HandlingThe TZ20 bears all the traits of the Lumix TZ series, most of which are now commonplace in the high-end superzoom compact market. The camera is well made, the various controls are nicely assembled and the camera feels reassuringly sturdy to handle. A slight wobble to the lens when zoomed about half way out is the only slight blip.
The screen has already been seen in previous models. Its 460,000-dot definition makes lining up shots a pleasant and comfortable experience, even if colour reproduction isn't exactly accurate. Light greys are soon overexposed but the blue overtone is less pronounced than in the TZ7.
One thing that is new, however, is that the screen is now touch sensitive, which is a first for a superzoom compact. That said, the TZ20 still has all the same buttons as the range's previous models and it's clearly not designed to be a fully touch-control camera. In shooting mode, for example, the screen can only be used to select the subject you want to focus on, then a rather tiresome zoom control pops up on the right-hand side of the screen. This is much less pleasant to use than the physical zoom control around the shutter release button, which thankfully hasn't been ditched. It's the same story in playback mode too and, in the end, the touchscreen is only really useful for moving around in a photo you've already zoomed in on.
The built-in GPS has already featured in the TZ10 and it's no more convincing in the TZ20, still taking over two minutes to find a location. One good thing, however, is that even when you leave it switched on all the time, it doesn't seem to drain the battery quite as heavily as in the previous generation of cameras. Plus, note that leaving the GPS on all the time won't speed up the time it takes to find a location if you plan on carrying the camera around in a bag.
ResponsivenessThe TZ20 is a little slow to start up, taking just over two seconds to get ready for action. This, however, is actually quite common with superzoom compacts as it takes longer to deploy those monster lenses than a standard compact camera lens. The Sony HX9V is no faster on that front, but some manufacturers have now started working on cutting down this traditionally longer start-up time (Nikon S9100, for example).
Once it's up and running, we've got no complaints about the TZ20. The autofocus is fast, working well in all conditions, and photo-to-photo turnaround takes under half a second. The burst mode can snap five frames per second with the autofocus active (so long as your subjects aren't moving too quickly, of course).
Picture QualityThe TZ20 has a 14-Megapixel MOS sensor which, on paper, looks to be the same as the one used in the FZ100—the big disappointment of autumn 2010. Panasonic does, however, claim to have reworked and improved the sensor and this definitely shows. Compared with the FZ100, the TZ20 takes pictures that are more balanced, with noise that looks more regular and smoothing that's noticeably less harsh.
That said, the TZ20 is certainly nothing revolutionary. At 800 ISO, the TZ18 (lower down the range) actually does slightly better in spite of the fact it uses a CCD with more limited capabilities. In both the TZ20 and the TZ18, 800 ISO is the maximum acceptable sensitivity setting for an 8" x 10" print.
Perhaps the toughest comparison of all is to pitch the TZ20 against the Sony HX9V, its main rival in the market with the same focal range, the same functions (except the touchscreen) and the same price tag. At 100 ISO, the Sony does a slightly better job thanks to its more advanced image processing, which accentuates finer detail more effectively. As the ISO sensitivity settings increase, the difference in quality becomes greater, and at 1600 ISO the HX9V takes shots that are beat the TZ20 at 800 ISO.
Lens quality is usually a strong point for Panasonic cameras. In wide angle, both the TZ20 and HX9V lenses give very similar performances, with photos that are very good quality in the centre of the frame and just slightly less so towards the edges. When zooming to around 200 millimetres, both cameras' lenses are more consistent across the frame and are still neck-and-neck when it comes to quality.
But at 384 mm, the maximum focal length of both cameras, the TZ20 beats the HX9V. In fact, 384 mm is clearly a focal length of choice in this camera, as the image remains very sharp over the whole frame while the HX9V lens adds a slight haze to the shot (even though it's still one of the best compact lenses we've ever seen.) Anyone who's likely to make frequent use of the longest focal lengths—for snapping wild animals, for example—will therefore be more at home with the Panasonic TZ20, so long as they don't need to use the highest ISO settings.
VideoThe TZ20 brings Full HD video to Panasonic's superzoom compact range, and it's still one of the few compacts out there to film genuine 1080i video (most models capture 25 frames per second but only record them as interlaced video, whereas the TZ20 actually captures odd lines and even lines separately and alternately). The result is very smooth, but 'combing' effects are sometimes visible in some movements and deinterlacing affects the overall definition.
As usual with the Panasonic (since the TZ7 at least) the sound recorded in the video mode is good quality, even though it's still no match for a stand-alone camcorder. The TZ20 microphones are a little sensitive to breathing noises but they capture sound relatively accurately and the stereo effect can clearly be heard. That said, the HX9V is equally as good as the Panasonic TZ20 in this field and its 1080p video mode is clearly an extra advantage.