While a large optical zoom used to be enough to mark out a bridge camera, the proliferation of such technology now means that manufacturers are having to do more to make their model’s stand out.
Up steps the Panasonic Lumix FZ200 – not only does it feature a 24x optical zoom, but is the world’s first of its type to feature a constant aperture of f/2.8 through the focal range. Have any sacrifices been made for such optical performance, or does the Panasonic Lumix FZ200 truly succeed in breaking new ground?
Panasonic Lumix FZ200 review – Features
no denying that the Panasonic Lumix FZ200 is something of an optical
heavyweight. The 24x optical zoom offers a focal range of 25-600mm in
35mm equivalent terms, although as mentioned the main sell is with the
camera’s maximum aperture – this remains at f/2.8 throughout the 24x
optical zoom, a world’s first for a compact camera. When you consider
the cost and bulk that an equivalent lens for a DSLR would cost you, you
begin to get an idea of quite what an achievement this is.
The lens technology doesn’t end with the impressive constant maximum aperture. The Leica optics feature a Nano Surface coating for improved sharpness, while sharpness at the longer focal lengths is also promised thanks to the presence of Panasonic’s proprietary Power O.I.S. image stabilisation system.
Having such an impressive optical set-up is well and good, but as we know it’s only one part of the image capture process. The other part is well catered for in the shape of the Panasonic Lumix FZ200’s sensor. The model features a 1/2.3in High Sensitivity MOS sensor with an effective resolution of 12.1MP, capable of not only capturing Raw files but also HD video at a resolution of
1920 x 1080 at both 50p and 50i.
The sensor is paired with Panasonic’s Venus Engine technology and as a result has some impressive claims to with regards to performance, including superior noise performance at high ISO settings thanks to ‘Intelligent Noise Reduction’ and a ‘Multi-process Noise Reduction’ system. The Venus Engine also
supports a headline continuous shooting speed of 12fps, although this only lasts for 12 frames, while another proprietary Panasonic technology – namely Light Speed AF – means that the Panasonic Lumix FZ200 should be no slouch in this department either.
As well as offering full manual control over shooting settings, thus catering for the advanced shooter, the Panasonic Lumix FZ200 also features Panasonic’s iAuto capture mode. A variety of scene modes are also present, while a selection of ‘Creative Control’ filters offer something for those wanting to add a different look to their pictures in camera rather than in post production.
The rear of the Panasonic Lumix FZ200 houses the two image composition and review options. A 3in LCD screen with a resolution of 460k-dots and vari-angle technology is present – the good news is that the vari-angle technology is of the side-hinge variety and as a result the screen can be rotated about 270 degrees on a horizontal pivot. The screen features a 16:9 aspect ratio – although this is great for HD video capture, unfortunately if you’re looking to capture still at the full resolution of the camera’s sensor you’ll be faced with black tramlines down the sides of the screen.
Above the Panasonic Lumix FZ200’s vari-angle LCD screen sits a viewfinder – a feature which is welcome when considering the large focal length on offer and the advanced nature of the camera. The viewfinder measures in at approximately 0.21in, features a resolution of 1.3m dots and offers a 100% field of view, while a dioptre adjustment offers extra adjustability. One small gripe over the viewfinder is that it doesn’t feature an eye sensor, meaning that to switch between the viewfinder and the LCD screen you have to press a button, rather than the process being automated.
Alongside Raw capture and full PASM shooting control, the Panasonic Lumix FZ200 also caters for the advanced photographer through the inclusion of a hot-shoe on the model’s top plate that offers support for Panasonic’s range of flash guns.
Panasonic Lumix FZ200 review – Design and Performance
As is ever the case with a bridge camera packing an optical punch, the bulk of the Lumix FZ200 is occupied by the large lens barrel on the camera’s front. No doubt owing to the constant maximum aperture throughout the focal range, the lens barrel itself is substantially wider then equivalent bridge cameras.
The good news is that this extra real estate is put to good use with the inclusion of a set of focus and zoom toggles on the left hand side of the lens. As well as featuring a zoom toggle around the shutter release button on the top plate, the left side of the lens barrel also features a sliding zoom toggle in the more natural shooting position. This zoom toggle is accompanied by a focus mode adjust button as well as a supplementary focus button.
Although a bulbous front lens section can sometimes cause a camera body to become unbalanced, this is not the case with the FZ200. This is not only thanks to the fact that the camera body is well proportioned, but also thanks to the generous handgrip of the right side of the camera. The handgrip is also suitably spaced from the lens barrel and features a rounded design so as to sit comfortably in the hand.
One of the pleasing aspects of the camera’s design is that it’s clearly suited to the advanced photographer. As well as offering quick access to the PASM shooting modes on the camera’s generous mode dial, the model also features no fewer than three ‘Fn’ buttons located around the body, with two on the rear of the camera and one on the model’s top plate. The top plate also houses a button offering quick access to the model’s drive mode as well as a dedicated video record button.
