Touch screen operation aside, in terms of handling the TZ20 is fairly conventional. The camera is activated with a flick of the on/off slider on the top plate, whereupon it will take just over two seconds to start up.
Nudge the physical zoom lever encircling the shutter release and the lens, which automatically starts off at its widest setting, glides through its basic 16x range in four seconds. OK, so this could be quicker and it’s also sound tracked by a low mechanical buzz, but at least its slow(ish) and steady progress allows you to generally arrive at the framing you want without having to go back and forth like you might have to on a speedier model. Fire the shutter when you’ve arrived at the composition you desire and any shutter lag is imperceptible, with a highest resolution JPEG committed to memory in around two seconds. All of this is pretty much the performance you’d expect from a point and shoot compact.
If we’ve one grumble it’s that we’d have liked to see capture mode as the camera’s automatic default setting and playback given a separate dedicated button. This way, if a new shot did suddenly present itself whilst you are reviewing the previous captured image, a half press of the shutter release button would throw you back into capture mode, as on Panasonic’s own FT3 model. As it is on the TZ20, you have to flick the switch from playback to capture, wait a brief moment for the camera to register the fact that you’ve changed settings, and then half press the shutter release button. Precious seconds wasted that can mean you’ve missed the shot you just saw.
At the end of the day, image quality is the deciding factor and here too is pretty much what we expected, with a reliably consistent output from shot to shot. Colours move between natural and warm depending on which settings you have selected – and whether you’re allowing the camera to choose for itself, which generally favours the warmer option. Exposures are also even, metering mostly spot on, and detail is maintained from edge to edge of frame, even at maximum wideangle. Familiar bugbears such as pixel fringing and occasional loss of highlight detail rear their heads, but as we say these are par for the course for such a compact.
Its low light performance, whilst adequate, is nothing much to write home about, with the ISO range topping out at a modest manually selectable ISO1600, so it doesn’t feel like its maker is trying to push the envelope in this regard either. For really low light there’s the option to switch to the High Sensitivity option amidst the scene modes, but the result is a smoothing of detail that may make you wish you hadn’t bothered. Check out our ISO test examples to see for yourself.
Ultimately the TZ20 is all about compositional versatility, and since results from the camera require little or no adjustment in Photoshop for the most part, it will best suit the family user who just wants to point and shoot in the most part, but would appreciate the flexibility of a longer lens to catch up with the kids running around.
In offering up another dual operation Lumix – touch screen and/or physical controls – Panasonic is providing a ‘best of both worlds’ option that is actually simpler to use than you might imagine after an initial play. Not all of us might need the full extent of the zoom being offered here, but after you’ve used a broader than average focal range, going back to a compact with a 3x, 4x or even 7x zoom option feels a bit like trying to take pictures with one hand tied behind your back. Coming across as slightly more gimmicky are the functions that at first appear to be bulking up the specification list but you may well not be using everyday, such as the built-in GPS and 3D modes. But then again with both increasingly becoming must-haves on manufacturers’ spec lists, they help make the camera as ‘future proof’ as possible.
So perhaps the major nettle to grasp here is the TZ20’s cost, with a high-ish street price of around £350 on launch making it just £50 or so cheaper than a starter digital SLR with kit lens. Moreover, you can pick up other very capable super zooms, like Panasonic’s TZ10, for under £200 so, which until the price of this model drops it what we’d be inclined to do.
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