Panasonic TZ20 £299

5th May 2011 | 14:10

Panasonic TZ20

With its 24-384mm focal range, is this the ultimate travel compact?

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

Like:

Incredible focal range; The touchscreen is brilliant in playback and Touch AF mode; More manual control

Dislike:

Lack of raw capture; Touchscreen seemed rather pointless for zooming or pressing shutter in capture mode

Panasonic TZ20 Review: Overview

Panasonic TZ20 Review: Overview

In updating a camera released just a year ago, one would (or has become accustomed to) expect a few tinkers to the design and maybe a new scene mode or two.

But with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ20, Panasonic has made a number of significant changes to its flagship consumer compact that, at least on paper, mark a significant improvement over the TZ10.

The biggest standout over its predecessor is the Panasonic TZ20's staggering focal range. Beating the TZ10's 12x optical zoom, the TZ20 brings a new 16x optical zoom Leica DC Vario-Elmar lens with an incredible reach of 24-384mm that effectively pins the cape on this super-zoom compact.

Panasonic tz20 review

The Panasonic TZ20 keeps the 1/2.3in sensor size, but with 14.1 million effective pixels in its new CMOS sensor, the Panasonic TZ20 marks another significant upgrade over the TZ10's CCD sensor with 12.1 million effective pixels.

The overhaul continues with the addition of 1080p HD video recording, a 3D shooting mode and a GPS function.

Perhaps the most Marmite-like feature of the Panasonic TZ20 specs list, however, is its 3in, 460,000-dot LCD screen with touch screen functionality.

With the touch functionality enabled, photographers can press any area on the screen they want to be in focus and the AF system locks on to that subject, tracking it as you or the subject moves.

The touch shutter mode also also allows you to eschew the shutter button altogether and take a picture simply by pressing the LCD with your finger. What's more, the Panasonic TZ20 allows you to zoom in and out of your scene via the LCD screen. No doubt this will prove handy for some, but an annoyance for others.

Panasonic TZ20 Review: Build quality and handling

Panasonic TZ20 Review: Build quality and handling

The Panasonic TZ20 comes in roughly the same package as its predecessor.

Measuring 104.9 x 57.6 x 33.4mm, it's just over 1mm wider and slightly under 1mm deeper than the TZ10, and at 219g with the battery and memory card, it's virtually the same weight.

The main change to the TZ20 body design is that the one-touch video button now sits on top of the camera next to the shutter button, rather than on the back next to the button for changing Exposure settings, as on the TZ10.

This seems a minor change, but in effect it feels more natural pressing the video button on top with my index finger, than using my thumb on the back where I might also inadvertently press the Exposure button.

Panasonic tz20 review

As someone who shoots a lot of street photography, the Panasonic TZ20 fit nicely in my hand in every manner of shooting. It's slim enough to cradle, yet substantial enough to balance on knees or rock walls at longer shutter speeds.

A more prominent, textured thumb grip on the back of the camera also proved surprisingly useful for shooting one-handed or from the hip; however, its placement next to the playback mode switch feels slightly inconvenient.

Generally, though, the button placement feels simple and uncluttered. You won't need a manual to ascertain which does what, with the possible exception of the Q.Menu button on the bottom of the back.

This handy little button provides quick access to 9 of the most commonly used controls, such as ISO and White Balance, letting you avoid the menu system altogether.

Like the Panasonic TZ20 external design, ease of use is also the theme internally. Pressing the menu button takes you immediately to four sub-folders of controls: Record, Motion Picture, Setup and GPS. Only two of these (Record and Motion Picture) will you find that you use with any frequency, and they are as quick and clear as could be.

Once you've made a control selection, either hit the cancel button to backtrack out through each menu, or simply press the shutter button to go back to record mode.

It's also worth noting that the TZ20 lens comes with Panasonic's new Nano Surface Coating, which seemed to help reduce ghosting and flare when shooting into direct sunlight.

Overall in design the Panasonic TZ20 seemed like the Matt Damon of cameras: pretty to look at, but tough enough to handle a wide range of jobs – a great everyman's camera.

