Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS20 Review
Review Date: February 27th 2008
Author: Mark Goldstein
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS20 is the leading model in Panasonic's new FS range of compact digital cameras, which are designed to be a more affordable version of the popular FX series. The Panasonic FS20 has a 4x, wide-angle zoom lens equivalent to a versatile focal length of 30-120mm, a new 1/2.33-inch 10.1 megapixel CCD sensor, large 3 inch LCD screen and slim, compact body. Aimed firmly at the point-and-shoot photographer, the Lumix DMC-FS20 features Panasonic's Intelligent Auto mode, now comprised of 5 different shooting-assist functions that help you take better photos. The new Venus Engine IV image processing engine promises to make your pictures look better than before, too, and the FS20 can record WVGA (848 x 480) movies at 30 frames per second. Panasonic's optical image stabiliser, face detection and ISO 1600 at full image resolution complete the headline specification. Mark Goldstein found out if the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS20 is a worthy addition to Panasonic's already extensive compact camera lineup.
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Ease of Use
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS20 is an extremely compact digital camera, measuring just 9.5cms wide and 2.3cms deep, which means that you can carry it in a trouser pocket without noticing it. Panasonic have somehow fitted in a wide-angle 4x zoom lens equivalent to 30-120mm on a 35mm camera into this tiny body. Models of this size from other manufacturers typically have a 3x zoom lens that starts at 35mm or higher. The wide-angle lens makes this one of the more versatile compacts in terms of focal range, especially as it is coupled with Panasonic's Mega O.I.S system, which helps to ensure that the majority of photos taken in good light are sharp. If you're used to a standard 3x zoom lens which usually starts at around 35mm wide, then you will find that the lens on the DMC-FS20 provides an entirely new angle of view that can only increase your creativity. Take it from me, you won't want to go back to a "standard" zoom after using the 30mm lens on the FS20, especially as it still offers a telephoto setting of 120mm which is perfect for head and shoulders portraits. The FS20 does have a couple of compromises when compared with the more expensive Panasonic FX55 - it only has a 30mm lens compared to 28mm on the FX55, and the maximum aperture is slower (f3.3 compared to f2.8), which makes it slightly less suitable for low-light conditions. I'd argue that the longer reach of the 120mm focal length partly makes up for this though.
The DMC-FS20 is a well-built camera, with a high quality plastic body and controls. The camera's design is dominated by the lens on the front and the large 3 inch LCD screen on the rear. There is no optical viewfinder, which follows a recent trend in digital cameras, and this does make the camera a little difficult to keep steady at the telephoto end of the zoom, especially given the disappointingly slow maximum aperture of f/5.8 at the telephoto focal length. Panasonic have retained the joystick control from the FX55 instead of the more traditional navigation pad, which is a little unresponsive but generally pleasant to use. There aren't any other weak-points in terms of the DMC-FS20's design and build-quality - for once the battery compartment and SD card slot are both well implemented. The only thing I really didn't like was the poorly-positioned tripod mount.
As this is purely a point and shoot camera with no manual controls, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS20 is not overly complex in terms of the number of external controls that it has, just 8 in total. The majority of the controls are clearly labeled and common to most cameras. Found on top of the camera are the on/off switch, zoom lever and shutter button, and the new E.Zoom button, which cleverly zooms to the full telephoto focal length at a much faster speed than normal. Very useful if you need to quickly zoom in on a far-away subject. On the rear of the camera is a new Quick Menu button, which is a very welcome addition, as it provides quick access to most of the principal creative controls, including ISO speed, image size, image quality and white balance (there are 7 settings in total). You can still access all of these options from the main menu system too.
Still on the rear of the FS20, the clever mode dial from the FX55 that selected the various shooting, scene modes and image playback has been replaced with a less intuitive combination of a new Playback/Shooting Mode switch and separate Mode button. This new system still has one main drawback - you have to keep switching between the shooting or playback modes, rather than just pressing a button to review your images whilst in a shooting mode, as on most other digital cameras. This has been made worse by the removal of the Rev button on the back of the camera, which at least provided some limited playback functionality.
|Rear Controls||Top Controls|
If you have never used a digital camera before, or you're upgrading from a more basic model, reading the easy-to-follow manual before you start is a good idea. Thankfully Panasonic have chosen to supply it in printed format, rather than as a PDF on a CD, so you can also carry it with you. The large 3 inch LCD screen is the only way of framing your shots, so if you have to have an optical viewfinder, look elsewhere now. The various icons used to represent the camera settings are clear and legible.
