Hands-on preview

Another year, another superzoom camera from Panasonic. Having successfully refined the formula over the past few years, culminating in the Editors' Choice-winning DMC-FZ150, it's a tall order for this new camera to improve upon an already-good thing. We had the opportunity to take the FZ200 through some initial paces.

While the maximum reach of the optical zoom hasn't changed from 24x (25-600mm equivalent), the FZ200 has a couple of interesting features that are definite improvements over previous superzooms on the market. Most importantly, there is an f/2.8 lens that stays constant across the focal length range. That means, even when zoomed in at 24x optical, you can still shoot at f/2.8.

For low-light photography using a zoom, this could be invaluable, as it means the lens can let in more light without needing to dramatically increase ISO sensitivity. When shooting in automatic modes, superzooms often need to use a fast shutter speed, combined with a high ISO sensitivity to get a blur-free shot when zoomed in using the full extent of the lens.

At 25mm wide-angle (top) and 600mm zoomed right in (bottom), you can see even the finest detail on the croc.
(Credit: Lexy Savvides/CBSi)

There's also a range of exposure modes available on the FZ200. Regular PASM modes can be accessed from the mode dial, as well as intelligent automatic and creative control modes, which include filters such as soft focus, impressive art, sepia and toy effect.

Continuous shooting is fast, at 12 frames per second (fps) with full 12.1-megapixel resolution, or 5.5fps with continuous autofocus. There's even faster shooting options when using the electronic (as opposed to mechanical) shutter.

Apart from the 3-inch LCD screen that flips out and rotates back onto the camera body, there is also a high-resolution electronic viewfinder that can be used to compose shots. On paper, it sounds great, packed full of 1.3-million dots. In use though, it is rather small and requires a touch of squinting to see through accurately, but it does refresh quickly and has excellent colour reproduction. It offers 100 per cent field of view.

Full HD video recording is available in 1080/50p, in either AVCHD or MP4. Here's a short clip from the FZ200 getting up close and personal to a crocodile. You can use the full extent of the optical zoom while filming, which is made easier than on previous models because of the redesigned zoom lever on the lens barrel. It does take some time to realise it's there though, as we defaulted to using the traditional zoom rocker to make adjustments.

You may recognise this croc as the infamous Elvis, who stole a lawnmower for lunch.

Retailing for AU$799, the FZ200 is certainly not the cheapest superzoom on the market. Expect it to hit stores in Australia around September 2012, and a full review of the camera soon.

Lexy Savvides travelled to the Central Coast as a guest of Panasonic.