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Panasonic LUMIX DMC-ZS20 Review
Tuesday, May 1, 2012  
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 (or TZ30 outside North America) is the latest travel-zoom pocket digital camera. In a nutshell, the camera is the thinnest one available with a 20x optical zoom. But there's much more than zoom-zoom here, the ZS20 has 1080/60p video cababilities, built-in GPS, a 3-inch touchscreen and a new 14.1 megapixel MOS sensor. But, how does all that tech talk really translate into everyday use, especially for those of us looking for a camera as a travel companion?

The ZS20 replaced the ZS10, which replaced the previous ZS7. I should mention that we have used a ZS7 at CruiseReport.com for a few years and it has become dear to our hearts. We LOVE the ZS7. Unfortunately, we dropped our ZS7 while on assignment in Grand Cayman and it did suffer damage. It survived, but functions a little strangely from time to time. So, we have been looking for a suitable replacement ever since. I think we may have found it in the ZS20.

The ZS20 retails for $349 and is available in black, silver, red, brown and white. There is a ZS19 basically the same camera sans GPS for only $299. For my money, I would save the $50 and get the ZS19 since I never use the GPS function.

DESIGN

Instead of designing a brand new model from the ground up, Panasonic chose to evolve the existing ZS series, so the ZS20 does not look or feel that much different than the ZS10. They added a rubber-feel grip which gives the camera a classier feel and the lens extends a bit farther than the ZS10, and there is a small hump in the body above the lens. The mode dial and all other controls are virtually identical to the ZS10.

The lens is one of the strongest features of this camera. It provides a 35mm equivalent range of 24mm to 480mm. The zoom ring which surrounds the shutter button delivers smooth and relatively quiet operation, even when shooting video. Panasonic's O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabilization) works flawlessly and even makes handheld shots at 20x possible, even though a tripod at full zoom will provide much better results.



Even though the CMOS image sensor is identical in megapixels to the ZS10 at 14.1, it has been moderately upgraded. While the CMOS sensor delivers excellent video quality, void of bright streaking (sunlight reflecting on the ocean), it does not quite match the sharpness of the ZS7's CCD sensor when it comes to still photos. Nevertheless, the new Intelligent Resolution algorithm employed by Panasonic does a pretty good job of eliminating the blur. I think I would trade a fraction of photo sharpness for the improvement in the video quality.

You can connect to the ZS20 via a proprietary (damn) mini-USB port or a mini-HDMI port. I am not sure why Panasonic chose the non-standard USB connector. That means I now have to carry yet another cable with me when I travel. On the upside, the new USB port allows for the battery to be charged in-camera when the cable is connected and the camera turned off. This means I don't have to carry a separate battery charger when I travel, so it is basically a wash.

The 3-inch touchscreen LCD, has a resolution of 460k dots. The screen is very bright and even visible in bright sunlight conditions. The touchscreen is responsive, perhaps too much so. I am not a huge fan of touchscreens on small cameras. I am constantly accidentally hitting the screen with my thumb which invokes the touch focus. I would prefer it if Panasonic would allow for the touchscreen to be turned off. Panasonic no longer shows to offer a separate battery charger for the battery, but I found the one for my ZS7 works fine for those times when I want to charge an extra battery outside of the camera.

FUNCTION

Panasonic cameras are very easy to learn and use. Every button and switch on the ZS20 is where you would expect it to be. The mode dial on top of the camera is easy to read, has a good feel and when you spin it, the LCD displays a large representation of the mode you are selecting. That is a real benefit when you are in a dark room and cannot see the mode dial.

MENU

Panasonic's menu system is by far the easiest to learn and use of any camera we have tested. Even though it is more graphical than the one on our ZS7, the layout is virtually identical. So, if you are upgrading from an older Panasonic, you will feel right at home. The text of the menus seems to read more clearly than on earlier models. The main menu divides sub-menus into four sections, record (photo) settings, motion picture, GPS and system. Each f these main sections has its own sub-menus which appear in a list. If the list is divided into multiple pages, you can move from page to page using the zoom toggle switch.


ZS20 menus are logical and minimal

AUTO MODES


There are several automatic modes that are excellent for shooting snapshots in a variety of environments. In fact, most of our photos on CruiseReport.com are shot in either iA (Intelligent Auto) or P (Program) modes. iA mode will basically attempt to figure out everything for you and keep you from making a mistake. It works as well as any camera we have tested. And, Panasonic allows you to even turn off the flash when using iA, a great feature for times when you want iA, but need to force the flash to be OFF (say, in a museum or cathedral).


The camera has many "scene" modes that make adjustments to aperture, exposure, ISO, etc. based on specific shooting conditions (e.g. "sunset", "landscape", etc.). When the camera is in iA mode, it may attempt to select one of these Scene modes for you to get the best shot. Of course, there is an SCN option on the mode dial that allows you to select a scene mode manually.


Mode dial changes are temporarily displayed on the LCD screen

The Program Auto mode offers another level of manual control by making all of the settings automatically, but allowing you to tweak things like exposure, aperture, ISO, etc. In my opinion, the iA and P modes will cover you in 90% of travel photo situations.

