Panasonic Lumix FZ200 £568.99

17th Oct 2012 | 09:55

Panasonic Lumix FZ200

A fast aperture and direct controls on a bridge camera

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

Like:

Fast f/2.8 aperture; Raw capture; Lots of direct controls; Full articulated LCD screen; Fast, efficient AF system;

Dislike:

Luminance noise even at low ISOs; Images sometimes flat; EVF gives blue tint in mixed lighting;

Introduction

Bridge cameras are perhaps sometimes unfairly dismissed as not being tools for 'proper photographers'. Perhaps what this niche has needed is a newcomer to storm onto the scene with a specification list that will make all the dedicated DSLR users out there do a double-take.

Perhaps the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 is that camera.

With an impressive list of numbers and features, the Panasonic FZ200 could very well be the first small bridge camera to truly make DSLR owners - or those thinking about upgrading to a DSLR - rethink their plans.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 review

The signature feature of the Panasonic FZ200 is its 24x zoom lens, with a fast f/2.8 aperture that remains available across its entire equivalent 25-600mm (equivalent) focal length range.

Sure, there are bigger zooms out there, such as the Nikon Coolpix P510's 41.7x, 24-1000mm zoom range, and even the Panasonic FZ200's predecessor, the Panasonic FZ150 boasts the same 25-600mm focal range.

Panasonic Lumix FZ200 at a glance
Sensor: 12.1 megapixel, 1/2.3-inch MOS sensor
Lens: 24x zoom, 25-600mm (equivalent) f/2.8-f/8
LCD Screen: 3-inch, 461,000 dot articulated screen
ISO range: ISO 100-3200, Auto
Dimensions: 125.3mm x 86.6mm x 110.2mm (4.9 x 3.4 x 4.3 inches), 588.4g (12.9lbs)

But the maximum aperture of f/2.8 throughout (on the FZ150 it was restricted to wider focal lengths) marks - at least on paper - a breakthrough for Panasonic.

This goes some way to explain why the new Panasonic FZ200's full retail price of £568.99/AU$799/US$599.99 makes it more expensive than both the P510 and FZ150.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 review

Also rare for cameras of this class is the Panasonic FZ200's ability to shoot raw images. And though it uses a fairly standard (for compact cameras) 1/2.3-inch sensor, Panasonic has 'only' used 12 million pixels on its sensor, to make it more capable in low-light situations.

Partnered with its fully articulated 3-inch LCD screen, EVF and a whole host of direct controls, the Panasonic Lumix FZ200 appears to breathe some new life into a stagnant market.

Build and handling

The Panasonic FZ200 has bags of direct controls, and the layout of the buttons is very sensible with regard to where your hand grips the camera. The deep, contoured rubber grip on the Panasonic FZ200 also makes it feel secure in your hands, while a small, raised rubber thumb rest on the back prevents it slipping.

Your index finger rests comfortably over the shutter button on the top plate, and is in close proximity to the video record, burst shooting and Fn buttons, as well as the mode dial (into which the On/Off switch has been integrated).

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 review

Underneath your thumb on the back of the camera are the Playback and AF/AE Lock (which also doubles as a second Fn button) buttons, and a multi-function wheel on the far right, above the thumb grip.

This wheel enables you to adjust aperture and shutter speed settings in manual mode, or the dominant setting in another mode and +/- 3EV exposure compensation in 1/3 stops. To alternate between the two, simply press in on the wheel.

Below the thumb grip is a third customisable Fn button and the display button, which sit above a four-way controller, with options for setting ISO, white balance, the self-timer and your AF mode. In the centre of this controller is the Menu/Set button. At the bottom is the Q Menu/Cancel button.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 review

Finally, to the left of the viewfinder is a button to switch between using the LCD or EVF. It's a bit of a shame that there's no eye sensor to automatically switch between the two for you (and it took several moments of 'Why isn't this working?' before remembering that's not a feature on this camera). But it's a minor complaint.

