Panasonic Lumix FZ200 Review

 
Camera Reviews / Panasonic Lumix Cameras / Lumix Point & Shoot i Express Review
Basic Specifications
Full model name: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200
Resolution: 12.10 Megapixels
Sensor size: 1/2.3 inch
Lens: 24.00x zoom
(25-600mm eq.)
Viewfinder: EVF / LCD
ISO: 100-6400
Shutter: 60-1/4000
Max Aperture: 2.8
Dimensions: 4.9 x 3.4 x 4.3 in.
(125 x 87 x 110 mm)
Weight: 21.3 oz (603 g)
includes batteries
MSRP: $599
Availability: 08/2012
Manufacturer: Panasonic
Full specs: Panasonic FZ200 specifications
12.10
Megapixels
24.00x zoom
1/2.3 inch
size sensor
image of Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200
Front side of Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 digital camera Back side of Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 digital camera Top side of Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 digital camera Left side of Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 digital camera Right side of Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 digital camera

FZ200 Summary

It's a rare superzoom camera that features an f/2.8 lens -- especially a Leica-branded 24x zoom lens that maintains that constant max aperture throughout its range. But that's exactly what the Panasonic FZ200 delivers and more. With an equivalent reach of 25-600mm, full-res continuous shooting at 12 frames per second and Full HD 1080p video recording, the FZ200 provides a ton of photographic flexibility to casual photographers and enthusiasts alike.

Pros

Max aperture f/2.8 across full 24x optical zoom range of Leica DC Vario-Elmarit-branded lens; Relatively sharp and detailed images for a superzoom camera; Full-res burst shooting at 12 frames per second; Advanced photographic capabilities (manual focusing/exposure controls, RAW image capture, etc.); Full HD video recording up to 60p.

Cons

Control scheme and menu layout frustrating to use, especially the over-reliance on the rear dial; Higher ISOs produce smudged and blurred images as noise reduction efforts increase; Tendency to clip highlights; EVF doesn't switch on automatically when you look through it.

Price and availability

The Panasonic FZ200 started shipping in the U.S. market in August 2012 for a suggested retail price of US$600.

Imaging Resource rating

4.5 out of 5.0

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Panasonic FZ200 Review

Overview by
Posted 07/18/2012

Shooter's Report by Tim Barribeau
Posted

Sure, your smartphone can do a lot of things today. It keeps you up to date with Facebook, it searches the web at your verbal command, it even grabs pretty good snapshots. Unless you care to go back to phone styling from the 1980s, though, there's one thing it can't so far manage: It won't bring you much closer to your subject than your feet can. Optical zoom lenses are still fairly rare on phone cameras, and long-zoom camera phones just don't exist at all.

Not surprisingly, then, this is a market niche in which a lot of camera manufacturers find themselves. (And one in which a lot of photographers dissatisfied with their smartphones find themselves shopping.) With all those manufacturers competing, they really need to find a way to differentiate themselves. With the Panasonic FZ200, the Japanese manufacturer looks to have found a pretty good strategy. Ultrazooms are all about the lens -- and oh, what a lens does the FZ200 bring to the table.

Lens. OK, perhaps it isn't fair to say it's all about the lens -- there's quite a lot to the FZ200 beyond its 24x optic -- but it sure does immediately grab the attention. It does so with a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture, all the way across the zoom range from its generous 25mm wide angle to its see-the-whites-of-their-eyes 600mm-equivalent telephoto. The FZ200 isn't the first long-zoom camera to feature a lens like this. Panasonic's had no less than six models boasting f/2.8 constant apertures, but it's been a long time since we've seen one. (The simultaneous announcement of the Lumix FZ3, FZ15, and FZ20 back in mid-2004 brought that era to a close.) Those cameras were also all based around relatively less powerful 12x zooms, where the FZ200 sports a 24x zoom range.

The FZ200's lens bears Leica DC Vario-Elmarit branding, and the complex optical formula includes 14 elements in 11 groups, of which there are five aspherics, four of them double-sided, plus three ED lenses, There's also one nano surface-coated element. As you'd expect given the zoom reach, the FZ200 includes Panasonic's Power O.I.S. image stabilization system. A contrast detection autofocus system offers 23 points of focus and can also operate in a single-area mode with adjustable point size. Face detection and tracking functions are included, and there's an AF assist lamp to help out in low light.

The lens barrel has 52mm threads for screw-in filters. The FZ200 also accepts an optional 1.7x tele conversion lens (DMW-LT55) or +2 close-up lens (DMW-LC55), via an optional DMW-LA7 lens adapter. A bayonet-type lens hood is included in the product bundle.