The main menu system on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS20 is straight-forward to use and is accessed by pressing the Menu/Set button in the middle of the navigation joystick. There are two main menus, Record and Setup. Most of the camera's main options, such as white balance, image quality, auto-focus mode and ISO speed, are accessed here, so the Record menu has 14 options spread over 3 screens. As mentioned previously, the addition of the Quick Menu button on the rear of the camera speeds up access to some of the more commonly used options. Due to the large LCD screen and restricting the number of on-screen choices to five, the various options and icons are very clear and legible.
First introduced on the FX series of cameras, the DMC-FS20 features the same version of Intelligent Auto Mode. Panasonic have tried to make things as easy as possible for the beginner by providing this shooting mode, which allows you to point and shoot the camera without having to worry about choosing the right mode or settings. Intelligent Auto Mode automatically determines a number of key criteria when taking a picture, including selecting the most appropriate scene mode (from 5 commonly used presets) and ISO speed, and turning face detection, image stabilization and quick auto-focus on. In practice this system works very well, with the camera seamlessly choosing the most appropriate combination of settings for the current situation. The 5 available scene modes are Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Night Portrait and Night Scenery, so obviously not all situations are covered by Intelligent Auto Mode, but it does work for the majority of the time. It makes it possible for the less experienced photographer to easily take well-exposed, sharp pictures of people, scenery and close-ups by simply pointing and shooting the camera.
As with all current Panasonic models, this camera has an anti-shake system, dubbed Mega O.I.S. Turn it on and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS20 automatically compensates for camera shake, which is a slight blurring of the image that typically occurs at slow shutter speeds when the camera is hand held. There are two different modes, Mode 1 is on all the time including image composition, and Mode 2 is only on when you press the shutter button. In practice I found that it does make a noticeable difference, as shown in the examples on the Image Quality page. You don't notice that the camera is actually doing anything different when anti-shake is turned on, just that you can use slower shutter speeds than normal and still take sharp photos. Thankfully leaving the anti-shake system on didn't negatively affect the battery-life, with the camera managing over 275 shots using the supplied rechargeable Li-ion battery.
|Memory Card Slot||Battery Compartment|
Panasonic also provide a High Sensitivity scene mode to help combat the effects of camera shake. When this mode is selected, the camera automatically raises the ISO speed to between 1600 and a maximum of 6400, which therefore allows for a faster shutter speed. This mode allows you to handhold the camera without using the flash and get more natural results, whilst at the same time freezing subject movement more successfully. There are some obvious drawbacks with this special scene mode, principally a significant reduction in resolution to just 3 megapixels in the 4:3 picture size. You also need to select the scene mode and therefore have some idea about when it is applicable to your subject. You can see sample images using the High Sensitivity mode on the the Image Quality page.
The start-up time from turning the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS20 on to being ready to take a photo is fairly quick at around 2 seconds. Zooming from the widest focal length to the longest is a lot slower though at around 4 seconds, although using the new E.Zoom button speeds this up to less than 2 seconds. Focusing is quick in good light and the camera achieves focus most of the time indoors or in low-light situations, helped by the focus-assist lamp. The camera doesn't have any problems locking onto the subject in low-light situations. The visibility and refresh rate of the 3 inch LCD screen are perfectly acceptable, and the pixel count of 230,000 is fine too, with little visible grain. It takes about 1 second to store an image, allowing you to keep shooting as they are being recorded onto the memory card - there is no LCD blackout between each image. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS20 has a slightly slow Burst mode which enables you to take 2.5 frames per second for up to 3 images at the highest JPEG image quality. Overall the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS20 is average in terms of operational speed.
Once you have captured a photo, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS20 has a good range of options when it comes to playing, reviewing and managing your images. You can quickly scroll through the images that you have taken, view thumbnails (up to 30 onscreen at the same time and in a special Calendar view), zoom in and out up to 16x magnification, view slideshows, delete, protect, trim, resize, copy and rotate an image. You can also select favourite images, sort images into categories, add a text stamp and set the print order. A new Dual Play mode allows you to view 2 images onscreen at the same time, useful if you want to compare similar images. The Display button toggles detailed settings information about each picture on and off, such as the ISO rating and aperture / shutter speed, but there is no histogram available during either shooting and playback. When taking a photo, pressing the Display button toggles between displaying the detailed information, gridlines to aid composition, and no information at all.
In summary, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS20 is an easy-to-use, fairly responsive compact camera that is particularly well suited to the beginner or anyone who requires a purely point-and-shoot camera.
PhotographyBLOG is a member of the DIWA organisation. Our test results for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS20 have been submitted to DIWA for comparison with test results for different samples of the same camera model supplied by other DIWA member sites.