Panasonic has made one especially significant improvement to this model: full f/2.8 aperture width all the way through the focal range. Almost all superzoom cameras have trouble maintaining image quality while also fully zooming in. The FZ200's ambitious lens will not only allow more light at the longest focal length, but enable gorgeous depth of field effects too.

The Lumix FZ200 is available now in black for $599.

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Box Photo

• Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FZ200 digital camera

• lens cap

• lens hood

• neck strap

• lens cap strap

• wall socket adapter

• DMW-BLC12PP battery

• Basic Owner's Manual

• warranty information

We'd guess the vast majority of the cash you'll be spending on the FZ200 is going toward the ambitious new lens, which is something of an engineering marvel. Although optical zoom still maxes out at 24x, just like the FZ150, the aperture iris is now capable of staying all the way open at f/2.8 even at maximum zoom.

This is sort of a tough feature to market, but trust us, it's a big deal. More light means less noise from fully zoomed shots, and hopefully better sharpness too.

Barrel action is slow, but no more so than the competition, and construction feels very sturdy.

The FZ200 has an electronic viewfinder with a 1.3 million dot resolution. The displayed image is small, off-color, and laggy, while the finder itself can be difficult to look through. A diopter adjustment wheel is accessible on the right of the eye cup, however the camera is not equipped with an eye lever sensor, so you'll need to press the EVF/LCD button with your left hand to swap from the LCD.

The rear review monitor is a 3.0-inch panel with full tilt-out and swiveling capability, which makes framing easy from any angle, especially while shooting video. Reproduction of color and detail is accurate, and viewing angle is very wide, however there's a 16:9 guide zone displayed by default that's very distracting.

The flash up pops up from the peak of the body by toggling a mechanical release beside it. The bulb is rated effective out to a whopping 44 feet, making it extremely powerful for a camera of this class. Stereo microphones reside on the outer surface of the flash arm, meaning when the flash is deployed those mics will face backwards. So remember to push the bulb back down before recording video.

Flash Photo

The flash emitter pops up from the top of the body via a mechanical release.

Underneath a rubber cover on the right side of the body, you'll find a miniHDMI port as well as a microUSB port. Below them, there's a rubber stopper that can be moved out of the way for use with a DC coupler. There's also a small dual function connector on the left side of the body, which can be used for either an external microphone or a wired remote shutter.

Other than that, the only connector left is the hot shoe mount on top of the camera, which can be used for external accessories like supplemental flash.

The FZ200's thick battery pack is rated to an amazing 500 consecutive shots, giving it the best longevity of almost any camera in the class. The battery compartment is a little too close to the tripod mount, which could be annoying for certain users.

Battery Photo

What do you get when you combine f/2.8 with a huge focal length? Some very appealing shots, that's what. Unfortunately, the FZ200 isn't perfect in many of our tests, including resolution, and especially noise reduction.

The FZ200's overall sharpness numbers are below expectations. Sharpness averaged under 1500 MTF50s overall, with spikes up to 2000 and above in the center of the frame, and dips down below 600 at the edges. Focal length also dramatically affects sharpness. Considering only test results from the closest focal length, sharpness averaged over 1700 MTF50s, but identical shots captured at maximum zoom averaged only 1200 MTF50s.

We've seen worse, but such is the curse of the superzoom. Glass can only be pushed so far before the geometry starts to introduce unsharpness. Panasonic wisely stuck to 24x for this year and last, but it seems the move to f/2.8 all the way down has been slightly detrimental to sharpness. More on how we test sharpness.

Other than during testing, we found it best to leave the FZ200's stabilizer active during most of our shooting. The feature protected our maximum zoom shots from motion blur about half of the time. That's not great, but we could see no downside—such as a dip in sharpness—to leaving the system turned on, so we recommend you do the same.

The FZ200 is highly color-accurate for a fixed-lens camera, producing an uncorrected color error value of only 2.32 in the most accurate color mode. This puts the sensor on par with even the best SLRs, and comes as no surprise considering the FZ150's—and especially the FZ47's—excellent rendition of color. More on how we test color.

Shades of red are by far the least accurate, followed by dark greens on the opposite side of the spectrum. Color saturation was also a bit high, up at 107.5%, but then again most people tend to prefer oversaturated shots.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

The new model trounces Panasonic's old FZ150, as well as just about every other recent ultrazoom. Just bear in mind, we haven't yet tested Canon's SX50 HS, which may give this camera a run for its money.

