So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS20
- Improved Intelligent Auto mode; vibrant 10.1Mp images; large, good quality LCD screen
- Occasionally lethargic shutter response times, Easy Zoom seems pointless, not compatible with FS5 marine case
The DMC-FS20 is every bit as impressive as the FS5; offering the same hassle-free interface with a slightly bigger LCD. If you're a casual happy-snapper with exacting standards (and zero patience), it will definitely satisfy.
Price$ 549.00 (AUD)
In recent years, it has become customary for camera manufacturers to release a tiered range of models at barely distinguishable prices; presumably in an attempt to cover every shopper's budget. For proof, look no further than the Lumix DMC-FS20, a premium point-and-click camera that retails for just $50 more than its sister model (the Lumix DMC-FS5).
As you would expect, there isn't a whole lot to separate the DMC-FS20 from its similarly priced sibling. Both models come equipped with an identical 30mm Leica lens with 4x optical zoom and a 10.1-megapixel CCD sensor (capable of capturing stunning high-definition images at a resolution of 1290x1080 pixels), as well as the same basic modes and features. So what does your extra 50 bucks get you, exactly? In short, a slightly bigger LCD screen; up from 2.5in to a full 3 inches. Otherwise, both cameras are practically identical in every way.
To the average buyer, this might seem like a pretty good deal ($50 isn't exactly a lot of money after all), but there are a few disadvantages to be aware of. For starters, while the larger display certainly looks a lot nicer, it means that the DMC-FS20 has a noticeably shorter battery life. Plus, its slightly bulkier size has rendered it incompatible with the FS5/FS3 marine case (an underwater housing for Lumix cameras). This makes the DMC-FS5 a better companion for seaside holidays; at least until Panasonic releases a similar marine case for the DMC-FS20. Apart from these small caveats, the DMC-FS20 is every bit as impressive as the FS5; offering exceptional image quality and easy operation.
As with the other cameras in Panasonic's Lumix compact range, the DMC-FS20 utilises the latest 'Intelligent Auto' (iA) technology. iA is designed to take the complexity out of photography by continually auto-adjusting settings behind the scenes; allowing you to take attractive photos with zero effort. It encompasses everything from the appropriate scene mode to ISO sensitivity, and usually the results are surprisingly accurate. For its latest generation of iA cameras, Panasonic has thrown in a few additional enhancements; including automatic exposure and built-in red-eye reduction software (though the latter isn't present on this particular model).
We're happy to report that the DMC-FS20 utilises Intelligent Auto just as effectively as the other iA units we've looked at. As we tramped our way through a variety of lighting conditions and environments, it mixed and matched camera modes with considerable success. As mid-afternoon gradually gave way to night, our test shots remained well balanced and relatively crisp without any manual input necessary. All up, we would probably rate iA's performance as being on par with the 'auto fix' on a top-notch editing application.
Another neat feature offered by Intelligent Auto is the Face Detection System. Using complex computerised algorithms which we find mildly terrifying, it allows cameras to 'see' faces in an image before adjusting the focus and exposure accordingly. Up to 15 faces can be detected in any one frame, with handy box indicators highlighting targeted noggins. Again, we found this feature to be a great time-saver that works better than it has any right to (making the inevitable global destruction by an army of super-smart cameras worth it).
For those who would prefer a hands-on approach, the DMC-FS5 has 20 scene mode presets which can be accessed from the menu screen. Needlessly to say, there's a mode for practically every conceivable situation. Other manual features include multiple flash modes, adjustable white balance and ISO sensitivities (up to 1600), a high-speed burst mode offering up to six shots per second, macro modes, adjustable image sizes, exposure settings and a self timer.
In terms of build quality and design, the DMC-F20 is indistinguishable from the rest of the Lumix compact range; which is to say it's a bit plain and simple; but small enough to fit in your pocket. The controls are well laid out with a straightforward menu interface that the average novice will have no problems navigating. Meanwhile, the 3in LCD did a great job of displaying our pictures, with the automatic 'backlight booster' assisting clarity in sunny conditions. If you're the type of user who frequently previews your happy snaps, this is one area where the DMC-F20 trumps the FS5, with the slightly roomier screen definitely boosting clarity.
Much like with the DMC-FS5, we found that the FS20's shutter release speed to be a tad less zippy than advertised. Despite running on Panasonic's latest Venus Engine IV processor, the response time between pressing the shutter button and capturing a shot tended to vary. Likewise, the Easy Zoom, which automatically shifts the lens to its full magnification, felt as superfluous and ill-placed as it did on the FS5. Otherwise, this is a superb compact camera that has been tailor-made with point-and-shooters in mind.
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