Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: $599
Pros: Good video features, good lens, fast.
Cons: Chunky images in low light, hard to fit in a pocket.
Best Uses: Video, sports.
The Panasonic Lumix FZ200 falls into our “superzoom” category, boasting a 25-600mm (35mm equivalent) lens, which surpassed the rest of the super zoom category in terms of lens quality. Above the rest of the field, the FZ200 is packed with impressive video features, which makes the camera a quality choice for users with video as their priority. In addition to high frame rate video used for slow motion, the FZ200 has the best burst mode for still photography, which makes the camera a top choice for sports.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
While our super zoom cameras generally had weaker optics in terms of quality and sharpness, the FZ200 proved us wrong. Even in high contrast situations, the lens quality held up. Take a look below:
And at 100%. Notice the trees.
We were impressed with that performance test. In addition to having good sharpness and a long zoom range, the FZ200 also has a constant f/2.8 aperture through the entire range, which is especially impressive at 600mm. The FZ200 rivaled some of our top picks for image quality, at least speaking about the lens.
However, as we examine the sensor, things change a bit. Panasonic armed the FZ200 with a 1/2.3” sensor, identical to the other super zooms we tested. Achieving super long focal lengths becomes optically easier when sensors are smaller, due to crop factors. This sensor overall lacks sharpness and detail in comparison to cameras such as the RX100 or the X100s. Although it isn’t totally noticeable in many situations, the camera failed to impress us with its fine pixel detail.
Low Light Performance
Though we were impressed with the FZ200’s image quality in good light, it fell apart as the sun began to drop. The images ended up being chunky and lost sharpness. Rather than becoming noisy, the camera’s processing suppresses the noise but in turn, forces the pixels into lumps. We’d prefer a noisier image that can be fixed in post rather than an image that will never regain sharpness. If you are going to be shooting photographs in dim light, we’d suggest the RX100 or the X100s over the FZ200.
Ease of Use
The FZ200 embodies a tilt screen, which we didn’t find totally useful in most still shooting scenarios, but when we started getting creative with our angles in both still and video, it was nice to have a swivel screen which measured up to an ample 3.0.”
A lot of things in the outdoors happen fast. Fast mountain bikers, fast skiers, animals running away. And in those scenarios a camera that has a high frames-per-second burst mode is mighty handy. With the FZ200, it’s nearly impossible to miss the exact moment you’re looking for due to the high burst rate of 12 frames per second, which rivals professional grade DSLRs used for professional sporting events. We put the camera on a tripod and shot a sequence on burst of a runner to show you exactly what we mean:
That said, the buffer limit is 12 frames, so you’ve at least got to hit the button within one second of the actual action. In addition to the full resolution traditional burst mode, Panasonic also built in a 40 frames per second and 60 frames per second option at reduced resolutions, which is more akin to video frame grabs than still photographs. We stuck with the 12 frames per second option, which was more than ample.
To make outdoor bums happy and other folks who don’t spend a ton of time by electrical outlets, the FZ200’s battery is rated to 540 shots based off the CIPA rating, which outperformed the rest of the group by roughly 200 shots. Keep in mind that these ratings are dependent on use, temperatures, and other variables. If you’ll be shooting when it’s cold, keep your batteries as close to you as possible.
Another favorite feature of ours from the FZ200 is incredibly simple. Panasonic was kind enough to make filter threads on the end of the lens, which surprisingly wasn't on many of the cameras we tested. While the days of color balancing with filters are behind us, it's always nice to have a UV filter to protect your investment.
Codecs, frame rates, resolutions — they’re all fun and dandy to put on a chart and geek out about. But we’ve all got to agree on something: it’s kinda funny to worry about that stuff and then have a camera that doesn’t really work? The lack of manual controls, easy-to-find frame rates, and decent audio is really sort of mind boggling. Every few years, camera companies have a new thing to fight about. Megapixels are the best example. But that fight has mostly vanished and the fight for high ISO has replaced it. In the video world? A bunch of resolution and frame rate numbers that hardly translate to higher quality video imagery.
We’ve always been impressed with Panasonic’s commitment to intuitive video cameras. The industry standard for documentary work was the HVX200 for years, and is still a really solid camera, albeit a relative dinosaur. Panasonic has more recently been known for bringing that quality down to smaller cameras, including the earth-rocking GH3, which is a favorite for lightweight applications on professional video crews, such as RC helicopters. Panasonic didn’t make an exception for the FZ200, which brings this quality to an even more affordable level.
Unlike many of our other top performers, the FZ200 employs basic, but crucial, video features. The FZ200 supports full manual control over all exposure values during video mode. Additionally, when entering video mode, the camera gives you a selection between Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual Exposure, and “High Speed,” which offers 120 frames per second and 240 frames per second.
A major limiting factor of DSLR performance in video currently is supporting higher frame rates, but this doesn’t apply to the FZ200. The FZ200 natively shoots 1080 at 60p, which allows you to edit the footage to roughly 2.5 times slower than traditional 24 frames per second footage that we see on the big screen. If you can sacrifice a little bit of resolution and don’t mind shooting in 720, the FZ200 shoots 120 frames per second, which is really impressive. Still, if you want to shoot faster but don’t mind having almost unusable resolution, you can shoot 240 frames per second (that’s ten times slower than reality) in 640x480.
Take a look at our mini-film using the FZ200. We were really impressed with the quality of the 120 fps shooting. However, while editing we were a little baffled — occasionally, the 60p footage slowed down to 24p looks jittery. However, this could be from low shutter speed when we allowed the camera to decide for us. As a general rule of thumb, keep your shutter speed twice that of your frame rate. For example: the FZ200 shoots natively in 60p, so keep your shutter speed close to 1/120th which is 1/125th on most still cameras. Research the “half-shutter” rule for more information on this.
The FZ200 natively shoots in AVCHD, which to some people might be a drawback, but we didn’t mind it. With the right software tools, this codec works fine, although you might find yourself needing to transcode the footage before editing. Nonetheless, it provides better looking footage. If you can’t stomach the extra time working on the footage, the FZ200 is also equipped to shoot in MP4, which is universally accepted in non-linear editors.
The FZ200 is equipped with a basic pop-up flash that provided ample power. Additionally, it is equipped with a hot shoe for off-camera lighting triggers and hot-shoe mount on camera flashes.
While the FZ200 is a decent still camera, it’s a much better video camera. We suggest this camera to anyone who has a focus or strong interest in making videos and taking pictures. Additionally, the long lens makes it a very versatile contender.
Originally selling for almost $600, the FZ200 has been marked down by many retailers to between $350 and $420. If high frame rate video is important to you, this is a great value. Additionally, we liked the FZ200 best out of our superzooms. Still, it comes in at half the price of the RX100. Overall, we consider the FZ200 a good value.
For the video enthusiasts out there, the FZ200 is a great one-camera quiver, or a great addition to an existing kit. Between the high frame rate video and stills, good lens quality and versatile zoom, the FZ200 is absolutely a formidable competitor within the saturated market.
Other Versions and Accessories
The FZ200’s predecessor, the FZ150, can still be found.
— Tommy Penick
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Most recent review: January 31, 2014
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