Strangely, "Standard" is the most accurate color mode in this camera, a distinction which usually goes to "Natural." But the differences are slight between the two. Natural is almost as accurate as Standard, and saturation is much better too, down to 99.72%.

White balance was good in our tests but hit-or-miss in the field.

In our test enclosure, under incandescent light the camera's rendering is too warm by about 650 Kelvin, however that number shrinks to only 300 Kelvin under fluorescent, and only 200 Kelvin too cool under daylight. By adding the extra step of a custom white balance, it's possible to keep all your errors under 200 Kelvin, regardless of lighting conditions.

The numbers are strong, but more than one of our sample photos saw problems with white balance, even a few that made it into the review. For this reason, we recommend a custom white balance whenever possible, since it was impossible to predict when the camera would make such a mistake.

The FZ200 comes with only five white balance presets, but includes memory for two custom settings, plus direct Kelvin entry if you already know the color temperature of your light source.

Image noise is certainly this camera's greatest disappointment. While Panasonic has certainly improved their lens since the FZ150, it seems likely that a cheaper sensor had to be swapped in to hit a certain price point. The FZ200's handling of noise is far worse than the FZ150.

At default noise reduction, all images are still made up of over 1.00% noise, a value we don't expect to see until at least ISO 400. By then, the FZ200 has already crossed 1.11%. Peak noise occurs at ISO 1600, 1.66%, and then the algorithm becomes more aggressive, knocking noise down to 1.42%. More on how we test noise.

The native ISO range extends from 100 to 3200, though this can be expanded up to 6400 without a resolution penalty. The camera also offers both automatic and "intelligent" ISO, the latter of which can apparently detect when your subject is moving and raise the ISO and shutter accordingly when appropriate.

The FZ200's dynamic range test results were average for a fixed-lens camera. ISO 100 is the best, coming in at a decent 5.52 stops, and the camera holds this level until ISO 400, which is pretty impressive actually. Dynamic range then drops off quickly, down to 4.3 stops at ISO 1600, 3.86 at 3200, and only 2.82 stops at ISO 6400.

In practice, we found this camera's dynamic range insufficient for many situations. Zones were frequently blown out, and we found ourselves second-guessing our metering choices too often. This is another indicator of a new, worse sensor. More on how we test dynamic range.

Chromatic aberration is a problem for this lens at all focal lengths, though it's largely restricted to the edges and corners of the frame. Breaking down to scores by focal length reveals the closest and farthest settings are about equal, and both are very slightly outperformed by the middle focal length, which has the least chromatic aberration. Still, the differences are very slight, and fringing remains a ubiquitous problem for this camera.

Radial distortion is fully corrected before the final image is output, so the most we see is 0.26% barrel distortion at medium focal lengths. Other than that, distortion is all but imperceptible.

The FZ200 captures gorgeous video in 1080/60p AVCHD, and is dual compatible with MP4 as well. Moving subjects are as smooth as can be at this frame rate, and devoid of trailing too. Only the slightest bit of compression artifacting can be noticed in dark areas, however some frequency interference is produced in certain areas, such as the moving pinwheels seen below. More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.

Video clips are generally very sharp. Under studio illumination, the sensor resolved a respectable 600 lw/ph, both vertically and horizontally, before details began to run together. This puts the FZ200 in contention with the best fixed-lens performers in this category. More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

When we reduced ambient light down to only 60 lux, results were nearly the same, due in large part to the FZ200's wide aperture. This time, the sensor achieved 500 lw/ph horizontally and 550 vertically, which are still impressive figures.

The FZ200 requires only 16 lux of ambient illumination to gather 50 IRE of image data, according to our sensitivity test. That's impressive, and should make videos captured under twilight totally usable. Of late we've seen a few compacts score even better, but those cameras each boasted maximum apertures at or below f/2.0.

This is probably not the best camera for beginners, due in part to the still-pretty-complex automatic modes and various customizable Function buttons. Still, once enthusiast users become accustomed to some handling quirks, they'll find a fun camera with deep control.

The FZ200 is equipped with both Intelligent Auto, a scene-detecting automatic mode, as well as Intelligent Auto +, which allows limited control over exposure, aperture, and white balance. It's sort of like Program Auto, but more annoying and harder to use.

The control scheme is organized around no less than three customizable Function buttons, making this camera more appropriate for users with some experience. You'll need to commit some of your own internal memory—meaning your brain—to actually remembering what all these buttons do, and you'll also need to practice and use the camera frequently to make this work. We see this as slight overkill on an ultrazoom camera.

