has about 12MB of built-in memory, which will hold no more than two full resolution, high quality images. Like all Panasonic cameras, the ZS20 uses SD memory cards. It can handle SD (8MB to 2GB), SDHC (4 to 32GB), or SDXC (48 to 64GB) cards.

The Panasonic ZS20 is powered by a 3.6-volt, 895mAh, lithium-ion battery pack. The ZS20 is designed to accommodate an AC adapter which uses a dummy battery but I didn't see one listed on the Panasonic site. The included charger plug will charge the camera in Playback mode only using the included USB cable. The battery can only be charged in the camera using the USB cable with the charger/adapter.

Panasonic estimates battery life at approximately 260 pictures using the CIPA Standard, which, however, does not factor in GPS radio usage. That can very quickly drain the battery, particularly if you do not enable Airplane Mode.

GPS

Zoom Range. 24mm to 480mm to 4x digital zoom, with GPS data.

Recording location information using the Global Positioning System is not new to the Panasonic ZS series, going back to the ZS7. With the ZS10, Panasonic lost its lead among GPS cameras, and the ZS20, which improves on the ZS10, does not reclaim it.

Privacy. I've come to think of GPS recording as a real benefit for travelers and something of a nuisance for photographers who don't travel. There are many shoots in which location data should remain private (a birthday party at a private residence, for example) but you want to publish the photos on a social networking site.

Lightroom 4 can block the GPS data when sharing data to social networking sites, but it's a rare feature. Mostly the photographer has to remember to turn off GPS recording before taking the shots. It is possible to strip GPS data using a sophisticated tool like Phil Harvey's ExifTool but that's more work than the casual shooter is inclined to enjoy.

Power. Even with the power off, the GPS keeps polling satellites, draining the battery. So you can easily run your battery down with the camera off.

A GPS status indicator on the top panel blinks periodically when the camera is off to remind you GPS is on. You can either turn GPS off or enable Airplane Mode, which disables GPS when camera power is off.

GPS Fields. The GPS fields saved in the EXIF section include:

	GPSVersionID: 2.3.0.0
	GPSLatitudeRef: North
	GPSLatitude: 37 degrees 45' 16.39"
	GPSLongitudeRef: West
	GPSLongitude: 122 degrees 26' 51.29"
	GPSTimeStamp: 19:17:33
	GPSStatus: Measurement Active
	GPSMeasureMode: 2-Dimensional Measurement
	GPSDOP: 3.7
	GPSMapDatum: WGS-84 GPSProcessingMethod: GPS
	GPSAreaInformation: Twin Peaks
	GPSDateStamp: 2012:04:04

and in the Composite section:

	GPSDateTime: 2012:04:04 19:17:33Z
	GPSLatitude: 37 degrees 45' 16.39" N
	GPSLongitude: 122 degrees 26' 51.29" W
	GPSPosition: 37 degrees 45' 16.39" N, 122 degrees 26' 51.29" W

You'll note there is no entry for the number of satellites the radio was able to communicate with even though the LCD will give a count and the menu system reports them.

There's also no altitude information, which requires data from at least four satellites to calculate. It's notoriously inaccurate but something is often better than nothing.

The Area Information is, strictly speaking, not GPS data but derived from it.

Acquiring a Signal. See our sidebar for tips on getting a signal quickly. You may not be able to get one indoors at all. Some cameras and phones use accelerometers to compensate for the lack of a GPS signal but not the Panasonic ZS20.

Panasonic claims the ZS20 takes between two and three minutes under good conditions to acquire a signal from at least three satellites. That's par for the course and reflects my experience with the camera.

Position is updated periodically but Panasonic doesn't disclose how often. You can force an update (a good idea, for example, if you're moving quickly) by touching the GPS icon on the LCD. There's also a Repositioning option in the GPS menu.

This was an issue with the ZS10, with infrequent updates leading to inaccurate GPS data stored with the images.

You can also check GPS status from the GPS Setting menu option. Information includes the time when last updated, number of satellites, latitude and longitude.

A satellite icon appears on the LCD with three boxes under it to indicate signal strength. If no signal is acquired, the letters GPS are stamped over an X. If a number appears under the GPS letters, it indicates elapsed time since the last sync.