Sensor and processor. We said there's more to the FZ200 than just the lens, though, and there is. The Panasonic FZ200 is based around a brand-new 1/2.3-inch, 12.1-megapixel High Sensitivity MOS image sensor. Total resolution is 12.8 megapixels, and output is handled by Panasonic's Venus Engine image processor. ISO sensitivity varies from 100 to 3,200 equivalents at full resolution, and can be extended to ISO 6,400 equivalent. There's also an Auto ISO mode, and an Intelligent ISO function. The latter detects subject movement, and boosts ISO as needed to freeze motion.

The new sensor and Venus Engine processor combine to allow full-res burst shooting at 12 frames per second, for as many as 12 frames. If tracking autofocus is enabled after the first frame, this falls to 5.5 frames per second. High-speed burst modes offer 40 frames per second capture at 5-megapixel resolution, and up to 60 fps at 2.5 megapixels. Startup time is also reasonably swift for a long zoom camera, at 0.95 seconds, according to Panasonic.

EVF and LCD. Befitting its SLR-like form factor, the Panasonic FZ200 sports a built-in, 0.2-inch electronic viewfinder. It has a 100% field of view, and is time-multiplexed to show red, green and blue sequentially at every pixel location. Resolution is around 437,000 pixels. A diopter adjustment dial is provided just left of the viewfinder, with a range of +/-4 diopter.

Beneath the viewfinder window is a 3-inch, tilt-swivel LCD panel with 460,000 dot resolution. The panel has a 3:2 aspect ratio, approximately 100% coverage, and a wide viewing angle (although Panasonic doesn't specify the actual horizontal / vertical viewing range).

Built-in flash and hot shoe. On the top deck are both a built-in popup flash, and a flash hot shoe for external strobes. The built-in flash has a range of 13.5 meters (44 feet) using Auto ISO.

Exposure. The Lumix FZ200's exposure modes include Program (with shift), Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority, and Manual, plus two Custom modes. There's also an Intelligent Auto mode, a Scene position, and a Creative Control mode that tweaks the look of images by automatically adjusting variables such as color, saturation, contrast, brightness, and tone curve.

The FZ200's uses Intelligent Multiple metering by default, and you can also opt for Center-weighted or Spot modes. Exposure compensation is available within a range of +/-3.0 EV, in 1/3 EV steps. There's also a bracketing function, providing for three frames with a step size of 1/3 to 3 EV. Shutter speeds for the Panasonic FZ200 vary from 1/4,000 to 60 seconds in still image mode.

There are nine white balance modes on offer in the Panasonic FZ200: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Flash, Incandescent, two Manual modes, and a direct color temperature setting. White balance settings can also be fine-tuned on two axes.

Creative modes, scenes and filters. The FZ200 offers quite a range of creative options. There are several multi-shot options merged in-camera, including high dynamic range, handheld night shot, panorama, and 3D photo modes. Filter effects include Expressive, Retro, High Key, Low Key, Sepia, Dynamic Monochrome, Impressive Art, High Dynamic, Cross Process, Toy Effect, Miniature Effect, Soft Focus, Star Filter, and One Point Color. Seven photo style choices are available, including Standard, Vivid, Natural, Monochrome, Scenery, Portrait and Custom. There are also both Intelligent Auto and Intelligent Auto Plus modes, the latter of which allows control over background defocus, exposure compensation, and white balance.

Video. The FZ200's video capabilities also look impressive, especially given that powerful, bright, stabilized lens -- and note that the stabilization system operates with increased strength for movies, too. It's possible to record AVCHD movie clips at up to 60p frame rate at Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) or HD (1,280 x 720) resolution, and that's using 60 frames per second sensor data. You can also opt for 30p capture at either resolution, as well as at VGA (640 x 480), in MPEG-4 mode. (PAL cameras replace 60p with 50p, and 30p with 25p.)

Additionally, there are two high-speed video modes which captures 720p MPEG-4 video at 120 fps, or VGA video at 240 fps (NTSC models; PAL models record at 100 / 200 fps). These play back at about 1/4 and 1/8th speed respectively, for slow-motion effects. Audio is recorded with a stereo microphone located in front of the hot shoe, using Dolby Digital Stereo Creator technology. Another interesting feature is built-in zoom noise reduction, and there's also a wind cut filter. Unusual for a fixed-lens camera, it's possible to control both shutter and aperture for videos manually.

