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White Balance

In addition to the auto white balance mode the FZ20 offers four presets (daylight, cloudy, incandescent and flash). There is no preset for fluorescent lights (unfortunate given the rather mediocre performance of the AWB in such situations), but there is a manual white balance mode that allows you to point the camera at a white or gray card and create a custom setting.

In use - especially outdoors - the FZ20 delivers consistently accurate color. Under artificial lighting the results are more patchy. You'll need to use manual white balance under mixed lighting (especially fluorescents), though the results from auto white balance under incandescent (tungsten) lighting are good - as long as it's bright enough. When light levels drop (indoors at night) you'll get very orange results unless you switch to manual WB.

Outdoor - Auto WB
Red -0.5%, Blue 0.2%
Excellent

Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red -0.7%, Blue -5.2%
Average
Incandescent - Auto WB
Red 0.0%, Blue -0.9%,
Excellent

Flash Performance

The FZ20's powerful built-in flash, along with the bright F2.8 lens, gets a lot further than most - it's good for at least 7.0m (23 feet), and it works very well at close distances too, throttling down well until you get to about 25cm (2 feet) or so. Exposures are generally excellent, as is white balance, and of course you can add an external flash or use studio lighting easily thanks to the hot shoe.

Skin tone
Very slight blue cast, slight underexposure
Color chart
Very slight blue cast, slight underexposure

Macro Focus

The FZ20 has a rather unusual approach to macro focusing. There is no macro button, and in A, S and M modes the full focus range (from 5cm to infinity at the wide end of the zoom) is available all the time, whereas in P (fully automatic) mode you can only focus down to 30cm; presumably to speed up focusing in everyday snap shooting situations. Then there is a separate macro mode (on the main mode dial) that offers fully automatic exposure - just like the P mode - but focuses down to 5cm (again at the wide end of the zoom). As is common in zoom cameras the FZ20's macro capabilities are much better at the wide end of the zoom (5cm subject distance capturing an area around 43mm across), and there is inevitably some barrel distortion (and some color fringing). At the full 12x zoom position the close focus ability is less impressive - a subject distance of 200cm capturing an area around 12cm across, but there is no distortion at all.

Wide macro - 43 x 32 mm coverage
59 px/mm (1488 px/in)
Distortion: Average
Corner softness: Average
Equiv. focal length: 36 mm
Tele macro - 116 x 87 mm coverage
22 px/mm (557 px/in)
Distortion: Very low
Corner softness:Average
Equiv. focal length: 432 mm

Barrel and Pincushion Distortion

The wide end of the FZ20's zoom is marginally wider (36mm equiv.) than most of its competitors (though not quite as wide as the FZ3's 35mm), and the range - 12x - is greater. So it is a tribute to the designers at Leica (who presumably had some say in the design of the lens) that distortion is kept fairly low. The 1.35% barrel distortion is only just enough to be visible in wideangle shots, but not enough to be a problem, whilst there is no measurable distortion once you start to move into the middle and long end of the zoom.

Barrel distortion - 1.35% at Wide angle
Equiv. focal length: 35 mm
Pincushion distortion - 0.0% at Telephoto
Equiv. focal length: 420 mm

Specific image quality issues

It is hard not to be impressed with the images produced by the FZ20 - sharp, full of detail and with admirably natural (i.e. not over-saturated) colors. In our extensive real-world testing we only found a few minor problems - the occasional focus error when shooting quickly at full zoom, some mild exposure problems, and some flare in very bright light (mostly solved by the use of the supplied hood). It should be noted, however, that the 'hit rate' is very high; I would guess only 1 in 100 shots had a problem serious enough to ruin the shot. The images have more detail than the 3MP FZ3, and we saw far fewer blown highlights. Noise is an ever-present problem at higher ISOs (a 'feature' of this sensor), but is perfectly acceptable at ISO 80 and 100 - the F2.8 lens and effective image stabilization also mean you don't need to go to ISO 200 or 400 as often as you might normally. The images also need only the tiniest amount of unsharp masking, meaning noise is not exacerbated. It is also worth noting that we found none of the vignetting seen on the FZ3.

Color fringing

We found virtually none of the purple fringing we've come to expect from long zooms and small sensors - perhaps because one of the functions of the new Venus II engine is the removal of 'purple fringing'. Even in areas of extreme overexposure the only problem was a little blooming - no fringing at all. Excellent.

What we did find on rare occasions was what appears to be a little lens-produced CA (chromatic aberration) at the extreme telephoto end of the zoom when shooting at wider apertures. This takes the form of a slight red fringe around areas of very high contrast. It's only visible in a few shots and is best illustrated by this hand-held shot of the moon. I suspect also that the fringing may be something to do with the moving elements used in the image stabilization system (see the soccer shot below for an example where the IS has been pushed to the limit).

100% crop 432 mm equiv., F3.3, 1/500th sec
100% crop 432 mm equiv., F2.8, 1/100th sec

Image Stabilization

The MEGA O.I.S image Stabilization system used on the FZ20 (and many other recent Panasonic models) works, and it works well. There are two modes: Mode 1 (IS on all the time) and Mode 2 (IS is activated at the moment the exposure is made). Mode 1 makes framing easier - the IS system steadies the preview image (in the same way as, for example, the Canon S1 IS), but is less than 100% effective when it comes to actually taking the pictures. Mode 2, which minimizes the amount of movement needed by waiting until the actual moment you press the shutter, is considerably more effective. I certainly found the 3 or 4 shutter speed steps gain claimed by Panasonic to be justified - and was able to shoot at 420mm equiv. at speeds as low as 1/60th second successfully. Impressive stuff. The 100% crops below show the effectiveness of the IS system - especially in Mode 2 - when shooting at 420mm equiv. handheld at fairly low shutter speeds. It's by no means foolproof (and sometimes Mode 1 works better than Mode 2), but it's the best optical system we've seen yet. If anything the effectiveness is slightly less than the FZ3, though this is undoubtedly due to the higher pixel count, which means any blur in the scene is more visible when viewed on-screen at 100%.

IS off IS mode 1 IS mode 2
1/50 sec, 432mm equiv.
IS off IS mode 1 IS mode 2
1/15 sec, 432mm equiv.
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