Panasonic LC-20 Digital Still Camera

The features that drew me to this digital range finder camera (that will take a series of stills rendering a jump frame video) was the fact that the lenses were from Lecia (their lower costing series), the 2 megapixel sensor which means the camera will deliver more than 8 x 10” print quality at high resolution (92 dots) and the price $300 retail (I got mine for about $250 on line from a discount electronics supplier), making this a very high end camera that’s priced low enough for just about anyone looking for a good camera.

Yes, you can find 2 megapixel cameras priced a lot lower -- $150 or less, but the coated optical glass Lecia lens assembly is extremely high quality, even in their lower priced line. At $150 you get generic lenses from design houses in Japan with manufacturing plants located who knows where made out of who knows what kind of materials. Plastic lenses diffuse or smear light, especially with flash. This Panasonic camera does really good with flash, delivering a sharp, clear picture.

The Leitz lenses deliver a very, very sharp image. In some of the test shots we took you could see reflections from ear rings on the face. Also the camera had a 3 to 1 optical zoom, with auto focus and macro capabilities so you can get in to photograph small objects like coins, stamps, other photographs – making this marginally useful for light commercial photography, despite the fact this is a rangefinder camera.

Rangefinders use a secondary viewing lens mounted above the taking lens. The small difference in position causes a problem known as parallax (otherwise known as what you see won’t quite be what you get), however there is an LCD viewer behind the camera that shows you exactly what the taking lens sees, except you’ll also see some technical information about the battery power, flash and number of pictures.

Battery consumption is quite high with this type of camera which comes with two Ni-N (which have more power storage than Ni Cad batteries) AA batteries and a moderately fast charger (it takes 4 – 5 hours to recharge on the average). With flash and LCD usage you get about 12 – 15 shots per charge. Ni-Cad batteries (which we used as an alternative as we already has some AA on hand for other electronic devices) give only about 8 shots (which is enough to fill the 8 MB memory card with full resolution pictures) and the Kodak Alkaline batteries we used on an emergency basis didn’t even get 6 shots! We wondered if the Alkaline batteries were old or if the Ni-N batteries actually do a superior job with the load of this camera.

AC power pack is an optional item you must buy separately and no, the Radio Shack universal adapter we had lying around wouldn’t fit the camera, so you will need to buy the 3 volt AC adapter if you are doing inside work such as studio shots or off loading pictures onto your computer, which requires an external power supply.

Some digital cameras get their power from the USB port, but not this Panasonic (nor an Olympus we tested which was very similar in operation, which means that maybe they both got their OS chips from the same source) camera. You must use battery or the optional AC power adapter.

You turn the rotary switch at the top of the camera which sets you up for regular stills, macro, movie or playback mode. In playback mode you can thumb through all of the pictures stored in memory (8 MB comes with the camera and that’s enough for 8 high resolution 1600 pixel pictures, 32 MB will cost you about $40 retail) on the LCD screen or off load them via a USB cord (which comes with the camera) to the PC with special driver software (supplied with the camera, including some photo editing programs) to a removable disk (also known as a RAM disk) that you find by clicking on MY COMPUTER when using a PC. It is often the last drive icon on the MY COMPUTER screen. You click on that, you will see several folders. Click on the left folder and you get another folder, click on that folder and you will see the JPG pictures which you can copy (or drag) to anywhere on your normal hard drive or to a ZIP disk.

High resolution (92 dot 1600 pixel) pictures vary in file size from ¼ to ½ megabyte (a lot depends on the color scheme). You get more pictures and smaller file sizes if you drop the pixels or resolution, 800 pixel images are equivalent to what you’ll get with a 1 megapixel camera (see the piece we did last May on Hi Rez Web Cameras) and this is about equal to a 4 x 6 print from a 35mm camera with 100 speed film.

Not a hint of red eye in any of these shots.

In my test pictures I never encountered “red eye” once and I was taking a lot of close face shots for promotional work. You can defeat the flash with the push of a button on the back of the camera, instead of the main menu. You can also make the flash work outdoors, such as I did once for a backlighted picture to help bring out the face as the light meter was adjusting for the strong sun setting in the background.

Exposure varies from about 1 full second (which means you can’t really use this camera for astronomical work in taking pictures of meteors or stars fields, but it will work for brighter planets like Venus or Jupiter and for lunar eclipse pictures).

Digital Cameras at

You can also use digital zoom, but the picture quality diminishes considerably (at full digital zoom you get the rough equivalent of 320 pixel low resolution web cam which is not even 3 x 5 print quality, it’s more like wallet photo resolution). To understand what digital zoom does, first understand that the number of active pixels determines the resolution. This camera has 2 million pixels which is enough for a 1000 x 1200 (about 11 x 14”) print with no quality loss. A pixel for pixel image. If you wanted a 16 x 20” (1500 x 1900) print you would have to spread the 1000 x 1200 pixels over the larger area. So some pixels would be duplicates instead of originals. That’s how the digital zoom work. An area 640 x 480 (or smaller) in pixels is spread across the 1000 x 1200 matrix. That gives about 4 pixels with the same exact image state or very grainy resolution. Digital zoom, if you want to equate this to optical terms, is like taking an image with a huge telephoto on 800 speed color print film. The resulting image will have dots the size of baseballs and resemble low quality home video tape put on still mode. Still digital zoom has uses in some situations and you get up to 10 power of digital zoom on top of the 3 power of optical zoom with those Lecia (Leitz) lenses!

There is a self timer mode so you can get into your own pictures. Over and under exposure modes. Low quality, low frame short video mode (like a low resolution web cam, about 320 pixels at 10 frames per second for a few sections total time, depending on the memory card).

You can see the last picture you took by pressing a rocker switch on the back of the camera. To see the rest of the pictures you must turn the dial on top and change modes, then press rocker buttons on the back. To delete photos requires several steps. You have an option to delete the one you are looking at by simply rocking from NO to YES and pressing menu. In playback mode you can delete all the current pictures by rocking the switch until you see DELETE then rocking and selecting this then when the message asking if you want to delete all pictures YES or NO you select YES and press MENU.

One final feature I wasn’t aware of when I first picked out this camera was that the lens has an automatic cover and retracts into the casing. When you turn on the power the lens assembly extends and the covers opens up. This is fail safe protection for a klutz like me, despite the fact I’ve been taking pictures professionally for years! We in the know always know to put a 1A or UV filter over the front of that SLR lens to keep it safe, well this lens is a little too small for a filter and no one remember to put on the lens cap, so they put it on for you! Bravo!

Above left is shot on film, right is the Panasonic digital image.

Excellent camera, intuitive to use for the primary features (some items do require that you study the instruction booklet), delivers good, sharp, large pictures that rivals 35mm with 100 speed film. For comparison sake I took some comparison shots with my Minolta SRT 101 scanned at 300 DPI. I tended to favor the digital pictures from the Panasonic printed on ultra white matte paper over paper prints made from scans of 4 x 6 standard size photos you get from processing labs, scanned on a Umax and in theory the Minolta pictures should have been better in quality. Instead I found myself wanted to go back to the Panasonic and re-shoot those pictures.

Photos: Singer Clarissa J Rawkis photographed by Earl R. Dingman © 2002 V. Bell, All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.

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