Weighing a manageable 219g with rechargeable battery and optional (yet essential) SD card loaded, and slipping reasonably comfortably into the front pocket of a pair of jeans thanks to dimensions of 104.9 x 57.8 x 33.4mm the TZ20 is eminently portable, even if it’s not the absolute smallest. The matt black finish to our review model imbues it with a sense of sophistication and purpose. There’s the hint of a handgrip to the left hand side of the body (if viewed lens-on) and a tiny pad of nine raised nodules at the back to provide some purchase for the thumb, so you’ll generally want to use two hands for a secure and steady grip.
Changing settings is done via a combination of the 3-inch, 460k dot, touchscreen and physical buttons. Using the two in tandem can feel a little peculiar at first but in no time it becomes second nature. By touching the right hand side of the screen and swiping you finger up or down, you can even control the lens without otherwise nudging the lever encircling the shutter release button (though the physical control is less fiddly).
As with previous touch panel Panasonics, focus can be biased toward a particular subject simply by tapping it on screen, and the shutter can also be fired this way (though the latter can be deactivated to prevent accidentally taking a shot, which is otherwise fairly easy to do). Furthermore, when the camera’s in intelligent Auto (iA) mode and the subject is touched on screen, the camera selects the most relevant mode to best fit the subject; for example selecting portrait mode if the user touches a face, or landscape mode if it’s something more scenic. Screen brightness automatically adjusts through 11 stages depending on light conditions at the time so hopefully the best visibility is achieved without the user having to think about it. We were using the camera outside in bright sunlight and didn’t feel the usual urge to cup a hand around the screen to see what was going on.
For squeezing those landscapes and group portraits into frame the TZ20’s Leica branded lens starts out at a wide angle 24mm equivalent in 35mm film terms, running up to 384mm at the telephoto end (to the Fuji’s 360mm). So, what you lose in sleekness is more than made up for in the quickness and convenience of not having to take steps forward and back to fit everything you want into frame. It’s optically image stabilised too, to avoid the blurring effects of camera shake, which are more pronounced when taking pictures at the telephoto end of the zoom or in lower light. Whilst not 100% perfect, more often than not we achieved results we were pleased with. Its maker has coupled this with an Active mode to boost the effect of the stabiliser when not only the photographer but the subject is on the move.
In terms of operation speed, you can achieve up to an impressive 10 frames per second in consecutive shooting mode, or 5fps if you have continuous AF selected. If you don’t mind a resolution drop to 3.5 megapixels then up to 60fps is also offered. Even in regular single shot mode the TZ20 remains a speed demon. The camera’s auto focus is also fast – a whopping 49% faster than its predecessor, says Panasonic, something that seemed to be borne out in testing.
All of this inevitably costs though, and currently the TZ20 has a street price of £350, so you’re paying an inevitable premium for the camera’s combo of big lens, pocket-size chassis, and a payload of the latest must have features to round off the package. To put the Panasonic into context as regards rivals, this is not only dearer than the Fuji F300EXR, if only by £30 or so, but makes Canon’s own big zoom compact in the 12x optical PowerShot SX130 IS look an outright bargain at £150. If you don’t mind a slightly broader chassis still, Fuji also has the DSLR-styled 18x zoom S2800HD at the same price as the Canon, which is excellent value. None of them offer built-in GPS or 3D modes however. Have a look also at Casio’s £330 Exilim EX-H20G if you want GPS and a larger than average zoom, even if 10x seems modest compared to what’s on offer here.