The Bottom Line
Selecting a star ranking for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 was very challenging for me. This camera is a model that provides outstanding images in all lighting conditions, and the photos are very sharply focused. The camera's response times suffer a bit indoors, but its image quality is still really good in all instances.
However, the $350 suggested price for the Lumix ZS20 is going to turn some people away. There are some great features with this camera -- such as its 20X optical zoom lens, its touch screen LCD, and its built-in GPS unit -- that account for the price that is a bit higher than what you'll find for most point and shoot cameras.
For me, the image quality with the ZS20 makes this one of the best point and shoot cameras around. However, that price tag is a little tough to justify, unless you really need a big zoom lens or a GPS unit. If you're going to primarily use this camera outdoors, taking advantage of the GPS and zoom for landscape and nature photos, it could easily be a 5-star performer.
However, for those who want a more all-around type of camera, the slightly compromised indoor performance levels and the high price force me to give it a star rating just below that level.
Image quality is outstanding with the Lumix DMC-ZS20, as it produces great looking images with realistic colors and sharp focus the vast majority of the time. Even when the camera's 20X zoom range is fully extended, the focus remains sharp. You may experience a bit of camera shake when the lens is fully extended, but the camera does a nice job of remaining steady for most shots.
If your subjects are moving, you may occasionally notice a bit of shutter lag or a slight blur to the image, but this is pretty rare when the external lighting is good. In nearly all outdoor photos, the Lumix ZS20 creates sharp images with no shutter lag problems.
The autofocus mechanism works quickly, and it's very accurate. The unit's autofocus assist lamp also works very well, when it's required for a low light photo or for a flash photo. Images remain extremely sharply focused, regardless of the lighting conditions. However, the autofocus isn't quite as fast to perform when shooting indoors.
Flash photos are pretty well exposed most of the time, although the tiny built-in flash unit doesn't always reach the corners of the images. Still, the ZS20 outperforms most other point and shoot cameras when it comes to flash photos, thanks in large part to its really sharply focused images. Occasionally, when you have the lens extended a bit, you may end up with a shadow from the lens in your flash photos.
Four aspect ratios are available with the ZS20, and you can shoot at resolutions varying from 14MPM to 0.2MP. Panasonic has offered 24 different resolutions between the four aspect ratios.
You also can create a few special effects with your images with the Panasonic DMC-ZS20, including vivid, black and white, and sepia.
One thing that accounts for the higher price of the ZS20 is the GPS device that's built into the camera. For those who don't want a GPS, though, this can be seen as an unnecessary expense.
The overall response times for this camera are really good, and it works especially fast outdoors. It's a little slower when working in low light conditions indoors, which means you may miss some spontaneous photos or images with moving subjects when shooting indoors. However, compared to other point and shoot cameras in the sub-$400 price range, this model is about average in terms of speed and performance with indoor photos.
Startup is very fast, and you can shoot your first photo a fraction of a second after pressing the toggle power switch. The photography mode and playback command is a toggle switch, too, which prevents you from inadvertently pressing and activating one of these buttons.
When it comes to the feature that sets the Lumix ZS20 apart from other thin point and shoot cameras, it's the 20X optical zoom lens. The camera's zoom mechanism moves through the entire zoom range pretty quickly, which contributes to the ZS20's strong response times.
Some point and shoot cameras with long zoom lenses tend to suffer greatly from shutter lag when the zoom is extended, but the ZS20 does a nice job with not suffering from shutter lag most of the time when using the 20X zoom.
When shooting video with the Lumix ZS20, you can make use of the zoom in a limited manner.
The 3.0-inch LCD with the ZS20 is a high-resolution model that creates sharp images, and it's a touch screen as well. The LCD responds well to your gestures and movements, and the touch screen was easy to use. You can make some menu choices or even activate the shutter with the touch screen.
Panasonic is offering seven brightness level settings with the LCD. You can adjust the red or blue tint levels on the LCD, too. To gain a little more control over the shot, you can have a histogram superimposed on the LCD.
Although you can use the touch screen to control the camera, most people will find it faster to use the mode dial and the zoom ring along the top panel of the ZS20. The mode dial has quite a few nice options, such as program 3D, creative control, manual, shutter priority, and aperture priority modes. The Intelligent Auto mode works well for most images, too.
A touch screen is nice for beginners, as it can make the camera very easy to use. In addition, Panasonic has included quite a few text explanations on the screen to discuss the various functions of the ZS20, rather than relying on icons that can sometimes be a little confusing.
One minor drawback is that you must charge the battery inside the camera. Panasonic did include a mini-USB slot and an HDMI slot with the ZS20, and it uses the common SD memory card format.