If you're restricted to just the one lens on a camera yet shoot a multitude of subjects, better make it a jack of all trades with as broad a focal range as possible. Now the question is, how to shoehorn that into a camera that will still fit in your pocket?
Panasonic thinks it has the answer in its Lumix DMC-TZ20 (also known as the DMC-ZS10 outside of Europe), which newly tops its 'TZ' range of so-called 'travel zooms'. Previous models have seen its maker heralded as something of a trailblazer for slim(ish) bodied compacts with big zoom power, though in truth Ricoh has been quietly ploughing a similar furrow for a decade now. Nonetheless all three of this camera's predecessors, the TZ10, TZ8 and TZ7 earned themselves recommended awards.
Coming after the TZ10, and adopting a new 15.1 megapixel 'Mos' sensor said to better suppress noise, the 14.1 effective megapixel TZ20 sits just above the equally new TZ18 with which it shares many features. Optical zoom power has also been boosted to 16x, which is also accessible in movie mode, whilst pocket sized proportions are maintained by virtue of the lens being folded within the body when not in use. The reach can be further extended to 21x equivalent via the digital zoom, and, if you don't mind resolution dropping to three megapixels, boosted to an equivalent 33.8x via Panasonic's Extra Optical Zoom option. The lower resolution is because only the central part of the sensor is being used; in effect the camera is making a crop. So though it's an impressive figure to stick on the box, there is a downside.
Whilst the headline 16x zoom sounds good in isolation, it's worth bearing in mind that Fujifilm has had its 15x optical zoom FinePix F300EXR available since last year - to name just one stand-out competitor. The Fuji is both sleeker in design, being just 22.9mm at its 'thickest' point (to the Panasonic TZ20's 33.4mm), and altogether sexier (thanks to a double gloss finish) if you are purely looking for the best compromise of big zoom in a small camera body.
That said, the Panasonic has a couple of advantages over the Fuji, of which probably the most noteworthy is the TZ20's built-in GPS antenna for storing longitude and latitude coordinates in the image file's Exif data. Like the same feature on the ruggedised Lumix DMC-FT3, location info is provided for 203 countries and more than a million landmarks. The other draw over the Fuji is the TZ20's Full HD video, against the F300EXR's 1280x720 pixels clips. This comes with stereo sound via top-mounted microphones, not unheard of on a pocket compact but still fairly unusual, plus the choice of the highly compressed AVCHD or more widely compatible Motion JPEG video formats. HDMI output is also provided by a port hidden under a side flap for connecting it up directly to a flat panel TV.
As with the rest of the recent Lumix models, we also get a dedicated camcorder-like button for instant video recording. Although because flipping between capture mode and playback is controlled by a slider switch, you can't instantly record unless you happen to have the correct capture option physically selected at the time. The shooting mode wheel, meanwhile, houses program, shutter priority, aperture priority and manual modes, for when you want various degrees of manual control. You also get a user customisable setting, no less than three scene mode options plus, plus, for those who just want to point and shoot and let the camera reliably decide which parameters suit which scene or subject, there's the most prominently marked mode here: intelligent Auto. The new mode on the dial that jumps out at you however is 3D mode; a new feature is shares with the equally new FT3 and FX77 snappers.
Like its two siblings, the TZ20 doesn't actually feature twin lenses nor twin sensors, both featured on the Fujifilm Real 3D W3, to achieve its stereoscopic effect. Rather, in 3D mode the camera composites an image using a sequence of up to 20 individual frames. With 3D mode selected, the user simply presses the shutter release as normal and pans with the camera in the direction of the arrow provided on screen – easy enough for any beginner. This prompts a machine gun-like flurry of shot-taking, the camera automatically generating the end result and saving it as an MPO file. As with the 3D Panorama mode on rival Sony Cyber-shot cameras, this file isn't actually viewable (yet) in all its glory unless you own a 3D TV, as the TZ20's back screen remains resolutely two-dimensional.