MANUAL MODES

SCENE MODES

The ZS20 offers 18 scene modes that you can select by rotating the mode dial to SCN, then choosing from the icons on the LCD. The available scene modes are as follows:

  • Portrait
  • Soft Skin
  • Scenery (Landscape)
  • Panorama
  • Sports
  • Night Portrait
  • Night Scenery
  • Handheld Night Shot
  • HDR (High Definition)
  • Food
  • Baby 1 (can display age with photo)
  • Baby 2 (can display age with photo)
  • Pet (can display age with photo)
  • Sunset
  • High Sensitivity
  • Glass through
  • Underwater*
  • High Speed Video
I am not much for gimmickry, but I have to admit, the Panorama mode won me over. It is very cool for doing pan shots of areas that are simply too wide to get into the already wide 24mm lens scope. I did get some banding of the blue sky on outdoor shots, but not all the time. It might have to do with how rapidly you move the camera from left to right. I tried several times to use the HDR feature, but with little success. It might be better to use bracketing and do your HDR processing in Photoshop or other software. The Sunset mode seemed to work very well too.


A mode for just about every scene imaginable

*Underwater requires a waterproof enclosure.

CREATIVE CONTROL

In the Creative Control mode you can choose from 10 additional filters/effects and this is where the camera gets a little too gimmicky for me. Most of the modes like Expressive, Retro, HKey, LKey, Sepia, Monochrome, etc. can be done in post processing with a photo editing program. The Toy and Miniature options are fun to play with, but how often are you really going to use something like that?

CUSTOM MODE (C1 and C2)

The ZS20 offers two Custom Modes on the mode dial, with the C2 actually allowing you to choose from 3 custom modes, so in effect, you have 4 custom modes available to you. This is actually a very cool feature and one that I found myself using quite often.

In my case, I wanted to be able to use the mode dial to select Panorama on C1. So, I simply programmed C1 to be the Panorama scene mode.

To program a custom mode:

  • Set the camera using the mode dial and any other settings (WB, ISO, AF, Face Recognition, Flash, etc.)
  • Click the Menu button
  • Click the Setup icon
  • Scroll to the Cust. Set Mem.
  • Choose the Custom (C1, C2-1, C2-2, C2-3) label to record to
  • Press Set and that's it!

I used C1 for Panorama, C2-1 for High Speed Video and C2 for Program Mode with 5 frame per second Burst mode. Very cool!

In spite of having a pretty responsive touch screen, Panasonic allows you to control everything on the camera using physical buttons. I personally like that. There is a 4-way control switch with Menu/Set switch in the center. A DISP button, Q-Menu/Delete/Cancel button and Exposure/Map button on the back of the camera. The shutter release, zoom toggle and movie record buttons are all on top of the camera, where they belong as is the mode dial and On/Off switch.

WHAT I LIKE


  • Very fast operation
  • Excellent video quality (1080p/60fps)
  • Custom Modes
  • In-camera charging through USB
  • Simple menu system
  • Excellent iA operation
  • Excellent build quality, good feel
  • 24mm wide angle lens
  • Panorama mode

WHAT I DON'T LIKE (OR WOULD LIKE TO SEE CHANGED)

  • Proprietary USB cable
  • Needs ability to turn off touch screen
  • GPS gobbles up battery life
  • Needs to save in RAW format
  • Flash/Indoor photos could be better

SUMMARY

There is a lot to like about the DMC-ZS20. Of course, there are things I would like to see added and a few things they could do away with. But overall, it is as good or better than just about any camera I have tested in this category for the purpose of a travel camera. The bottom line is that I just ordered a new ZS20 for us to use here at CruiseReport.com, so that says something.


Reviewed by Chris Dikmen
Managing Editor of CruiseReport.com





SAMPLE PHOTOS
Click on any of the thumbnails below to view a larger image



24mm Wide Angle (Below)
40X Intelligent Zoom (Below)




Panorama Shots (below)

















SAMPLE VIDEO





     
     
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10 Comments
 
TRAVEL TECH EDITOR
 
@Mitch, have you tried the Exposure Compensation (+-)?
 
Wednesday, February 13, 2013 6:03 AM  
 
 
MITCH
 
The flash is very bright - how do we turn it down?
 
Tuesday, February 12, 2013 11:01 PM  
 
 
KENTE
 
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Thursday, January 17, 2013 7:46 PM  
 
 
BILLYBOB
 
You can turn off the touchscreen on the Panasonic Lumix ZS10 right on the screen. See the two rectangles lower right, the right hand one has an up/down arrow and TW. The one next to it shows a finger and what looks like a rectangle. It is probably yellow. Just touch it and it turns off the flash portion of the touch screen
 
Tuesday, November 6, 2012 2:21 PM  
 
 
SHELDON L.
 
Was undecided between Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-HX30V and Canon Power-Shot SX260HS and the ZS20. Your excellent reviewed tipped toward the Panasonic. Thanks.
 
Friday, June 29, 2012 11:22 AM  
 
 
RICKEE RICHARDSON
 
@RICHARD, We do not print enlargements from our photos. If we did, we would probably consider a DSLR for the reason you mention, the lens. However, I think the Canon might have a slight edge over the Panasonic for large format printing simply because it can shoot RAW format files.
 
Saturday, June 23, 2012 5:24 AM  
 
 
RICHARD JOUROYAN
 
RE: Cannon S100 vs. Panasonic Z20: could you perceive a higher quality lens in the Cannon over the Z20, especially if printing enlargements? Overall, as a travel camera, is one significantly more practical to use than the other.
 
Friday, June 22, 2012 9:42 PM  
 
 
ERNIE F.
 
Thank you for the reviews. I find them to be extreamly informative and insightful in helping me to find just the right camera for my uses.
 
Monday, June 11, 2012 12:49 PM  
 
 
RICKEE RICHARDSON
 
@John, there is a Food setting under scene selection. That is what we used.
 
Sunday, May 27, 2012 7:20 AM  
 
 
JOHN
 
very helpful review, thanks. what techniques did you use to get the great close up shots on the seafood?
 
Thursday, May 10, 2012 4:03 PM  
 
 
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