Body and Design

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 is a compact ultra zoom camera that packs a 20X zoom lens (how engineers manage to fit big lenses into small packages always amazes me). The body made almost entirely of metal, and it feels quite solid. As usual, the plastic door over the memory card/battery compartment is on the flimsy side. The mode dial feels cheap, and is too small (as are several other buttons on the camera). The ZS20'sstabilized lens isn't terribly 'fast' (in terms of maximum aperture), but then again, neither are lenses found on the ZS20's competitors. The focal range isn't the lens' only new feature - it also has a nano surface coating, which aims to reduce flare and ghosting. Lens zooming is multi-speed, depending on how hard you push/pull the zoom toggle. At full speed, the lens goes from wide-angle to telephoto in 2.8 seconds. I counted over forty steps in the ZS20's 20X zoom range.

To the upper-right of the lens is the built-in flash, which has a working range of 0.6 - 6.4 m at wide-angle and 1.0 - 3.3 m at telephoto (at Auto ISO). The ZS20 does not support an external flash.The only other thing to see on the front of the camera is the AF-assist lamp, which also serves as a visual countdown for the self-timer.

The main event on the back of the camera is its 3-inch touchscreen LCD, which appears to be the same as the one on the DMC-ZS10. This screen has 460,000 pixels, so everything's nice and sharp. Its outdoor visibility is excellent, and in low light the screen brightens up well, so you can still see your subject. To the right is the ZS20's four-way controller, which is used for menu navigation, adjusting settings, and replaying photos. There are also direct buttons for exposure compensation/bracketing, self-timer, flash, and macro mode.

The last two buttons on the back of the ZS20 are for toggling the information shown on the LCD, as well as opening the Quick (shortcut) menu. The Q. Menu button is also used for deleting photos and backing out of menus. There's a lot to see on the top of the ZS20. Let me first point out the stereo microphones, which have the speaker located just to their right. Under the left mic is an indicator light that shows when the GPS is being used. Since by default the camera will keep checking your location every few minutes, don't be surprised if you set his lamp lit up when the camera is off.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 in the hand Big lens, small camera. The camera is easy to hold and operate with one hand. Despite all of its features, the ZS20 is actually light on buttons. That's because many things are accessed via the rear touchscreen or the menu system.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 in the hand The DMC-ZS20 has a brand new 20X optical zoom Leica lens - up from 16X on last year's ZS10. This F3.3-6.4 lens has a focal range of 4.3 - 86 mm, which is equivalent to 24 - 480 mm. The lens isn't terribly 'fast' (in terms of maximum aperture), but then again, neither are lenses found on the ZS20's competitors. The focal range isn't the lens' only new feature - it also has a nano surface coating, which aims to reduce flare and ghosting.
On the ZS20's top plate you'll find the exposure mode dial, which is small and cheap-feeling. Next to that we have the shutter release/zoom controller combo. The zoom controller works at two speeds, depending on how much pressure you apply to it. A direct movie recording button and on/off switch complete the tour.
At the upper-right of the photo is the switch which toggles between record and playback mode. 30 seconds (or so) after you switch to playback mode, the lens will retract. If you want it to return to its previous position when you go back to record mode, turn on the 'zoom resume' feature in the setup menu. Below that we've got a button for adjusting the exposure and for viewing the map in playback mode.
On the side of the camera are the ZS20's I/O ports, which include mini-HDMI, USB, and A/V output. The ports are protected by a plastic door of average quality.
On the bottom of the camera you'll find a metal tripod mount (hidden in this photo) and the battery/memory card compartment. As is usually the case, the plastic door over the battery/memory compartment is on the flimsy side. You also won't be able to open it while the camera is on a tripod.

Now let's take a look at how the DMC-ZS20 compares to other compact travel zooms in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot SX260 HS 4.2 x 2.4 x 1.3 in. 13.1 cu in. 208 g
Fujifilm FinePix F770EXR 4.1 x 2.4 x 1.4 in. 13.8 cu in. 209 g
Nikon Coolpix S9300 4.3 x 2.5 x 1.3 in. 14 cu in. 215 g
Olympus SZ-31MR iHS 4.2 x 2.7 x 1.6 in. 18.1 cu in. 226 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 4.1 x 2.3 x 1.3 in. 12.3 cu in. 185 g
Pentax Optio VS20 4.4 x 2.4 x 1.5 in. 15.8 cu in. 213 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V 4.3 x 2.5 x 1.4 in 15.1 cu in. 221 g

Well look at that - the ZS20 is the smallest and lightest compact ultra zoom in the group! It fits pretty well in jeans pockets (mine, at least), and is easy to carry around with just the wrist strap, as well.