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Features:

Exposure Mode Dial Options

There are nine options on the ZS20's top-mounted exposure mode dial - here's what they are, and what they do.

Option Function
Intelligent Auto mode Point-and-shoot, with automatic scene selection, face detection, subject tracking, intelligent sharpening, dynamic range improvement, and more. Many menu items are locked up.
Program mode Automatic, with full menu access. There's no Program Shift feature available.
Aperture Priority mode You set the aperture, and the camera picks the appropriate shutter speed. The aperture range on the ZS20 is F3.3 - F8.0.
Shutter Priority mode You pick the shutter speed, and the camera selects the matching aperture. The shutter speed range is 8 - 1/2000 sec.
Full manual (M) mode You select both the aperture and the shutter speed. The aperture choices remain the same, and the shutter speed range opens up to 15 - 1/2000 sec.
Custom mode 1/2 You can save a total of four sets of cameras settings to the two spots on the mode dial.
3D Photo mode Create a 3D photo by panning the sliding the camera from left to right. Image is saved in MPO format.
Scene mode You pick the scene and the camera uses the appropriate settings. Choose from portrait, soft skin, scenery, panorama shot, sports, night portrait, night scenery, handheld night shot, HDR, food, baby 1/2, pet, sunset, high sensitivity, through glass, underwater, and high speed video.
Creative Control mode Similar to Art Filters on Olympus cameras, here you can quickly turn on special shooting effects, which include expressive, retro, high key, low key, sepia, dynamic monochrome, high dynamic, toy effect, miniature effect, and soft focus. These work for both stills and videos.

And some highlights...

  • Intelligent Auto mode: really is the best auto mode in the business. It performs scene selection, face detection and subject tracking, shadow brightening, and intelligent sharpening -- all automatically
  • 3D photo mode: pan the camera from left to right and it will create a 3D image, saved in MPO format, which can be played back on a compatible HDTV
  • Panorama Shot: new to 2012 Panasonic cameras, this is basically a copy of Sony's sweep panorama feature. Sweep the camera from side-to-side and the camera will create a huge panoramic image; zoom is locked at full wide-angle
  • Handheld night shot: combines a series of exposures into a single, sharp photo; don't expect miracles, though -- image quality isn't great
  • HDR (high dynamic range): also new to 2012 Panasonic cameras, this quickly takes three shots in a row -- each with a different exposure -- and combines them into a single photo with improved contrast
  • High speed video: records silent movies at 220 fps, which are played back normal speed, giving the impression of slow motion; resolution is lowered to 320 x 240

Panorama Shot

Above you can see a Panorama Shot that didn't stitch terribly well on the right hand side. To be fair, this is a very difficult image to line up correctly.

Touchscreen LCD

As I mentioned back in the tour, the ZS20 had a touchscreen LCD, just like its predecessor. You can do the following with the touchscreen:

  • Touch focus: the camera will focus on the area of the frame that you selected
  • Touch shutter: same idea as touch focus, but this time a photo is taken, as well
  • Touch zoom controller: lets you adjust the focal length via a virtual zoom controller -- the real thing is much easier to use. The only nice thing are buttons that instantly send the lens to the wide-angle or telephoto positions
  • Touch playback: swipe to move between photos; double-tap to enlarge a photo and then drag with your finger

As someone who is generally not too fond of touch-based controls, I was a bit disappointed to see that there was no way to disable these features on the ZS20.

GPS

While the ZS10 had a GPS and database of a million landmarks, the ZS20 takes things a step further by having a map that shows where your photos were taken. All of those info is saved in the metadata of your photos, which can be imported into PhotoFunStudio, iPhoto, or various online photo sharing sites.

The landmark database is pretty solid (at least around here), though there will be times when the camera records the wrong one. This can happen because it hasn't been able to update your location, or because it just picks a landmark in the area that just happens to be incorrect. Thankfully, Panasonic lets you change the selected landmark, or delete it entirely. You can also create up to 50 of your own landmarks -- say, Jeff's House -- though you might want to make sure that the GPS can even locate you before you do that.

This map view gives an overview of where I took my photos In this view, selecting a thumbnail will highlight the spot on the map where the photo was taken.

Panasonic includes maps of ninety countries on the DVD that comes with the camera. In order to load those maps onto the memory card, you'll use the Map Tool software that's will be installed onto your computer. The maps themselves aren't terribly detailed, and it can be hard to figure out exactly what you're looking at when you're zoomed in. Still, for a quick look, it works pretty well. You can also locate yourself on the map, though the maps aren't detailed enough (and the GPS not responsive enough) for this to be terribly useful.

I've highlighted two important GPS-related items on the shooting screen. The satellite with the yellow box below shows acquisition progress. You want three yellow boxes and then three blue boxes.
To the right, the camera shows the number of minutes since it last found your location (it's been a while here).

That brings us to GPS performance. Panasonic has worked to improve satellite acquisition times on the ZS20, though it can be hard to tell sometimes. Something you'll definitely want to do is load "Assist Data" onto the memory card (using the software that comes with the camera), which is supposed to help with all this.

If you turn on the camera in a clear area, it should find your location in 20-30 seconds (with Assist Data installed). As with all GPS-based cameras I've tested, don't expect miracles in the Big City -- the ZS20 will struggle to locate your position. You'll know you're locked on when the blinking yellow blocks shown above turn to all blue. Something else you can do to have the camera keep up with your location is leave Airplane Mode turned on. While this will put an extra strain on your battery, the camera will periodically try to locate itself, even when the camera is powered off.

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