Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 review: The megazoom that has it all

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.

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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.

Key specs Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200
Price (MSRP) $599.95
Dimensions (WHD) 4.9x3.4x4.3 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 1.3 pounds
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
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXC
Bundled software 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.

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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
White balance Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Halogen, Color Temperature, Custom (2), White Balance Adjustment
Recording modes Intelligent Auto, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, Manual Video, Creative Control, Scene, Custom
Focus modes Face AF, Tracking AF, Multi AF (23-area), 1-area (flexible and scalable), Manual
Macro 0.4 inch (Wide); 3.3 feet (Tele)
Metering modes Multi, Center-weighted average, Spot
Color effects Standard, Vivid, Natural, Monochrome, Scenery, Portrait, Custom
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) 12 shots

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.

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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.

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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.

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