Panasonic has an unusual position in the digital camera market. While most other manufacturers have both premium and budget ranges, the Japanese electronics giant has ignored the lower end of the scale and concentrated on high-price, high spec compacts. Commercially this makes a lot of sense, since companies like Pentax, Kodak, Samsung and Nikon have found to their cost that there's little profit in sub-£100 models, while Canon, Sony and Panasonic win accolades for their premium models.
In terms of its specification the new Lumix DMC-FS20 is fairly close to average for current compact models. It has a 10.1-megapixel 1/2.33 inch CCD sensor, a 4x zoom lens with a wider-than-average 30mm equivalent minimum focal length, and a big 3.0-inch LCD monitor. It has an all-metal body, Panasonic's acclaimed Mega O.I.S. optical image stabilisation system and a range of easy-to-use features including Intelligent Auto and Intelligent ISO. It's a nice looking camera too. Panasonic seems to be moving away from the vaguely deco-styled design theme that it was following a couple of years ago toward a more practical style that, while still attractive, is somewhat easier to handle.
The FS20 has a High Street price of around £230, or around £180 from discounted online sellers, but either way there's no denying that for its specification this is an expensive camera. Compared to other 10MP models like the Pentax S10 (£150), Casio Z1080 (£130), or Samsung NV15 (£125), it looks decidedly pricey. It's only in comparison to other premium models such as the Canon IXUS 970 IS (£226), Panasonic's own Lumix FS5 (£160) or the new Nikon Coolpix S600 (£225, review coming next week) that it begins to look a little more reasonable.