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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ20

By: Dave Etchells

Panasonic introduces a five-megapixel digicam with the high quality optics of a 12x Leica lens.

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Page 12:Test Results & Conclusion

Review First Posted: 12/17/2004

Test Results

In keeping with my standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only my key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ20 sample pictures page.

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As with all Imaging Resource product tests, I encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the camera performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how the Panasonic DMC-FZ20 's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.

  • Color: Generally good color, with a slight bias toward yellow. The Panasonic FZ20 produced good to very good color in most cases, although color balance was never what I would call dead-on accurate. (In most cases though, I suspect that any white balance deviations would be too small for the average user to notice.) I typically noticed a warm cast with the Auto white balance setting, a warmer cast with the Daylight setting, and a cool, magenta cast with the Manual setting. Where the FZ15 that I tested previously tended to have a slight pink emphasis, the FZ20 tended to have a slightly yellow one. As noted though, I suspect that most users won't notice the minor color casts. Of greater importance, under the difficult Incandescent lighting of our Indoor Portrait test, the camera's Auto and Manual white balance settings both produced very good results. (Most cameras' Auto white balance systems have a very hard time with this subject.)

  • Exposure: Generally accurate exposure, and an effective contrast adjustment. (Very similar to the performance of the FZ15.) The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ20's exposure system performed well, accurately exposing most of my studio shots. The camera only slightly underexposed the "Sunlit" Portrait, requiring a small positive exposure boost to brighten the midtones. Most impressive was that the camera's contrast-adjustment control worked well with the deliberately awful lighting of my Outdoor Portrait test, the resulting images holding highlight detail much better than most.

  • Resolution/Sharpness: High resolution, 1,300-1,400 lines of "strong detail." The Panasonic DMC-FZ20 performed fairly well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 1,000 lines per picture height horizontally, and about 800 lines vertically. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,300 lines vertically, 1,400 lines horizontally. "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,700 lines.

  • Image Noise: Generally good noise levels, relatively little loss of subject detail. The Panasonic DMC-FZ20's noise is low but detectable at ISOs 80 and 100. At ISO 200, it becomes more evident (although still within what I'd consider to be an acceptable range), but some detail is lost to the anti-noise processing, in areas of subtle contrast. At ISO 400, the noise is more pronounced, as is the detail loss. Not the worst I've seen, but I personally wouldn't use the FZ20 at ISO 400 unless it was the last resort for capturing an important image. Overall, fairly typical of the noise of the current generation of 5-megapixel cameras, somewhat noisier than the 4-megapixel FZ15.

  • Closeups: A very small macro area with great detail, though a dim exposure. Flash has trouble up close, and is blocked by the lens. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ20 performed very well in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of only 1.46 x 1.10 inches (37 x 28 millimeters). Resolution was very high, and fine detail strong in the dollar bill, coins, and brooch. Details were softer on the coins and brooch due to the close shooting range, as well as from some lens distortion in the corners of the frame. (Most digicams produce images with soft corners when shooting in their Macro modes.) The image was a little dark, as the camera was so close to the subject that the lens blocked some of the lighting (a macro ring light might prove more effective here). The Panasonic FZ20's flash is ill-placed for shooting at such close range, as the large lens blocks most of the lighting from it. (Again, a macro ring light may be the best option, but definitely plan on using some sort of external lighting for your closest macro shots with the FZ20.)

  • Night Shots: Pretty good low-light performance, with good results under average city street lighting at night, and darker. Noise is moderate to high, but overall color is good. Good low-light autofocus performance. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ20 produced clear, bright, usable images down to the 1/16 foot-candle (0.67 lux) limit of my test at the 400 ISO setting, with good color. At ISOs 80 and 100, images were bright down to the 1/4 foot-candle (2.7 lux) light level, and at ISO 200, images were bright as low as 1/8 foot-candle (1.3 lux). The FZ20's autofocus system worked quite well at low light, as it managed to focus down to a bit below 1/4 foot-candle with its autofocus-assist light turned off, and in more or less complete darkness (on nearby objects) when the AF-assist light was enabled. Since average city street lighting at night equates to about one foot-candle (11 lux), the DMC-FZ20 should easily handle urban night scenes as well as subjects a fair bit darker. Noise was moderate in most cases, but high at the ISO 400 setting. The large blotches from noise and the associated noise-reduction processing gave the long-exposure ISO 400 images an almost painterly look, blurring details slightly in the process.

