Panasonic LUMIX DMC-ZS20 review: Panasonic LUMIX DMC-ZS20

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The Good The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 has an excellent design and feature set, including an ultrawide-angle 20x zoom lens, GPS, and semimanual and manual shooting modes, as well as fast shooting performance and improved low-light photo quality from previous versions.

The Bad Using all of the ZS20's high-performance features, such as its near-pointless touch screen, can really cut into battery life. Also, photos are noisy and soft when viewed at 100 percent.

The Bottom Line The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20's 20x zoom lens might be the main attraction, but the camera is all-around excellent.

8.3 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 9
  • Image quality 8

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 is a pretty remarkable point-and-shoot camera. Its Leica lens starts off at an ultrawide-angle 24mm and zooms in to 480mm. That's an incredible range for a lens in a body that's just 1.1 inches thick. That's actually thinner than its 16x predecessor, the DMC-ZS10. The lens is paired with Panasonic's Power O.I.S. optical image stabilization, which has been very good in the past, and remains that way, able to handle the camera's extra zoom range.

Beyond its lens, the ZS20 has a lot to offer, including improved low-light photo quality from previous models and very fast shooting performance for this category of camera. It does not have all of the shooting and control options of the much larger Lumix DMC-FZ150, including raw image capture, and pixel peepers should steer clear for several reasons. But otherwise, the ZS20 is an excellent camera.

Key specs Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20
Price (MSRP) $349.99
Dimensions (WHD) 4.1x2.3x1.1 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 7.2 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 14 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch high-sensitivity MOS
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch touch-screen LCD, 460K dots/none
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 20x, f3.3-6.4, 24-480mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/AVCHD (.MTS), H.264 AAC (.MP4)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,320x3,240 pixels/ 1,920x1,080 at 60fps (AVCHD progressive; 28Mbps), 1,920x1,080 at 30fps (MP4 progressive; 20Mbps)
Image stabilization type Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Lithium ion rechargeable, 260 shots
Battery charged in camera Yes, via USB connected to computer or wall adapter (included)
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXC
Bundled software Lumix Map Tool, PhotofunStudio 8.1 Premium Edition (Windows)

Depending on what your plans are for its photos, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20's shots are either very good to excellent or unusable.

If you're looking to use its 14-megapixel resolution to enlarge pictures to full size and heavily crop in, don't buy this camera (or most other point-and-shoots). Things just don't look great when viewed at 100 percent. However, those viewing onscreen at less than 100 percent or making prints up to 8.5x11, which is probably the majority of buyers, will be really happy with the results.

Give the ZS20 good light and you'll get some excellent photos with bright and vivid colors. In low-light conditions or indoors, it's still not as good as competing models from Sony or Canon, but it is much improved over previous generations of the ZS series. Whereas past models were really only reliably good to ISO 200, the ZS20 can go up to ISO 800 before noise and softness become an issue at smaller screen and print sizes. (You can read more about overall photo quality in the sample photo slideshow.)

One of the big selling points of the ZS20 is its movie capabilities. It can record AVCHD-format clips at 1080/60p that are sharp and smooth with good exposure and color. Any issues that you see with the camera's low-light photos will show up in low-light video, too, but otherwise the quality is great and part of the reason why the ZS20 got a higher-than-usual rating for image quality. The camera also records in MP4 format at resolutions up to 1080/30p (20Mbps) for easier editing and uploading to the Web.

The zoom does operate while recording, but its movement is picked up by the stereo mic. If you are recording in a very quiet environment, you will hear it in your movies, but otherwise it's difficult to hear. If you're looking for a compact camera for both photos and videos, this is a good choice.

General shooting options Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto,100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
White balance Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Incandescent, Custom
Recording modes Intelligent Auto, Program, Aperture Priority,Shutter Priority, Manual,Custom 1 and 2, 3D Photo, Scene, Creative Control
Focus modes Face Detection AF, 1-point AF, 23-point AF, Spot AF, AF Tracking, Touch AF
Macro 1.2 inches (Wide); 3.3 feet (Tele)
Metering modes Multi, Center-weighted average, Spot, Touch
Color effects Standard, Black & White, Sepia, Vivid, Happy (only in iA mode)
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) 10 shots

As Panasonic's highest-end compact megazoom, the Lumix DMC-ZS20 has no shortage of shooting options. For automatic shooting there is the company's Intelligent Auto (iA), which combines an ever-growing number of technologies to get the best results. If you're looking to just shoot quickly without thinking about what mode would be best, it's fairly reliable in good lighting. In general, you're better off taking some control, and for that you get aperture-priority, shutter-priority, and manual shooting modes.

Apertures are f3.3-8.0 wide and 6.3-8.0 telephoto. Shutter speeds go from 15 seconds to 1/2,000 second. To use them, you press the Exposure button on back, and change the settings with the directional pad. (A thumb dial would've been nice, but space is already pretty tight.) There are also two Custom spots on the mode dial for setting up three custom setting configurations. There's a Program mode, too, should you want to adjust things like ISO, white balance, and exposure compensation (not done with the Exposure button, mind you, but the directional pad), but not worry about shutter speed and aperture settings.

There are also 17 scene modes that include the usual suspects like Portrait, Scenery, and Food, but Panasonic's added new pan-and-shoot Panorama Shot and multiexposure HDR modes to the mix. There is also a multiexposure Handheld Night Shot that takes 10 pictures in a row and then combines them into one to reduce motion blur and noise. The downside is that it only works if your subject is stationary.

Worth noting is that Panasonic lets you turn on both the HDR and HNS modes for iA. That way if it detects low-light conditions or a backlit subject when in iA, it can use those options instead of you having to switch to them manually.