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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH20 review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH20

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The Good Easy to use; flexible lens in a compact metal body; very good value for features, performance, and photo quality.

The Bad Feature set might be too basic for some.

The Bottom Line Panasonic's Lumix DMC-FH20 is a very good value for anyone in need of a basic point-and-shoot with a midrange zoom.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.4 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7
  • Image quality 7

Review Sections

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH20 is a sub-$180 compact camera featuring a wide-angle lens with an 8x zoom and HD movie capture and, really, that's all. That might sound like a complaint, but it's not. It does what it does well, and though there's room for improvement on shooting performance and photo quality, all in all its speed is OK and the results are pleasing. This camera is about value, though, and if you're expecting more features (for example, a Mini-HDMI output) or anything much beyond a reliable auto mode and nice-looking snapshots for your money, this camera isn't for you. It's a simple camera with a flexible lens at a reasonable price.

Key specs Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH20
Price (MSRP) $179.99
Dimensions (WHD) 3.9 x 2.2 x 1.1 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 5.6 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 14 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 2.7-inch LCD, 230K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 8x, f3.3-5.9, 28-224mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/Motion JPEG (.MOV)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,320x3,240 pixels/ 1,280x720 at 30fps
Image stabilization type Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA-rated life Lithium ion rechargeable, 300 shots
Battery charged in camera No; external charger supplied
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXC
Bundled software PHOTOfunSTUDIO 5 (Windows only)

Available in five colors, the FH20 is an attractive, unassuming camera. It's just small enough to make putting it in a pants pocket possible, if not altogether comfortable. The metal body makes it feel a bit better constructed for its price and it is comfortable to hold and use.

The camera's controls are fairly easy to master, so that out-of-the-box use shouldn't be a problem for people familiar with digital cameras. A switch for powering the camera on and off is on top, next to the shutter release and zoom ring. There's also a small button for quickly changing to Panasonic's Intelligent Auto mode (iA), which determines the most suitable Scene mode and helps correct any blurring, focus, and brightness issues. While you could argue that a button for going to Movie mode might be more useful, the button does allow you to easily move between iA and any other shooting mode. This means if you do a majority of your shooting in iA, you can set the camera to Movie mode and then use the iA button to quickly switch between the two.

On the back, to the top right of the LCD, is a switch to go from shooting to playback. Below that, to the left, is a Mode button followed by four navigational buttons that double as exposure, flash, macro, and timer controls, and a Menu/Set button that will bring up the rest of the camera settings. There's also a Display button for changing what information is visible on screen. Again, it's all pretty simple. The only confusing bit may be the Quick Menu button (Q.Menu) on the back at the lower right.

On the right side of the body is a small door concealing the only output: a Micro-USB/AV port. The battery and memory card slots are on the bottom, protected by a locking door. Battery life is good, CIPA-rated for 300 shots; using the zoom and shooting video will put dents in that life, though.

General shooting options Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH20
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600
White balance Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Halogen, Color Temperature, Custom
Recording modes Intelligent Auto, Normal Picture, Scene, MyScene, Movie
Focus modes Face Detection AF, 9-point AF, 1-point AF
Macro 2 inches (Wide); 3.3 feet (Tele)
Metering modes Multi
Color effects Standard, Vivid, Black & White, Sepia, Cool, Warm
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) Unlimited

Shooting options are fairly bare-bones on the FH20; it's definitely geared for people who prefer to shoot in auto. The fully automatic iA mode isn't on the Mode menu, but again is entered by pressing the dedicated button on top of the camera. In the Mode menu you'll find a Normal Picture mode that gives you the most control over results, with settings for focus, color effects, white balance, ISO, and exposure compensation. If you like scene modes, the FH20 has 24 of them. The list includes familiar modes like Portrait, Sunset, and Night Scenery, as well as Hi-speed Burst for action and High Sensitivity for low-light photos (both capturing images at 3 megapixels and below). A MyScene option is also available, letting you associate a favorite scene mode with a spot in the shooting modes. Lastly, there is a Movie mode capable of capturing video in up to 720p HD resolution.

Panasonic's Sonic Speed AF system gives the FH20's shooting performance a boost in shutter lag (at least in bright lighting), but overall the camera is average for its class. The time from off to first shot is very good at 1.4 seconds. The shutter lag in bright conditions (how quickly a camera captures an image after the shutter-release button is pressed) averaged 0.4 second in our lab tests. However, in dim lighting it jumps to an average 0.9 second. Its shot-to-shot times are slow, though, at 2.4 seconds without the flash and 5.2 seconds with it. The FH20 can shoot full-resolution bursts of up to five shots at 1.1 frames per second. The camera's 3-megapixel Hi-Speed Burst mode can capture at up to 4.6fps. The quality is fairly mediocre: suitable for Web use or small prints with little or no cropping or enlarging.

Overall photo quality is very good from the FH20, though those planning to make prints larger than 8x10 inches will be less happy with the results. Like most cameras in its class, the FP8 produces its best photos below ISO 200. The results are still good at ISO 400, but there's an increase in noise that causes yellow blotches. Detail is strong and subjects are sharp, though, so larger prints and a reasonable amount of cropping are possible. Photos at ISO 800 and ISO 1600 are of limited use. Though there's still a fair amount of detail, there's a lot of graininess, color shifting, and yellow blotches throughout pictures.

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