Other cool controls? Yes, there are more. On the lens barrel is a switch for alternating between AF, AF Macro and Manual Focus, with a focus button beneath it. There's also a second zoom toggle if you don't want to use the one around the shutter button.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 review

Everything feels sensibly placed, and nothing was too awkward to press or adjust. In fact, we were quite capable of changing most settings one-handed. What's more, the robust build and large grip never left us in doubt that we shouldn't be using just one hand.

The only complaint about the Panasonic FZ200's build, while seemingly small, is one that proved a frequent annoyance: it was rather difficult to open the articulated LCD. The screen has a small raised bit on the upper-right corner, but nothing on the bottom - and it's not substantial enough to make pulling it open a simple exercise. There's real exertion here.

Performance

The Panasonic FZ200 generally produced bright, vibrant images in our testing. The bridge camera's metering system, while biasing its readings a bit too much towards mid-tone detail, overall produces well-balanced exposures and preserves detail in bright skies and other highlight areas most of the time.

What's more, purple fringing is only very slight in all of the high-contrast scenes we shot on a very rare sunny day in Bath, in south west England.

Shadow detail is also a delight, with much of it easily recovered in post-processing - particularly if you shoot with the Panasonic FZ200's raw option.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 review

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Overall, colour saturation is strong in all the pictures straight from the camera, although it must be said that contrast levels prove only adequate, with images sometimes coming out a bit flat.But that is a very easy adjustment.

Viewing pictures from the Panasonic FZ200 at actual pixels (or 100%) on the computer, reveals that chroma noise is kept to a minimum and largely unnoticeable. Luminance noise, however, is visible throughout the ISO range. Even at the lower sensitivities there is mottling of colour, which increases - as you'd expect - the higher you move up the ISO range.

That said, the levels of noise and smudging aren't terrible, and for sharing your photos online or making small prints for a photo album - which suits most people's needs - you'd only know this noise is there, um... if you know it's there.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 review

Focusing with the Panasonic FZ200 gives you a number of direct controls, to choose from the camera's 1-area, 23-area, AF tracking and Face Detection AF modes. In all instances the camera's four options are able to quickly latch on to subjects, even at the telephoto end of the focal range.

In Face Detection mode, the camera quite easily picks out faces at different ends of the room, or with one person large in the foreground and another small in the background. It even caught faces in profile. The only instances when it failed to recognise a face where when a cup obscured part of the face.

We set the AF Tracking mode a challenge as well, standing on a busy street corner in the heart of a tourist hot spot. We set the AF tracking to focus on passing cars in the middle ground, while tourists crossed our path in the foreground and background.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 review

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With near-flawless accuracy the Panasonic FZ200's AF tracking latched onto our car of choice and followed it throughout the frame, only once getting confused by a man in a wheelchair in our foreground who was at the same size and level of the car within the frame.

Both the 23-area and 1-area options were also quite accurate at picking out the dominant elements of a scene, and in the 1-area mode you can adjust the size of your focus point and use the focus button on the lens barrel to move it around the frame. This was quite handy for using more creative and complex compositions, and also gives you that extra bit of control over the camera.

You can also set an AF Macro mode on the lens barrel, which enables you to cut the 30cm minimum focusing distance to 1cm.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 review

At longer focal lengths, the Panasonic FZ200's Power OIS noticeably cuts down on the 'jumpy frame' one often encounters when shooting at the super-telephoto end of a superzoom camera, enabling us to more easily compose images of distant subjects.

Images are fairly sharp too with Power OIS, though at the extreme end of the digital zoom, don't expect to be making A4 prints.

In terms of shooting options… well, let's just say we never felt like we didn't have suitable options. With a shortest shutter speed of 1/4000 seconds and the maximum at 60 seconds, there was never a subject we couldn't shoot.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 review

Meanwhile, the fast f/2.8 throughout the entire focal range meant we were never unable to get a fast enough shutter speed, even shooting indoors in a dim, covered street market.

