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

Panasonic LUMIX DMC-ZS20

Joshua Goldman Managing Editor / Advice
Managing Editor Josh Goldman is a laptop expert and has been writing about and reviewing them since built-in Wi-Fi was an optional feature. He also covers almost anything connected to a PC, including keyboards, mice, USB-C docks and PC gaming accessories. In addition, he writes about cameras, including action cams and drones. And while he doesn't consider himself a gamer, he spends entirely too much time playing them.
Expertise Laptops, desktops and computer and PC gaming accessories including keyboards, mice and controllers, cameras, action cameras and drones Credentials
  • More than two decades experience writing about PCs and accessories, and 15 years writing about cameras of all kinds.
Joshua Goldman
7 min read

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.


Panasonic LUMIX DMC-ZS20

The Good

The <b>Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20</b> 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.

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.

Shooting modes of the Panasonic Lumix ZS20
The ZS20 has plenty of options for both casual and creative shooting.

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.

Controls of the Panasonic Lumix ZS20
The combination of touch screen and physical controls can get a little frustrating at times.

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.

Find out more about how we test digital cameras.


Panasonic LUMIX DMC-ZS20

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 9Image quality 8