Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 Review
Originally Posted: February 26, 2012
Last Updated: April 24, 2012
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 ($349) is a compact travel zoom camera with a pretty elaborate GPS setup. Not only does the ZS20 log your location, it also has a database of a million landmarks and maps of ninety countries. The ZS20 also packs a new 20X zoom lens, 14.1 Megapixel MOS sensor (which Panasonic says has less noise than the one on the ZS10), super-fast autofocus, 10 frame/second continuous shooting, a great auto mode, in-camera panorama stitching, and Full HD 1080/60p video recording.
As with all of Panasonic's recent travel zooms, the ZS20 has a little brother known as the DMC-ZS15. The table below shows you the differences between those two cameras, as well as last year's DMC-ZS10:
So there you have it! The ZS15 shares much in common with the ZS20, except for its lens (same as the ZS10), sensor (which is the same as the one on the DMC-FZ150 super zoom), and movie mode. It also lacks the touchscreen LCD and GPS functionality found on both the ZS10 and ZS20.
If you read last year's GPS-equipped Compact Ultra Zoom comparison, you may recall that I was quite disappointed with the DMC-ZS10, mostly due to its image quality. Panasonic says they've taken care of that on the ZS20. Did they? Find out now in our review!
The DMC-ZS20 is known as the DMC-TZ30 in some countries. The DMC-ZS15 is also known as the DMC-TZ25.
What's in the Box?
The DMC-ZS20 has a rather unremarkable bundle. Then again, so do most cameras these days. Inside the box, you'll find:
- The 14.1 effective Megapixel Lumix DMC-ZS20 digital camera
- DMW-BCG10 lithium-ion battery
- AC-to-USB adapter
- Wrist strap
- USB cable
- DVD featuring PhotoFunStudio 8.1 Premium Edition, Map Tool, and LoiLoScope trial
- 34 page basic manual (printed) + full manual (on CD-ROM)
Despite being their flagship travel zoom camera, Panasonic has built just 18MB of memory into the DMC-ZS20. Needless to say, you'll want to buy a memory card right away, unless you have one sitting around already. The ZS20 supports SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards, and I'd recommend a 4GB card for most folks, and an 8GB or 16GB card for movie enthusiasts. You'll want a card rated Class 6 or faster for best performance, especially when it comes to movies.
The DMC-ZS20 uses the same DMW-BCG10 lithium-ion battery as its predecessor. This battery packs just 3.2 Wh of energy into its plastic shell, but thankfully Panasonic manages to squeeze pretty good battery life out of it, as you can see in this table:
The ZS20's battery life is a bit above the group average. That said, you might want to pick up a spare battery, as that GPS is power-hungry, especially if it's on all the time (more on that later). An extra battery will set you back around $32.
Panasonic has changed the way in which batteries are charged on their 2012 models. Batteries are now charged internally via the USB connector, which can be plugged into the wall or your PC. The reason why manufacturers are using this method more and more is pretty obvious to me: it costs a lot less to include a small AC-to-USB adapter than a full external charger. The bad news is that internal charging is a lot slower -- it takes a whopping 260 minutes to fully charge the ZS20's battery. Thankfully, Panasonic still sells the external charger (model DE-A65BA), which can be yours for about $25. It's more convenient than internal charging, allows you to charge a spare, and it's 100 minutes faster, too.
Something else about the included charger: while it's an AC adapter, you cannot use it to power the camera -- it's for charging only. If you want to use the ZS20 on "shore power", then you'll need to buy the hard-to-find AC adapter listed below.
There are just a couple of accessories available for the DMC-ZS20. They include:
A pretty short list, yes, but then again, the ZS20 is a compact camera. As I've hinted at several times, Panasonic accessories can be very hard to find -- I don't even have prices for half of the stuff!
Panasonic includes PhotoFunStudio 8.1 Professional Edition software with the Lumix DMC-ZS20. This Windows-only software handles basic tasks fairly well, though the whole "wizard" system gets tired quickly. On the main screen you'll see the usual thumbnail view, and you can view photos by folders, date, or by things as specific as scene mode. The software can learn to recognize faces (much like the camera itself), which offers you another way to browse through your pictures. Available editing features give you the ability to crop, rotate, or change the aspect ratio of your photos, as well as adjusting color, brightness, saturation, and more. You can apply special effects to photos, overlay text, or remove redeye. Something else that's nice is that the software maintains a history of the changes you've made to a photo, so you can go back in time if you don't like something you've done.
Another included program is Lumix Map Tool (for Mac and Windows), which lets you choose which maps of the world you want to load onto your memory card. The North/Central America map is 1.88 GB, so maybe getting that 8 GB SDHC card isn't such a bad idea, after all. Another important application, known as GPSASIST, is actually built into the camera itself. When you attach it to your Mac or PC via USB, select "GPS Assist Data" on the camera, and you'll find the software on the virtual disk mounted by the camera. Loading the GPS Assist Data can reduce satellite acquisition times.
PhotoFunStudio can also work with the movies produced by the ZS20. You can trim unwanted footage from a clip, overlay titles or "stamps", and convert the video to the easier-to-edit MPEG-4 format. If you want to use something else to edit your videos, most modern Windows video editing suites can work with the AVCHD files produced by the ZS20. However, some of them may not support the AVCHD Progressive format, so check with your software manufacturer first. Mac users are in the same boat. You cannot currently edit AVCHD Progressive videos in either iMovie or Final Cut Pro. However, if you download the free Media Converter software (and its associated rewrap for QuickTime plug-in), you will be able to import them. Movies recorded in MPEG-4 (MP4) format will be much easier to edit in the software of your choice.
As with other recent Panasonic cameras, the ZS20's manuals are split into two parts. In the box is a leaflet that will get you up and running, but not much further. For more information about the camera, you'll have to load up the full manual, which is in PDF format on the DVD that comes with the camera. The full manual certainly won't win any awards for user-friendliness, but it should answer most questions you'll have about the ZS20. Instructions for using the included software is installed onto your PC.