We're also bugged by the EVF/LCD button, which is necessary to swap between preview modes in the absence of an eye lever sensor. On the opposite side of the panel, the rear command dial is another example of chintzy, plasticky construction from Panasonic, however the dial is at least highly useful, especially with extra push-in functionality added.

The FZ200's menu system is competent but ultimately average. The main menu is a horizontal tab-based system that displays too few options onscreen at a time, and those options are ordered rather haphazardly, with important options spread out evenly across the six pages of the still shooting tab.

The quick menu isn't much better, option group icons are arranged across the top and bottom of the screen, but you must navigate horizontally to scroll through them, then press down or up to change individual settings. At least the quick menu remembers your place from the last time you accessed it, the main menu does not.

The camera ships with a moderately-helpful Basic Owner's Guide, but the information we needed for review was split between this document and the electronic-only Owner's Manual for Advanced Features. So if you have something to learn about your new FZ200, this may necessitate swapping back in forth between two manuals.

The front of the body is home to SLR-style conveniences like a large hand grip, with a recession for the middle finger, and just enough rubberization to prevent slipping. The huge lens does throw off the balance though, so this is a predominantly two-handed camera.

Handling Photo 1

On the rear panel, the button layout interferes with handling. The thumb wants to come to rest halfway between the AF/AE Lock button and the command dial, well above and to the left of the actual thumb rest, which itself lacks proper grip and is little more than textured plastic. Both the directional pad and Display button are also far too high, and they'll accidentally contact the knuckle of your thumb all the time. If you're taking a shot and suddenly find your white balance preset has changed, that's why.

Handling Photo 2
Handling Photo 3

The control scheme is organized around no less than three customizable Function buttons, making this camera more appropriate for users with some experience. You'll need to commit some of your own internal memory—meaning your brain—to actually remembering what all these buttons do, and you'll also need to practice and use the camera frequently to make this work. We see this as slight overkill on an ultrazoom camera.

We're also bugged by the EVF/LCD button, which is necessary to swap between preview modes in the absence of an eye lever sensor. On the opposite side of the panel, the rear command dial is another example of chintzy, plasticky construction from Panasonic, however the dial is at least highly useful, especially with extra push-in functionality added.

Buttons Photo 1

On the top panel you'll find the excellent mode dial, shutter release, zoom lever, and power level; but also a bunch of buttons that are difficult to reach. The Function 1 button is especially challenging (default settings map this to color modes), but there's also the red video record button here, as well as the drive mode key.

Buttons Photo 2

The rear review monitor is a 3.0-inch panel with full tilt-out and swiveling capability, which makes framing easy from any angle, especially while shooting video. Reproduction of color and detail is accurate, and viewing angle is very wide, however there's a 16:9 guide zone displayed by default that's very distracting.

The FZ200 has an electronic viewfinder with a 1.3 million dot resolution. The displayed image is small, off-color, and laggy, while the finder itself can be difficult to look through. A diopter adjustment wheel is accessible on the right of the eye cup, however the camera is not equipped with an eye lever sensor, so you'll need to press the EVF/LCD button with your left hand to swap from the LCD.

Other than during testing, we found it best to leave the FZ200's stabilizer active during most of our shooting. The feature protected our maximum zoom shots from motion blur about half of the time. That's not great, but we could see no downside—such as a dip in sharpness—to leaving the system turned on, so we recommend you do the same.

The FZ200 is equipped with a full sized mode dial, including all the "PASM" settings, as well as two custom modes, dedicated modes for scenes and digital effects, plus a manual movie mode.

A cluster of manual and semi-manual controls resides on the left side of the lens barrel. These include the puzzlingly redundant secondary zoom lever, which offers no advantages over the zoom lever surrounding the shutter release, as well as a focus mode switch and dedicated focus button which, again, is made somewhat redundant by the AF/AE Lock button.

21 different shooting resolutions are available, in widely-varying levels of quality and size. JPEG compression may be set to Normal or Fine, and the camera even shoots RAW for the best possible image quality.

This is a very fast camera, though we imagine speed will probably go down as one of the FZ200's most under-appreciated features.

Everything from interface speed, to the time between individual shutter presses (faster than almost any other fixed-lens camera), to the varied burst modes are uncommonly quick. The FZ200 is capable of a wide selection of bursts, including 2 fps and 5 fps speeds with continuous autofocus, full resolution bursts at 12 fps, 40 or 60 fps bursts at reduced resolution, and a reduced resolution burst with flash.

