If you shoot a lot of moving subjects, namely children, pets, and sports, the ZS20's multiple burst shooting options give you a lot of flexibility and a fighting chance of getting a good photo. Its fastest burst modes--40 and 60 frames per second--are at reduced resolutions, but Panasonic packed in three at full resolution. There's one that captures up to 10 shots at 10fps, but that sets focus, exposure, and white balance with the first shot. What's better are the 2fps and 5fps options that set those things with each shot so you're able to get a subject moving moderately fast in focus and properly exposed. In our lab tests, the 5fps setting averaged 4.2fps.
Other aspects of its shooting performance are excellent as well. Shutter lag is low at 0.3 second and 0.6 second in bright and dim lighting, respectively. From shot-to-shot without the flash you're waiting only 0.8 second; adding the flash drags that time to 3.6 seconds. Its time from off to first shot is 2 seconds.
The high-speed shooting also gets you 3D photos. The ZS20 fires off 20 shots as you move the camera horizontally across a scene and then picks the two best for overlaying to create a 3D MPO file that can be played back on 3D-enabled TVs, computers, and photo frames. The results are good, but your subject has to be motionless, as does everything in the scene. Any movement really kills the effect. It's a nice extra to play with, but not a must-have mode.
The ZS20's design doesn't look too far off from the ZS10's, though instead of it being straight across the front, it has a slight curve over the lens barrel, similar to the design of the Lumix DMC-GF3 interchangeable-lens camera. Panasonic updated the user interface with cleaner, sharper icons and text, making it immediately more enjoyable to use.
The 3-inch touch screen on the back looks good and gets reasonably bright, though it gets reflective in direct sunlight, so you may struggle occasionally to see what you're shooting. Also, Panasonic didn't do much with the touch screen, only using it for a handful of functions. For example, you can use it to focus and shoot photos by tapping on your subject, but menu navigation is primarily done with the directional pad. In playback you can use it to flip through your shots, but you can't do any editing or drawing or writing on photos. It just seems that if you're going to be paying for a touch screen, you should get more use out of it. In the end, it's easy to learn to use, but can be a little frustrating at times.
The ZS20 also has built-in GPS. Using it is fairly simple thanks to a dedicated spot in the menu system. Once you've turned on the receiver--it can be done from the Q.Menu or main menu--you can have the camera retrieve the information for your current location. In tests this took anywhere from less than a minute to several minutes depending on how much open sky was above me.
Once locked, the ZS20 can display country, state, city, and landmark information and continues to update itself every minute. New for the ZS20 is the capability to copy map data for a particular city to an SD card from a bundled map DVD; detailed maps are included for about 90 countries worldwide on a scale of 1/25,000 or more precise.
Of course with the GPS, touch screen, zoom, burst shooting, and HD movie capture there's a lot here to drain the camera's small rechargeable battery. Even without all those things on, its battery life is pretty short. I strongly recommend picking up an extra battery if you're going to be traveling with the ZS20 or even just taking it out for a day of shooting.
The past few top-of-the-line ZS models from Panasonic have been very good, but the Lumix DMC-ZS20 finally makes it over to excellent. The lens is nice, but it's really the overall combination of features, improved low-light photo and video quality, and fast shooting performance that takes it up a notch.
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