Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ20

The Panasonic DMC-TZ20 offers a host of features: a 16x optical zoom, 1080i movie, built-in GPS, a 3-inch touchscreen LCD and even a 3D mode. But just how well does this update of the successful TZ10 perform?

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ20 (or ZS10 as it's known in the US) supersedes the very successful TZ10 model of yesteryear. Far from a quick update, the TZ20 offers an array of new features: the 16x optical zoom lens has a 24-384mm reach and comes coupled with Power OIS - a lens-based image stabilisation system that helps to counteract those wobbly hands to frame telephoto shots more steadily and capture sharper images at slower shutter speeds too. On the TZ20’s inside is a brand new 14.1-megapixel MOS sensor that’s also a fairly integral change. Its design is more beneficial for movie capture than CCD sensors used in previous Lumix models. And, speaking of movie mode, the 1080i50 mode available means the TZ20 is capable of some pretty spectacular Full HD capture and it’s even possible to deploy the zoom during recording (it can on occasion take some time for the focus to catch up, but still, that’s more than many competitors can offer).

There’s no getting around the fact that the TZ20 is a fair wedge of a camera. It’s not massive, as such, but to squeeze such a significant lens into a smaller body wouldn’t be feasible. If this isn’t an issue then the overall design of the camera is well laid-out, with a mode dial on the top to select your shooting mode, a one-touch movie button to jump straight into recording and the usual d-pad on the back of the camera.

The TZ20 also has a touchscreen LCD that, unlike some of the company’s G-series hybrid cameras, such as the Lumix GH2, doesn’t feel as all-round responsive as it could be. It’s certainly not like using an iPhone interface, for example, and taking that into mind and how many people already own such similar smartphones the transition between the two will feel all the colder. Certain touch elements are very cool indeed though - pressing your finger where you want the camera to focus is certainly useful but just needs to be all the more responsive. Pressing more firmly or more than once can become a little frustrating. It’s partway there, but in its present state there’s only so much the touchscreen genuinely adds to this model … a good job, then, that all the options can be controlled using the usual array of buttons too.

In use and the TZ20’s movie mode is certainly an improvement over cameras of old. Although the interlaced capture may not be ideal, the movie files look brighter and all the more complete than previous generation Lumix models. The only downside is the annoying screen blackout prior to capture that stops the “quick access one-touch button” from the sort of seamless and immediate recording we’d usually expect.

Autofocus for stills is pretty swift and the focus area is always clearly marked out in green, depending on the mode selected. Face detection was adept at picking faces out of the crowd and, overall, you won’t miss a shot with the TZ20. The burst mode is also incredibly fast, able to capture 10 frames per second at full resolution at a single point of focus or up to 5fps when in continuous focus mode. It can take a little while to write all the files if you shoot a lot of course, but the camera’s not out of action for very long before it’s then ready to shoot more. 

Stills and movie are one side of things but the new 3D mode is something altogether different. In order to take a 3D shot you’ll need to take two frames, one after the other, that the TZ20 automatically splices together into an MPO file. It’s a nice idea, daresay a bit of a gimmick, that’s regrettably fundamentally flawed in its application for various types of shots. Moving action or even people in shots will need to stay still in order to allow for the second frame to be taken. On the one hand it’s good that the TZ20 takes “proper” 3D images (unlike, for example, the Sony compacts that create 3D from a 2D image by blurring areas), but on the other it doesn’t do them in the most natural or intuitive way. A dedicated 3D camera, such as the Fujifilm W3 3D, makes more sense if you’re a 3D fanatic. Frankly, at the moment, it feels a little in its infancy: 3D gaming – great; 3D stills images that can only be viewed on digital devices and 3D TVs - we’re not quite there yet. Plus not everyone likes wearing active shutter glasses and the subsequent loss of an equivalent stop of light is, frankly, a pain.

One of the TZ20’s flagship features is its GPS technology - it’s possible to record the location that a shot is taken at in the file’s EXIF data, a feature becoming more popular on cameras of late. This information can be used for a variety of purposes - be it to help catalogue or to interact with online maps and the like. It’s easy to turn on or off and, although it will eat at the battery a bit quicker, it’s a great feature to have.

With such a long zoom in a relatively small body you might think that image quality may slump as a result. In reality, however, we’re really rather impressed with the TZ20’s performance throughout its zoom range. At its 24mm wideangle setting the close-up macro focus capability is impressive and returns sharp results.

The Lumix TZ20’s ISO sensitivity ranges from ISO 100-1600 and there are ISO 3200-6400 options embedded within particular low light modes. Starting with the not so good: those low light modes don’t produce particularly astounding images as there’s a lot of image noise, muted colours and softness due to processing. Furthermore the full ISO range isn’t as crisp or clear as we’d liked it to have been. Images are fine but there’s some grain-like image noise visible throughout the range and ISO 800-1600 have a prominence of colour noise. If you’re a total image quality buff then the TZ20 may not be the path for you (there’s no RAW capture either), but if you’re just looking to grab some snaps throughout a broad focal range then it’s more than got the job in hand.

With an asking price of £349 the TZ20’s launch price certainly isn’t bargain basement material. But you get what you pay for and there are very few other compact cameras out there as well equipped as the TZ20 is. The image quality may not be anywhere near that of, say, the Canon S95, but it’s the 16x optical zoom and GPS technology that provide the price premium here. Give it a few months and it should be found for under the £300 mark and that, ultimately, will make it all the more appealing.

Verdict

The Panasonic Lumix TZ20 has plenty of offer. It’s a big improvement over the TZ10 before it and we’re particularly fond of the newfound 16x optical zoom (24-384mm) lens. This provides a broad range to shoot with although, it has to be said, the overall final image quality at 100% isn’t the best out there - yet it’s ideal for day-to-day snaps.

Elsewhere the TZ20’s 1080i movie mode is excellent, GPS is great to have, full manual and automatic controls appeal to the more advanced snapper, the 10fps burst mode is very impressive for rapid shooting and, even though it’s not perfectly responsive, the touchscreen can add an extra dimension to the shooting experience. That’s more than we can say for the 3D mode, however, which won’t work for all situations based on its “two image method” of creation. 

Overall, if you’re looking for an impressive zoom range in a relatively small package and want to capture some decent HD movies too then, assuming the current £349 asking price is no object, the TZ20 should certainly be seen as a front-runner.

Product photos by Stuart Miles from our first hands-on with the camera.