We clocked the full resolution maximum speed burst at Panasonic's exact claim, 12 frames per second. This is incredibly fast, but be aware this burst only lasts twelve shots, so you've got a 1 second window to capture the decisive moment. Luckily, if you miss it, the camera can pop right back into another—albeit shorter—burst while the previous shots buffer.

Panasonic wastes no effort on WiFi, GPS, apps, or other silliness. This camera is designed to take gorgeous pictures and do little else. As such we're treated to features like excellent burst mode functionality and in-depth control for video.

Videos may be recorded in up to 1080/60p AVCHD, with a bit rate of 28Mbps. Other resolutions include 1080/60i, 720/60p, 1080/30p, and 720/30p. When appropriate, sensor output is 60 frames per second, so this is true 60p capture, not interpolation.

Smaller 480p videos may also be captured, at speeds up to 240 frames per second. Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content

All the PASM modes are available for video shooting, and all related settings may be changed even while a recording is in progress. An analog zoom slider has been included on the left side of the lens barrel, just like we might see on a camcorder, however the slider is no more or less sensitive than the zoom lever surrounding the shutter release, so we don't really understand the point.

Auto Controls

Of course video clips may also be captured at any time, in any mode, using the red video record button on the top of the camera. Videos may be recorded in concert with most picture effects and scene modes too. The processing power of this camera continues to impress.

Zoom

Zoom control is unlocked while a recording is in progress, though once again, we find the left side zoom lever quite redundant. Adjustment speed is also slowed quite a bit to cut down on mechanical noise.

Focus

Autofocus behavior while a recording is in progress is controlled by the mechanical focus slider on the left side of the lens barrel. The camera will autofocus continuously while the slider is set to AF or AF Macro, and will not adjust focus automatically while this slider is set to Manual. At any time, even in manual mode, pressing the focus button below this slider will command the camera to attempt a lock on the current framing.

Wind cut may be set to automatic or off in the menus, and there's also a dual function input connector on the left side of the body that can be used for an external microphone (or a remote shutter).

Mic Photo

How to innovate, in two steps. Step one: make sure you're improving something people care about. Step two: don't ruin anything else in the process, especially if the old stuff worked fine.

Panasonic, and its new Lumix FZ200, certainly earns a check for step one, and...maybe half a check for step two.

There are a few options every camera manufacturer has when they set out to design an updated superzoom. Based on how 2012 has shaken out so far, the most popular ones seem to be additions like WiFi, GPS, and...nothing. Of course all those fail step one, nobody asked for them, and we certainly don't care very much about them.

On the other hand, the FZ200's new lens is a return to the FZ series' roots. It's f/2.8 all the way down the focal range, and this unlocks a level of flattering, appealing photography that contrasts sharply with competitors, many of which can't fully take advantage of their own zoom under anything but daylight.

Now, we're tempted to give Panasonic full credit for step two—don't screw anything up—because this camera is really almost identical to the excellent FZ150, our 2011 pick for best in the category. But the truth is, the company seems to have stepped down to an inferior sensor for this model. The FZ200 doesn't handle noise nearly as well as its predecessor did, in fact noise rates are about 60 percent higher at low ISOs, resulting in noticeable grain in any shooting environment.

But again, we do like this camera. Burst mode speeds, and especially general operating speeds, are remarkably fast for a fixed-lens. Videos continue to be smooth, sharp, and fully configurable by the user. The rear LCD is also bright, accurate, and highly usable thanks to convenient swivel and wide viewing angle.

Potential fixes for the next iteration of this camera should (hopefully) include a revamped control scheme that doesn't encourage accidental button strikes, a more comfortable and more accurate electronic viewfinder (or at least an eye-level sensor), and a menu system that's a little more intuitive to navigate. Also, although the lens is great, we noticed it didn't actually fare too well on some of our tests. Sharpness could use a boost, but that aperture is just so amazing that we don't care.

Fair warning: we haven't yet tested the Canon SX50 HS (it's next), which seems positioned to compete directly with this camera. In the meantime, the Lumix FZ200 is at least one of the best ultrazoom cameras of 2012.

Meet the testers

Christopher Snow

Christopher Snow

Managing Editor

@BlameSnow

Chris was born and raised less than ten miles from our editorial office, and even graduated from nearby Merrimack College. He came to Reviewed after covering the telecom industry, and has been moonlighting as a Boston area dining critic since 2008.

See all of Christopher Snow's reviews

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