These are 100 percent crops from our test scene to give you an idea of what you'll get at full size onscreen using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200. The FZ200's new sensor and improved JPEG image processing do result in better photos (and video, for that matter) than we got from its predecessor, the FZ150. Pixel peepers will see noise and artifacts, even at ISO 100, but the photos are still more usable at larger sizes up to ISO 400. With the f2.8 aperture available through the zoom range, though, you don't need to be shooting in full sun or using its higher ISO settings to get a good shot. In fact, during shooting in mixed daylight conditions, the camera rarely went above ISO 400. When you're shooting with less light with the lens fully extended and you're trying to freeze action, however, you'll probably still need its higher ISOs.
Photos do get noticeably softer at ISO 800, but above that things get smeary. If you don't like the results you're getting from Panasonic's JPEG processing, however, you can always shoot in Panasonic's RW2 raw format and process the photos yourself. After some quick adjustments using Adobe Camera Raw in Adobe Lightroom (nothing difficult, just moving some sliders), I was able to improve color, detail, and amount of noise. The camera's performance doesn't slow down when shooting in raw or raw plus JPEG, either.
If you don't like the results you're getting from Panasonic's JPEG processing (left), you can always shoot in Panasonic's RW2 raw format, too, and process the photos yourself. After just some quick adjustments using Adobe Camera Raw in Adobe Lightroom (nothing difficult, just moving some sliders), I was able to improve color, detail, and noise. The camera doesn't slow down much when shooting in raw or raw plus JPEG, either. These are 100 percent crops, so the results look even better at smaller sizes.
At ISO 1600, subjects are still soft and noisy regardless of JPEG (left) or raw (right) format. However, again using Camera Raw, I was able to reduce the amount of yellow blotching and improve color and detail some. Again, these are 100 percent crops, so things do look better at smaller sizes.
For those who want control over shutter speed and aperture, there are priority modes for each as well as a manual mode letting you control both. Shutter speeds go from 60 seconds to 1/4,000 second (1/8 to 1/20,000 second for movies). Apertures go from f2.8 (top) to f8 (bottom) for the entire zoom range. However, you can control much more in these modes and Program mode than shutter speed and aperture. There are six color types and a custom color type, for example, each with five-step sliders for changing contrast, sharpness, saturation, and noise reduction, and these settings can then be stored in memory. Basically, if you don't like the way the photos are coming out, you can tweak a lot of things, including white balance, focus, and ISO, to get the camera performing the way you want.
If you're after the longest zoom, the Panasonic FZ200 falls short of the top models from, well, everyone else. However, none of them have a maximum aperture of f2.8 at 600mm. Even the models that start at f2.8 don't have that aperture available much, if at all, beyond their widest focal length.
If you need to get closer to your subject and you don't plan to make a large print or enlarge and crop, Panasonic's Intelligent Zoom feature is worth using. It's a digital zoom that doubles the range to 48x. The top photo is the full photo at 620x465 pixels. The middle is a crop from the center at 33 percent of its full size, while the bottom is a crop at 100 percent. View it larger to get a better idea of the differences.
Panasonic does a fine job of correcting barrel distortion at the wide end and pincushioning at the telezoom end. The same goes for fringing in high-contrast areas, too, though you can do better if you want to correct the raw files yourself. And unlike on other megazooms I've reviewed, the lens is sharp at the center and out to the edges and corners.
Panasonic's Panorama Shot mode (found in the camera's scene modes menu) lets you capture panoramic images on the fly up to 360 degrees simply by panning the camera. The quality is nowhere near as good as the results from Sony's cameras, but at small sizes they're good.
If you're a sucker for filters and effects, you'll be happy to find 14 of them in Creative Control mode: Expressive, Retro, High Key, Low Key, Sepia, Dynamic Monochrome (pictured), Impressive Art, High Dynamic, Cross Process, Toy Effect, Miniature Effect, Soft Focus, Star Filter, and One Point Color. Each can be tweaked in their own ways, too, and are available for both stills and movies.
Should you want to apply one of the Creative Control effects to a photo after you've shot it, you can. Just open the image in playback and select what you want to use. For example, I applied the One Point Color effect to this photo of the Empire State Building at dusk, keeping the blue sky, but turning the rest of the photo monochrome.