Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 review: The megazoom that has it all
For those searching for a long-zoom camera that falls in between a point-and-shoot and a digital-SLR experience, look no further.
Editors' note: The FZ200 has since been replaced by the FZ300, but remains an excellent option. However, we've adjusted the rating to reflect its position relative to new competitors since it initially shipped; in this case, dropping the performance rating to 8.
One of the main issues where megazoom camera lenses (and point-and-shoot zoom lenses in general) are concerned is that, to keep size and cost down, the apertures get increasingly smaller as you extend the lens. That's not the case for the Panasonic Lumix FZ200, though.
Smaller apertures mean you're letting in less and less light, which means you need to use high ISO settings to keep shutter speeds fast enough to prevent blur. While dSLRs and interchangeable lens cameras can turn out good high-ISO results, that's rarely the case with point-and-shoots.
The FZ200's lens, however, has an f2.8 aperture through its entire zoom range: 25mm to 600mm. That means even if you don't have great lighting, the camera won't immediately need to ramp up ISO sensitivity to get a proper exposure when you start using the zoom.
That doesn't automatically mean it's a better megazoom than anything else right now, but the rest of the camera puts it over the top. Many of its features are straight from its predecessor, the excellent FZ150, but you also get an improved autofocus system, a high-res electronic viewfinder (EVF), and a new high-sensitivity 12-megapixel MOS sensor. It's loaded with shooting options for every user level, plus an updated interface and more direct control over settings.
It is more expensive than competing models with longer zooms, but longer lenses don't mean better pictures.
The FZ200's new sensor and improved JPEG image processing do result in slightly 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. And with the f2.8 aperture available through the zoom range, 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, 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 4.1 (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.
Colors are bright and pleasing and exposure is generally very good, but highlights tend to blow out -- typical of point-and-shoots. Again, shooting in raw can help you regain some detail loss and adjust color if you're not satisfied with Panasonic's JPEG output. There are also controls for making adjustments to color as well as an HDR mode for shooting backlit subjects.
Keep in mind, though, this is not a digital SLR or interchangeable lens camera, or even a large-sensor compact. Those cameras will get you better photo quality, but they cannot offer you an f2.8 25-600mm lens in a compact body at a price even remotely close to the FZ200's. You're paying for versatility, features, and convenience here more than photo quality.
The FZ200's movies are equally as good as its photos. With good lighting you get excellent results, especially when shooting in 1080p60 in AVCHD format. For more Web-friendly video you can record in MP4, too. The zoom lens does work while recording, though you will hear it moving and possibly the continuous autofocus in quieter scenes. Overall, if you're looking for something to shoot photo and movies with, this is an excellent choice.
Editors' note: We recently updated our testing methodology to provide slightly more real-world performance information, so the results aren't necessarily comparable with previous testing. Until we're finished refining our procedures, we will not be posting comparative performance charts.
If you shoot a lot of moving subjects, such as children, pets, and sports, the FZ200's multiple burst-shooting options give you a lot of flexibility and a fighting chance of getting a good photo. Its fastest burst modes -- 40 frames per second and 60fps -- are at reduced resolutions, but Panasonic packed in three at full resolution. There's one that captures up to 12 shots at 12fps, but that sets focus and exposure with the first shot. What's better are the 2fps and 5.5fps options with autofocus, so you're able to get a moderately fast-moving subject in focus and properly exposed. Plus, these are available when shooting in raw plus JPEG or raw and its performance is just as quick. The camera's high-speed shooting also provides bracketing options for flash intensities and exposures.
Other aspects of the FZ200's shooting performance are excellent as well. Shutter lag -- the time from pressing the shutter release to capture -- is low at 0.2 second in bright lighting and 0.4 second in dim, low-contrast lighting. From shot to shot without the flash you're waiting only 1 second; adding the flash extends that time to 3 seconds. The time from off to first shot is 1.2 seconds, which is very good for this camera class. Basically, the FZ200 is as fast as you're going to get with what's basically a point-and-shoot camera at its core.
Design and features
Generally speaking, the FZ200 is well-designed and nice to use, but there are a few points against it. First, the plastic body makes it feel like a lesser camera than you'd expect for $600. There's an ample hand grip so you can comfortably manage its 1.3-pound weight, which houses your memory card and a large rechargeable battery that's CIPA-rated for up to 540 shots. However, the compartment is blocked from opening if you're using the camera on a tripod, or you attach a tripod quick-release plate or use a strap that attaches to the tripod socket. Yes, you can always attach its Micro-USB cable to transfer stuff off the camera, but the battery must be removed to be charged. (Also, although cables are fairly easy to come by, the USB port is proprietary.)
