Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ20 review
I recently upgraded from a Olympus C730UZ to the Panasonic FZ20. Since the 730UZ is the only other camera I have used my review is relative to the 730UZ.
Optics and image quality: fantastic
Focusing: almost never misses even in low light (fantastic)
Manual Controls: All very usable especially manual focus
Flash: excellent but sometimes get some red eye (little slow too) buy an external like the Vivtar 285HV
Overall: It is not a D-SLR but it is close enough that I could never justify buying a D-SLR as the total cost of ownership is far far lower for the FZ20. Plus, the FZ20 with a the Vivtar 285HV is good enough to take any picture I want. That is all I need to carry. The only reason you might want more is to get RAW and the better low light/low noise performance that only a D-SLR can give.
I was quite happy with the 730UZ and took alot of pictures with it over the approx 1-2 year period I had it. When it was hot, it was hot, when it was not, it was not, and my hard drive was filled with fantastic pictures and an almost equal number of "could have been fantastic but..." pictures. These were mostly due to the poor autofocus and poor low light performance. The camera really shines in high light. In lowish light with the 730 it is almost impossible to tell if you have a clear picture until you opened it up on the computer because the noise and lack of focus is undetectable on the LCD. Manual focus with the 730UZ is possible but prohibitively tedious and again it is hard to tell if focus is perfect.
I must say that the FZ20 is absolutely a joy to use compared to the C730UZ. The focus on my FZ20 is quick and orders of magnitude more accurate than the C730UZ. One of the reasons I bought the FZ20 was for the manual focus but I hardly ever need it even in the lowest light. However, the FZ20 does have a rather large dead region where you can't focus on a object if close and zoomed but I can work around that. The boot up and refresh times are very short and shutter lag is absent under most situations. Even TIFF which took forever on the 730UZ is relatively quick.
After using the FZ20, I now realize that the controls and menus of the 730UZ are a nightmare. For the C730UZ you have all those modes and you never know what the settings are in each one unless you check. Even after a year I wasn't really comfortable with them. I would shoot 20 pictures before I realized that the sharpness wasn't set how I wanted it. I has up and running in 1 day with the FZ20 because the menus and settings are simple and logical.
After using the FZ20, I now know that the 730UZ is a really noisy camera. People who complain about noise on the FZ20 should try the C730UZ. With indoor pictures of my home, even at FZ20 ISO400 I couldn't get nearly the amount of noise I would get with the optimum settings for low light with the C730UZ. But there was some noise on the FZ20 indoor pictures at iso200+, enough that I was willing to look for a solution. I bought Noise Ninja, calibrated it for the FZ20 and tried it with some indoor shots of my home that I have shot many times. Noise Ninja definately improved my higher ISO FZ20 pictures but there really wasn't that much noise to begin with so the effects were only noticable if you zoomed the picture pretty high. For 5x7 prints you would not notice the difference. I was beginning to regret buying Noise Ninja but hen I tried it on some of my old marginal C730UZ pictures. I could not believe how much Noise Ninja improved my C730UZ pictures. Night and Day. I used the batch mode to process almost every low light picture I took with the C730UZ and recovered almost half the pictures I had almost written off as wasted space(the other 1/2 was focus issues). Looking back, the best C730UZ pictures
Advice to FZ20 users. Your camera isn't really that noisy at all and you really need a program like Noise Ninja only if you plan to take low light ISO200+ pictures that you plan to print 8x10s of.
Advice to C730UZ users: buy Noise Ninja and you can take decent indoor pictures if you can get them in focus.
FZ20 users should also be made more aware of the focusing dead zone and how to deal with it. It is in the manual but it isn't really clear until you are in it. The autofocus on the FZ20 is fantastic in my experience and I think alot of people are unsuccessfully trying to focus in the dead zone and think thats a problem with the autofocus. It won't focus in manual either.
FZ20 users in Canada should also be aware that the commonly sold Vivitar 2800 Flash (Blacks 69$) has a trigger voltage of almost 200 volts ( I measured it myself), which is 170 more volts than Panasonic recommends. The Vivitar 285HV has a trigger voltage of 8 volts and works well with the FZ20. It is rather large and makes the camera top heavy but it is very powerful and adaptable. Since the FZ20 flash is pretty good already, when I need it the power is useful.
Overall, I am immensely pleased with my FZ20.
No TTL flash, but the Vivtar 285HV works fine for me (you just need to set range)
Some noise at ISO400
Can't open card door when attached to tripod
WA and tele lenses are very expensive
Flash recharge time tad slow