Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS20 Review

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Steve's Conclusion

One of the new Panasonic Lumix wide lens cameras is the FS20. With a 4x optical zoom lens that starts at 30mm, you will have no problems fitting in any landscape or object. The camera also features a Leica lens, 10-megapixel imaging sensor, Intelligent Auto (iA) shooting mode, 3" Diagonal Intelligent LCD screen and joystick style 4-way controller. Its simple design and settings make this camera easy enough for anyone in the family or office to use, while normal mode gives you more control over the camera and your photographs.

One of the main features on the new Panasonic models, including the FS35 and FX35, is the Intelligent Auto (iA) mode. When you shoot in this mode, the camera will automatically select the correct scene mode for the situation. It does a good job at recognizing faces, lighting and distance allowing it to pick even one of the advanced scene modes. Next the camera will pick the correct ISO setting. You do have the ability to set the max ISO. Combining the auto ISO with the Mega O.I.S. the camera does an excellent job of reducing camera shake and blurring in your images. The final automatic option is the face detection software, allowing the camera to correctly focus and adjust for the faces in the image and not the surroundings.

The compact camera is made up mostly of the 3" LCD screen on the back. It is very easy to see in all lighting conditions including direct sunlight.This screen gives you the ability to see it from very extreme side angles as well as from below the camera. The grips on the right side of the camera makes it very comfortable and easy to use with either one or two hands. The top of the camera has an on/off switch instead of a button, the shutter release with zoom coupled around it and the E. zoom button which will automatically go to the fullest zoom and back when pushed. On the back you will find a switch for record and playback mode, menu controls and a joystick for the 4-way controller. Pressing it in the middle acts as the menu button or to make a selection.

Performance from the FS20 is excellent. From startup, it takes the camera 2.6 seconds to capture its first image. The shutter lag is almost instantaneous when the camera is pre-focused and 6/10 of a second when allowing the auto focus to work. With the camera in single shot mode, I was able to capture 5 images in just 6.2 seconds without the flash and 5 images in 12.4 seconds with it. The camera also has 3 continuous shooting modes. In normal burst mode the camera will take a series of 3 images in just 1.1 seconds. The continuous burst mode was able to capture 10 images in just 6.8 seconds, almost twice as fast as single shot mode. Finally there is high speed continuous, which is found as a scene mode. It will only take a 2-megapixel image, but it is capable of taking them at 6.6 fps as it captured 33 images in just 5 seconds! All of our tests were completed using a Patriot 2GB SD memory card, normal shooting mode, ISO Auto, flash off and all other settings at the factory defaults unless otherwise noted. Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.

The image quality from our outdoor samples were very good. The exposures were excellent and the images were crisp and clear with no edge softness. The colors are bright and very natural looking. As with the FX35, you will see some noise in the dark areas when viewing the images at 100% no matter what ISO setting the camera is at. At ISO 100 and 200, this noise will not be a problem, but at 400 and up will start to become noticeable in larger prints. The camera has a 4x optical zoom with a 35mm equivalent of 30-120mm. This provides a range that is outstanding for shooting landscapes and portrait photography. The telephoto end is not enough to get you much closer to objects off in the distance though. At the wide end you will see moderate barrel distortion, and chromatic aberrations are controlled very well throughout the range.

When shooting indoors, the camera did an excellent job with exposures and white balance, although it had to raise the ISO quite a bit when shooting in low light situations. These higher ISO settings lead to more noise in your photographs. With a range of up to approx. 19', the built in flash sounds impressive but this is done, again by raising the ISO to increase distance. To avoid this you will have to manually set the ISO and get closer to your subject. In all shooting modes, the face detection did an excellent job of detecting even very young faces. The camera also did a good job of keeping the colors and skin tones looking natural and realistic. The red-eye reduction flash also did an excellent job.

Movie mode on the FS20 gives you the ability to record video with audio at either resolution of 640x480 or 320x240. The camera uses a quicktime motion jpeg to compress the movies, keeping them rather small. They run very smooth and don't show any compression artifacting on well lit movies. The cameras built in microphone does pick up a bit of ambient noise while recording, but it is not enough to ruin the movies.

Supplying power to the FS20 is a 3.6V 1000mAh rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery. The battery allowed me to capture well over 100 images, several videos and enabled me to complete all of our tests on a single charge. Even though the battery life is very good, we still recommend having a second battery charged and on hand at all times. This is easy with the included external battery charger.

Bottom Line - The Panasonic Lumix FS20 is an incredibly easy to use and stylish 10-megapixel model. The wide 4x optical zoom and iA shooting mode, gives anyone the ability to take great pictures. The only drawback to this camera is the noise that seems to be present in the dark areas of all the photographs. With a MSRP of US$300, this is a nice camera with excellent features.

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