120studio.com
originally published October 4, 2014





You may have already seen my article on bridge cameras. I've been meaning to put up a detailed review of the Panasonic FZ200, and at last, here it is.  Even though the FZ200 has been out since 8/2012, I consider it one of the two or three top choices in a bridge camera for 2014.

Now that Panasonic has released the FZ1000 with a larger sensor, is the FZ200 still worth getting? 

Let's find out.


A Quick Note


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In This Article


Some Specifications

Battery

Power-Up / Basic Use

Auto Mode

Video

Flash

Image Quality

Low-Light / High ISO Performance

Miscellaneous

Zoom

FZ200 vs. FZ70


FZ200 vs. Canon SX50 (etc)


Conclusion



Some Specifications

35mm Zoom Equivalent:  25-600mm
Apertures Available:   f/2.8 through f/8 at all focal lengths
Auto Bracketing:  Yes
Batteries:  7.2 V  1200 mAh  8.7 Wh (Li-ion) (see below)
Battery Life:  up to 540 shots per charge (this can vary downward, depending on what you're doing)
Connectors:  USB multi;  Mini-HDMI out;  microphone jack (also accepts external shutter release DMW-RSL1)
Crop Factor:  5.2
Continuous Shooting:  12-shot burst mode @ 12 fps;  16-shot @ 5.5 fps;   unlimited @ 2 fps (JPG)
Exposure Compensation:  +/-3 EV in 1/3-stop increments
Exposure Control:   Auto, Programmed Auto (P), Aperture Priority (Av), Shutter Priority (Tv), Manual (M), & Smart Auto scene modes
Flash:  Built-in, plus a hotshoe to accept an external flash
Focus:  Auto;  Auto Macro;  Manual Focus also available
HDR:  Yes (in-camera)
Image Formats:  JPG and 12-bit RAW
Image Processor:  LSI Venus Engine
Image Stabilization:  Optical
ISO settings:  ISO 100 through 6400, with Auto ISO available
LCD:  3" free-angle TFT (460K dots)
Lens:  non-interchangeable zoom lens, Leica DC Vario-Elmarit, 4.5 to 108mm, f/2.8 constant
Memory (Built-In):  70 MB
Metering:  Multi, Center-Weighted, & Spot modes
Panoramic Modes:  Yes (in-camera)
Resolution:  12 megapixels
Sensor:  1/2.3 inch CMOS (7.7 mm diagonal)
Shutter lag:  0.1 sec (prefocused);  0.4 to 0.5 sec (AF)
Shutter speeds:   60" to 1/4000th
Video:  1080px HD @ 50 fps
Viewfinder:   Electronic (1,312,000 pixel EVF) with 100% coverage, also has a swing-out LCD screen
Weight (no batteries):  537g (1.18 lb)
Zoom magnification:  24x (optical) (25-600mm equivalent)



Battery


Just like the Canon SX50, the Panasonic FZ200 has a battery pack that can be charged externally.  That means you can buy a spare battery and carry it on your outdoor adventure. (There are few things more frustrating than having your only battery run out while you're out on a photo shoot.)

You're almost always better off getting the OEM battery than an aftermarket, in case you're curious.   The aftermarket ones almost never have the same battery life.





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Power-Up & Basic Use

On picking up the camera, one of the first things you may notice is the location of the power switch.  It's a flip switch that's very convenient to operate with one hand, whereas with some other bridge cameras (including the Canon SX50), you have to press a button.  That can be difficult to locate when you're not looking directly at the camera. 

The FZ200's power switch is super-easy to find without looking at the camera.  It actually reminds me of the switch you'll find on DSLR's from Canon.  

The electronic viewfinder (EVF) is very high-resolution (1,312K dot).  Compared to the Canon SX50's EVF with its 202K-dot finder, the FZ200's finder is incredibly sharp and clear.  (Just make sure you adjust the diopter knob for your eyes, though, because otherwise you won't think much of this or any EVF.) 

The FZ200's EVF is still better than the improved Canon SX60 (922,000 dots).

The central control feature of this camera is the thumb wheel.  I don't mind wheels in concept;  many SLR's and DSLR's have them, too.  On the FZ200, though, it's a little unusual.  The thumb wheel is actually also a button.  This is a clever design, but it's also unusual enough that you'll need some practice with it. 

Overall, the FZ200's interface is not bad.  I don't like it as much as that of the Canon SX50, but then again it's one of those things that will get better with repeated use.  Learn where everything is and what does what, and you could end up liking this camera better than any other superzoom.  Even with its different interface, I love the FZ200.  And really, it's not that far different from other cameras;  mostly, it's a matter of learning different button positions and different ways to activate menu choices.





