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The Nikon S9300 and Panasonic ZS20 are two upper-mid range travel zooms released early this year. Both offer in-camera GPS to keep track of your adventures, and each have seen sensor upgrades since the preceding models. Both cameras are also willing participants in the ongoing zoom ratio war, offering 18x and 20x respectively, inside slim and pocketable bodies.
The ZS20 lags very slightly behind the S9300 in both color and sharpness, but lags way behind in noise reduction capabilities. This results in blurry, digitized shots from the ZS20, even at low or minimum ISO. Meanwhile, the S9300 handles noise beautifully, keeping artifacts from becoming apparent at low ISOs, then producing a grainy effect (rather than ugly smudging) once noise becomes unavoidable. For this reason alone, shots taken with the S9300 are significantly more attractive than those taken with the ZS20.
Winner: Nikon Coolpix S9300
Design and Handling
Although the S9300 has a few ergonomic features designed into the body, they don't aid in handling as much as we expected. For better or worse, holding each of these cameras is a fairly equivalent experience. The S9300 can occasionally become bogged down by processing lag, especially while using burst mode, and this burst mode is a tad slower than the ZS20's. Both models offer similar GPS features, as well as that amazing optical zoom. S9300 users must also be subjected to the terrible battery, which was constantly worn down by the GPS and hindered this model's usability.
Winner: Panasonic Lumix ZS20
Ultimately, no hardware feature can overrule the drastic difference in image quality here. Despite a few bothersome characteristics, the S9300 captures far better pictures, and easily gets our nod. If the ZS20 were a couple hundred dollars cheaper, then maybe we'd have something to discuss. But at an identical price point there's no excuse for the ZS20's noisy, unattractive pictures.
Overall Winner: Nikon Coolpix S9300