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Features (continued):

The ZS20 has an all new menu system (see below-right), complete with a description of each option. The new menus look really sharp, though they feel a bit sluggish. To get to the menus themselves, you must first pass through the gateway screen, which is pictured below-left. It would be nice if there was an option that let you bypass the gateway screen, as it slows down menu access.

This is what you see when you first press the menu button The record menu, with descriptions of each item at the bottom

Shooting/Setup Menu Highlights

While you can use the touchscreen for the gateway menu, you'll be using the four-way controller after that. Here are the most interesting items from the shooting and setup menus:

  • Sensitivity: the camera can boost the ISO based on brightness (normal Auto ISO) or based on subject movement (Intelligent ISO); you can also set it manually, with a range of 100 to 3200
  • White balance: you've got the usual presets (except for fluorescent) plus a custom spot, for which you use a white or gray card; you can also fine-tune white balance in the red or blue direction
  • AF mode: choose from face detection, subject tracking, 23-area auto, and 1-area (large or small)
  • Quick AF: starts AF when camera shake is minimized, which reduces focus times (at the expense of battery life)
  • Face Recognition: as with prior ZS-series models, the ZS20 can learn to recognize people, either automatically or manually; you can enter the person's name and birthday, and they will be given focus priority whenever they appear in the scene
  • Intelligent Exposure: attempts to improve overall image contrast by reducing highlight clipping and brightening shadows; see examples below
  • Min. shutter speed: choose the lowest shutter speed that you want the camera to use; there's an Auto setting, or you can selected a speed of 1 - 1/250 sec
  • Intelligent Resolution: actually two features in one; when set to "on" it intelligently sharpens your photos; the Intelligent Zoom options gives you a 2X focal length boost with a minimal reduction in image quality; see examples below
  • Extra optical zoom: while this isn't a menu item, you can get additional zoom power by lowering the resolution of your photos; for example, dropping down to 5 Megapixel gives you 33.8X of total zoom power; this can also be combined with Intelligent Zoom, so you'd top out at a whopping 67.5X if you used both at the 5MP resolution; don't forget your tripod!
  • Redeye removal: in addition to using pre-flashes to shrink your subject's pupils, the ZS20 can digitally remove redeye after a photo is taken; we'll see if it works later in the review
  • Stabilizer: here's where you can turn the OIS system on or off; note that the camera will turn it off automatically in certain situations; the "active" mode, which improves IS performance in movie mode, is turned on automatically
  • Auto Clock Set: uses the GPS to set the time; handy when you're on the road!
  • Custom setting memory: save up to four sets of your favorite camera settings to the two "C" spots on the mode dial
  • LCD display: adjust the brightness, contrast/saturation, and color of the display
  • Zoom Resume: returns the zoom to its last position when you turn the camera on, or return to record mode after reviewing photos

HDR Mode

Standard photo HDR on

Above you can see the HDR feature in action. In the original photo (which has Intelligent Dynamic off, which is the default in Program mode), you can barely make out the ceiling, and the sky is pretty blown out. The HDR version is much more appealing. The clipping in the sky is reduced, the ceiling in the hallway is now visible, and shadows are noticeably brighter. And, since the camera shoots the photo sequence so quickly, you can use HDR without a tripod (unlike, say, Canon's implementation). The bad news is that since this is a scene mode, most camera settings are locked up.

Just about everything else on the mode dial should be self-explanatory. The ZS20 has manual control over the shutter speed and aperture, but not focus. You can also bracket for exposure, by pressing "up" on the four-way controller. Unfortunately, the ZS20 does not support for the RAW image format.

iDynamic Mode

It's time for some additional explanation of some of those features. Let's start with Intelligent Dynamic, which is supposed to improve image contrast by reducing highlight clipping and brightening shadows. It's on by default in Intelligent Auto mode, and off in the manual shooting modes. You can choose from low, standard, and high settings. Here's the Intelligent Dynamic feature in action:

I. Dynamic off I. Dynamic low I. Dynamic standard I. Dynamic high

The change here is pretty obvious: the ceiling of the hallway gets noticeably brighter as you increase the amount of Intelligent Dynamic used. One thing that doesn't get better: highlight clipping (use HDR instead). I should also mention that Intelligent Dynamic is a very finicky feature -- it only works in certain situations.

Intelligent Resolution

Next up is Intelligent Resolution system, which has two components. First is intelligent sharpening, which is a fancy way of saying that the camera selectively sharpens objects that need it (edges, trees), and leaves alone things that don't (skin or the sky). While some previous Panasonic cameras let you select how much I.R. is applied to a photo, it's just on or off on the ZS20. The example below illustrates the Intelligent Resolution feature very nicely:

Intelligent Resolution off Intelligent Resolution on

I don't know about you, but I like the shot taken with I.R. turned on a lot more. If I owned this camera, I'd set it to "on" and leave it there. In Intelligent Auto mode, that's exactly what the camera does.

The other part of the Intelligent Resolution system is Intelligent Zoom. This gives you a 2X boost (up from 1.3X on previous models) in zoom power with a minimal loss in image quality (unlike traditional digital zoom). Thus, you now have 40X (960 mm) worth of zoom power. The camera also has the Extra Optical Zoom feature, which boosts the focal length when you lower the resolution. The lower the resolution, the more zoom power you get. You can combine these two features, too, so at 5 Megapixel you get 67.5X total zoom power -- that's 1620 mm! Below is an example of the distances you can cover using these features:

Telephoto (480 mm) Intelligent Zoom (960 mm) Intelligent + Extra Optical Zoom (5MP / 1620 mm)

As you can see, the Intelligent and Extra Optical Zoom features give you a ton more telephoto power. In my original test images, there was a noticeable drop in image quality, which I partially attributed to atmospheric conditions. I went back out and took another set of photos (shown above) and it's pretty obvious that image quality is reduced. I'd save this feature for small prints and web viewing only.

Playback

The ZS20's playback mode has been nicely enhanced over past year's models. Here are some of the most interesting features:

  • Map View: I told you about this earlier
  • Edit GPS data: don't like what the camera chose as the location? Choose from a list of nearby landmarks, type in your own, or just delete it
  • Upload Set: photos and videos can be tagged for uploading to Facebook or YouTube when you connect to your PC and use the Lumix Uploader software built into the camera
  • Filtering play: view only still photos, 3D photos, videos, photos taken in a specified area (thank you, GPS), and photos taken in a certain category (portrait, landscape, etc)
  • Calendar view: quickly jump to photos taken on a certain date
  • Auto Retouch: the camera will attempt to enhance a photo automatically
  • Creative Retouch: apply special effects (soft, toy camera, retro, etc.) to a photo
  • Resize/cropping: always handy
  • Title edit / text stamp: print the date and time, location, names of recognized subjects, and more on your photos
  • Video divide: pick a spot in your video and split it two
The two playback menus on the ZS20

The ZS20 can show you all kinds of information about your photo, including the location, shooting data, and a histogram. You just need to press the Display button to toggle through it all.

The camera moves between photos instantly, and you can do it with your finger or the four-way controller.

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Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 (Lumix DMC-TZ30)

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