The Dimage Z20 adds a 5-megapixel option to Konica Minolta's line of quasi-megazoom cameras. Its 8X optical zoom is big enough to earn that Z in the name, but it's a few notches shorter than the 12X zoom with which the is equipped. Generally speaking, the Z20 is geared toward beginning or budget-minded photographers, and its feature set is reduced accordingly relative to the more expensive Z5 and its brethren. The Z20 doesn't include image stabilization technology, and its 1.5-inch LCD seems puny in the current market. But given those concessions and a handful of others, the Konica Minolta Dimage Z20 is still a capable, responsive camera with an impressive zoom range and better-than-average image quality. The Dimage Z20 follows that unique space-age design that marks Konica Minolta's Z-series cameras: the barrel-and-grip shape that somehow works well from an ergonomic standpoint. The brushed-metallic plastic body weighs a comfortable 14 ounces with batteries and a media card installed, and the rubberized sides help to give you a firm two-handed grip. The camera is just big enough that it merits a shoulder strap instead a wrist strap.
From a design standpoint, the Konica Minolta Dimage Z20 differs from the more expensive Z-series cameras in that the flash is fixed as opposed to pop-up, and there's no hotshoe for an external flash. Its card slot is also unusual in that it doesn't reside behind a closed door. Though it is recessed and has a small flap for protection, it resides on the outer surface of the camera's right side. Unfortunately, that means the SD/MMC card is prone to getting dislodged in your camera bag, and you might find yourself shooting to the Z20's internal memory without realizing it.
We like the control layout on this camera. The power button/mode switch is simple and efficient, and the navigational keys guide you through a well-marked menu. There are a number of dedicated buttons as well, which really keeps menu-surfing to a minimum. As a bonus, you can reprogram one; if you rarely change flash settings, simply associate that button with a different function. The 5-megapixel Konica Minolta Dimage Z20 offers a useful array of features. In addition to the standard automatic and manual exposure modes, five basic automated scene modes and movie-clip capture are easily accessible via the mode dial. You can also adjust exposure compensation in 1/3EV increments via the Z20's navigational buttons. The f/3.2-to-f/3.6 8X optical zoom provides a 35mm-equivalent range of 36mm to 290mm for impressive telephoto coverage but a less than optimal wide angle. Antishake technology would have been a significant benefit in this camera. The maximum lens aperture isn't impressive on the wide end, though its modest decrease on the telephoto side is, and the extra light that f/3.6 aperture provides can be very useful.
You'll find custom white-balance settings on the Z20, as well as a live histogram display for gauging exposure when you're shooting. The macro mode allows you to get objects in focus as close as 0.4 inch. In low-light situations, the LCD brightens, and noise reduction kicks in, both automatically.
The Z20 records still images in JPEG format only. Its movie mode is limited to soundless clips at either 640x480 and 15 frames per second or 320x240 and 30fps, so you can't have high video resolution and a smooth picture simultaneously.
This Dimage comes with 14.5MB of memory built in, and while it has a slot for SD or MMC media, it doesn't ship with a card. As a cost-saving measure, that approach is preferable to shipping with a small (16MB or less) card, which doesn't serve much purpose with a 5-megapixel camera. In this case, the internal memory is always on hand as backup, although you'll need to purchase a memory card. The Konica Minolta Dimage Z20 is generally a responsive camera, with a start-up-to-first-shot time of about 2.5 seconds. Its shutter lag is a respectable 0.55 second, and in real-world use, the camera fires quickly. Recycle time between shots is an unimpressive 3.6 seconds and nearly 4.9 seconds with flash.
We found the single-focus AF setting to be a bit unreliable in its subject selection. The Z20 lacks an AF-assist lamp, slowing focus in low-light situations. Should you want to use the flash, however, the news is good; it packs a decent punch and has an impressive range.
The low power consumption of the Dimage Z20 allows it to get excellent life from its four AA batteries. In fact, we were able to do most of our testing with the included set of alkaline batteries, an impressive feat. Contributing to the extended battery life is the Z20's EVF, which has an excellent refresh rate, is very usable, and reduces power consumption vs. LCD use. The LCD, though small at only 1.5 inches, is sharp and bright. Most images we shot with the Konica Minolta Dimage Z20 were of solid quality. They showed saturated, natural colors, and good detail and sharpness. That said, this camera had an occasional tendency toward underexposure. A number of our images also exhibited a notable amount of noise. At ISO 320--the highest sensitivity setting on this camera--that was pretty much guaranteed, but noise also cropped up in some images shot at ISO 160. It didn't ruin the images at ISO 160, but it was definitely more noise than we'd like to see.
We found no evidence of barrel or pincushion distortion nor, rather impressively, purple fringing. Indoor, flash-lit shots fared well in our tests, as did the automatic white-balance setting.