The FT20 is a nicely designed and built camera. Overall, it feels quite similar to the FT4, but it's lighter and slimmer. It also has a more "no-nonsense" kind of look to it. The sleek body has no visible screws on the casing. The metal finish is stylish and makes the FT20 feel sturdy and robust. However, the camera's slim body does nothing to improve grip. There's still a slight handle on the front of the camera, but this isn't deep enough to really grab onto (it's a good job this camera's shock proof!).
The biggest downside is still the LCD, which uses a TN panel and just 230,000 dots. Viewing angles are tight, and it's particularly hard to see what's going on when viewing the screen from above or below. On top of that, the gamma (distribution of brightness levels) is all over the place and colours aren't reproduced accurately. You therefore shouldn't rely on the colours you see onscreen when sorting through photos. All in all, the low-grade screen means the FT20 can't get more than thee stars in this part of the review.
The camera's interface is fairly basic, with classic camera menus that are relatively clear, simple and quick to use.
In this field, the FT20 gets very similar results to the FT4. It starts up in two seconds, which is a little slow. The photo-to-photo turnaround time of 1.38 seconds is OK for an entry-level camera.
With a 16-Megapixel CCD and a 25-100 mm periscopic zoom lens, the FT20 has nothing in common with the FT4.
To be honest, sensitivity hasn't been amazing in any of Panasonic's previous waterproof compacts. And in the FT20, sharpness starts to drop at 200 ISO, with heavy smoothing from 400 ISO (visible on a 12" x 16" / 30 x 40 cm print or when viewing shots full-size on a computer screen). At 800 ISO, noise becomes problematic. You can't help but wonder what the point to all those pixels is if the sensor ends up being less sensitive than the 12-Megapixel CCD in the FT4 . Plus, the pixel-heavy files slow down photo-saving times.
The lens is a pretty nondescript periscopic zoom. Quality isn't consistent over the frame at any focal length. Plus, in telephoto mode, the lens distorts the image quite heavily. Note too that the light exposure gives the image a kind of milky look at both wide-angle and telephoto settings.
On the whole, the FT20 clearly doesn't do as good a job as high-end underwater cameras like the Panasonic FT4 or the Sony TX20, but it's of comparable quality to its direct equivalents.
The FT20 films 720p video. Image quality is fine but it's not exceptional. The image judders a bit and video noise can be seen in bright, light parts of the picture.
Sound quality is mediocre. Audio is recorded in mono and a slight buzz form the camera's electronics can be heard in the background of quieter scenes. This is effectively masked is noisier scenes (the train set in our test video was enough to drown it out) but sounds are generally rather confused with echoes and muffled voices.
- Tough and resistant (waterproof, shockproof)
- Good build
- Nice interface
- TN screen
- Lens quality (consistency over the frame)
- Sensitivity isn't great: noise and smoothing kick in at 200 ISO
- Sound quality in video mode
The Panasonic Lumix FT20 is a low-cost waterproof compact that does what it needs to do—just like competitor models, in fact. It'll be fine for users on a budget looking for a high-resistance camera for their holidays. Just don't expect amazing performances. Certain high-end alternatives do a much better job.