Time. You can read the Ferry Building clock (center) and get GPS data from the EXIF header.

Location Data. Panasonic notes that the names of locations and landmarks are current as of December 2011 and "will not be updated."

Location data is written to the EXIF header when GPS positioning is successful. It's not an option you can toggle.

Place names are not precise but reference the closest landmark. You can use the GPS Area Select menu option to change or add place names to your images. You can also delete all place names.

Assisted GPS. Panasonic includes GPS assist software to load the camera with predicted satellite information from data that is valid for one month, which can improve satellite acquisition times. The software is actually stored on the camera itself, and the A-GPS data is acquired over the Web and downloaded to the Panasonic ZS20.

Clock. The Auto Clock Set menu option allows you to set the camera's clock using the GPS function.

Playback. Panasonic includes a Playback method it calls GPS Area Play that filters images based on the place name or landmark you select.

You can stamp the place name location on an image using Text Stamp feature in Playback mode.

Map Display. You map the location of an image with GPS data or even just your current location with GPS enabled using the Map button. This is generally a great way to find out where you are.

But on the Panasonic ZS20 I was unable to find a way to zoom into the map. The scale showed I wasn't zoomed in and there were touch Plus and Minus buttons, not to mention the Zoom lever, but nothing changed the view from space. Compared to the Nikon AW100's street level precision, this was disappointing.

Panasonic suggests you can get more detailed maps by copying map data from the included DVD to your memory card. But I couldn't find the Map Tool on the DVD (at least for the Mac). The manual notes Mac OS X v10.4 and up are supported as well as Windows XP (32-bit) SP3, Vista (32-bit) SP2, and Windows 7 (32- and 64-bit) SP1.

GPS Log. I was disappointed to discover that the Panasonic ZS20 does not log GPS tracking data. So you can't map your trip from log data.

Evaluation. This isn't the most robust GPS feature set I've seen, clearly inferior, in fact, to the Nikon AW100. No log, cumbersome or useless mapping, missing satellite data all count against it. But it's enough GPS to place your images on the map, and build a rough track from that.

 

Shooting with the Panasonic ZS20

To cut to the chase, I found the Panasonic ZS20 a frustrating camera to use.

ZS7 Image

 

ZS10 Image

 

ZS20 Image

Panasonic has always recognized that changing aspect ratios is part of the fun of composition. Some models came with an aspect ratio switch on the barrel of the lens, in fact. Others provided a Q.Menu option. But the ZS20, which does let you select among 4:3, 3:2, 16:9, and 1:1, hides that function, making it a real nuisance to change.

Carrying the Panasonic ZS20 around wasn't a problem at all. I just slipped it into a coat pocket on my way out the door.

Startup time was not exactly swift on the ZS20 at 2.4 seconds, in fact a little slower than the ZS10's 1.9 seconds, but no real complaint for a design that has to extend the lens (and a big one at that).

Busy Bee. Nice dynamic range in this image as well.

Autofocus was still quick, though. Seems like the days of complaining about shutter lag are behind us even for compact digicams.

Getting a GPS signal wasn't a problem outdoors. But the ZS20 failed to sync inside a car, even holding it against the window.

I did have difficulty viewing the LCD in sunlight and with no viewfinder, there was no recovery from that except to shade the LCD with my hand.

Flash. At ISO 800?

Some of the exposure decisions the ZS20 made had me scratching my head. The gallery image of some greenery is actually a flash shot -- but at ISO 800! Seems if you're going to fire the flash, you can use a less noisy ISO, even if the noise isn't too bad.

Applause, though, for moderating the flash at that close range. Even with the waxy leaves, it's hard to tell the flash fired.

The straw hat is another ISO 800 shot, greatly distorted by full wide angle. That was taken on a bright afternoon in subdued indoor light.

Color. Reds on fire.

In bright sun, the Panasonic ZS20 used ISO 100. And the handheld night shot was ISO 1,250. Those choices make sense.

I liked how the ZS20 handled during movie captures. The 20x optical zoom was ample and it was easy to start and stop clips with the Record button on top.

