Performance (speed)

Whether you're taking pictures of your kids or trying to get a photo of that elusive sea turtle, you want your camera to be responsive. With one exception, the PowerShot D20 holds its own in the performance department. The D20 starts up in roughly 0.8 seconds, which is quite good for a compact camera. The user interface is snappy, with no waiting for menus to come up. Changing settings is quick and easy, though deleting photos takes more steps than it should, as the camera lacks a dedicated button for this purpose.

In good lighting, autofocus performance is very responsive, with focus times hovering around a half second. The D20 doesn't fare as well in low light, taking upwards of two seconds to lock onto its subject. Underwater, the camera focused well, though we were shooting in good light most of the time. Regardless of where you're shooting, you'll wait for two seconds without the flash to four seconds with it.

If it's continuous shooting you're after, the D20 can keep firing away at 1.9 fps, until your memory card fills up. That's not bad, though some of its peers are capable of shooting considerably faster (but not for very long).

The PowerShot D20's battery life of 280 shots per charge is decent (but not spectacular) for a compact camera. You should be able to get through a day of shooting without having to recharge. Keep in mind that the battery life number above is calculated with the GPS turned off. With it turned on, expect battery life to be considerably shorter - especially if you have the logging function turned on.

Image Quality

Above water, the PowerShot D20 produces fairly good photos for a camera in its class. Images are on the soft side at very close examination, though you'll only notice this when viewing the photos at 100% on your computer - something most potential D20 buyers probably won't end up doing often. Color saturation is pleasing, capturing the beauty of Maui just as my eyes saw it on a recent vacation. Photos do have a bit of grainy luminance noise to them, though that's in exchange for less detail smudging than many other compact cameras.

Bright Light, Low ISO
Photos are colorful and pleasing when viewed at normal magnifications.
ISO 100, 1/250 sec, f/8
When you do look at 100% though, you'll find that they're on the soft side.

At high sensitivities (ISO 800 and above), details start to get lost, which is what you'd expect from a small-sensored camera. Photos taken at ISO 800 and 1600 are still usable, but only for small prints or web viewing.

Low Light, High ISO
At ISO 1600, the high-contrast details in this cityscape are well-rendered but noise is obvious in areas of plain tone, and overall sharpness in low-contrast areas isn't great.
ISO 1600, 1/6 sec, f/4.5
At ISO 1600, you'll see that there's quite a bit of detail loss on the books.
ISO 1600, 1/13 sec, f/3.9

While exposure is mostly accurate, the D20 does struggle with highlight clipping, which is common for a compact camera. It also has strong chromatic aberration at times, as illustrated below.

The crop above is a rather extreme example of strong lateral chromatic aberration, which you'll find in several places in this image (and others in our gallery).

ISO 100, 1/250 sec, f/8

Both chromatic aberration (as well as purple fringing) are common on compact cameras like the D20. With a bit of processing you can reduce this unwanted effect. It's pretty bad on some images in the D20 (mainly at wide-angle), but it's only likely to be if you crop-in or view at 100% that it'll be a real problem.

The other issue raised above - which is perhaps most noticeable in photos - is highlight clipping. One way to reduce this annoyance is to use the i-Contrast feature demonstrated below:

i-Contrast Off, ISO 100, 1/250 sec, F3.9 i-Contrast on, ISO 160, 1/200 sec, F8

As you can see, quite a bit of highlight tone is restored by using i-Contrast. The two 'gotchas' with this feature are that the camera boosts the minimum ISO sensitivity to 160, and that noise may be increased due to the camera having to 'pull up' the shadows to make up for the lower exposure.

Like most compact cameras, the D20 struggled with redeye in flash photos. The redeye removal tool in playback mode was unable to get rid of this annoyance.

The camera had to increase the ISO to 800 here in order to compensate for its weak flash.

Underwater results from the D20 are similar to images captured with other competitive compact underwater cameras: mixed. Setting up underwater photos is difficult - especially when you're snorkeling (when both the photographer and the subjects are in constant motion), which in practice means that blur-free images are rare. During our shooting, of the photos that were sharp, we noticed some noise (not unexpected) and a color cast that was nearly universal on all the underwater cameras we tested (despite using the underwater scene mode). Because the D20 doesn't shoot RAW (and we wouldn't expect it to) this means that post-capture corrections must be applied to JPEGs.

Nearly all of the underwater photos we took with the PowerShot D20 and its peers had some kind of color cast. A simple 'Auto Color Balance' in Photoshop, along with a levels adjustment, took care of that in a few seconds, but of course, this does mean the final image has been compressed twice (not a great idea from the point of view of critical image quality).

Another thing we learned from real-world use of the D20 and its underwater compact peers is that it's best to shoot at wide-angle. The reasons are simple: most of these cameras have slow lenses (F3.9-F4.8 in the case of the PowerShot D20), so it's better to shoot wide to let in the most light. Also, shooting wider gives you a bigger safety margin for framing, which is trickier underwater than on land.

Video Quality

As mentioned on the previous page, the PowerShot D20 can record video at 1920 x 1080 (24 fps) for up to fifteen minutes. Below are two samples, taken both above and below sea level.

Sample Video 1

This movie, taken right on the beach (hence the water drop at the top of the screen), shows how the D20's video quality performs in daylight:

1920 x 1080, 24p, 36 Mbps, 19.5 MB, 11 secs Click here to download original video

We noticed something odd about this sample (and it's not the drop of water on the top): it's very shaky, despite image stabilization being turned on. We were able to replicate this nearly every time here in our studios, though it's only when the camera is being handheld. We scoured the Internet and found some other sample videos with the same problem, so we're confident that this is not specific to our camera.

Sample Video 2

Naturally, everyone wants to see what an underwater movie looks and sounds like. Here's a somewhat shaky video of the author chasing a fish in Maui.

1920 x 1080, 24p, 36 Mbps, 49.5 MB, 8 secs Click here to download original video

As with the underwater stills, this video has a slight color cast. If you're skilled with video editing software, this can be corrected. If not, then the results are still good enough for sharing.