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Panasonic FZ60

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Panasonic FZ60 Preview

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Panasonic's Lumix FZ200 digital camera, announced alongside the FZ60, is going to attract a lot of attention for its jawdropping constant-aperture f/2.8 24x optical zoom lens, and rightly so. That doesn't mean it's right for everybody, though. Putting all that light on your subject means a more complicated lens, a larger and heavier camera, and a significantly higher price tag, as well.

The Panasonic Lumix FZ60 caters to the camera buyer who wants that zoom reach, but doesn't need the bright constant aperture, and the drawbacks it brings. If you're willing to forgo the extra light capture, it could provide a compelling option.

By simply switching to a variable-aperture lens with the same 25-600mm equivalent zoom range and making a few other hardware changes, the Panasonic FZ60 shaves off a handy 0.2 pounds (88 grams; 16%) off the body-only weight versus the FZ200. It's also about 0.2 inches (5 mm) less tall and wide, and 0.7 inches (17 mm) less deep than its sibling.

To achieve that, you lose your f/2.8 maximum aperture as you stray from the wide angle position, with the aperture falling to f/5.2 by the telephoto position. Doing so allows a much simpler lens. It still has 14 elements, but with one less group, and three fewer double-sided aspheric elements.

There are some other hardware changes, so it's not all related to the lens change. Notably, the FZ60's 0.2-inch, 202,000 RGB dot electronic viewfinder is much lower-resolution than the time-multiplexed 437,000 pixel viewfinder of the FZ200, which Panasonic claims has equivalent resolution to a 1,312,000 dot type. You also lose the anti-reflective coating on the LCD panel, and the external microphone jack.

In place of the FZ200's 12.1 megapixel High Sensitivity MOS image sensor, the FZ60 swaps in a somewhat higher-res 16.1 megapixel High Sensitivity MOS chip. The resolution difference between the two isn't as much as it might sound at first blush; you'll gain only 608 extra pixel columns, and 456 extra rows, for a linear resolution increase of just 15%. All other things being equal, that will be accompanied by a further decrease in sensitivity, and an increase in per-pixel noise levels. The spec sheet suggests the theory bears true, with the FZ60 forgoing the FZ200's extended ISO 6,400 setting, although it still retains the High Sensitivity mode that can stretch to 6,400 equivalent under camera control.

The other disadvantage to a higher-res sensor is more data to handle, which stresses the imaging pipeline. That shows up in a slower single-autofocus burst rate of 10 frames per second and a burst depth of only three frames, versus the 12 fps for 12 frames provided by the FZ200. (There's likely a difference in buffer size coming into play here, too.) Even when using tracking autofocus, where the focus time between frames gives the FZ60 some time in which to clear its buffer, it's still just a little slower at 5 fps, where the FZ200 is manufacturer-rated at 5.5 fps.

The Panasonic FZ60 also shows lower speed than its sibling in some other important areas. It lacks the FZ200's high-speed burst and video modes, as well as the 60p / 50p Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) video mode. Instead, it's Full HD videos are recorded at either 60i or 30p frame rates, from 30 frames-per-second sensor data, and 720p mode tops out at 60p from 30 fps data. (PAL models get 50i or 25p from 25 fps sensor data for Full HD, and 50p from 25 fps data for 720p.) And gone is the highest 28 Mbps bitrate available in the FZ200; the FZ60 reaches a maximum of just 20 Mbps.

There are a few other important differences between the two models. The FZ60 includes an 895 mAh battery that's rated for 25% less charge than the FZ200's pack, but impressively provides only 17% lower CIPA battery life ratings, at 450 shots on a charge. It also drops the raw file format found in the FZ200, marking it as a camera intended for the typical consumer, rather than the enthusiast. Also gone is the high-speed UHS-I Secure Digital card support, and the shutter speed range is much narrower, at 4 to 1/2,000 seconds.

If you can live with those changes, though, the FZ60 offers a more compact package that's less likely to be left at home on a shelf when a spontaneous photo opportunity presents itself, and as we've noted, it's also likely to have a rather lower price tag.

Panasonic will not be announcing pricing and availability until roughly 30 days before the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FZ60 goes on sale.