With the ability to shoot raw files plus a long zoom and a bright lens, this larger-than-average superzoom has a lot to offer.
It's positively brimming with controls, has a sharp eyepiece viewfinder to back up the 3-inch display, and if you're an ambitious photography enthusiast, it could be well enough specced to dissuade you from upgrading to a dSLR.
You can pick up the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 from around £470 online.
It's not a small camera by any means, on account of the mammoth 24x zoom, which is equivalent to 25-600mm on a conventional 35mm camera. That's only half the story though. The zoom may explain the length of the body, front to back, but the width of that barrel is accounted for by the constant f/2.8 aperture throughout the range. The minimum aperture at any zoom level is f/8.
At the furthest end of the zoom, that's a pretty impressive achievement, and buying an equivalent lens for a conventional dSLR would cost several thousand pounds. You can't compare removable lenses directly with this model, but to give you some idea of what you'd pay for similar apertures or zooms when not fixed to the body, Canon's 400mm f/2.8 costs on average £7,000, while Sigma's 200-600mm f/2.8 costs in excess of £16,000.
The sensor sports a fairly conservative resolution of 12.1 megapixels. This exceeds the amount you'd need to print an A2 poster (commercial printers like Photobox recommend a 'preferred resolution' of 4 megapixels and above for printing at this size), so you can't criticise it on that front.
But with fewer pixels you have fewer options when it comes to cropping and recomposing your work in post-production. However, with a 24x zoom, that's unlikely to be an issue here. At 600mm, you could fill the frame with a house cat from 40 feet, as pictured above.
By squeezing fewer pixels onto the sensor, it's usually possible to improve low-light performance, and here the FZ200 does well, although its results aren't as sharp as those achieved by either theor the .
Maximum sensitivity in regular use is ISO 3,200, a level at which colours remain accurate and true to the originals, but the level of noise within the image is heightened. It's not so detrimental that fine detail is lost when zoomed out to fit, but zooming to 100 per cent reveals artefacts within my test results.
Controls and build
It's got dual zoom rockers -- one on the side of the barrel and one surrounding the shutter release -- alongside a set of very well-thought-out physical controls. There's a button beside the barrel-mounted zoom that unlocks the focus point so you can move it around the frame using the regular four-way controller.
There's a multi-function wheel above the thumb mount on the back of the body. In regular use this alternates between setting exposure compensation (+/-3EV in 1/3 stop increments), and whatever the lead metric of the selected priority mode happens to be -- so, aperture or shutter speed.
It really comes into its own in manual mode, switching between shutter and aperture setting each time you press it, while you'll trim the lens with focus set to manual. It's a slow and tedious process adjusting the focus this way, particularly at the closer end of the scale, but the display magnifies the selected focal point to help out, so it's not difficult to get a sharp result.