Although we generally like the placement of the controls, the all-important shutter release is about a half-inch too far back, making it moderately uncomfortable to reach. You access most of the camera's features via the Menu button. The menus are easy to understand and quick to navigate with the four-way controller, but there's one bit of control logic that we found annoying: in Aperture- and Shutter-priority modes, you must use the button labeled Exp to switch between modes for setting exposure compensation (the default) and changing the aperture or the shutter speed. It adds an unnecessary button-click to important settings that you should be able to access quickly and directly.Though the Panasonic FZ20's lens makes the camera look and feel awkward, it is the most remarkable fixed-lens optical system in the digital camera world. It incorporates an optically-stabilized 12X Leica DC Vario-Elmarit zoom, which covers the range from 36mm to 432mm (35mm equivalent). A 12X zoom lens that only goes as wide as 36mm--especially a Leica--seems almost a tragedy, but telephoto junkies will rejoice. The optical stabilization makes the extreme telephoto focal lengths feasible in a digital camera that most people will normally shoot handheld.
The lens opens up to f/2.8 throughout its zoom range, a truly impressive feat. Equally nice, it has a firm but smooth manual-focus ring and a prominent, lens-mounted switch for selecting between auto or manual focus. The autofocus system offers the choice of four different AF-area modes: 9-area, 3-area, single area, and spot. Finally, the lens accepts an accessory .8X wide-angle (DMW-LWZ10) converter and, for those who think 432mm is wimpy, a 1.5X telephoto (DMW-LTZ10) converter.
The FZ20 covers all the exposure bases. In addition to all four standard exposure modes, you can select from nine scene modes. There are three light-metering modes--Multiple, Center-Weighted, and Spot--and you can set exposure compensation to plus or minus 2EV or use the 3-shot exposure bracketing function. For white balance, your options are auto, manual, or any of four presets. Light-sensitivity settings include ISO 80, ISO 100, ISO 200, and ISO 400.
The FZ20 stores images on SD/MMC cards, and it can capture JPEGs or TIFFs at six different resolutions and two JPEG compression settings. As with many cameras, you can adjust the contrast, the color saturation, and the sharpness of your images, but the FZ20 also gives you three levels of adjustment for the amount of noise reduction processing the camera applies, an unusual and potentially useful feature.