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Panasonic Announces 20X-Zoom Pocket Camera, Full-Featured Rugged Camera

Four new Panasonic point-and-shoots were unveiled today, including the 20X-optical-zoom Lumix ZS20 and the durable Lumix TS4

Panasonic's latest camera models are extreme in a couple of ways: extreme in terms of optical-zoom range, and extreme in the "chugging a carafe of Mountain Dew while pogo-sticking down Mount Everest" sense. Today the company announced four new Lumix point-and-shoots that will be available in the first quarter of the year, headlined by the 20X-optical-zoom Lumix ZS20 and the rugged but robust Lumix TS4.

Panasonic is billing the Lumix ZS20 as the "slimmest digital camera with a 20X zoom lens." And at 1.1 inches deep, it is thinner than the Pentax Optio VS20 (1.5 inches deep) and the Fujifilm FinePix F770EXR (1.4 inches deep), the other 20X-zoom compact cameras announced thus far in 2012. It backs up that ample zoom lens with a new low-light-optimized CMOS sensor, both physical and touchscreen controls, and in-camera GPS functions.

The everything-proof Lumix TS4 is filled with instruments for gauging the weather, location, and altitude, as well as full manual controls for shutter and aperture, plus some handy automated functions.

Panasonic Lumix ZS20 and ZS15: Pocket Zooms With Manual Controls

The Panasonic Lumix ZS20's optically stabilized 20X-optical-zoom lens reaches from 24mm wide-angle to 480mm telephoto, and it hosts a newly designed 14-megapixel CMOS sensor that supports a handful of new features. Panasonic says the new imager features two types of noise reduction to produce crisper shots than its predecessor (last year's 16X-optical-zoom Lumix ZS10); a faster, 120-frames-per-second autofocus system that can lock in on objects within a tenth of a second; a 10-fps burst mode at full resolution; and a reworked HDR mode that uses exposure bracketing and image stacking as opposed to the filter-based HDR system in last year's models.

The Lumix ZS20 also supports 1080p AVCHD video capture at 60 fps, as well as 1080p MP4 recording at 30 fps; the camera's stereo microphone has a setting that helps eliminate wind noise automatically. Welcome holdovers from last year's Lumix ZS10 include full manual controls and aperture- and shutter-priority modes; touch-to-focus controls by way of the camera's 3-inch-diagonal touchscreen; 3D still-image capture; and improved GPS features that include in-camera mapping and a points-of-interest database as opposed to just raw geotagging in an image's EXIF data. The in-camera maps come via a bundled DVD, and you can load different mapping regions onto the camera.

Due in March, the Lumix ZS20 is priced at $350.

The Lumix ZS15 swaps out the 20X zoom lens for 16x-optical-zoom optics (24mm to 384mm) and a lower-resolution 12-megapixel CMOS sensor, but it still offers manual exposure controls too. Aside from the lens and sensor, the major differences between it and the ZS20 are its video- and audio-recording capabilities (the ZS15 shoots 1080i AVCHD video at 60 fps, takes 1080p MP4 video at 30 fps, and captures sound via a mono microphone), its lack of in-camera GPS features, and the absence of a touchscreen.

Also due in March, the Lumix ZS15 will go for $280.

Panasonic Lumix TS4: The Chuck Norris of Cameras (If Chuck Norris Were Also a Scientist)

The Lumix TS4 is Panasonic's new top-of-the-line rugged camera, and its on-board instruments practically make it a portable meteorological laboratory. In addition to the in-camera mapping and real-name location database features also found in the Lumix ZS20, the Lumix TS4 offers an internal barometer, altimeter, and compass.

The Lumix TS4 replaces the similarly tank-like Lumix TS3 and shares that model's especially ruggedized features: It's waterproof down to 40 feet underwater, drop-proof to tumbles as far as 6.6 feet, freezeproof down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit, and dustproof.

That external armor protects a 12-megapixel "Hi-Speed CCD" sensor--an imager that makes the Lumix TS4 the first CCD-sensor camera we've seen to capture 1920-by-1080-pixel video (in AVCHD format at 60i or in MP4 format at 30p). The Lumix TS4's 4.6X-optical-zoom lens covers a focal range of 28mm to 128mm, and the camera also provides full manual controls for shutter and aperture--a rarity in the rugged-camera realm. In addition to the manual controls, the TS4 boasts automated imaging effects such as a time-lapse mode, a tilt-shift-lens-simulating miniature mode, and in-camera panorama stitching.

The sum of all those specs adds up to what looks like the most full-featured rugged point-and-shoot camera we've ever seen. Due in March, the Lumix TS4 will be priced at $400.

Panasonic's other rugged series announcement is the 4X-optical-zoom Lumix TS20 (25mm to 100mm), which the company is aiming squarely at the entry-level crowd. It offers a higher-resolution CCD sensor than the TS4 (16 megapixels), but its video capture maxes out at 720p, and it lacks the manual controls, GPS, and instruments of the fully loaded TS4.

It's also slightly less rugged than the TS4, as its waterproof rating is limited to 16 feet underwater and its shockproof rating caps out at drops of 5 feet. Due in late February, the Lumix TS20 will be priced at $180.

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