Panasonic TS20 Review
Panasonic's new Lumix DMC-TS20 aims to bring a high-performance, adventure-proof camera to the low end market.
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Like the TS10 before it, Panasonic's new Lumix DMC-TS20 aims to bring a high-performance, adventure-proof camera to the low end of the market. Design and some features have been carried down from the TS4, this camera's better and more expensive cousin, but cost-cutting methods have been applied across the board. The result is a camera that can at some times feel limited, and at other times feel like a decent bargain.
Design & Usability
Design has been largely carried over from the TS4, but we're not sure it works here.
All of the TS4's handling problems have been transferred to the TS20, and most are magnified by the smaller form factor. Since the lens is so close to the upper left corner of the front panel, shooting with two hands means some photographs will be blocked by errant fingertips. The small, smooth chassis isn't the best either, and the little patches of raised dots don't improve things much.
The TS4's sturdy hardware has been carried over wholesale to the TS20, and some flaws came with it. Without a viewfinder, your only method for framing shots is via low resolution, fixed-position LCD—a clear cost-cutter. True, there's a "High Angle" LCD mode, but it only affects viewing from below (i.e. shooting over your head). On the rear panel, buttons are laid out in traditional form. Unfortunately, the button labels are engraved and practically illegible, and a few are difficult to press without use of a thumbnail. Just like the TS4, the TS20's menu system isn't particularly well planned. For example, users can't set a custom white balance from the convenient quick menu. Instead, the user must exit the quick menu, open the main menu, choose the Rec option, scroll down to white balance, and scroll down even more to get to the awkwardly-named "White Set Setting." At least this menu is super snappy!
The most durable budget camera we've ever seen, and also a rather boring one.
For the money, the TS20 is the most rugged still camera out there. It's waterproof down to 16 feet, much deeper than the average backyard pool, shockproof from a 5 foot drop, freezeproof down to 14ºF, and dustproof as well. This isn't quite as durable as the competition, but it can't be beat for under $200.
For shooting, a dedicated mode button opens up the selection of options such as Intelligent Auto, Normal, and some popular scene modes, to name a few. Without any priority modes, or any sort of manual control over shutter and aperture, your only options for adjusting exposure are ISO and exposure compensation. For completely automated shooting, an Intelligent Auto mode works pretty well, but, like all full-auto modes, has a tendency to rely too heavily on flash. The available scene modes are entirely typical and as for picture effects, there is only one: the highly fashionable Miniature Effect. Four color modes and strictly basic in-camera editing are available too, as well as your run-of-the-mill 720p video capabilities. Other than that, nothing.
The TS20 took a bit of a beating in our performance test lab.
Across the board, the TS20's image quality is basically a disaster. The camera is neither sharp, nor accurate, nor free of noise. Distortions of all tested types were severe, while videos lacked smoothness, sharpness, and sensitivity.
This is not a camera meant for serious photography. Oh, and it's a bit of a slow poke too, in terms of burst modes—if you can call them that.
The TS20's photos aren't worth a hoot.
The TS20 has got some impressive durability specs for a sub-$200 camera. Sadly, the appeal ends there.
This Panasonic doesn't hold up under anything except casual use. Nearly all of our image tests returned below-average results. Color accuracy was especially poor. But to be clear, note that sharpness, distortion, noise, and video quality were all nearly as bad. On the plus side, we should reiterate that this is one of the most durable cameras for this kind of money. 16 feet of waterproofing will get you a long way down, certainly more than most pools and probably enough for some light snorkeling or scuba diving. Freezeproofing down to 14ºF will be sufficient for relatively warm ski days, while the dust and shock resistance mean you won't spent as much time worrying about the camera's safety. And that brings us to an important point....
We do think there's a demand, a big demand in fact, for durable cameras at the low end of the market—not "adventure-proof" models like the TS20, but more like "worry-proof" selections. Cameras that perform and look like any other, but happen to be capable of surviving the occasional drop, or functioning even underwater once in awhile, have a huge appeal. The Sony TX10 is a great example of this. The TS20, on the other hand, succeeds as a cheap, rugged device, but it fails as a camera. We think a reversal of priorities is in order.
If you're a routine adventurer interested in some moderately serious outdoor photography, skip this camera and check out our review of the Lumix TS4.
The Panasonic TS20 is a durable camera, but apparently it forgot its helmet and knee-pads before entering our performance test lab, where it took kind of a beating. From color, to noise, to video, to sharpness, this device bombed test after test. Serious photographers will want to keep shopping.
Noise & Sharpness
Detail is very poor in all cases, and unavoidable image noise is very pronounced.
A sharp camera this is not. At all focal lengths, horizontal resolution frequently drops far below 1000 MTF50s. Often we see peaks in sharpness at the center of a given frame, but the TS20 barely offers this compromise. In the crops below, notice the central shots are just as soft as the border shots, except haloing has been replaced with blue fringing.
Even at minimum sensitivity, there is no way to escape the TS20's ugly image noise. Our tests measured over 1.4% noise at ISO 100—that's just way too high. For reference's sake, the older TS4 only produced 0.67% noise at this sensitivity, and even that result was mediocre. At 1600, the maximum ISO, noise tops out at 1.97%, but by then it almost doesn't even matter anymore. Shots captured with the TS20 are always noisy, no matter what. And that's a limitation reserved, frankly, for only the worst cameras.
Worst of all, noise manifests itself in the most unappealing way possible: blocky, pixelated, and smudgy. If you plan to use this camera in low light, make yourself some new plans.
Color accuracy is far worse than average, and does result in some noticeably odd shots.
Another disappointing test. The TS20 renders color is a way that isn't true to real life. The results of our color test were far worse than average (twice as bad, actually), and errors were spread out evenly across the gamut. This resulted in at least one that was just plainly wrong. In one picture, it made a purple envelope blue.
For what it's worth, saturation is almost perfect, holding steady at 97%.
This is only a 720p device, and even then the videos aren't very attractive.
Videos captured with the TS20 suffer from neither trailing nor artifacting in an especially severe way (though each can be found if you really look for them). Instead, what really ruins the footage is smoothness. Moving objects and patterns have a severe judder to them.
Sharpness during video is also on the weak side. We recorded 300 LW/PH horizontally and 350 vertically in our sharpness test. That's slightly worse than the TS4, but far from the best we've seen from a compact camera.
The TS20 requires at least 33.5 lux of ambient light to collect 50 IRE of image data, and that's slightly better than some still cameras, though still much worse than any camcorder. We're awarding only minimal points for this test.
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