Connectivity. Connectivity options include USB 2.0 for image and movie file transfer, a composite standard-def video/monaural audio output via the combined USB/AV out port, and a Mini HDMI (Type C) port with VIERA Link compatibility, which allows the camera to be controlled by the remote control of a Panasonic VIERA Link-enabled HDTV. (VIERA Link is Panasonic's brandname for the HDMI Consumer Electronics Control standard, although compatibility with devices made by other companies is not guaranteed.)

A 2.5mm jack for the optional DMW-RSL1 wired remote shutter release is provided, which doubles as an input for the optional DMW-MS1 stereo microphone.

Power and storage. Power comes from a 7.2 volt, 1,200 mAh lithium ion battery pack, said to be good for 540 shots on a charge to CIPA testing standards. An optional DMW-AC8 AC adapter is available for use with the optional DMW-DCC8 dummy battery-type DC coupler.

Images and movies are stored in 70MB of built-in memory or on Secure Digital cards, including both the higher-capacity SDHC and SDXC types, and the higher-speed UHS-I types. Images are stored in JPEG (EXIF 2.3), MPO (3D) or RAW (12-bit RW2) file formats.

The Panasonic FZ-200 started shipping in August 2012 for a suggested retail price of US$600.

 

Shooting with the Panasonic FZ200

By Tim Barribeau

There was a time, not long ago, when superzooms were the camera of choice for serious amateurs seeking the manual controls of a DSLR, but balking at the hefty price. Since then, DSLRs have plummeted in price, and pocket-sized, high-end digicams have taken the world by storm. But with the FZ200, Panasonic has roundly demonstrated that there’s still an argument to be made for the ultrazoom.

There’s simply no way to get away from what the killer feature of the Panasonic FZ200 really is -- the lens. While other manufacturers have pushed for longer and longer zooms (most notably the well regarded Canon SX50, with its 50x lens), the FZ200 has reigned that in, instead focusing on the brightness of the lens. While its 24x (25-600mm equivalent) zoom isn’t the longest we’ve ever seen, the camera pulls off a really incredible feat: it stays at a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture throughout. So even when tracking a bird across the sky, you can get that wonderful maximum aperture of f/2.8, which is great if you’re shooting in less than ideal conditions.

What Panasonic has put together is a responsive -- and excellent feeling -- superzoom that tackles many of the problems that hurt this camera type, though it still faces its fair share of challenges.

Camera in hand. On the physical side of things, one of the facets I’ve always liked about Panasonic’s superzooms is that the construction always feels rock solid and has a comforting heft. It also seems that with the FZ200, Panasonic has gone down a list of advanced controls that experienced users want, ticking them off as they go. There's PASM on the Mode dial, three dedicated custom function buttons, two custom shooting modes, a standard hot shoe and an external microphone jack. Getting the camera set up, I was also pleased to see the camera offers RAW and RAW+JPEG image capture, pretty much a must for any enthusiast shooter these days.

Viewfinders. The Panasonic FZ200 features an articulated LCD screen. It’s 460,000 dots, which is on the low end, and shares the same problem that most LCDs do -- it struggles in direct sunlight. However, the FZ200 boasts an electronic viewfinder -- one with the equivalent of 1,312,000 dots. While it still can’t measure up to an optical viewfinder, I think it's better than most in its class.

What’s sorely lacking is an automatic switch to detect when you put your eye up to the viewfinder. It’s something that you’ll see in many EVF models, but not on the FZ200 -- and I don’t know why Panasonic might have left it out. While it doesn’t quite make up for that absence, there is a manual EVF/LCD switch to the left of the viewfinder. Also, if you fold away the LCD so that the screen is against the camera’s body, it automatically turns on the viewfinder instead. And then turns the LCD back on when you unfold it. If you do most of your shooting through the viewfinder, it’s another way to get back to the LCD quickly and quietly when you need it.

Built for speed. Shooting with the FZ200, one thing that impressed me was an overall feeling of speed. Just about everything this camera does is in the fast lane. It focuses quickly, and at full speed, can shoot 12 frames per second (fps) in burst shooting mode. This slows to 5.5fps with autofocus tracking enabled, but for rapidly grabbing a burst of images at full resolution, that’s mighty impressive. There are also high-speed burst modes capable of shooting at 40 or 60fps, but at reduced resolution (5 or 2.5 megapixels respectively).

Panasonic has leveraged this speed into a number of other surprisingly useful features. While I’m generally one to stay away from the Scene mode setting of the Mode dial, Panasonic’s inclusion of excellent panoramic and HDR modes are worth a look. They appear to have taken a page from Sony’s playbook, and have a panorama mode that simply requires you to sweep the camera in a straight line, auto-stitching everything together in-camera. HDR likewise fires off a burst of images, this time your standard three different exposures, which are combined. It does a fairly good job of merging these images together without the horrible halos that mar so much of the HDR images you see online.

