- Review Date: 10/23/2012
- Bottom line: The 24x Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 doesn't have the most ambitious zoom ratio, but a sharp f/2.8 aperture lens and speedy performance make up for it.
- Pros: Fast f/2.8 zoom lens. Speedy performance. Sharp images. Excellent EVF. Hot shoe and mic input. Raw support.
- Cons: Expensive. Rear LCD could be sharper. Not the longest zoom in class. No GPS.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 ($599.99 direct) is the first superzoom camera to feature a fixed-aperture f/2.8 lens, which means that the same amount of light is captured, regardless of whether you are zoomed out at 25mm or all the way in at 600mm. It's a speedy performer, images are sharp, and videographers will appreciate the excellent 1080p30 video quality and the option to add an external microphone. The relatively fast aperture allows for shallow depth of field at longer focal lengths for stills and video alike. It's good enough to oust the Nikon Coolpix P510 as our Editors' Choice superzoom, although that camera remains a good buy for shooters on a tighter budget.
Design and Features
Looking a lot like a scaled-down D-SLR, the FZ200 takes its design cues from other superzoom cameras. It measures 3.4 by 4.9 by 4.3 inches (HWD) and weighs about 1.3 pounds. A neck strap is included, but I found it most comfortable and convenient to use with a good wrist strap. The 24x lens is a power zoom design, which keeps the size down compared with a manual zoom camera like the Fujifilm X-S1, which measures 4.2 by 5.3 by 5.9 inches, and weighs 2.1 pounds.
You get two zoom controls—one built into the shutter release and the other on the left side of the lens barrel. The top plate of the camera houses the hot shoe, pop-up flash, stereo microphone, Record button, Drive Mode control, On/Off switch, and the programmable Fn1 button. Controls on the rear of the camera include the EVF/LCD toggle, a Play button, AF/AE Lock (which doubles as the programmable Fn2 control), ISO, White Balance, Self-Timer, and a programmable Fn3 button.
The 3-inch, 460k-dot rear LCD is hinged so you can adjust its position. It's not as sharp as the 921k-dot LCD found in the Nikon P510, but is sharp and bright enough for use on a sunny day. You're in for a pleasant surprise when you use the 1,312k-dot EVF—it's stunning. It's nearly as sharp as the eye-level display in the Fuji X-S1, and using the camera at your eye makes it easier to get a steady shot when the lens is zoomed in to any degree.
The camera doesn't have all of the bells and whistles that the competition boasts. The Coolpix P510 has a GPS module, which adds location data to your photos, a feature that nature photographers and vacationers who reach for a superzoom may miss. It does offer a hot shoe, so you can use an external flash or mic, a feature that is often omitted from cameras in this class. And you can't discount the benefits of an f/2.8 lens at a 600mm equivalent field of view. You can actually get a smooth, blurred background when working at the minimum focus distance and longest zoom setting. Even a larger manual zoom camera like the Fujifilm FinePix HS30EXR, which is f/2.8 at the wide end, closes down to f/5.6 as you zoom all the way in—capturing only a quarter of the light that the FZ200 can manage.
Performance and Conclusions
A speedy shooter, the FZ200 starts and shoots in just about 1.3 seconds, records a short 0.1-second shutter lag, and is able to grab a burst of 12 shots in just over a second. It can also shoot at 5.5 frames per second for 16 shots, or at 2 frames per second for as long as you'd like—assuming you stick to grabbing JPG files. Shooting in Raw+JPG limits your 2fps capture to about 13 frames before the rate slows. It bests the Canon SX40 HS, which requires 2.5 seconds to start and shoot, shoots a photo every 0.4 second, and notches a lengthy 0.5-second shutter lag.
I used Imatest to check the sharpness of the FZ200's lens. A result of 1,800 lines per picture height translates to a sharp image, which is right about where the FZ200 lands with its 1,811-line score. Noise is well controlled, at less than 1.5 percent through ISO 800. The Nikon P510 does better on paper, staying under this threshold through ISO 1600, but a close examination of the same scene side-by-side shows that the FZ200 is decidedly sharper at ISO 800. At ISO 1600 the FZ200 suffers from loss of image detail, but is still noticeably better than the Nikon P510. When you consider the Panasonic's Raw shooting capability and fixed f/2.8 lens you have a camera that is capable of capturing excellent images in a wide variety of lighting conditions.
Video is recorded at up to 1080p60 in AVCHD format. You can also opt for MP4 recording, but that tops out at 1080p30. The quality is excellent, with saturated colors and crisp detail. The stereo audio is polluted a bit by the sound of the lens zooming in and out and refocusing—it's not overbearing, but it is audible. There is a mic input and a hot shoe for mounting an external mic, which should be utilized for any serious video work. A mini HDMI port lets you connect the camera to an HDTV, and a proprietary USB port is on board for computer connectivity. Standard SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory cards are supported.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 is the best-performing superzoom we've tested, and that earns it our Editors' Choice award—in spite of its rather high $600 sticker price. It's got a fast f/2.8 lens, does well at higher ISO settings, produces sharp images, and video quality is excellent. If you're on a budget, the former winner in this category, the $430 Nikon Coolpix P510, remains a solid option with its longer 42x zoom range and sharper rear LCD. But it falls behind when it comes to the EVF and aperture, and it lacks the ability to connect an external microphone or flash.
This review is in partnership with PCMag.com.