Auto Mode

Like most bridge cameras, the FZ200 has an Auto mode (red pictogram of camera with "iA" on the mode dial).   This mode makes it easy for the beginner to get good pictures, as long as you realize the limitations of a bridge camera.  (See the Low Light / High ISO section.)

The FZ200's Auto mode selects the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO appropriate to the scene. 

It also activates special modes (e.g. "Night Scene") depending on the conditions. 

By default, it uses Tracking AF, so this is really an easy way for a beginner to start taking pictures.  Even if you only ever used Auto mode, the FZ200 is a big step up from a smartphone.  And, you can get one for much less than the cost of an unlocked phone.

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Video

The FZ200 has very good video quality.  Out of all the small-sensor bridge cameras, it may actually be the best for video. Among other features, there's the capability to shoot 720p video at 120 frames per second.  At this framerate, you can do slow-motion video without the choppy, blurred appearance that you'd normally get.  This is highly significant.

In some ways, I like bridge cameras better than DSLR's for video.  The longer depth-of-field is actually a big help here.   The main thing with a small-sensor bridge camera is to ensure you have bright enough lighting.  Buy yourself one of these or one of these for your FZ200, and you won't have to worry about the small sensor limitations when shooting video.

The FZ200 has the video record button in a fairly intuitive, convenient location.  (Not as convenient as the Canon SX50's record button, but not bad.)  It's the red dot on top of the camera, near the shutter button.  You can activate Record from almost any mode, which is handy. 

Do you see the "T" and "W" switch on the side of the lens barrel?  Normally it controls focus, but in the menu system you can change the default setting so this controls the zoom.


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Flash

The on-camera flash illuminates subjects well.   However, if you use it in regular mode, the red-eye is awful.  That's actually normal for most any point-n-shoot camera.  

First inclination would be to turn on the "red-eye reduction".  However, I'm not sure I like the red-eye reduction on this camera.  The pre-flash is at just the right time so that your subjects will be blinking when the main flash goes

Result?  You'll get a lot of well-lit pictures... of people blinking. 

They will then become irritated at all the re-takes you have to do. 

My solution:  get an external flash unit for this camera. 


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Image Quality

At low ISO, the FZ200 has what may be the best image sharpness of any small-sensor bridge camera.  In this regard, it's even better than the Canon SX50.  

The lens sharpness is quite good, even at f/2.8.  This is not surprising for a Leica lens.

One thing many people don't realize, however, is that most lenses (including this one) have corner darkening at wide apertures.  You'll never see it if you shoot JPG, though, because the camera automatically corrects it.

Image sharpness isn't the only factor in a good-looking picture, but the FZ200 images are of high quality, even straight from the camera. 



Roadside Autumn

October 4, 2014
Panasonic FZ200
Vivid mode
Colors are straight-from-camera;  image was brightened just a bit


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Low-Light / High ISO Performance


In general, bridge cameras are not really suitable for low-light pictures indoors.  Even slight movement by your subject will cause blurring in the typical lighting conditions in your home.

A 1/2.3" sensor is good up through about ISO 800 in dim light, and maybe 1600 in brighter light.  In very dim lighting, you'll either need to use a tripod or flash.  

However, if you're just taking pictures of things that hold still, it's possible to get usable photos in incandescent light.  The image stabilization allows for handheld photos down to at least 1/10 of a second.  Furthermore, the FZ200's wide aperture (f/2.8) gives you at least an extra stop (though I didn't use it here).



Some Stuff I Happened To Be Carrying
Panasonic DMC-FZ200
ISO 800
f/5.0 @ 1/15th



100% Crop
Panasonic DMC-FZ200
ISO 800
f/5.0 @ 1/15th

This 100% crop represents what you'd see if the whole image were enlarged to 40 x 30 inches.   This is ridiculous and way beyond what you're supposed to be able to do with a bridge camera.  It's just for comparison.  Let's see how it compares with the Canon SX50 under these conditions:


100% Crop
Canon SX50 HS
ISO 800
f/5.0 @ 1/13th

The Panasonic FZ200 image is slightly noiser than the one from the Canon SX50, but it's also warmer and a bit more crisp. 

Canon SX50 has the better signal-to-noise ratio, but if you don't post-process your photos, the FZ200 could be the better choice.   Furthermore, who's really going to zoom in on the pictures to this degree? 

When there's ample lighting, I find the FZ200 usable even at ISO 1600.

The FZ200 is not bad at ISO 800.  This is about as high as I would push any bridge camera having a 1/2.3" sensor.  If you think high ISO is going to comprise much of your shooting, get a DSLR.  Even a cheap one by Canon or Nikon will have much better low-light performance than a bridge camera.  The bridge camera is for a different purpose, which if you're looking seriously at the FZ200, you probably already know.

