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Konica Minolta’s innovative DiMAGE ‘Z’ series, launched in 2003, now comprises six models aimed mostly at the advanced amateur photographer. These offer a range of powerful features such as long zoom lenses, manual exposure functions and high quality movie modes. Although they are all distinct and unique models, they share certain design elements that give them an obvious family resemblance. For the mid-range Z20, the common design themes are the large handgrip, the elongated round body, and the flash mounted over the lens barrel.
Coming in at just under £170, the Z20 offers a surprisingly full specification for the price, although inevitably some corners have been cut to fit the budget. What you get is a high performance five megapixel camera with an 8x optical zoom lens (equivalent to 36 – 290mm) and a full range of manual exposure, metering and focus options. Its operating system and range of menu options are basically identical to the higher priced Z5 reviewed last week. What it lacks however is the Z5’s image stabilisation system, a very useful addition to any camera with a long zoom lens. Without it, hand held shots at the extreme end of the zoom range are always going to be at risk from camera shake.
The Z20 has a couple of very unusual features which have both their good and bad points. The most obvious is the viewfinder and monitor arrangement. Instead of a separate small LCD screen in the viewfinder, the Z20 has an angled mirror. When you turn the switch from monitor to viewfinder, there is a distinct ‘clunk’, and the monitor screen folds down backwards so that you can now view it through the eyepiece, via the mirror. Meanwhile a blanking screen pops up to cover the monitor window. The advantage of this is that the viewfinder is the same resolution as the monitor screen, but the disadvantage is that it uses more power than smaller, lower resolution electronic viewfinders found in other cameras. Also on the downside is the size of the monitor. Presumably to fit it into the flip mechanism, the screen is only 1.5in across the diagonal.
The second unusual item is the card slot. Rather than having a hidden slot covered by a hinged lid, Konica Minolta has opted for an exposed slot on the side of the handgrip. On the plus side it makes changing cards very quick and you can always see whether or not the card is in there. On the minus side, I can’t help thinking that despite the little sprung covering flap, the whole slot will become vulnerable to dust and dirt while the card is in position.
These oddities aside, the Z20 is a nicely designed camera. As with the Z5, the control layout is first rate, with all of the buttons and wheels within easy reach of your thumb. The buttons are large and easy to use, and have a reassuringly positive action. The unique shape of the Z-series cameras may not appeal to everyone, but with that big handgrip the Z20 is extremely comfortable to hold. Rubberised panels in the handgrip and on the lens barrel give the camera a textured feel and ensure a non-slip grip.
In terms of performance, the Z20 leaves little to be desired. Start-up time is very fast at around 1.5 seconds. In continuous shooting mode at the highest quality setting it can shoot three frames in just over 3.5 seconds, but then has to pause for a few seconds to write to the card. It will keep shooting while doing this, but at a slower rate. In total it can shoot 10 frames in around 35 seconds. At lower resolution and quality settings, the number of shots in the rapid-burst sequence increases, and in economy mode and the 1,600 x 1,200 setting it can shoot at 1fps without stopping.