If you were tempted by the FZ200 reviewed here last month but the high price put you off, then your face will beam with childish delight at Panasonic dangling the FZ62 in front of your outstretched arms -- for nearly half the cost.
It's slightly smaller and a touch lighter, has 16.1 megapixels to the FZ200's 12.1 and an identical zoom.
You can pick up the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ62 from £270. So where have the corners been cut?
Despite being half an inch or so smaller than the FZ200 in every direction, this is still a chunky beast, although a bulky handgrip surrounding the battery neatly balances out the 24x zoom. The lens is equivalent to 25-600mm on a regular 35mm camera, ably framing landscapes at the wider end of the scale and finely detailed shots at full telephoto.
The maximum aperture at wide angle is an impressive f/2.8, which maintains a good shallow depth of field in portraits. Here though, we come to our first big difference between the FZ200 and FZ62. While the more expensive model maintained that aperture through the full length of its zoom, it narrows to a (still respectable) f/5.2 at 600mm in the FZ62. That makes the FZ200 the more appealing -- and more exciting -- choice. In both cameras, the minimum aperture at any zoom is f/8.
There's an automatic mode, as well as full control over aperture and shutter speed in the various priority and manual modes. The controls are well thought out and easy to manage, and it implements Panasonic's familiar dual-scale gauge on the display to show you how long each exposure will be at any given aperture. There are two customisable function buttons that you can set as shortcuts for whichever controls you use most often.
It's a shame that with so much manual control at your disposal, Panasonic hasn't gone the whole hog and included an option to record raw files -- your only options are two levels of JPEG compression. This is another point that differentiates it from the FZ200, where both raw and JPEG are supported.
There's no optical viewfinder, but the 3-inch rear LCD is supplemented by a digital eyepiece with diopter control, so you can adjust its clarity and focus. It's sharp and bright, and although it doesn't refresh quite as smoothly as the rear display, it's fine-grained and the graphics are easy to read.
Sensitivity ranges from ISO 100 to ISO 3,200 in regular use. You can unlock ISO 6,400 if you switch to high-sensitivity mode, but doing so reduces the size of your image from the full 16 megapixels (4,608x3,456 pixels) to between 2 and 3 megapixels, depending on the image aspect you've chosen.
Stills shot at ISO 3,200 were characterised by considerable levels of grain, which obviously affected the clarity of the result, as can be seen in the image above. Fine detail, such as the writing on the Jack Daniel's label, is lost at this level.
I performed my tests with the FZ62 set to Intelligent Auto, so it could make its own decisions as to the best settings for each shot.
Results were good, with sharp edges and punchy colours evident throughout. Illumination was very well handled, even in scenes with sharp contrasts, although there were clipped highlights where particularly light surfaces directly caught the sun, such as with white and cream material.