One of the primary stumbling blocks with superzoom cameras traditional is autofocusing speed, especially when zoomed all the way. At the wide end, the FZ200 latches on to focal points all but instantaneously. When you’re at full 600mm, on the other hand, it struggles a bit. This is something that all long zooms face, and the FZ200 is in no way particularly bad, but if you’re trying to snap onto focus for something across a large field -- especially in difficult conditions -- you’ll be in for a bit of see-sawing back and forth.

Easy, breezy manual focusing. As someone who only recently has been getting into old manual focus lenses, though, it’s rather nice how Panasonic’s way of displaying the current zoom area in focus makes zone-focusing an absolute breeze. Set your aperture, and then just adjust the manual focus until the yellow focus bar hits the infinity sign -- there, you’ve found your hyperfocal distance. Nice.

Thumbs down on rear thumb dial. While the Panasonic FZ200 does have a Manual Focus mode, how you access it is problematic, and part of what I feel is a larger issue with the UI on this camera. In general, I thought the FZ200’s control scheme and menu layout were frustrating to use, especially the massive over-reliance on the rear dial. The FZ200 has a rear thumb dial, which also functions as a button when pressed. It’s used to alter whatever the primary setting of your shooting mode is (aperture in A, shutter speed in S, etc.), but is also used for other functions at the same time.

So if you’re in Aperture Priority, adjusting the wheel defaults to changing the aperture, and then to toggle to exposure compensation, you have to press it in. When there are only two options, that’s not too bad, but certain modes increase the number dramatically -- and it’s also used for manual focusing. I simply found switching between three settings and changing them using a single button to be a bit ungainly.

Image quality. In terms of image quality, the FZ200 is a dream for what it is. If you’re used to shooting large sensor cameras, the 1/2.3-inch sensor has all the usual flaws, but for the type of camera it is, it’s pretty fantastic. Images come out very sharp and clear for its class, especially at low ISOs, and the color fidelity is overall good, especially on the default “Standard” color profile. While shooting at a fixed f/2.8 might be great if you’re in low light, I found that being able to step down to f/4 or better resulted in sharper images.

One thing I was especially impressed with was Panasonic’s distortion correction. With such a long lens, you’d expect the barrelling and pincushioning to be substantial, but this camera manages to keep both well under control in JPEGs.

Superzoom compromises. There were, unfortunately, a few things that left a lot to be desired -- though those are at least in part due to the inherent issues with superzoom cameras and smaller sensors. At full zoom, image quality does drop off somewhat though the images were still relatively sharp. The chromatic aberrations which you see at all zoom lengths become even brighter and more noticeable. I also had a slight problem with images coming out over-exposed, especially at full telephoto.

Wide Angle (4.5mm, 25mm eq.) Telephoto (108mm, 600mm eq.)
The Panasonic FZ200 produces admirable zoom functionality at 24x, with good image stabilization, but just don't expect the image quality at full range to be DSLR-like.

 

While it might not be the most kindly of tests for this camera, I took it out to shoot the moon on a clear winter’s night, while the moon was full. I strapped the FZ200 to a tripod and shot it at ISO 200, f/8, 1/320 second exposure, at full zoom. Once you pop that image up to 100% size, you can see some pretty major noise reduction going on at a fairly low ISO, as well fringing around the edges of the sphere. This is a rather difficult subject to capture, especially for a fixed lens camera, but the shot is problematic. [Editor's note: selecting a larger aperture like f/4 would have likely produced better results here, allowing a lower ISO for reduced noise, and avoiding the softness caused by diffraction when using small apertures like f/8 with smaller sensors.]

Perhaps I’ve just been spoiled by shooting DSLRs too long, but the image noise suppression effects and dynamic range were both less than stellar, especially when ISOs reached up into the quadruple digits. While able to stand up to the competition fairly well, anything above ISO 800 proved to be problematic -- forget about the boosted ISO of 6,400, except in the most extreme of circumstances.

The camera also had a tendency to clip highlights a bit more readily than I would have liked. Applying some negative exposure compensation is easy enough, though, and if you’re shooting a still scene, I found that the HDR mode does a rather nice job of filling in the dynamic range.

