Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 Review
Panasonic has returned to their roots with their Lumix DMC-FX200 super zoom camera. Gone are the days of lenses that get slower as you use more zoom power -- the FZ200 can stay at F2.8 from 25 to 600 mm. You'll pay a premium for that, but low light and action photographers may find the FZ200 to be worth the price.
From a design standpoint, the FZ200 doesn't look a whole lot different from the DMC-FZ150 that came before it. Its made of a mixture of plastic and metal, and in some places, doesn't feel as solid as one would expect on a $600 camera. There are plenty of buttons, dials, and switches on the camera, and most of them are well-placed. The camera has dual zoom controllers, with the one on the left side coming in handy for recording movies. The one control I don't like is the rear control dial which, like on the DMC-LX7, doesn't turn smoothly. I don't need to say any more about the FZ200's lens, but I will add that it's assisted by Panasonic's Power OIS image stabilization system, which also features an "active" mode for reducing severe shake in movie mode. On the back of the camera you'll find the same flip-out, rotating 3-inch LCD display (with 460,000 pixels) that was on the FZ150. The electronic viewfinder, on the other hand, has been greatly improved, with over 1.3 million dots at its disposal. Panasonic left out an eye sensor on the camera (a big omission in my opinion) and some folks may notice a "rainbow effect" on the EVF, due to the technology it uses. The FZ200 is a highly expandable camera, with support for conversion lenses and filters, an external flash, wired remote, and external stereo microphone.
Being Panasonic's flagship super zoom camera, it should come as no surprise that the FZ200 is loaded with features. Beginners can feel quite comfortable using Panasonic's Intelligent Auto mode, which remains the best point-and-shoot mode on the market. If they want a little more control, there's an iA+ mode, which lets users adjust brightness, background blur, and color balance using "sliders" on the LCD. As with most cameras in 2012, the FZ200 is loaded with special effects, which can be found in the Creative Control mode. The camera has a number of scene modes, which include "sweep panorama", HDR, and handheld nite scene features. Another handy feature is Intelligent Resolution, which does a nice job of sharpening up your photos. There are plenty of manual controls to be found, as well. You'll get the usual control over the aperture and shutter speed, custom white balance and fine-tuning, two types of bracketing, and support for the RAW image format. The FZ200 has three customizable buttons as well as two spots on the mode dial on which you can store a total of four sets of camera settings. The DMC-FZ200 is also a capable movie recording device, with the ability to record up video at 1080/60p with stereo sound (for up to 30 minutes). You can use the optical zoom while recording a movie, and the camera will focus continuously to keep everyone sharp. Manual exposure controls and a wind filter are available for movie enthusiasts.
Like most of the Panasonic cameras that I've reviewed over the years, the DMC-FZ200 is a very capable performer. It's ready to take pictures one second after you flip the power switch. Focusing speeds are quite good for a super zoom, only exceeding a second in low light. I didn't notice any major shutter lag, and shot-to-shot delays were minimal, even with the flash. The FZ200 has a ton of burst modes, though only three are full resolution. You can shoot at up to 6 frames/second with continuous autofocus, or at over 12 frames/second with the focus locked on the first shot. You can take a decent amount of photos (10-16) before the buffer fills up, and it takes between 8-10 seconds for the memory to be flushed. The FZ200's battery life is above average compared to other super zoom cameras.
While not perfect by any means, the FZ200's photo quality is still very good when compared to its peers. Photos are well-exposed, so you won't need to bracket every shot, as on some cameras. One issue that will arise fairly often is highlight clipping, so you may want to shoot RAW or perhaps use the HDR feature when your subject is heavily backlit. Colors were vibrant, and sharpness was pleasing most of the time (though some many want to turn Intelligent Resolution on). The FZ200's photos are slightly noisy, even at ISO 100, though that's better than previous models which smudged away fine detail. Things don't get really noisy until ISO 800 in low light and ISO 3200 in good light. You should be able to extract additional detail (and reduce some of that highlight clipping) at high sensitivities by shooting RAW, as well. Both purple fringing and barrel distortion should not be issues on the DMC-FZ200. Something that probably will get you at some point is redeye, which was apparent in my flash test photos.
It's pretty hard not to like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200. It has all the bells and whistles that you'd expect on a high-end super zoom, plus an F2.8, 25 - 600 mm lens that no other camera can match. That nice lens does command a bit of a premium, but I figure that low light and action photographers won't mind dropping another $100 for it. Despite some issues with highlight clipping and redeye, the lack of an eye sensor for the EVF, and the fact that the full manual is in PDF format, the FZ200 has more than enough going for it to earn my recommendation.
What I liked:
- Very good photo quality
- 24X Leica lens maintains F2.8 maximum aperture from 25 - 600 mm
- Power OIS image stabilization, with "active" mode for movies
- 3-inch rotating LCD with 460,000 pixels, good outdoor/low light visibility
- Super-sharp electronic viewfinder
- Full manual controls with RAW support, numerous ways to adjust white balance, two types of bracketing, and three customizable buttons
- Intelligent Auto mode does it all for you, including scene selection, face detection, blur reduction, shadow brightening, and smart sharpening
- Snappy performance, especially startup, focusing, and shot-to-shot speeds
- Loads of special effects and scene modes, including HDR and in-camera panorama stitching
- Intelligent Resolution feature nicely sharpens your photos
- Super fast burst mode, with ability to shoot at 5.5 fps with continuous AF and 12 fps with single AF
- Records movies at 1080/60p with stereo sound, use of optical zoom, and continuous autofocus; manual exposure controls available
- Support for external flash, external microphone, conversion lenses and filters, and a remote shutter release cable
- Above average battery life
What I didn't care for:
- Tends to clip highlights; photos slightly noisy
- Redeye a problem; no removal tool in playback mode
- No eye sensor for electronic viewfinder; rainbow effect on EVF can be distracting
- More expensive than other super zooms (though none have comparable lenses)
- Rear control dial a bit "sticky"
- Can't access memory card while camera is on a tripod
- Full manual on CD-ROM (it's not very user-friendly, either)
As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 and its competitors before you buy!
Check out our photo gallery to see how the FZ200's image quality looks!