Noise suppression was a big problem with the ZS10, which obliterated detail. It isn't as bad on the Panasonic ZS20, fortunately, but it is something of a Panasonic bias, apparently. Or I've been hanging out with sharper cameras lately.

See our test results below, followed by pro/con and conclusion for our final take on the Panasonic ZS20!

 

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 Lens Quality


Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Slightly soft at upper left
Tele: Sharp at center
Tele: Mild blurring, upper left corner

Sharpness: The wide-angle end of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20's zoom shows a small amount of blurring in the corners of the frame compared to center, though blurring doesn't extend far into the image area. At telephoto, performance is about the same, with only mild blurring in the corners. Good performance here.


Wide: Moderate barrel distortion; noticeable
Tele: Moderately low complex distortion, slightly visible

Geometric Distortion: Barrel distortion at the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20's wide-angle setting is moderate at 0.7%. Though this is considered about average, it is noticeable in many images. At full telephoto, complex distortion is about 0.1%. While this number is low, the distortion is somewhat noticeable, due to the pronounced barrel-like upward bend of the target lines toward the edges of the frame, which enhances the slight dip of the pincushion distortion.


Wide: Moderate but bright
Tele: Also quite bright

Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle is moderate in terms of pixel count, though pixels are a quite bright. At telephoto, the effect is more pronounced, with bright blue pixels that cover a larger area in the black target marks.


Macro
Macro with Flash

Macro: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20's Macro mode captures strong detail with relatively good sharpness at the center of the frame, though blurring in the corners and along the edges does encroach somewhat far into the main image area (a common limitation among consumer digital cameras in macro mode). Color balance with Auto WB is a bit warm here, and exposure a little uneven on the left side of the frame. Minimum coverage area is 1.58 x 1.18 inches (40 x 30mm), which is quite good. The location of the flash and the close range result in a very dark, uneven exposure, as the flash is partially blocked by the lens. Thus, you'll want to stick with the external lighting for shots this close.


 

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 Viewfinder Accuracy


Wide: LCD Monitor
Tele: LCD Monitor

Viewfinder Accuracy: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20's LCD monitor showed about 99% coverage at wide-angle and at telephoto. Good results here, especially considering the distortion.


 

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 Image Quality


Color: The Lumix DMC-ZS20 produced fairly good color, though bright reds and blues, and even some greens, are pumped a little high. A few shifts in hue are also present practically all around, including the slight yellow to green shift we've come to expect from Panasonics, though purples and deep blues are closest to their accurate hue. Dark skintones show a big push toward orange, while lighter skin tones are almost dead-on. Overall fair results, just a little more hue inaccuracy than average.


Auto WB:
Close, but a bit magenta
Incandescent WB:
Quite warm
 
Manual WB:
Very good

Incandescent: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20's Manual white balance handled our incandescent lighting much better than the Incandescent and Auto settings, which both produced noticeable color shifts. Auto was a little closer to accurate, but with an overriding magenta tint. Incandescent mode resulted in a very warm cast.


Horizontal: 2,000 lines
Vertical: 1,900 lines

Resolution: Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 2,000 lines per picture height in the horizontal direction, and about 1,900 lines in the vertical. Extinction of the pattern occurred at around 2,400 to 2,500 lines per picture height.


Wide: Bright
Tele: Just slightly dim
Auto Flash

Flash: Our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) shows bright results at the rated wide-angle distance of 16 feet, though the Lumix DMC-ZS20 boosted ISO to 640. At the rated telephoto distance of 8.5 feet, results were just slightly dim, even with another ISO boost to 500.

Auto flash produced bright results in our indoor portrait scene, retaining a little of the ambient light despite a somewhat quick shutter speed of 1/60 second at ISO 500. Shot taken at ~5 feet (~1.5m) on a stable tripod.


100
200
400
800
1,600
3,200

ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail already appears slightly smudged at ISO 100, with a small amount of visible noise. Noise grain patterns continue to become more visible as ISO increases, as does the camera's efforts at noise suppression, which interfere with detail. That said, a fair amount of fine detail is still discernible at ISO 800, and even at ISO 1,600. By 3,200, chroma noise, noise suppression, and grain pattern effectively eliminate finer details. See Printed section below for more on how this affects printed images.