If you want to get a bit more creative with your photography, the Panasonic FZ200 offers 14 Creative Control modes, accessed via an easel icon on your mode dial or via the Menu button on the back of the camera.

Included are High Dynamic, Cross Process, Toy Effect, Miniature Effect, Soft Focus, Star Filter, One Point Color, Expressive, Retro, High Key, Low Key, Sepia, Dynamic Monochrome and Impressive Art.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 review

While some, such as Star Filter and One Point Color, you might not use all that often, the effects are cool and a nice option to have. Others, such as the High Dynamic option, were subtle and effective, and could prove very useful over time.

The High Dynamic option, in particular, was more effective in high-contrast scenes than setting the Panasonic FZ200's iDynamic function to boost dynamic range.

Finally, the Panasonic FZ200's articulated LCD screen is worth mentioning. While we noted at the beginning it's slightly difficult to open, the LCD is nevertheless a fantastic feature of the Panasonic FZ200. Visible even in bright, overhead light, scenes on the LCD are crisp and clear, and street photographers in particular will enjoy its ability to compose a photo on the sly at any angle.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 review

The EVF, on the other hand, while clear and sharp, was sometimes shaky and cast a blue tint over scenes in mixed lighting.

Video is bright, sharp and clear, and very easy to use via the one-touch button on the camera's top plate. Having access to the full zoom range while filming is handy, and the camera's AF is quick to reconfigure itself even going from wide to super-telephoto in one quick jump.

It's also worth noting that the Panasonic FZ200 can shoot Full HD (1080p) video at 50 progressive frames per second, but if you opt to record MP4 files, the frame rate drops to 25p. This, of course, isn't a problem for most people, but if you're a keen videographer it's something to consider.

Image quality and resolution

As part of our image quality testing for the Panasonic Lumix FZ200, we've shot our resolution chart.

If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the Panasonic FZ200 is capable of resolving up to around 20 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.

For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.

Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:

Panasonic Lumix FZ200 review

Panasonic Lumix FZ200 review

ISO 100, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix FZ200 review

ISO 200, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix FZ200 review

ISO 400, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix FZ200 review

ISO 800, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix FZ200 review

ISO 1600, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix FZ200 review

ISO 3200, score: 14 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix FZ200 review

ISO 6400, score: 10 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Raw

Panasonic Lumix FZ200 review

ISO 100, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix FZ200 review

ISO 200, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix FZ200 review

ISO 400, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix FZ200 review

ISO 800, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix FZ200 review

ISO 1600, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix FZ200 review

ISO 3200, score: 14 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix FZ200 review

ISO 6400, score: 10 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Noise and dynamic range

We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.

A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.

For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.

Here we compare the Panasonic FZ200 with the Panasonic FZ150, Canon G12 and Nikon D3100. Follow this link to see how it compares with the Canon SX50 HS.

JPEG signal to noise ratio

Panasonic Lumix FZ200 review

These results show that the Panasonic FZ200's JPEG files have a similar signal to noise ratio to those from the Panasonic FZ150, Canon G12 and Nikon D3100 at lower sensitivities, but it tails off at mid to high ISO settings.

Raw signal to noise ratio

Panasonic Lumix FZ200 review

The signal to noise ratios of the TIFF images (after conversion from raw) from the Panasonic FZ200 are higher than those from the Panasonic FZ150 and Canon G12 but lower than those in the Nikon D3100's images.

JPEG dynamic range

Panasonic Lumix FZ200 review

JPEG results for dynamic range are more spread out than those for signal to noise ratio, with the Panasonic FZ200 producing results similar to the Canon G12, better than the Panasonic FZ150 and worse than the Nikon D3100 at low to mid sensitivities. There's a sharp drop-off at the top ISO setting, falling well below all the other cameras.