Panasonic TZ20 Review: Performance

Panasonic TZ20 Review: Performance

Slightly dubious of GPS functionality on cameras, my first point of call was to test the TZ20's ability to detect its location.

Setting the GPS is perfectly easy to do through the main menu system, and as I wandered around the streets of Bath I was genuinely surprised at its ability to tell me, for instance, when I had left the Southgate Shopping Centre and was closest to the Roman Baths.

In use, the TZ20 is fast. From turning on the power switch, the Panasonic TZ20 took just two seconds before it was ready to take a picture, and it met the same ultra-fast standard in between frames showing very little shutter lag.

Navigating its menus and making selections also proved very fluid. Only on entering playback mode and trying to scroll through or delete an image did I find moments of noticeable lag, but this was only a minor annoyance.

Testing its auto modes in a range of lighting conditions, the TZ20's auto white balance (AWB) mode captured realistic whites in nearly every instance – so much so that I was confident later in testing to leave the camera in AWB.

Only in low mixed lighting did AWB struggle somewhat, producing slightly orange-ish tones. Setting the white balance to tungsten didn't help the problem, so I had to set it manually in these instances.

Panasonic tz20 review

Having used a number of Panasonic's travel zoom series compacts over the years, I was genuinely impressed by the TZ20's metering system.

Often, it seems compact cameras produce overly bright images at the sacrifice of highlight detail – particularly in skies – but the TZ20's metering system proved very reliable. Skies maintained sufficient detail thanks to the TZ20's dynamic range, with only a slight overexposure in bright conditions.

The TZ20 produced punchy pictures with nice contrast and vivid colours on the bright, spring days it was tested, and in overcast and lower light conditions it maintained its rich colour reproduction.

I noted some purple fringing in the highlight areas of some pictures taken on those bright, spring days, but it was only upon close inspection and far within the realm of what you should expect from a compact camera.

Likewise, image quality proved consistent throughout the Panasonic TZ20's large focal range, only resorting to some barrel distortion at the widest end.

An expanded range of exposure controls proved very useful, as well. In manual mode (the Panasonic TZ20 exposure modes include PASM, Intelligent Auto, 3D Photo and 30 scene modes) one is able to choose shutter speeds from 60 to 1/4000sec and set an aperture of f/3.3 to f/6.3 at the widest end of the focal range, or f/5.9 to f/6.3 at 384mm.

To do this, just press the Exposure button on the back of the camera. A menu then pops up displaying the available aperture and shutter speed settings, which one can flip between and scroll through. Though the narrow range of apertures available still felt slightly restrictive, overall this was a nice feature that was very quick and easy to use.

Support for raw capture would be a very welcome addition on any future TZ20 replacement (are you listening, Panasonic?) and is probably the only thing keeping such a rugged, capable all-rounder like this from joining the upper echelon of premium compact cameras.

Nevertheless, it's not a huge complaint. The TZ20 has plenty of other features going for it. Its Intelligent Resolution function, for instance, can digitally expand the TZ20's 16x zoom ratio up to 21x, and in our test I noticed minimal loss in quality.

AF also proved very fast and accurate with the Panasonic TZ20, even in low light. I brought the camera into a very dark storage closet and pushed the ISO ISO to 1600, and the TZ20 AF system still managed to find the boiler switch and cable on the wall for which I was composing.

What's more, in Panasonic's Intelligent Auto mode you can use the touchscreen LCD to simply press your subject, locking the AF on its target. The AF will then track the subject as it moves.

Of course, those with big hands my find their thumb accidently presses the LCD when composing, resetting the AF, which could be an annoyance. But it didn't happen to me, and if it did it's not a whole lot of effort to touch the LCD again in the correct place.

Also, when using Intelligent Auto, you can touch the subject on the LCD screen and the TZ20 will determine the correct scene mode to use by determining whether your subject is a face (Portrait mode), for instance, or a flower (Macro mode). I didn't think it would work, but it did. Every time.

Panasonic tz20 review

The TZ20 offers a wide variety of scene modes to choose from compared to past Panasonic TZ models; however, a number of these feel gimmicky.