Panasonic Lumix FZ200 review – Performance
As well as featuring Panasonic’s Venue Engine processing technology, the FZ200 features the same Panasonic proprietary ‘Light Speed AF’ technology as that found in the manufacturer’s more advanced ‘G’ series cameras. Panasonic claims that this technology offers some of the very fastest AF performance in its class and on the whole these claims are borne out in use.
If you’re looking for more precise focusing, say when shooting at the tele end of the zoom or in macro scenes, you might look to the model’s manual focus system as an alternative. Once again, the good news is that the FZ200 offers impressive manual focus performance with a responsive real dial offers quick adjustment.
This promptness in AF is continued in the general performance of the FZ200. The camera powers up in around a second and is ready to shoot right away, while shot-to-shot speeds are also prompt even when shooting Raw files. One criticism is the camera’s continuous shooting mode – the headline 12fps figure is only valid for shooting 12 frames, and although the camera is not unique in this regard even the lower settings of 2fps suffers from shooting delay after just a few shots of Raw and JPEG owing to a clogged buffer.
Considering the large optical zoom, the FZ200’s lens manages to travel from the wide to tele end of the zoom at a respectable speed. It also has a pleasingly smooth travel, a feature that is especially noticeable when using the zoom lever on the side of the lens barrel.
While the LCD screen on the rear of the camera isn’t of the highest resolution in comparison to its competitors, it still offers a pleasing level of detail. The performance is no doubt aided by the fact that the screen is of the vari-angle variety with the hinge located on the left-hand side of the cameras body – this configuration allows for the screen to be rotated around a horizontal axis about 270 degrees to face the opposite side.
On the whole it’s a positive picture up to this point with regards to the FZ200’s performance, although it’s not entirely without its issues. One of the areas that provokes annoyance is the camera’s EVF – at 0.2in the screen is not dissimilar to other bridge cameras, although it appears quite far set down the viewfinder itself and thus appears smaller. The resolution, at 1.3m pixel, is amongst the highest on the market and that, in combination with the dioptre adjustment, means that the image on the viewfinder itself is suitably resolute and offers a sharp and accurate depiction of the scene being composed.
A further niggle with the viewfinder however is the lack of an eye sensor. This means that whenever you want to switch between the LCD and the viewfinder you have to press the button located to the left of the EVF. This might not sound like much of a pain, but when you’re constantly switching between the two to shoot images and review them the process becomes a lot more long winded then it would be with an eye sensor.
Panasonic Lumix FZ200 review – Image Quality and Verdict
On the whole, the standard of images produced by the FZ200 is high. Images display a good, even tone with a respectable tonal range with detail maintained in both shadow and highlights. The camera’s metering system also performs well, with the FZ200 offering even exposures both in a variety of conditions and throughout the full focal range.
The FZ200 is also reliable with regards to white balance performance, with the model displaying a slight yellowy or magenta tinge around neutral areas. In low light conditions there is a slight tendency for images to appear cooler than the presented scene, although once again this doesn’t present any major performance issues.
Considering the large focal range and constant maximum aperture, the optics on the FZ200 present very few issues. Barrel distortion is much lower than expected at the wide end of the zoom, while chromatic aberrations are kept to a minimum and mostly restricted to the tele end of the zoom.
The FZ200 also notably performs well at higher ISO settings. The model handles noise well throughout the ISO range, with quality only really falling off at the very highest settings. Most notable is its performance at ISO 3200, which remains eminently usable.
Any of the image quality issues raised above can be largely dealt with if you choose to utilise the FZ200’s ability to shoot Raw. Any of the smudging found through noise reduction at higher ISO settings is noticeable in its absence with Raw files, and although they appear noisier to the eye they also appear sharper.
Panasonic Lumix FZ200 review – Verdict
The headline feature of the FZ200 is its ‘world’s first’ constant f/2.8 aperture throughout the focal range, so there’s no doubt that the optical capability of the camera is going to be the main focus for many photographers. The good news is that the camera performs particularly well in this area, producing some excellent images with very few flaws. Not only that, but being able to shoot at f/2.8 and a focal range of 600mm is a real luxury when you consider the size of the camera.
The FZ200 offers solid performance across the board and is just as capable shooting at its wider focal length as it is zoomed in. The vari-angle LCD screen is also a welcome feature, although it could do with being of a slightly higher specification.
The same can be said of the EVF, however it’s not surprising that certain elements we’re kept from being premium as the lens alone has made the FZ200 one of the more expensive bridge cameras on the market.
All told, as a complete package you’ll struggle to find a better camera in its class than the Panasonic FZ200.