BUILD AND DESIGN
The ZS20 fits the classic mold for a compact digital camera, rectangular and sized about like a deck of cards or pack of cigarettes. Powered off, dimensions are about 4.125 x 2.375 x 1.25 inches with a shooting weight (battery, memory card, wrist strap) of about 7.4 ounces, making the ZS20 a snap to lug around in a shirt pocket.
But while the camera might look like a standard zoom compact digital without the juice flowing, once powered up, that 1.25 inch depth becomes almost 2.5 inches at wide-angle and a bit over 3.0-inches at telephoto. Bye-bye shirt pocket transport. Still, the ability to pull a light and compact digital out of your pocket, power it up and zoom out to 480mm is pretty cool. The ZS20 body is built of metal, appears well put together and will be available in black, silver, red or white variants.
Ergonomics and Controls
The Panasonic ZS20 departs a bit from the mainstream compact digital recipe and has a slightly built-up handgrip at the right front portion of the body. This feature is covered with a rubberlike material that would be a bit more effective were it tackier in feel, but the middle finger of the shooting hand falls naturally along its ridge which provides some welcome support. Elsewhere, the forefinger falls naturally to the shutter button and the thumb to its resting point on the camera back, designated by nine small bumps to help with the grip.
Overall the camera has a fairly secure one-handed feel despite the presence of fairly slick matte black paint and subdued chrome over the rest of the body. One thing to watch for when shooting is to not allow the end of the middle finger to ride up on the camera body as it will obscure the built-in flash.
Controls on the ZS20 are fairly typical for a compact digital – an embedded GPS antenna, stereo microphone, speaker mode dial, shutter button/zoom lever, on/off switch and dedicated motion picture capture button are arrayed across the top of the body. The 3.0-inch LCD monitor takes up most of the rear, with the right margin reserved for a record/play switch, exposure/map button, a round cursor button surrounding a menu/set button and separate display and quick menu buttons. I found the control location to be fairly pleasant to use and not prone to causing inadvertent activations when shooting the camera.
As mentioned earlier, the ZS20 offers a touchscreen control interface that can perform certain camera functions. By activating the touchscreen interface the user can fire the camera shutter by touching the screen – this feature does not work along the edges of the screen and remains enabled if the camera is powered off. Focus and exposure adjustment (touch AF/AE) as well as lens zooming may also be accomplished by the touchscreen. As with the touch shutter, focus and exposure adjustment will not work along the edges of the screen, and may not work if the subject being touched is too small or the scene being captured is too dim.
Menus and Modes
My first gripe with the ZS20 comes in the menu and basic owner’s manual departments. Even with advanced features like full manual exposure controls, the compact size of the camera is apt to appeal to a fairly broad audience of first-time or novice users who are looking for an easily portable point-and-shoot, but the basic user’s manual makes no mention of formatting memory cards.
The basic manual does discuss deleting images from memory, but the preferred method to clear memory media of images once they have been saved elsewhere is through formatting (unless, of course, you have need to delete a small number of images in order to create space to continue shooting while retaining the balance of the images already captured). If you have the camera set in the intelligent auto shooting mode, the “format” command is not displayed in the limited record and setup menus accessible from this mode. Set the camera to any shooting mode other than intelligent auto, and the format command appears in a much expanded setup menu. If I were Panasonic, I’d add a short paragraph to the basic manual about formatting – there is some mention of it in the complete manual found on the CD-ROM.
Otherwise, the ZS20 menus are fairly simple, intuitive and straightforward. With the camera set to record, the basic menus consist of record, motion picture, GPS and setup menus. Switching to creative control, scene, or 3D shooting modes typically adds an additional menu with options specific to that particular shooting mode. Record and setup menus are Spartan in the intelligent auto shooting mode – only two menu pages each. These menus run five and seven pages respectively in most other shooting modes, but there may be some individual items in the menus that are applicable to some modes but not others.
The ZS20 has a quick menu button that, depending on the shooting mode selected, offers quick access to some shooting settings. For example, in intelligent auto, the quick menu button allows you to access GPS, image size, burst shooting, image color mode and video recording quality. In the manual shooting mode, the quick menu allows access to GPS, image size, ISO, white balance, AF mode, burst shooting, video recording quality, and LCD mode (an automatic LCD brightness adjustment). Here’s a complete rundown on the shooting options available in the ZS20:
- Intelligent Auto: A fully automatic mode with the camera handling most settings and the user having minimal inputs; when set for intelligent auto the ZS20 utilizes automatic scene detection to select optimal shooting settings from a catalog of specific scenes. This mode also allows the user to enable motion deblur, color mode, handheld night shot, HDR, and face recognition features that the camera may employ as it determines necessary.
- Creative Control: An automatic mode with the camera handling the primary exposure settings while the user is able to select from a palette of ten effects such as expressive, retro, high and low key, sepia, dynamic monochrome, high dynamic, toy effect, miniature effect, and soft focus.
- Scene Mode: An automatic mode offering 18 scene-specific, user-selected shooting options.
- 3D Photo: An automatic mode that combines two photos out of a series captured during a pan to create a single 3D image. Viewing the image in 3D requires a television that supports 3D and the camera establishes settings such as auto ISO, zoom fixed to the wide-angle end of the lens and two megapixel picture size.
- Custom 1/Custom 2: Allows up to four sets of camera settings to be saved (one set under Custom 1 and up to three sets under Custom 2) for quick recall.
- Program Auto: An automatic mode with the camera handling shutter speed and aperture while the user has a wide variety of other shooting settings to select from.
- Aperture Priority: User sets aperture, camera sets shutter speed and the user has the wide variety of other settings.
- Shutter Priority: User sets shutter speed, camera sets aperture and the user has the wide variety of other settings.
- Manual: User sets shutter speed and aperture and has wide variety of settings. For settings where the user is making adjustments to aperture, shutter speed, or both (M, S, A), pushing the exposure/map button activates the applicable setting (s) which can then be adjusted via the cursor button.
- Motion Picture: Capture AVCHD or MP4 video clips of up to 29 minute and 59 second duration in the following resolutions: AVCHD 1920 x 1080 and 1280 x 720; MP4 at 1920 x 1280, 1280 x 720 or 640 x 480. There is also a 4GB maximum clip limit which typically can come into play when recording under MP4 at the 1920 x 1080 size after about 23 minutes of continuous capture. The camera may also shut down before time or clip size limits are reached due to overheating. Video capture is available via the dedicated motion picture capture button from any shooting mode except 3D. Audio is captured in stereo.
The 3.0-inch LCD monitor is fixed, has a 460,000 dot composition and is manually adjustable for seven levels of brightness. Additionally, there is a “power LCD” mode that boosts monitor brightness even higher for outdoor use, then returns to the automatic setting if there is no operation for 30 seconds while recording. A half push of the shutter button returns the camera to power LCD mode and the 30 second window begins again. Area of coverage is not specified but appears to be 100%.
The monitor registered a 225 nit peak brightness and 252:1 contrast ratio in our studio measurements – the lowest of any camera I’ve reviewed and well below the 500 nit/500:1 contrast ratio figures that generally delineate better outdoor performance. The monitor proved difficult to use in some bright outdoor conditions, even with the power LCD enabled, and the touchscreen feature can exacerbate this problem by adding fingerprints to the monitor screen.