Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 Digital Camera Review
We've finally got our hands on Panasonic's Lumix FZ200, their top-of-the-line superzoom for 2012.
It's hard to quantify the improvement that having an f/2.8 constant aperture provides on a superzoom camera. Our normal performance testing doesn't yield the best results relative to last year's FZ150, but this is still a very fine camera. In particular, we're impressed with the level of speed that Panasonic has included in their flagship superzoom. Both in terms of shot-to-shot time and general operating snappiness, the Panasonic FZ200 provides a satisfying experience that few other cameras in its class can match.
An ongoing area of strength for Panasonic
The FZ200 is highly color-accurate for a fixed-lens camera, producing an uncorrected color error value of just 2.32 in the most accurate color mode. This puts the sensor on par with even the best SLRs, but should come as no surprise considering the FZ150's—and especially the FZ47's—excellent color rendition.
"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, at 99.72%. In Standard JPEG mode, 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.
Noise Reduction and Detail Loss
A step backward compared to last year's FZ150
Image noise is certainly the FZ200's greatest failing. While Panasonic has certainly improved the lens, 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, even if there's slightly more detail in the final shot.
Using the default noise reduction settings, images at all ISO levels contain at least 1% 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% at ISO 3200. These are the sort of results we'd expect from a cheap compact, and they're sort of embarrassing here. The majority of the visible noise seems to be of the luminance (grainy) variety, but sadly there's plenty of chroma (splotchy color) noise to go around too.
The Lumix FZ200 pushes the limits of its designs.
The FZ200's overall sharpness numbers are below expectations. Sharpness averaged under 1500 lw/ph at MTF50 overall, with spikes up to 2000 lw/ph and above in the center of the frame and low points around 600 lw/ph at the edges. Focal length also dramatically affects sharpness. Considering only test results from the closest focal length, sharpness averaged over 1700 lw/ph at MTF50, but identical shots captured at maximum zoom averaged only 1200 lw/ph.
We've seen worse, but such is the curse of the superzoom. Glass can only be pushed so far before the geometry results in a loss of sharpness. 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 overall sharpness.
12fps burst shooting is always a nice trick.
We tested the FZ200's full-resolution maximum-speed burst and found it matched up perfectly with Panasonic's 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.
There are also a host of faster burst modes, but they capture images at a reduced resolution. If you're shooting a subject that's moving toward or away from the camera, you can retain autofocus in slower burst speeds, but the maximum continuous shooting speed in those modes is 5 fps.
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