Auto features and creative effects. While the FZ200 is certainly aimed at manual control lovers (the three dedicated function buttons should be proof of that), it actually has a remarkably competent set of automatic features. If, say, you want to hand your camera over to a friend who doesn’t want to play with a byzantine set of controls and features, the intelligent auto system will effectively look after them in most situations. There’s Intelligent Auto, which is the full auto mode, and Intelligent Auto Plus, which gives you access to exposure compensation, aperture, and color balance in simplified forms.

Panorama

No effect With HDR mode enabled

There are also 18 different scene modes, many of which can be happily ignored. I mentioned before that I found the HDR and panorama tools to be pretty handy and produce good images. There’s also a rather impressive array of Creative Control modes -- what you and I might call filters. You’ll find the usual smattering of Soft Focus, Toy, High Key and several others. I’m not usually a huge fan of these effects, but I did gather some enjoyment out of using the various monochrome mode as you can see below.

Soft Focus Sepia
Miniature Effect Toy Effect

You can apply some of these filters after the fact when editing images in-camera, though Panasonic warns their effect might be reduced. Oh, and something that took me a while to spot is that you can only edit in-camera images that were taken in JPEG mode -- RAW+JPEG kills editing in playback as far as I could tell.

video

Full HD video. 1920 x 1080 @ 60p. Click image to view/download 53MB MTS file.

Video. For all the movie fans in the house, the FZ200 features a rather expansive array of video capabilities. You can either start recording videos directly from most shooting modes using the red record button at the top of the camera (though this won’t work with the various Creative Control modes), or you can switch over to Creative Video mode for PASM and High-Speed controls. When it comes to the latter, if you lower the resolution to 720p you can get up to 120fps, and up to 240fps in VGA.

Full optical zoom and stabilization are available in video mode, and there is a wind-cut filter for filming in blustery conditions. You can shoot in either MP4 or AVCHD, but I do have to remark that Panasonic stores their video files in a byzantine “private” folder on memory cards, which seems extremely counterintuitive.

Supercharged. If you’ve ever dragged a camera with you while traveling to far-flung corners of the world (or just accidentally left your battery charger behind while on vacation), you know that a decent battery life can be a lifesaver. The FZ200 has an official CIPA battery life of 540 shots -- plenty to last you well through most shooting days (or longer).

Wrapping it up. While the FZ200 still suffers from some of the flaws inherent in superzoom cameras -- after all, its small-ish sensor can't deliver DSLR image quality no matter how much the camera looks like a DSLR -- the very fact that it maintains a full max aperture of f/2.8 at all times makes it something of a wonder and handy for most shooting situations. Combine that with sharp images for its class, and solid, speedy handling, and you have a camera that is fantastic in many situations. For anyone from a superzoom beginner to a long-time camera enthusiast, the FZ200 should keep them happy with what it's intended for -- versatile, far-reaching picture taking when a DSLR is too much to carry or a smaller digicam is too limiting.

 

Panasonic FZ200 Lens Quality


f/4, 25mm eq.
f/4, 52mm eq.
f/4, 600mm eq.
4x Digital Zoom

Zoom: The Panasonic FZ200's 24x zoom lens shows good sharpness and contrast at the maximum wide angle setting at f/4, though details are a hint soft overall and some minor coma distortion is visible in the tree limbs against the sky. Some minor flare can also be seen around very bright elements. Performance is quite good at a medium focal length of about 52mm equivalent, with very good sharpness and contrast across the frame. At full 24x telephoto, details are fairly sharp and well-defined at f/4, though this target isn't very good for judging ultrazooms at full telephoto. (It's primarily meant to show zoom range.) 4x digital zoom performance is pretty good, though with the loss in quality and increased visibility of noise you'd expect with such high magnification. Overall, the FZ200's lens may not offer the range of the latest superzooms from competitors like Canon and Sony, but its brightness is exceptional and performance very good.


Aperture: f/2.8
Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Softest at lower left
20x Tele: Sharp at center
20x Tele: Soft, upper left
Aperture: f/4
Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Slightly soft, lower left
20x Tele: Sharp at center
20x Tele: Soft, upper left

Sharpness: The wide-angle end of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200's long zoom shows some noticeable blurring in the corners of the frame compared to what we see at center when wide open, and blurring extends fairly far in toward the center of the frame. Blurring is strongest in the lower left corner. At 20x telephoto, blurring is again noticeable in the corners of the frame and strongest in the upper left corner. Stopping down to f/4 improves corner sharpness at both wide angle and 20x telephoto, and stopping down a bit further may improve corners even more.


