Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20: Video and Image Quality

by Jim Keenan Reads (1,018)
Editor's Rating
6.40

TG Ratings Breakdown

    • Image/Video Quality
    • 8
    • Features
    • 9
    • Design / Ease of Use
    • 7
    • Performance
    • 8
    • 0
    • Total Score:
    • 6.40
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10

Video Quality
Video quality is good in the ZS20 and may be captured in 1920 x 1080 AVCHD progressive mode with or without GPS information attached; you can also capture in AVCHD mode at 1920 x 1080 with and without GPS information and in AVCHD Lite at 1280 x 720 with GPS info. MP4 may be captured at 1920 x 1080, 1280 x 720, or 640 x 480 size. The camera features continuous auto focus and an automatic wind cut feature for video capture as defaults, but both of these features may be disabled.

Download Sample Video

With a CMOS sensor on board rolling shutter effect is a consideration when shooting video with the ZS20. This effect is quite well controlled in the camera, offering some slight skewing of vertical straight lines with exaggeratedly fast pans. Zooming of the lens is available during video capture. There is a bit of hesitation after engaging the motion picture capture button before the camera actually begins to record and the same is true when shutting down – push to video capture commencement is not as rapid as some other digitals I’ve reviewed.

Image Quality
With its compact size the Lumix ZS20 is likely to appeal to folks looking for nothing more than a compact point-and-shoot that they can set on auto and fire away. Admittedly, inclusion of manual exposure options on the ZS20 will certainly broaden its potential audience for those who want to be more involved in image capture process, but what kind of results can the “I just wanna Point and Shoot it” crowd expect? Here’s a small gallery of auto ISO images out of the ZS20 with default settings.

Panasonic ZS20 Sample Image Panasonic ZS20 Sample Image
Panasonic ZS20 Sample Image Panasonic ZS20 Sample Image
Panasonic ZS20 Sample Image Panasonic ZS20 Sample Image

I found default images out of the ZS20 to be pleasant and fairly accurate as to color rendition – a bit oversaturated in reds – and appropriately sharp. That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is the ZS20 outputs images at 180 dpi – well above the 72 dpi level that maximizes efficiency for e-mail transfers and well below the 300 dpi level we would like to achieve for best quality photo printing. Expect to resize if you want the best quality prints or most efficient e-mail transmission of photos. Images in this review were sized to 300 dpi and uniformly sharpened.

The color mode palette for the ZS20 consists of standard, happy, black and white, and sepia if the camera is set for intelligent auto. Switch to any other still mode and “happy” becomes “vivid.” Happy is described as recording pictures with vivid coloring. Vivid is described as being sharper. Here’s the intelligent auto palette:

Panasonic ZS20 Sample Image
Standard
Panasonic ZS20 Sample Image
Happy
Panasonic ZS20 Sample Image
Black & White
Panasonic ZS20 Sample Image
Sepia

And here are the expressive, retro, sepia, toy and mini shooting options found in the creative control mode:

Panasonic ZS20 Sample Image
Expressive
Panasonic ZS20 Sample Image
Retro
Panasonic ZS20 Sample Image
Sepia
Panasonic ZS20 Sample Image
Toy
Panasonic ZS20 Sample Image
Mini

It seems like everyone is adding “HDR” features to their cameras these days in order to expand the apparent dynamic range of the instrument and Panasonic is no different. The ZS20 offers a couple of HDR shooting options – there is a “high dynamic” setting in the creative control mode that provides a picture with a “well-balanced brightness from light to dark areas.” In scene mode there is an HDR option that combines a burst of pictures into a single image that has less over and under exposure.

The drawback to the HDR option is the fact that a burst of images are required and holding the camera steady becomes more problematic. There is also additional processing time following the image capture as the camera combines images into the single photo. Here’s a look at Mission San Luis Rey’s main church in both intelligent auto and the high dynamic setting from the creative control mode.

Panasonic ZS20 Sample Image
intelligent Auto

Panasonic ZS20 Sample Image
High Dynamic

Auto white balance was used for all the images captured for this review and did a good job with a range of light varying from bright sunlight to cloudy/overcast, flash and heavy shade. The camera seemed to shoot just a bit warm with incandescent lighting. In addition to automatic there are daylight, cloudy, shade and incandescent presets along with a custom setting.

Panasonic ZS20 Sample Image
Auto White Balance, 5500k fluorescent light

Multi metering is the default setting for the ZS20 and was used for all the images in this review. This mode is recommended for average lit scenes and does a pretty good job overall. However, it can clip highlights in high contrast situations, a not uncommon performance for compact digital. Center weighted and spot metering options are also available in most modes except intelligent auto.

When I looked closely at the specifications for the ZS20 and ZS15 I thought perhaps there was a misprint – the ZS20 was listed as carrying a slightly smaller physically size sensor than the ZS15 (1/2.33-inch versus 1/2.3) despite having 2 megapixels more resolution. All things being equal, a larger sensor with lower resolution will generally have better high ISO noise performance than the smaller sensor with higher resolution. The purpose of this review is not a direct comparison of ISO performance of these two stablemates, but the disparity in sensor size resolution was enough to raise some concerns in my mind as to just how good the ZS20 might be.

ISO 100 and 200 are very similar and difficult to tell apart, however a really detailed study shows a few areas where even at 200 some fine details are not as crisp as at 100. When I brought up 400 ISO my immediate reaction was that noise was more apparent than at 200. Most striking was that the background behind the box was clearly grainier in appearance and this was apparent with only the most cursory of inspections. Closer inspection showed that fine details across the frame were a bit fuzzier than at 200.

ISO 800 showed a less dramatic increase in grain and deterioration of fine details than the 200 – 400 ISO jump, but was noticeably worse than 400.

Panasonic ZS20 Sample Image
ISO 100
Panasonic ZS20 Sample Image
ISO 100, 100% crop
Panasonic ZS20 Sample Image
ISO 200
Panasonic ZS20 Sample Image
ISO 200, 100% crop
Panasonic ZS20 Sample Image
ISO 400
Panasonic ZS20 Sample Image
ISO 400, 100% crop
Panasonic ZS20 Sample Image
ISO 800
Panasonic ZS20 Sample Image
ISO 800, 100% crop
Panasonic ZS20 Sample Image
ISO 1600
Panasonic ZS20 Sample Image
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Panasonic ZS20 Sample Image
ISO 3200
Panasonic ZS20 Sample Image
ISO 3200, 100% crop

ISO 1600 displayed deterioration on a par with the 200 – 400 ISO jump, with background grain becoming mottled and fine details across the frame taking a fairly serious hit compared to 800. ISO 3200 is another fairly dramatic decrease in quality versus 1600 – background mottling is even more pronounced with some slight evidence of pale yellow blotches sprinkled throughout and fine details across the frame becoming fuzzy and smudged.

ISO 100 through 400 are usable for prints although of course 100 would be the sensitivity of choice for large print work; 800 would be usable for smaller print work if lower sensitivities were unavailable with 1600 and 3200 best left for transmission of small e-mail images..

Additional Sample Images

Panasonic ZS20 Sample Image Panasonic ZS20 Sample Image
Panasonic ZS20 Sample Image Panasonic ZS20 Sample Image
Panasonic ZS20 Sample Image Panasonic ZS20 Sample Image


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