For example, a mode that creates fun-house mirror effects in stretching your subject wider or taller was interesting in practice, but I failed to see how it would ever warrant a second use. Likewise, a Pinhole mode had me intrigued, but its effect was a strange vignetting without the softness of a true pinhole image.

Perhaps the biggest gimmick of all, though, might be the Panasonic TZ20 3D mode. By selecting this option, pressing the shutter and then panning the TZ20 10cm left to right, the camera takes a sequence of exposures with which it makes a 3D image. If you have a 3D TV, that is. I don't. And I know no one who does – yet, at least.

This feature may very well be more accessible in future, but research (and sales) have shown 3D has yet to catch on. Saving production costs by using the CMOS sensor, rather than the CCD sensor of the Panasonic TZ10, may mean we get extra features like this but it doesn't mean we need everything - at least all at once!

Another (sort of) criticism follows the Panasonic TZ20 HDR mode. While Panasonic deserves kudos for designing a camera that produces subtle HDR images, they are perhaps too subtle.

Did I really just say that? It's true. I found the colour reproduction and exposure quality of the TZ20 so good in standard record mode that I preferred these images to their high dynamic range counterparts when shooting in tricky light conditions.

Even colours shot using Intelligent Auto mode, for instance, seemed heavier and more pleasing than those captured using its HDR function, which seemed slightly washed out. And while shadow areas retained more detail using the HDR mode, I didn't find any discernable improvements in the highlight areas.

It's also worth mentioning the Panasonic TZ20's upgrade to 1080p HD video recording after several successive models that shot at 720p. The aforementioned one-touch button on the top of the camera made filming incredibly easy, and the TZ20 offers two formats – AVCHD or Motion JPEG, but full HD video recording is only possible in AVCHD format.

You can also take still images while recording video, but be warned you are restricted to the 16:9 aspect ration and a maximum resolution of just 3.5 megapixels.

In terms of upgrades, though, playback mode is when the Panasonic TZ20's main innovation, it's touchscreen interface, really started to shine. The ability to track your subject using the 1-area AF function simply by pressing the LCD is very nice indeed, but ultimately not necessary.

The touchscreen's ability, however, to scroll through your images in playback mode with a simple swipe of the finger is a very easy and efficient way of viewing your work that I found instantly appealing. And by pressing any spot on the image I could zoom in and quickly check for sharpness or fringing.

Like most compact cameras, the Panasonic TZ20 produces sharp, clear images at its lower sensitivities, but as you creep higher into the ISO range, the image quality starts to break down.

As someone who generally doesn't mind a bit of noise and is comfortable shooting at higher sensitivities, ISO 800 was about the threshold at which I felt comfortable shooting with the Panasonic TZ20 before resorting to flash.

Indoors at dusk, in moderately low lighting, I could shoot sans flash at ISO 800 and get reasonably sharp images with acceptable amounts of noise, but above this the noise becomes distracting (as you will see on the following page). Really, ISO 400 is probably the line in the sand if you have no tolerance for noise.

Overall, I was impressed by the TZ20's image quality - and this is what counts in the end, despite how many scene modes or other features you have at your disposal.

For a camera with such a massive focal range and small enough to slide into your back pocket (just), the Panasonic TZ20 consistently captured sharp images with strong colours that required little post-processing.

Viewed at actual pixels, images did start to show traces of smudging as you creep up the ISO and focal ranges, but no more than expected, and no worse than its competitors. One could easily take the TZ20 on holiday and feel confident in making large prints from your images.

Panasonic TZ20 Review: Image quality and resolution

Panasonic TZ20 Review: Image quality and resolution

As part of our image quality testing for the Panasonic TZ20, we've shot our resolution chart.

If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the Panasonic TZ20 is capable of resolving up to around 20 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.

Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:

Panasonic tz20 review

Panasonic tz20 review

ISO 100 – 20 View the full-size image

Panasonic tz20 review

ISO 200 – 20 View the full-size image

Panasonic tz20 review

ISO 400 – 18 View the full-size version

Panasonic tz20 review

ISO 800 – 14 View the full-size image

Panasonic tz20 review

ISO 1600 – 14 View the full-size image

Panasonic TZ20 Review: Photo samples

Panasonic TZ20 Review: Photo samples

Panasonic tz20 review

The Panasonic TZ20 is capable of picking up excellent textures and detail. View the full-size image

Panasonic tz20 review

The Panasonic TZ20's sleek design and wide focal range made it perfect for street photography – particularly when shooting from the hip. View the full-size image

Panasonic tz20 review

In mixed lighting, the Panasonic TZ20 still managed to reproduce colours accurately. View the full-size image

Panasonic tz20 review

In high-contrast scenes the Panasonic TZ20 holds the highlights well and produces a nice range of tones. View the full-size image

Panasonic tz20 review

The Panasonic TZ20's wide focal range let me stand at the back of a crowd hovered around this group of buskers and zoom in for a more intimate portrait of the guitar player. View the full-size image

Panasonic tz20 review

Pinhole mode. Sometimes this effect worked well; other times it didn't at all. View full-size image

Panasonic tz20 review

Stretch mode. This is the Stretch Tall effect, which makes an interesting picture with the right subject but it doesn't seem to be a mode one would use all that often. View full-size image

Panasonic tz20 review

HDR mode. The Panasonic TZ20 HDR mode produces surprisingly subtle results compared to many other digital cameras with HDR functions. On one hand this is refreshing to see, but on the other the Panasonic TZ20's dynamic range is quite good already, and in many cases during this test the non-HDR version of a scene in tricky light conditions looked better. View full-size image

Panasonic tz20 review

HDR turned off. The same scene as the image above, this time shot in Aperture Priority mode. View full-size image

Panasonic TZ20 Review: Specs

Panasonic TZ20 Review: Specs

Effective Pixels
14.1 million pixels

Sensor
1/2.33-type CMOS

Lens
24-384mm (35mm equivalent) Leica DC VARIO-ELMAR

Memory
Built-in Memory, SD Memory Card, SDHC Memory Card, SDXC Memory Card

Viewfinder
N/A

LCD Screen
3in, 360,00-dot touchscreen

Video resolution 
1920x1080

ISO range
Auto, ISO 100-1600


Focus modes
Normal / AF Macro, Zoom Macro, Quick AF, AF Tracking, Touch AF/AE / Continuous AF (only for motion picture) 


Max burst rate
Full-Resolution Image, 10 fps; max. 15 images

Shutter speeds
60-1/4000sec

Weight
219g (with battery and memory card) 


Dimensions
104.9x57.6x33.4mm

Power supply
Rechargeable ID-Security Lithium-ion battery

Panasonic TZ20 Review: Verdict

Panasonic TZ20 Review: Verdict

In the TZ20, it really seems as if Panasonic has pulled out all the stops. Serious upgrades to the Panasonic TZ10's feature set in the form of an expanded focal range, full HD video recording, touchscreen LCD and, yes, begrudgingly, a 3D mode, leapfrog Panasonic's travel zoom compact camera to the forefront of its competition.

And with the Panasonic TZ20 best price hovering just below the £300 mark on the UK high street, there's a lot of value for money to be had here.

Having the option for raw capture would be a very welcome addition, and some may be averse to the noise and smudging of details at higher sensitivities. But for all the capabilities and versatility the Panasonic TZ20 offers, it's quick AF, easy handling and overall strong image quality, it's hard to see why this latest Panasonic camera isn't the perfect travel camera.

We like

The Panasonic TZ20's focal range and Intelligent Zoom function make it a capable performer in nearly any situation. The touchscreen, while a bit redundant in capture, is brilliant in playback mode. Having more manual control was also a nice addition to the camera.

We dislike

Lack of raw capture. If you could shoot raw, the Panasonic TZ20 would be one of the top-tier compact cameras on the market.

Verdict

The Panasonic TZ20 fills every need for a compact camera to take on your travels. Its versatility, however, makes it a great all-rounder for everyday use, as well. Small, subtle and capable of producing sharp, punchy pictures, it's ideal for street photography or days out. But with the Panasonic TZ20 price at around £300, you could probably wait for other manufacturers to catch up with its feature set and grab it (or an equivalent) for a little bit less.

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