In-camera JPEG
Wide: Slight barrel distortion; hardly noticeable
20x Tele: No visible distortion here
Uncorrected Raw
Wide: Very high barrel distortion
20x Tele: Moderate barrel distortion

Geometric Distortion: There is very low barrel distortion at wide angle in JPEGs (0.25%), and really no visible distortion at 20x telephoto. Thus, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200's processor does a good job controlling lens distortion.

As expected, uncorrected raw files contain much higher barrel distortion at wide angle, at about 3%. Uncorrected distortion at 20x telephoto is moderate, at about 0.6% barrel distortion. Keep in mind most raw converters will automatically correct for distortion, though.


In-camera JPEG
Uncorrected Raw
Wide:
Moderate and bright
20x Tele:
Low, bright
Wide:
High and bright
20x Tele:
Moderate and bright

Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide angle is moderate in terms of pixel count, though pixels are bright blue-purple and noticeable on the target. At 20x telephoto, fewer pixels of distortion are visible but pixels are fairly bright. As expected, uncorrected raw files show much higher or brighter levels of green and magenta lateral chromatic aberration.


Macro
Macro with Flash

Macro: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200's Macro mode captures a sharp image with strong detail at the center of the frame, with minimal blurring at the corners of the frame (a common limitation among consumer digital cameras in macro mode). Minimum coverage area is smaller than average at 1.58 x 1.19 inches (40 x 30mm), which is quite good. The camera's flash is partially blocked by the lens at this range, which actually results in a brighter exposure than external lighting, making it a tough call for shooting this close (the external lighting produced strong shadows and hot highlights).


 

Panasonic FZ200 Viewfinder Accuracy


Wide: LCD Monitor
20x Tele: LCD Monitor
Wide: EVF
20x Tele: EVF

Viewfinder Accuracy: The Panasonic Lumix FZ200's electronic viewfinder showed essentially 100% coverage at wide angle and 20x telephoto. The LCD monitor produced nearly identical results at both zoom settings. Very good results here, especially considering the distortion correction being performed.


 

Panasonic FZ200 Image Quality


Color: The Panasonic Lumix FZ200 produces good-looking color with fairly accurate saturation in most colors. Bright reds show only a small boost, as do oranges, while dark blues and greens show slightly larger boosts. Mean saturation is 111.2% or 11.2% oversaturated. That's just slightly higher than average. In terms of hue accuracy, the Lumix FZ200 pushes cyan toward blue (fairly common among digital cameras), orange and some greens toward yellow, and yellow toward green. The camera's average "delta-C" color error after correction for saturation is 5.31 at base ISO, which is about average these days. When it comes to skin tones, darker skin tones show a slight push toward orange, and lighter skin tones are only a hint pink. Overall, pretty good color performance.


Auto WB:
Close, but reddish
Incandescent WB:
Much too warm
Manual WB:
Good, slightly green

Incandescent: The Panasonic Lumix FZ200's Auto white balance setting handled our household incandescent lighting fairly well, but with a reddish cast. The Incandescent setting was much too warm, with a strong orange cast. Switching to Manual white balance yielded the most accurate color performance, though with a slightly green tint.


iAuto mode
i.Dynamic Setting
in Aperture Priority mode

Sunlit: The images to the right show the Panasonic FZ200's handling of harsh noontime sunshine.

The iAuto exposure mode detected the face and yielded a good exposure in the mannequin's face, but clipped a lot of highlights in the process.

To help with high-contrast scenes in harsh lighting, the Panasonic FZ200 offers Intelligent Dynamic Range Control or iD-Range, which analyzes the image and adjusts local contrast (not to be confused with HDR mode). Available settings are: Low, Standard and High, plus Off. For our Sunlit Portrait shot, results with all three active iD-Range settings were an improvement over the underexposed Off setting, lightening shadows and delivering better exposure overall. The Low setting did a good job at holding on to highlight detail, however the Standard and High settings seemed to give up on protecting highlights, clipping some of them in the mannequin's white shirt, though not as many as iAuto mode without iD-Range. (Mouse over the links to compare settings, and click on them to access full resolution images.)


Horizontal: 2,000 lines
Vertical: 1,900 lines

Resolution: Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 2,000 lines per picture height horizontally and about 1,900 lines vertically. Extinction of the pattern occurred around 2,600 lines per picture height.


Auto ISO Very bright at 44 feet
ISO 200 Fairly bright at 16 feet
Auto Flash

Flash: Manufacturer-specified testing with Auto ISO resulted in a very bright exposure at 44 feet, though the FZ200 boosted ISO to 1,250 to achieve this. Our standard test at ISO 200 shows good brightness out to the limit of our test (16 feet). This is very good flash range performance.