Print Quality: ISO 100 images are usable at 13x19 inches, but softness due to aggressive noise and noise suppression keep prints from looking good until size is reduced to 11x14 inches.

ISO 200 shots are also good at 11x14 inches, if only slightly softer.

ISO 400 images are usable at 11x14, but look better at 8x10.

ISO 800 images are good at 8x10 too.

ISO 1,600 shots are better at 5x7 inches.

ISO 3,200 shots are too soft at 5x7, but look decent at 4x6 inches.

Overall a very disappointing performance from the Panasonic ZS20. Though we say in the review that it's improved, our Print Quality assessment shows the improvement doesn't result in better prints. We expect a lot more from Panasonic, from this line in particular; and we expect more from a 14-megapixel sensor.


 

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 Performance


Startup Time: The Lumix DMC-ZS20 takes about 2.4 seconds to power on and take a shot. That falls among the average for its class.


Shutter Lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is very good, at 0.26 second at wide angle and 0.24 second at full telephoto. Prefocus shutter lag is 0.018 second, which is among the fastest out there.


Cycle Time: Cycle time is also good, as the DMC-ZS20 captures a frame every 0.66 seconds in single-shot mode. The Lumix ZS20 offers a number of burst modes, with rates up to 10 frames per second for 10 frames at full resolution, and up to 60 frames per second at reduced resolution. We tested the 40 fps mode, and it indeed captured 5-megapixel frames at the rated speed.


Flash Recycle: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20's flash recycles in about 5.2 seconds after a full-power discharge, about average.


Low Light AF: The camera's AF system was able to focus down to just above the 1/8 foot-candle light level without AF assist enabled, though the camera was able to focus in complete darkness with the AF assist lamp enabled.


USB Transfer Speed: Connected to a computer or printer with USB 2.0, the Lumix DMC-ZS20's download speeds are moderately fast. We measured 6,856 KBytes/sec.


Battery Life: The Lumix DMC-ZS20's battery life has a CIPA rating of 260 shots per charge, which is a little lower than average for a compact.


 

In the Box

The retail box for the Lumix ZS20 includes the following items:

There was no Mac software on the DVD, although Panasonic does reference Mac versions of its GPS and mapping tools.

 

Recommended Accessories

 

Panasonic ZS20 Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Megazoom range in a compact camera
  • Nano surface coated optics
  • Full HD video at up to 60p
  • Great grip for a small camera
  • GPS location recording
  • Touchscreen controls help in darkness
  • HDR and Hand Held Night Shot Scene modes
  • PASM exposure modes
  • Sharp corners
  • Good, close macro mode
  • Fast shutter lag
  • Fast cycle time and burst modes
  • Good Auto White Balance performance
  • Good high-contrast resolution
  • Noticeable barrel distortion at wide angle
  • Moderate but bright chromatic aberration
  • Low-contrast image areas are plagued by noise and noise suppression
  • Disappointing print quality
  • Flash is too close to the grip
  • Aspect ratios accessed only in the long menu system
  • No GPS logging
  • No raw mode
  • No video cable included
  • Touch screen is rudimentary
  • Battery can only be charged in the camera
  • GPS data omits altitude and number of satellites
  • Mapping function requires SD card space for detail

 

The Panasonic ZS20 looks so much like any other pocket camera that you might walk right by it as it sits on the digicam shelf at your nearest Big Store. You'd never know it packs a 20x zoom with GPS and touch screen control.

Last year we recommended skipping the ZS10 in favor of the next model. And here we are. The touch screen still leaves us flat, the GPS feature is not among the better implementations, but sufficient for recording location. I did like the 20x zoom in the rather nicely-designed body, but I was mystified by the rush to ISO 800 even on flash shots.

The Panasonic ZS20 is an improvement over the ZS10, and the ZS30 will no doubt deliver improvements over the ZS20. Meanwhile, though, there are other small megazoom options that do more useful things with GPS mapping and have better image quality. We really had high hopes to return with an enthusiastic recommendation once again for Panasonic's formerly excellent travel zoom line, but regret that we have to add the caveat that the ZS20 is fine so long as you don't plan to enlarge beyond 11x14 inches. There are a great many folks who fit that description, but more picky shooters will want to look elsewhere.