Raw dynamic range

Panasonic Lumix FZ200 review

This chart indicates that TIFF images (after conversion from raw) from the Panasonic FZ200 start off the best at low ISOs, and are similar to the Panasonic FZ150 from ISO 200-3200. It scores the same as the Nikon D3100 at ISO 400, before falling below it. Its images consistently have a greater dynamic range than those from the Canon G12.

Sample images

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Looking over the shoulder of tourists, the Panasonic FZ200 at its widest focal length takes in a huge surrounding view.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 review

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Zooming in further over the tourists' shoulders to the end of the FZ200's optical zoom, you can see spectators at a local rugby match.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 review

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Zooming in further, to the end of the camera's digital zoom, you can even see what beer the spectators are drinking.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 review

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Colour saturation was strong in all the images we took for this test.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 review

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Using the FZ200's iDynamic function on its highest setting, we were able to pick up detail in the dimly lit corridor in the background of this scene.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 review

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The Sepia option among the FZ200's Creative Control menu is a nice, simple way to get a retro look to your photos.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 review

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The FZ200's Miniature Effect Creative Control mode provided strong colours and a very pleasing effect.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 review

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The FZ200's Dynamic Monochrome Creative Control mode was our favourite by far, providing strong contrast and dramatic images.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 review

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The Panasonic FZ200 fared pretty well in mixed lighting, but as you can see in the 100% crops of this scene, noise was visible even at lower ISO settings.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

The FZ200 showed signs of luminance noise and smudging of colours even at lower ISO settings. This is taken at ISO 160.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200

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Noise increased as you moved up the ISO scale. This is taken at ISO 800.

Sensitivity and noise

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 review

Full ISO 100 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 review

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ISO 100

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 200

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 review

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ISO 400

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 800

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 1600

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 3200

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 6400

Raw

Panasonic Lumix FZ200 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 100

Panasonic Lumix FZ200 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 200

Panasonic Lumix FZ200 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 400

Panasonic Lumix FZ200 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 800

Panasonic Lumix FZ200 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 1600

Panasonic Lumix FZ200 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 3200

Panasonic Lumix FZ200 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 6400

Verdict

Overall, the Panasonic FZ200 is a pleasure to use, and the quality of images delivered by the camera leaves a generally good impression. Compared to other bridge cameras we've used, the raft of features, direct controls and manual control over your pictures make it stand out from most other popular models on the market.

Oh, and that fabulous lens. While there are bigger or equivalent zooms on the market - and even in Panasonic's catalogue - the maximum aperture of f/2.8 throughout the whole of the 25-600mm focal range gave us the freedom to shoot anywhere, at any time.

We liked

The lens, the 24x zoom, that fast aperture… oh yes. The flexibility of the Panasonic FZ200's optic and its bright, fully articulated LCD screen meant this was a take-anywhere camera in every sense of the phrase. Manual mode, raw capture and having the option to move the focus point around your frame and adjust its size only added to the camera's flexibility.

We disliked

With a metering system that is biased towards the mid-tone, pictures were sometimes a bit too flat. The Panasonic FZ200 also seems to struggle a bit with luminance noise, even at lower sensitivities.

Final verdict

The Panasonic FZ200 offers a great number of features and direct control over the image-making process. But with its full price of £568.99/AU$799/US$599.99 and considerable size for a bridge camera, you might instead be tempted to consider upgrading to an entry-level DSLR.

The Nikon D3100, for example, can be found new for as low as £350/AU$550/US$500.

That said, its versatility, efficient AF system, fast f/2.8 aperture, manual mode, 3-inch fully articulated LCD screen, option to shoot raw and wide range of creative filters make the Panasonic FZ200 a wonderful all-rounder.

It's a suitable back-up camera for your DSLR, or could even be your primary camera if you just want to shoot holidays and other pictures to share online or make small prints for your photo albums.

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