Auto flash produced bright results in our indoor portrait scene, almost too bright despite the 1/60s shutter speed at ISO 160. The 1/60s shutter should be sufficient at preventing blur from subject motion in typical portraits, and the FZ200's optical image stabilization will help avoid camera shake-induced blur. Shot taken at ~5 feet (~1.5m) on a stable tripod.


1 fc, ISO 100
2 sec, f/2.8
1/16 fc, ISO 100
30 sec, f/2.8

Low light: The Panasonic FZ200 was able to capture a bright image at the lowest light level we test at (1/16 foot-candle) using its lowest ISO setting. Noise is relatively low, and Auto WB did a good job with color, just slightly on the cool side. The camera's AF system was also able to focus down to below the 1/16 foot-candle light level without AF assist enabled, and in complete darkness with the AF assist lamp enabled. With its fast f/2.8 lens, optical image stabilization and the ability to focus in minimal light, the FZ200 does quite well in low light for its class. Shots taken on a stable tripod.


100
200
400
800
 
1,600
3,200
6,400

ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is pretty good at the lowest sensitivity settings, but even as low as ISO 100, we see noise as well as smudging in the finer details and some hints of chroma (color) noise in the dark shadows. Smudging and blurring increase fairly rapidly as sensitivity increases, so that by ISO 1,600 fine detail is only a suggestion. At ISOs 3,200 and 6,400, the combination of noise pixels and noise reduction efforts results in a stippled effect. See Printed results below for more on how this affects prints.


Print Quality Assessment: Good 13 x 19 inch prints at ISO 100; ISO 800 yields a good 5 x 7; 4 x 6 inch prints are not usable at ISO 6400.

ISO 100 produces a good 13 x 19 inch print, with rich colors and good detail. 16 x 20s are fine for wall display.

ISO 200 prints a good 11 x 14, with only minor softening in our target red swatch, which is typical for smaller sensors.

ISO 400 yields a reasonable 8 x 10, but loses all contrast in our red swatch and begins to introduce some grain in the shadows.

ISO 800 prints a good 5 x 7, with similar minor issues as seen at ISO 400. The 8 x 10 here is usable for less critical applications.

ISO 1600 shows a bit too much noise in some areas at 5 x 7 to be usable, but the 4 x 6 looks good.

ISO 3200 prints are not sharp enough to be called good at 4 x 6, but may be usable in certain situations.

ISO 6400 does not produce a usable 4 x 6 inch print and is best avoided.

The Panasonic FZ200 shows the same limitations in print quality as we find in most bridge or superzoom cameras with smaller sensors and at this resolution. 12 megapixels keeps the optimal large print to 13 x 19 at ISO 100, and the 1/2.3" sensor size creates quality levels that unfortunately fade quickly as ISO rises.


 

Panasonic FZ200 Performance


Startup and Shutdown Times: The Lumix FZ200 takes about 2.4 seconds to power on and take a shot, a little slow. Shutdown time is about 2.3 seconds.


Mode Switching: Switching from Record to Play mode is a bit sluggish at 3.9 seconds, though switching from Play to Record and taking a shot takes only 0.8 second.


Shutter Lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is very good at 0.23 second at wide angle and 0.24 second at telephoto. Enabling the flash increases shutter lag to 0.48 second, while Continuous AF mode results in a lag time of 0.44 second. Manual focus lag is a mediocre 0.28 second, but prefocused shutter lag is only 0.011 second, very fast.


Single-shot Cycle Time: Cycle times are good, capturing a frame every 0.85 seconds in single-shot mode for Large Fine JPEGs, while RAW files actually record a hair faster at 0.82 second intervals. RAW+L/F JPEG mode slows to 1.16 second intervals.


Burst Mode: The Panasonic FZ200's full resolution continuous mode performance is very good, at 12.1 frames per second for Large/Fine JPEGs, and 12.2 frames per second for RAW or RAW+JPEG. Buffer depths are reasonable, at 12 frames for JPEGs and 11 frames for RAW or RAW+JPEG before the camera slows down. Buffer clearing is good for JPEGs, taking only 5 seconds to clear after a maximum length JPEG burst. Clearing time slows to 11 seconds after a RAW burst, and 19 seconds after a RAW+JPEG burst.


Flash Recycle: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200's flash recycles in about 4.3 seconds after a full-power discharge, which is good.


Low Light AF: The camera's AF system was able to focus down to below the 1/16 foot-candle light level without AF assist enabled, and in complete darkness with the AF assist lamp enabled. Excellent results here.


USB Transfer Speed: Connected to a computer with USB 2.0, the Lumix DMC-FZ200's download speeds are fast. We measured 11,508 KBytes/sec.


