Body and Design

The Lumix DMC-FZ200 in the hand

The Lumix DMC-FZ200 is a fairly chunky super zoom camera. The body is made of a mixture of metal and plastic, with the latter making the FZ200 feel a bit cheap for a $599 camera. The camera has a large right hand grip - and there's plenty of room under the lens for your left hand - making the FZ200 easy to hold. The FZ200 has a ton of buttons, dials, and levers, though they're well-placed, and typically serve just one function. One control that Panasonic can't seem to get right lately is the rear control dial - it doesn't always turn smoothly.

Without a doubt, the biggest feature on the FZ200 is its constant aperture F2.8, 25 - 600 mm lens. What this means is that, unlike the F2.8-5.2 lens on the FZ150 from last year, the FZ200's lens lets in just as much light at full telephoto as it does at full wide-angle. And that's big news for low light and action photographers. As with the FZ150, this lens features a nano surface coating to reduce flare and ghosting. The lens is threaded for 52 mm filters, and can use the two conversion lenses that I mentioned earlier (with the appropriate adapter).

On the left side of the camera there's a secondary zoom controller - a feature which separates the FZ200 from cheaper models like the FZ60. This extra controller comes in especially handy when recording movies, since using the conventional zoom control on the shutter button can pull the camera slightly left/right while shooting. You can also use this controller to handle manual focusing, if you'd like. Speaking of focusing, there's a focus mode selection switch right next to the zoom controller. The AF and AF macro modes are similar, with the latter focusing at shorter distances (note that this will reduce focus speeds). In manual focus mode you use the rear dial to set the focus distance. A portion of the frame is enlarged, and the camera displays a distance guide on the LCD/EVF.

In your hand

With its typical superzoom dimensions and weight (4.93 x 3.41 x 4.34 inches, 1.29 pounds fully loaded), the FZ200 won't fit into most pockets. However it's got a rubberized grip and thumb rest and is comfortable to hold and shoot with, even with the zoom lens fully extended.

With the camera held in your right hand, the key controls are within reach of your fingers. to locate. Only the flash and EVF/LCD buttons are located on the camera's left side. The lens is zoomed using a conventional rocker switch 'collar' around the shutter release but there is an alternative control on the left side of the lens barrel which can also be configured to operate manual focus. Both the exposure mode dial and rear four-way controller are within easy reach of the thumb. Essentially one-handed operation is possible with the FZ200 but, especially at longer focal lengths, the use of your left hand is recommended.

Directly above the FZ200's lens is the built-in flash, which is released manually. The working range of the flash is 0.3 - 13.5 m at wide-angle and 1.0 - 13.5 m at telephoto (at Auto ISO), which is considerably better than the one on its predecessor. If you want more flash power and a reduced likelihood of redeye, then you can attach an (optional) external flash.

As with its predecessor, the FZ200 features a flip-out, rotating 3-inch LCD display. Rotating LCDs are great for shooting over crowds, using a tripod (where the camera is below you), or taking self-portraits. The screen flips out 180 degrees to the side, and can then rotate a total of 270 degrees. It can also go in the traditional position with the display facing straight away from the rear of the camera, or be closed entirely.

To the right of the LCD you'll find a new Fn3 customizable button, with the Display button (used for toggling what's shown on the LCD/EVF) to its right. Under that is the four-way controller, used for menu navigation, adjusting exposure, and moving through photos in playback mode. There are also four direct buttons here, for ISO, self-timer, focus mode, and white balance.

Above the LCD is the FZ200's new and improved electronic viewfinder. This 0.21" EVF has an impressive 1.31 million dots, which is up big from the 201,600 dot EVF on the FZ150. As you'd expect from a viewfinder with these specs, everything's pretty sharp. It's not as good as Sony's XGA viewfinder, but it's still pretty darn good.

Something that's surprisingly missing here is an eye sensor, so you'll have to switch between the LCD and EVF manually, using the button just to left of the viewfinder. Speaking of things on the left side of the viewfinder, it's there that you'll find a diopter correction knob which will adjust the focus of the EVF. To the right of the EVF we find buttons for playback mode and AE/AF lock (or something else, if you'd like), as well as the mushy rear control dial(used for adjusting exposure and replaying photos).

Body Elements

Naturally, you'll need image stabilization on a big zoom camera like this, and Panasonic uses their Power OIS system on the FZ200. The IS system can be used to reduce the risk of blurry photos, and it can smooth out your videos, as well. An "active mode" helps reduce severe camera shake while recording movies.

Like on the FZ150 a zoom control and a triple focus switch (AF, AF macro, manual) are located on the lens barrel.

The focus button will let you select a focus point or a target for subject tracking. You can also press it when manually focusing to have the AF system give you a little help.

To the right of the mode dial you'll find the shutter/zoom lever, direct "red" movie button, burst shooting button (from 2-60fps), one of the three customizable Fn-buttons and the on/off switch.

The zoom controller is variable speed. At full speed, it travels from wide to telephoto in 3 seconds. With over 75 stops in its zoom range, you can set the focal length very precisely.

On the camera's back, to the right of the screen, you find the four-way controller gives you access to ISO, AF-mode, White Balance and the self-timer. It's also used for navigating the menus. Above is another Fn-button and the DISP button which controls the amount of information on the live-view or image review screens. The button the button gives you access to the Q-menu and doubles as a delete button in review mode.
The FZ200's flash pops up if you pull the lever on the camera's top left. The flash covers a subject distance of between 0.3 and 13.5m at wide-angle when shooting with Auto ISO.

The FZ200's display is unchanged from the one on the FZ150, which means that it's 3 inches in size and packs 460,000 pixels. I was a bit disappointed that Panasonic didn't put a higher resolution display (e.g. 921k pixel) on their flagship super zoom camera. Outdoor visibility was good, and in low light the image on the screen brightens automatically, so you can still see your subject.

The electronic viewfinder is a new 0.21" unit that boasts the very high resolution of 1,312K dots and a 100% coverage of the frame. Unfortunately there's no eye-sensor to automatically turn it on/off.

Above this you can see the hotshoe, onto which you can mount an optional external flash. You can use an external flash at any shutter speed - that means up to 1/4000 sec.

As usual with this type of camera the combined SD-card/battery compartment is located at the bottom of the handgrip. The FZ200's Li-ion Battery Pack has a capacity of 1,200mAh which should be good for around 540 shots (CIPA standard).
Let's take a look at how the DMC-FZ200 compares to its super zoom peers in terms of size and weight:
Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot SX50 HS 4.8 x 3.4 x 4.2 in. 68.5 cu in. 551 g
Fujifilm FinePix HS30EXR 5.1 x 3.8 x 4.9 in. 95 cu in. 637 g
Nikon Coolpix P510 4.8 x 4.1 x 3.3 in. 64.9 cu in. 555 g
Olympus SP-820UZ iHS 4.6 x 3.1 x 3.7 in. 52.8 cu in. 485 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 4.9 x 3.4 x 4.3 in. 71.6 cu in. 537 g
Pentax X-5 4.7 x 3.4 x 4.2 in. 67.1 cu in. 507 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V 4.9 x 3.5 x 3.8 in. 65.2 cu in. 531 g

The DMC-FZ200 is the second largest camera in the group, with only the D-SLR-sized FinePix HS30EXR above it. It's not even close to being a pocket camera, so plan on carrying it over your shoulder or in a camera bag.