Reviews: Compact & Bridge Cameras

REVIEW / Panasonic Lumix FZ200

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Franck Mée
Morgane Alzieu
Published on October 16, 2012
Translated by Catherine Barraclough

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Sensor CMOS 12 Mpx, 1/2.3" , 42 Mpx/cm
  • Lens 24x 25-600 mm f/2.8 -2.8
  • Stabilisation Optical
  • Viewfinder Electronic
  • Screen 7.6 cm, not TN, 460000 dots, 4:3, Not touch-sensitive
  • Sensitivity (ISO range) 100 - 1600 ISO ext. 39 mm
Flash back to 2004. Panasonic had a nice little set of bridge cameras, the FZ10 and FZ20, sporting some rather unusual 12x zoom lenses with constant aperture. Now, eight years later, the manufacturer has returned to constant aperture lenses, with f/2.8 over the entire focal range in 2012's Lumix FZ200. But this time, Panasonic's bridge has a 24x zoom lens that starts at a focal length of 25 mm! On top of that, the FZ200 has a 12-Megapixel "high-sensitivity" CMOS sensor and films Full HD video.

HANDLING 5/5



The FZ200 looks a lot like its predecessor, the FZ150. However, several features have actually been redesigned—the control layout has notably been updated. The lens barrel has the same type of zoom and focusing controls as the FZ150, which makes the camera feel more like an SLR to handle.

Build quality is similar to the FZ150, with decent assembly and a good-quality finish. That said, this is still a very plastic camera. We can't help thinking it could have warranted higher-end materials in some places. In spite of that, the bigger handle improves grip and fits more comfortably in the palm of your hand. The controls are simple and easy to get the hang of using while still offering plenty of customisable options for more advanced users.

Panasonic Lumix FZ200 review - screen and controls

The Lumix FZ200 has the same full swivel screen as the FZ150. Screen definition therefore hasn't changed and viewing angles are still nice and wide. There's also the same excessive contrast that overexposes light greys and the rather hit-and-miss colour fidelity (Delta E = 7.9). Similarly, the tiny viewfinder still has both low definition and low contrast, and it still uses a sequential display, which can lead to "rainbow effects" from colour break-up.

SPEED 5/5



The FZ200 is generally speedier than the FZ150. It starts up in under a second and a half, and photo-to-photo turnaround has been trimmed down to under half a second.

The autofocus is on the better side of average at all focal lengths, although it inevitably slows down in low light.

Panasonic Lumix FZ200 review - responsiveness
The burst mode shoots a very fast 11 frames per second with both Jpeg and RAW formats. However, it stops after 12 shots while the camera saves them onto the memory card.

On the whole, the Lumix FZ200 is a responsive bridge that won't hold you back or slow you down. 

IMAGE QUALITY 4/5



The FZ150 won us over with its 24x zoom lens and "high sensitivity" CMOS sensor. But while the FZ200 uses the same sensor, the lens is new in this 2012 model. Although the 25-600 mm focal range remains unchanged, the new constant f/2.8 aperture changes everything.

Panasonic Lumix FZ200 review - ISO test, picture quality

The sensor's performance therefore holds no real surprise, even though smoothing has been slightly reduced here. Noise appears at 400 ISO but stays well controlled up to 800 ISO. At 800 ISO granularity is still manageable and 8" x 10 " photos (20 x 27 cm) will look fine. However, upwards of 1600 ISO noise is noticeably heavier and blurs finer detail.
 

We couldn't help wondering whether image quality would really be up to scratch in this camera due to its large focal range and constant aperture. The results, however, are actually quite convincing.

At wide-angle, the image is sharp in the middle of the frame and still holds up well around the edges (although it's not quite as contrasted as with the FZ150). At longer focal lengths, the image is more consistent in quality over the frame and sharpness levels are up there with the best—even if you can spot a few purple fringes at 100% size.

VIDEO 5/5



The FZ200 films Full HD video at up to 50 frames per second with stereo sound. The image is nicely detailed even if light, bright zones tend to get overexposed.

The stereo sound is effective. Different noises are accurately rendered and voices are easily recognisable. Note that in very quiet scenes you can hear the noise of the zoom motor working.
F/2.8 At All Focal Lengths!
While the lens in the FZ200 keeps the same focal range as the one in the FZ150, here, the aperture remains constant at f/2.8.

Aperture is the ratio of the lens' focal length to the diameter the diaphragm opens to allow light to enter the lens. It's measured in f-numbers (or f-stops) e.g. f/2.8, f/4, f/8. By increasing the diameter, which makes for a lower f-number (like f/2.8 here), more light enters the lens. However, this can have a direct impact on the physical size of the lens.

To keep dimensions down, most lenses use a sliding aperture scale, starting off with a relatively wide aperture at wide-angle settings (usually around f/2.8 but sometimes f/1.4) which gradually closes as the focal length increases to telephoto settings, ending up at f/5.6 or more. However, in the FZ200, aperture remains at f/2.8 at all focal lengths—no matter how much you zoom in or out.

One advantage of this is that more light makes for a faster lens. At f/2.8, the FZ200 captures almost four times as much light as the FZ150 (f/5.2 at the maximum zoom setting). The camera can therefore keep the ISO setting down to 400 ISO in situations where the FZ150 would have pushed up to 1600 ISO, or freeze the motion of a sports person in action at 1/500 ths of a second instead of getting a slight motion blur at 1/125 ths.

The second advantage this brings concerns the depth of field. At f/2.8, backgrounds are more blurred than at f/5.6, which helps bring out a face or another subject in the shot more effectively.

Plus, diffraction is less visible at f/2.8 than at f/5.6, which should, in theory, make for sharper images. These days, most compact cameras only have f/2.8 aperture at wide-angle settings. As soon as you start to zoom, the amount of light entering the lens therefore begins to drop.

PROS

  • Good image quality up to 800 ISO
  • Lens with constant f/2.8 aperture
  • Full HD video at 50 fps with stereo sound
  • Good responsiveness
  • Good design and handling, easy to use, customisable features
  • RAW and Jpeg mode

CONS

  • Low-def, low-contrast viewfinder with sequential display
  • Plastic build, could be better quality

CONCLUSION 5/5

Compared with its predecessors, the Panasonic Lumix FZ200 moves things up a gear thanks to its f/2.8 constant aperture lens. Image quality hasn't taken a huge leap forwards but it remains excellent. With top-notch quality in photo and video modes, and sheer originality, the FZ200 sets a new standard in today's bridge market.
5 Panasonic Lumix FZ200 Digitalversus 2012-10-16 10:10:00
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