Battery Life: The Panasonic FZ200's battery life has a CIPA rating of 540 shots per charge, which is quite good.


 

In the Box

The Panasonic FZ200 retail package contains the following items:

  • Panasonic Lumix FZ200 digital camera
  • Li-ion battery pack
  • Battery charger
  • USB cable
  • Shoulder strap
  • Software CD-ROM with manual
  • Lens cap and string
  • Lens hood
  • One-year Limited Warranty

 

Recommended Accessories

  • Large capacity SDHC/SDXC memory card. We recommend 16GB capacity, with a minimum Class 4 speed rating.
  • Medium-to-large camera case/bag
  • Extra battery pack (DMW-BLF19) for extended outings

 

Panasonic FZ200 Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Leica-branded 24x optical zoom lens (25-600mm equivalent) with constant f/2.8 max aperture
  • Effective Power O.I.S. image stabilization
  • Full-res burst shooting at 12 frames per second
  • Fast autofocus and very low prefocused shutter lag
  • Excellent low-light AF
  • A ton of creative modes and filters, including panorama and HDR
  • High-res electronic viewfinder
  • Tilt-swivel 3-inch LCD monitor
  • Built-in popup flash and hot shoe
  • Very good flash range
  • Manual exposure and focusing capabilities
  • RAW and RAW+JPEG image capture
  • Full HD 1080p video at 60/30 fps, with optical image stabilization, stereo sound, zoom noise reduction and wind cut filter
  • Can zoom while recording, as well as manually control both shutter and aperture
  • Image detail is relatively sharp and well-defined at low ISOs, with good color and saturation
  • Very little geometric distortion from wide to tele in JPEGs
  • Close Macro mode
  • Very good battery life
  • External stereo mic/wired remote jack
  • Accepts conversion lenses
  • A bit pricey for a moderate superzoom / bridge camera
  • UI relies heavily on use of rear thumb dial, which some may find frustrating
  • EVF doesn't automatically switch on when you look through it
  • AF struggles somewhat at longer tele lengths (a common problem with hand-held long zooms)
  • LCD monitor can be hard to view in full sunlight
  • LCD resolution not as high as some competitors
  • Some noticeable blurring in the corners
  • Chromatic aberration can be bright
  • Images are a bit noisy even at base ISO
  • Image quality drops quickly as ISO rises
  • Uncorrected RAW files have lots of chromatic aberration and geometric distortion (typical of long zooms, though)
  • Tendency to clip highlights

 

Panasonic has a long-standing legacy for producing quality long-zoom bridge cameras, including the FZ150 superzoom which we reviewed and heartily recommended a little more than a year ago. However, the company pumped some new excitement into the line when it was announced the Panasonic FZ200 would house a Leica DC Vario-Elmarit-branded lens that boasted a f/2.8 max aperture across the entire 24x optical zoom range. After all, such a bright lens is a rarity among long zooms these days and -- teamed with the camera's excellent AF system -- it proved to perform well in low-light and high shutter speed situations.

We found a lot to like about the upgraded FZ200, ranging from its solid build and comforting heft to its responsive and relatively speedy shooting. Being able to fire off 12 frames per second in continuous shooting mode -- and capture all 12 images (in one burst) in full-res -- truly makes it a versatile tool for capturing action, as does the ability to record movies in Full HD 1080p at up to 60 fps. The FZ200 also features a host of advanced photographic controls and capabilities, including PASM shooting modes and manual focusing, RAW and RAW+JPEG image capturing, and a wide range of creative modes and filters.

As far as image quality is concerned, we were pleased with the pictures produced by the Panasonic FZ200, though -- like most bridge cameras -- they were ultimately limited by the camera's relatively small, 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor. At low ISOs and on the shallow end of the zoom range, pictures were sharp and detailed. But at longer focal lengths and ISOs of 800 and above, things began to get softer as the camera's noise suppression efforts often blurred and smudged the details. And like its predecessor, the FZ200 showed a tendency to clip highlights (though as our reviewer noted, dialing in some negative exposure compensation is an easy fix, and using the camera's built-in HDR can help improve dynamic range).

Overall, we think the Panasonic FZ200 is a solid, evolutionary upgrade to the company's superzoom line that stacks up to its competitors favorably. And we know its convenience and bright lens will attract casual users wanting greater versatility and reach from their digicams, as well as enthusiasts looking for a light, everyday alternative to their interchangeable lens systems. For all these reasons, we have to give the FZ200 our thumbs up and a Dave's Pick.

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