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Customer Review

94 of 97 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good things come in small packages, May 13, 2012
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This review is from: Panasonic Lumix ZS20 14.1 MP High Sensitivity MOS Digital Camera with 20x Optical Zoom (Black) (OLD MODEL) (Electronics)
Friends who lug around heavy DSLR kits (like I used to do) turn green with envy at what this little shirtpocket wonder can accomplish. The ZS20's zoom range from 24mm wide open to 480mm fully optical at 14 mpx has to be seen to be believed. You can start with a broad view of a landscape and then zoom in to capture a single bird on a tree so far away that you don't even see the bird in the landscape view. The images are sharp, well saturated, with none of the blurriness and occasional purple fringing that troubled the ZS10. The updated lenses also seem have shortened the depth of field so that I can now get the bird in sharp focus but the background some distance away is soft and blurry. They've also vastly improved the digital zoom so that you can now take useful pictures at the equivalent of a 1013mm zoom range, and even longer at reduced MPx. Those digitally assisted pix may not win photo contests but they'll tell you whether that distant shorebird was an avocet or a killdeer. Carrying this camera is like having a telescope in your pocket. But the amazing zoom is only the beginning. Equally useful are the burst modes. Lots of subjects -- from talking heads to grandkids to puppies to birds to flowers in the wind -- are in constant motion, and if you take just one shot, you're playing roulette. The grandkid jumping over a log -- you really wanted him in midair, not on the landing. In burst mode, you'll get two, or five, or 10 or even more shots during the leap, and back home on your computer you can pick the one you like best and discard the rest. I now routinely take dozens or even hundreds of images of moving objects, and back at home at the computer I pick out the one or two keepers, and discard the rest. The camera also has an intelligent burst mode that takes just one shot of a static object but automatically takes a burst if the object is moving. This camera is smart! Although it has manual adjustments for aperture and shutter speed, I hardly ever need them. The IA (Intelligent Auto) setting handles ISO, white balance, aperture, shutter speed, and everything else instantly and with reliably excellent results in a wide range of conditions. The ZS20 also automatically performs some operations that previously took a fair amount of effort in Photoshop, with plugins. I was very skeptical of the hand-held night shot scene mode until I happened to be out in the evening of "supermoon" without a tripod. The orange moon had partly cleared the hills when I clicked the shutter. The camera took a burst of exposures and then internally sifted and merged them, and in a second or two gave me as clear and sharp an image as if I had used a tripod. It made a believer of me. Equally good is the HDR setting for high-contrast and backlit subjects. The camera takes a burst of exposures, bracketing the aperture, and then automatically combines them to produce a single image with a well-lit foreground. It used to take a lot of work and luck in Photoshop to achieve this. Totally amazing is the in-camera panorama scene mode. Without a tripod, you stand in a spot, hold down the shutter and make a complete circle in about 8 seconds (the camera shows you a progress bar). A few seconds later you've got, in the camera ready for downloading, a perfectly merged super-wide panorama image with no, or only very faintly perceptible, visual seams. No further processing necessary. There are a number of other scene modes and creative preset modes, and you can save custom settings for quick access. The video on the ZS10 was already very good, and the 20 has only improved on it, performing in full 1080p HD, with better placement for the stereo microphones.

I also like the fact that the same batteries used on the previous models work in this one. I prefer to remove the battery and charge it in a wall charger (supplied with the older models), and I can still do that, but the 20 comes with a cable that lets the battery be charged in the camera from a wall plug or a USB port.

The one annoyance with this little gem is the touch-screen controls on the digital display. These controls let you set the focus and the zoom, and click the shutter, by touching the screen. I can't imagine any situation where this would be useful. I unwittingly activated these controls by touching the screen and as I handled the camera I unknowingly took dozens of shots of my hand, the inside of my pocket, the ground, the side of my pants, and like that. You can't turn this obnoxious "feature" off! I've learned not to touch the screen when handling the camera, so it isn't a problem any more, but it still diminishes my esteem for the otherwise admirable engineering job that Panasonic did on this camera.

This camera -- actually, already its predecessor -- convinced me to dump the 50-lb DSLR outfit I had been lugging around for several years. I don't need it. For me, the ZS series has disrupted the DSLR market much in the same way that DSLRs disrupted the film SLR market. Who needs all that heavy clunky expensive gear? I can do 95% of what I did with the DSLR, and a great many things I couldn't, with this little gem that fits in my shirtpocket.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 14, 2012 6:06:25 AM PDT
S. Larson says:
Thanks for the thorough review of the ZS20. I recently bought this same camera as an alternative to always lugging around my large DSLR and lenses. I agree with most of what you said. However, you still can't beat the image performance of a DSLR with a P&S like this. The P&S will take great pictures, but you simply can't match the physical attributes of a DSLR (much larger image sensor, much better optics).

In reply to an earlier post on May 14, 2012 7:53:15 AM PDT
Mr. Research says:
Of course, you're right. DSLRs by their very nature are going to give you richer and more detailed shots but the difference between them and the newer P&Ss like the ZS20 is getting less and less. When you factor in the differences in cost, size and weight, the choice is very easy for all but the most serious amateurs and even vacationing pros.

In reply to an earlier post on May 14, 2012 8:30:29 AM PDT
S. Larson says:
Oh, believe me, I LOVE the convenience factor of the ZS20 over my DSLR, and I never feel like hauling my Canon 40D and lenses around on vacations or small outings. The zoom on the ZS20 is just amazing, and I really appreciate having the option of shooting HD video now.

Posted on Sep 23, 2012 2:51:05 PM PDT
Reel To Real says:
I like your review. I just posted my own. I think only professional photographers would need a better camera than this amazing point and shoot, and though they'd hate to admit it, they'd mostly be happy to just use this one for its size and overall ease. When I bought my Zs9 (an Amazon special version of the Zs8), professional reviewers thought the picture quality of the 8/9 was better than the 10, the more expensive model, because the CMOS sensor in the 10 was underwhelming. The CMOS sensor on the Zs20 is terrific.

Posted on Nov 21, 2012 11:30:41 PM PST
greg c says:
THANK YOU! Loved your review and I've read a Bunch of them on this and the 19 w/o the GPS [better battery life]. Yours was 1 of only 2 where I began to understand the "soft area" outside of the center of focus at high magnification was for a purpose [overlooked by many critiques] and not to make blurry distant landscape shots. PS[I think you can go to the lower right of the screen and turn off that "obnoxious feature"]
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