Actually, if you can budget it, it's worth having both:  a bridge camera and an inexpensive DSLR.  For as many different cameras as I've used-- everything from DSLR's to 4x5 view cameras-- I still find myself picking up a bridge camera almost every day.  It's an outdoor adventure camera;  it's a tag-along for short road trips;  it's a pick-up-and-go camera. 



The FZ200 is one of my two or three favorites in the bridge camera category.  (Other favorite here.)


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Miscellaneous

I like the FZ200's HDR mode much better than that of other bridge cameras (even the Canon). 

While competitors' HDR tends to look cartoonish and unnatural, the FZ200 actually does what it's supposed to:  captures greater dynamic range.  The result is much more natural-looking, not overdone.   This feature alone makes the FZ200 worth buying, even if it weren't for the f/2.8 lens.


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Zoom

This camera tells you what zoom power you're currently using (e.g., "2X").  This is handy.  The drawback is that it's not as precise as actually saying the 35mm zoom equivalent (e.g., "135mm").  You can move the zoom quite a bit and still have it be at "1X", "2X", or what have you.

The 24X optical zoom reaches out to a 35mm equivalent of 600 millimeters.  That's considerable reach, and if you tried to buy that for a DSLR it would cost some serious money.   I'd like to have seen the FZ200 going to at least 800mm zoom equivalent, but it's OK as it is.


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FZ200 vs. FZ70

The main differences:

FZ200 has f/2.8 available throughout the whole zoom range.  This is very unusual in a bridge camera.

FZ70 has a wider zoom range, including better wide angle (20mm vs 25mm) and better telephoto (1200mm vs. 600mm).

The FZ70 is better if you just want zoom versatility.  It also costs less than the FZ200.

The FZ200 is the one to get if you want that extra stop or two of light-gathering.  With its f/2.8, the FZ200 also allows for some background blurring. 
Just be aware that sometimes the bokeh can be rather distracting; try to choose backgrounds without a bunch of twigs, branches, or that sort of thing.

Bottom line?  The FZ200 is better for low-light and artistic work;  the FZ70 is better for zoom versatility.


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FZ200 vs. Canon SX50 (etc)

We'll keep this short and sweet.  In my opinion, here's the winner in each category:

Background Blurring...............FZ200
Battery Life..............................FZ200
Color Rendition........................tie
Custom Modes..........................tie
Electronic Viewfinder..............FZ200
HDR..........................................FZ200
Image detail at low ISO........... FZ200
Image detail at high ISO...........SX50
Interface.....................................SX50
Power Switch.............................FZ200
RAW mode................................SX50 (but only because they open in my old version of software, while the Panasonic RAW files don't.)
Zoom reach.................................SX50

(Get your FZ200 through this link or this one and I can continue to stage camera vs. camera mini-smackdowns.)



This one's had some processing, but the FZ200 provides a pretty good base image.
So much the better if you shoot in RAW.


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Conclusion

I like the FZ200 almost as much as the Canon SX50.  In a couple of ways-- namely, the EVF and the constant f/2.8-- I actually prefer the FZ200.  For all-around use it's sort of a toss-up.  I carry the SX50 just about everywhere for its 50x optical zoom capability, but the FZ200 with its 24x zoom is still quite passable.

For "straight-from-camera" image quality in daylight, the FZ200 actually has a bit of an edge.  At low ISO, the images are just a little bit sharper than ones from the Canon SX50. The difference is not enormous, and it's probably nothing you couldn't fix with some good post-processing, but the FZ200 is actually quite an impressive camera.

It's so good, actually, that I hope Panasonic will keep making it for a long time.  I can only hope that its successor, the FZ300, will be at least as good a camera.

Should you get the larger-sensor FZ1000 instead?  If basic image quality is most important, then I'd say yes;  also, the FZ1000 has 4k video.   However, the trade-off is that you don't get as much zoom power.  The FZ200 is already not the most powerful zoom on the market, but the FZ1000's larger sensor confines it to even smaller zoom reach (16X as opposed to 24X.)   For photographing those faraway glimpses of scenery and the occasional wildlife, the FZ200 is the better choice;  it also costs quite a bit less than the FZ1000.

I hope you found this article informative.  Please help me keep this website going by using the sponsored links to purchase your gear;  it's the only income I get for the work I do to bring you these reviews.   Camera companies don't pay me or give me free stuff;  in fact, most run the other way when they see a genuine, independent review site.  (Panasonic got lucky here, because they happen to make great bridge cameras.)

Right now you can get the FZ200 through this link, or this one has it for a substantial discount as of the time I write this.

Thanks for visiting my website!




         

 
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