  • Viewfinder Accuracy: Excellent accuracy with both the electronic optical viewfinder and LCD monitor. The Panasonic DMC-FZ20's electronic optical viewfinder (EVF) was very accurate, showing about 99 percent of the final image area at wide angle and telephoto zoom settings. The LCD monitor also performed well, since it's essentially the same view on a larger screen. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the DMC-FZ20's LCD monitor and EVF both performed very well here.

  • Optical Distortion: High barrel distortion at wide angle, but virtually no pincushion. Low chromatic aberration, and good corner-to-corner sharpness. Geometric distortion on the DMC-FZ20 was high at the wide-angle end, where I measured approximately 1.01 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared quite a bit better, as I measured approximately 0.01 percent pincushion distortion (about three pixels' worth) there. Chromatic aberration was relatively low, showing only fairly faint coloration around high-contrast objects in the corners of the frame. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.) While the corners of the frame got softer at maximum telephoto, the FZ20's images were generally much sharper from corner to corner than those of most cameras I test, testimony to the quality of its Leica optics. (Oddly though, I did see more flare in the corners of the res target images than I did with the FZ15, which uses the same lens.)

  • Shutter Lag and Cycle Time: Reasonably good shutter response, particularly for a long-zoom model, and very good shot to shot performance. The FZ20 for the most part does pretty well in the speed department, provided that you avoid its 9-area autofocus mode. When operating in its 9-area AF mode, the FZ20's shutter lag is positively sluggish, ranging from 1.35 - 1.48 seconds. (Slow even when compared to other long-zoom digicam models.) In any other AF mode though, the shutter lag ranges from 0.53 - 0.99 second as the zoom is varied from wide angle to telephoto. The lag for wide angle focal lengths is quite short, while that for telephoto focal lengths is on the long side of average, but still not bad for a long-zoom digicam. Manual focus lag time is really excellent, at 0.08 second, and prefocused, it's positively blazing, at 0.038 second. Cycle times are very fast. In manual-focus single-shot mode with a sufficiently fast card (we tested with a Lexar 32x SD card), it can capture large/fine JPEG files to the memory card nonstop, at about 0.86 second per shot. With slower cards, it'll make you wait a little every 3-4 shots, but it's still very fast. So... If you avoid its 9-area AF mode (which is really best suited to landscapes or still life shots), the Panasonic FZ20 is a reasonably responsive camera, with excellent cycle times and buffer capacity. And, if you can live with manual focus or prefocusing prior to your shots, the FZ20 would be great for fast-paced action.

  • Battery Life: Good battery life. With a worst-case run time (capture mode with the rear LCD turned on) of 129 minutes and a run time of three and a half hours in playback mode, the Panasonic FZ20's battery life is better than most. I'd still advise purchasing a second battery to keep as a spare, but for many users, the FZ20's run time will be plenty.

 

Conclusion

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Together with its 4-megapixel sibling the FZ15, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ20 is the clearest indication yet that Panasonic has fully arrived as a serious player in the digital camera market. The Panasonic FZ20 has an attractive case, a nice "feel" in the hand, an excellent image-stabilized lens, great versatility, and very good image quality. If you avoid its 9-area autofocus mode, it has reasonably fast shutter response for a long-zoom digicam, and its shot to shot cycle times are excellent. Image-wise, about my only quibble is that it tends to render skin tones a bit more yellow-looking than in real life, but I suspect most users wouldn't notice the relatively slight cast. Rather than repeat all my personal observations again here, I'll just refer interested readers back up to the "User's Report" section of this review. Bottom line, the DMC-FZ20 is a very capable camera that conveys a distinct sense of pro quality in a high-end consumer digicam, with an excellent 12x zoom lens, and optical image stabilization to boot. With a full range of exposure control modes, including a full manual setting and no less than nine preset "Scene" modes, the DMC-FZ20 is an approachable camera for both novices and more experienced users alike. Recommended, and yet another Dave's Pick (as one of the best digital cameras on the market) for Panasonic in the long-zoom category.

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