DCRP

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 Review

Performance & Photo Quality

Like most Panasonic cameras, the DMC-FZ200 is a great performer. You'll do very little waiting when using the FZ200, making it a great choice for action photographers. The table below sums up its performance in a number of areas:

Timing Measured Performance How it Compares
Startup 1.0 sec Above average
Autofocus
(Normal light)
0.1 - 0.3 secs (W)
0.5 - 1.0 secs (T)
Above average
Autofocus
(Low light)
~ 1 sec Average
Shutter lag Not noticeable Above Average
Shot-to-shot
(JPEG, no flash)
~ 1 sec Above average
Shot-to-shot
(RAW+JPEG, no flash)
~ 1 sec Above average
Shot-to-shot
(with flash)
~ 2 sec Above average

No complaints in the performance department!

There are a whopping six different burst modes on the DMC-FZ200. Full resolution burst modes include 2 and 5.5 frames/second (with continuous AF) or 12 frames/sec with the focus and exposure locked on the first shot. If you want to go even faster, there are 40 and 60 fps options, though the resolution is lowered to 2.5 and 5 Megapixel, respectively. There's also a flash burst mode, which takes five flash photos in a row at around 1.6 frames/second, albeit at 3 Megapixel.

Let's see if the FZ200 was able to reach its promised speeds at the two most interesting burst speeds:

Image quality 5.5 fps w/AF 12 fps
RAW + Large/Fine JPEG 10 shots @ 5.6 fps 11 shots @ 12.5 fps
RAW 11 shots @ 6.0 fps 11 shots @ 12.5 fps
Large/Fine JPEG 16 shots @ 6.0 fps 12 shots @ 12.3 fps

As you can see, the FZ200 performed better than Panasonic's claims, which isn't something that I encounter very often! You can fire off a decent number of shots before the buffer fills up. When it does, it'll keep shooting at a slower rate (at 2 and 5.5 fps) or stop entirely (12 fps). It takes about 8-10 seconds for the camera to flush the buffer after taking a burst, especially if RAW images are involved.

Let's move on to photo quality now, shall we?

The DMC-FZ200 handled our macro test subject quite well. The subject has average sharpness, and colors are quite vibrant. If you look really closely in a few places you might spot a little detail smudging, but it's not enough to concern me.

The FZ200 can be just 1 cm away from your subject at wide-angle (and 1 meter away at full telephoto), though remember to flip the focus mode switch on the side of the camera first! If you want to get about three times closer at the 4X - 24X zoom position, then you may want to check out the close-up conversion lens mentioned in the accessory section of the review.

As you can see, the San Francisco skyline is all decked out in orange, in support of the Giants baseball team in the playoffs. The FZ200 did an admirable job here, with sharp buildings and not too much highlight clipping (except on the building on the far left, which all cameras seem to blow out). Unlike Panasonic cameras of recent years, there isn't a strong brown/yellow color cast here. Noise and some mottling from noise reduction is noticeable here at ISO 100, though that's pretty standard for a camera in this class. Purple fringing levels are relatively low. Note that while I shot this scene using manual controls, you can do just as well using Intelligent Auto or one of the scene modes.

Now we're going to use that same night scene to see how the FZ200 performs as its sensitivity increases:


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

There isn't a huge difference between the ISO 100 and 200 crops. We start to see some detail loss at ISO 400, and that trend continues at ISO 800. I'd make either of those your stopping point, at least if you're shooting JPEGs. The buildings really start to fade away at ISO 1600 and 3200, so I'd pass on those. I did not shoot the night scene at the ISO 6400 (H) setting, and you can probably see why.

Can we make those photos look a bit better by shooting RAW and performing some easy fixes in Photoshop? Let's take the ISO 800 and 1600 images from above to find out.

ISO 800

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
 
ISO 1600

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

While there's definitely some improvement (most noticeable highlight detail), I'd still save the ISO 800 setting for desperation, and would pass on ISO 1600 in very low light situations like this.

I will run this test again in normal lighting momentarily.

Like all Panasonic cameras, the DMC-FZ200 takes a two-pronged approach to reducing redeye. First, it'll fire the flash a few times (before the photo is taken) to shrink your subject's pupils, which occasionally works. If any redeye remains after the photo is taken, the camera will digitally remove it automatically. As with the FZ150 before it, I found moderate levels of redeye in my flash photos on the FZ200. Since there's no way to remove this annoyance in playback mode, you'll have to remove it on your Mac or PC.

Panasonic performs automatic distortion reduction when you take a JPEG image, which is why there's so little "curve" in our test chart. I did not find vignetting (dark corners) or corner/edge blurring to be a problem in the test chart, or in the real world.

Now it's time to see how the FZ200 performed in our studio ISO test. Since these photos are taken under consistent lighting, you can compare the results with those from other cameras I've reviewed over the years. Keep in mind that the crops only show a small portion of the test scene, so view the full size images too. I've opened up the full ISO range for this test, so here's how the FZ200 performed from ISO 100 to 6400:


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400 (H)

The ISO 100 to 400 crops are nearly identical, with very little noise present. Noise becomes more obvious at ISO 800, but it's still quite usable for mid-sized and perhaps larger prints. When we reach ISO 1600 it's time to put on the brakes, as details are starting to get smudged away. ISO 3200 has pretty strong detail loss, and the ISO 6400 (High) setting is disastrous.

If you compare the test shots above with those from last year's DMC-FZ150, you'll find that the FZ200 captures a tiny bit more detail and is slightly sharper.

I'm going to do another RAW vs. JPEG comparison, this time for the studio test scene. Let's see if we can't extract a bit more detail out of the ISO 1600 and 3200 shots:

ISO 1600

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)

RAW -> JPEG + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
 
ISO 3200

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)

RAW -> JPEG + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

The improvements in image quality are a lot more noticeable here than they were with the night shots. The ISO 1600 shot has more detail and stronger color. While the ISO 3200 JPEG bordered on unusable, you could probably squeeze a small print out of the retouched RAW image.

Overall, I was generally pleased with the photo quality on the Lumix DMC-FZ200. My biggest complaints related to highlight clipping and noise levels that are slightly above average. In the exposure department, the FZ200 didn't require a lot of fiddling with the exposure compensation. That said, it loves to clip highlights, so you may want to shoot RAW (which should allow you to pull back some detail) or use the HDR feature when that issue arises. I have no complaints about color -- the FZ200 produced saturated colors in a variety of lighting situations. Photos are generally sharp, though a few times I felt that things could've been a bit sharper -- and that's where the Intelligent Resolution feature comes in (remember, it's off by default in the P/A/S/M modes that I shoot in). I do feel that the FZ200's images are a slightly noisy at the base ISO of 100. That said, the camera doesn't smear fine details like previous models did. It's kind of a balancing act, and I think I'd rather have a little grain in my photos than something resembling a watercolor painting. Purple fringing popped up here and there, but it was generally not a major issue.

Don't just take my word for all this, though. Have a look at our extensive photo gallery and see if the DMC-FZ200's image quality meets your expectations!

Shop, Save, and Support