On top along with the shutter release/zoom lever, power switch, and Mode dial are a one-touch record button for movies, a button for quickly setting burst modes, and a programmable function button. On the back, below the electronic viewfinder (EVF), is a flip-out, rotating 3-inch LCD. The EVF is of a much higher resolution than you'll find on other compact cameras, though there is a slight rainbow effect if you blink or shift your eye position. Also, switching between the EVF and LCD is done with a button, which can be frustrating if you like to use the LCD for setting changes or quickly reviewing shots.
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200
|Weight (with battery and media)
|Megapixels, image sensor size, type
|12 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch MOS
|LCD size, resolution/viewfinder
|3-inch LCD, 460K dots/electronic
|Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length)
|24x, f2.8, 25-600mm (35mm equivalent)
|File format (still/video)
|JPEG, raw (RW2)/AVCHD (MTS), H.264 AAC (MP4)
|Highest resolution size (still/video)
|4,000x3,000 pixels/1,920x1,080 pixels at 60fps (progressive, 28Mbps)
|Image stabilization type
|Optical and digital
|Battery type, CIPA rated life
|Lithium ion rechargeable, 540 shots
|Battery charged in camera
|No; wall adapter supplied
|PhotofunStudio 8.3 PE Edition (Windows), Silkypix Developer Studio 3.1 SE (Windows, Mac)
To the left of the LCD are the main controls for menu navigation and shooting. They're all well-spaced and easy to press, and there's a jog dial for quickly changing settings like aperture, shutter speed, and exposure compensation. There is a second programmable function button as well as an AF/AE lock button that can be reprogrammed for another function. The control pad also has direct access to ISO, white balance, AF modes, and timers.
The lens barrel has additional controls: a switch for changing from autofocus, AF macro, or manual focus; a focus button that triggers the variable AF area or gives you a one-shot AF to help with manual focusing; and a secondary zoom control, which offers slightly smoother control than the main zoom around the shutter release, and can be used for manual focus, too.
Beyond its direct controls, enthusiasts will appreciate the hot shoe on top for adding different flash units; the 55mm threaded mount for conversion lenses and filters; and the mic/remote socket. Panasonic even includes a lens hood.
|General shooting options
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200
|ISO sensitivity (full resolution)
|Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
|Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Halogen, Color Temperature, Custom (2), White Balance Adjustment
|Intelligent Auto, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, Manual Video, Creative Control, Scene, Custom
|Face AF, Tracking AF, Multi AF (23-area), 1-area (flexible and scalable), Manual
|0.4 inch (Wide); 3.3 feet (Tele)
|Multi, Center-weighted average, Spot
|Standard, Vivid, Natural, Monochrome, Scenery, Portrait, Custom
|Burst mode shot limit (full resolution)
Like the FZ150, the FZ200 is chock-full of shooting options for every level of photographer, making it an excellent choice as a camera for the whole family. For those who like to leave things on automatic, there's Intelligent Auto (iA), which combines scene recognition with Panasonic's full assortment of image-processing technologies to help with exposure, autofocus, ISO, and sharpness. There's also an iA Plus mode that adds simple sliders for exposure compensation, background defocus (aperture), and white balance, which is particularly helpful when shooting indoors or in mixed lighting.
There are 18 scene modes that include the usual suspects like Portrait, Scenery, and Food, but Panasonic has added its newer pan-and-shoot Panorama Shot and multiexposure HDR modes to the mix. There is also a multiexposure Handheld Night Shot that takes 10 pictures in a row and then combines them into one to reduce motion blur and noise. If you like filters and effects, there are 14 of them in the Creative Control mode, all of which can be applied in playback, too.
For those who want control over shutter speed and aperture, there are priority modes for each as well as a manual mode that lets 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 to f8 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 that 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. And, for settings combinations you use frequently, you can store up to four custom profiles.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 is the closest you're going to get to a digital-SLR experience with a megazoom camera. Its small 1/2.3-inch-type sensor is the same size you'll find in other point-and-shoot cameras, and while its picture quality is excellent for what it is, cameras with larger sensors, such as dSLRs or interchangeable-lens compacts, will do better. That said, you're not going to find the FZ200's lens anywhere else and it makes a huge difference for this class of camera. Trying to duplicate its focal length range with its constant f2.8 aperture for an SLR would cost thousands of dollars and the resulting camera would not fit in a small bag.