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The Lumix DMC-FZ200 ($599) is Panasonic's flagship super-zoom digital camera. While recent models have been relatively minor upgrades, the FZ200 returns to its roots by featuring a lens with an F2.8 maximum aperture across its entire zoom range. The early models in the FZ series (FZ1 - FZ20) had lenses with constant maximum apertures, but that stopped with the FZ30, launched back in 2005. Last year's DMC-FZ150 had an F2.8 - F5.2 lens, so the lens on the FZ200 is a huge improvement, and the extra brightness should make a real difference at long focal lengths and/or in poor light, allowing you to shoot at lower, less noisy ISO settings.
In combination with the newly-developed 12MP MOS sensor, this makes the FZ200, at least on paper, by far the best choice in the superzoom segment for low light shooting. That large aperture allows it to offer faster shutter speeds at the same ISO settings as its peers, or use lower sensitivities at the same shutter speeds as the competition.
While the Leica-badged lens is definitely the number one head-turner on the FZ200's spec-sheet, the remainder reads very well too. As usual you can frame and review your images on either on the rear LCD or the electronic viewfinder. The latter is a new 0.2-inch variant with 1,312,000-dot equivalent resolution. The 'equivalent' part of this statement stems from its 'field-sequential' design - instead of having triplets of dots showing red, green and blue at all positions, it displays one color, then the next, at each position. The downside of this approach can be that if you move your eye quickly, or blink, you become aware of delays between the three colors being drawn - with colorful, rainbow-like edges appearing. Thankfully this display runs at 60hz, so this effect isn't too noticeable.
The differences between the last-generation FZ150 and FZ200 are mostly cosmetic. The grips are slightly different, and the flash doesn't pop-up as far on the FZ200 (hello, redeye). The microphone has been moved closer to the hot shoe on the FZ200, and the power switch as been integrated with the mode dial. This allowed Panasonic to add a new customizable Fn3 button next to the burst mode button. Other improvements compared to the FZ150 include an HDR feature (plus more special effects), in-camera panorama stitching, and high speed movie recording.
|From this front view the FZ200 is almost indistinguishable from its predecessor FZ150. The shape of the grip has slightly changed and the rubberized material covers more of the body 'area' and the barrel of the new lens has a marginally larger diameter but you have to look closely to spot the differences.|
|The same is true is for the camera back. The cameras are very similar in terms of both body shape and button layout. The FZ200's specification highlights such as the 25-600mm F2.8 lens and the high-resolution EVF are hidden under the hood and only become obvious once you turn on the camera and start shooting.|
|In this view you can see, that the new model is slightly deeper than the FZ150, which is mainly caused by a slightly larger lens barrel. The controls on the top plate gain a customizable Fn-button and the on/off switch has now been intergrated into the mode dial.|
The chart below summarizes the differences between the FZ150 and FZ200:
|Lumix DMC-FZ150||Lumix DMC-FZ200|
|Sensor resolution / type||12.1 Megapixel MOS*|
|Lens focal range (zoom power)||25 - 600 mm (24X)|
|Lens max aperture range||F2.8 - F5.2||F2.8|
|LCD size/resolution||3.0" / 460,000 pixel|
|EVF size/resolution||0.20" / 201k dots||0.21" / 1.3M dots|
|ISO range (full res)||100 - 3200||100 - 6400|
|Shutter speed range||15 - 1/2000 sec||60 - 1/4000 sec|
|Flash working range (Auto ISO)||0.3 - 9.5 m (W)
1.0 - 5.1 m (T)
|0.3 - 13.5 m (W)
1.0 - 13.5 m (T)
|Movie resolution||1920 x 1080 @ 60p|
|High speed movies||No||Yes|
|Battery life (CIPA)||410 shots||540 shots|
|Dimensions||4.9 x 3.2 x 3.7 in.||4.9 x 3.4 x 4.3 in.|
|Weight (body only, empty)||484 g||537 g|
As you can see, the DMC-FZ200 has some nice improvements over its predecessor, with the new lens and improved battery life being the biggest differences.
Despite being one of the most expensive super zooms on the market, the FZ200's bundle is rather pedestrian. Here's what you'll find when you open the box:
Panasonic has built 70MB of memory into the DMC-FZ200. That'll hold four RAW or thirteen JPEGs at the highest quality setting - enough for emergencies, but not daily use. Therefore, you'll want to buy a memory card right away. The FZ200, like all Panasonic cameras, supports SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards, and I'd recommend at least a 4GB card if you're mostly taking stills, and a 16GB card if you'll be taking a lot of Full HD movies. A high speed (Class 6 or faster) card is highly recommended for best camera performance.
As with the FZ150 that came before it, the DMC-FZ200 has a large selection of accessories available. They include:
|Telephoto conversion lens||DMW-LT55||From $174||Boosts the focal range by 1.7x, bringing the telephoto end of the lens to an amazing 1020 mm; requires conversion lens adapter.|
|Close-up lens||DMW-LC55||From $65||Gives you three times the magnification while in macro mode; usable from 4X to 24X; requires conversion lens adapter.|
|Conversion lens adapter||DMW-LA7||From $40||Threaded for 55mm filters - required for the two conversion lenses above.|
|Polarizing filter||DMW-LPL52||From $60||Reduces glare and gives the sky a more vivid appearance. Also helps reduce vignetting.|
|Neutral density filter||DMW-LND52||From $24||Reduces the amount of light coming through the lens by three stops. This allows you to use wider apertures or slower shutter speeds than normal.|
|MC protector||DMW-LMC52||From $26||Keeps your fancy F2.8 lens from getting scratched.|
|The first flash (GN 22) is pretty basic. The next two (GN 36 and 50) have high speed x-sync, bounce functionality, and a wider angle-of-view.|
|Remote shutter release cable||DMW-RSL1||From $53||A shutter release button on a 1.5 meter cable. Handy for tripod shooting.|
|Stereo microphone||DMW-MS1||$107||An external stereo microphone that attaches via the hot shoe and plugs into the mic input.|
|You need both of these accessories to power the FZ200 without draining its battery.|
|A/V cable||DMW-AVC1||From $14||Lets you connect the camera to an older television.|
|Soft case||DMW-CZS100||From $40||Holds the camera (without the hood) and a few memory cards.|
|Camera bag||DMW-CZ18||From $54||A more generic case that holds the camera (with hood) and a few accessories.|
|Prices were accurate at time of publication|
That's an enormous list for a fixed lens camera! One thing's for sure: Panasonic definitely has all its bases covered.
Panasonic includes PhotoFunStudio 8.3 PE software with the Lumix FZ200. This Windows-only software handles basic tasks fairly well, though the whole "wizard" system gets tiring quickly. On the main screen you'll see the usual thumbnail view, and you can view photos by folders, date, or by things as specific as scene mode. The software can learn to recognize faces (much like the camera itself), which offers you another way to browse through your pictures. Available editing features give you the ability to crop, rotate, or change the aspect ratio of your photos, as well as adjusting color, brightness, saturation, and more. You can apply special effects to photos, overlay text, or remove redeye. PhotoFunStudio can also be used to create panoramic images that you've taken on the camera.
Something PhotoFunStudio cannot do is edit RAW images. For that, Panasonic provides SilkyPix Developer Studio 3.1 SE, for both Mac and Windows. SilkyPix isn't going to win any awards for its user interface or poorly translated menus, but it's still a very capable editing tool. If you'd like to use Photoshop instead, just make sure that you're using the latest version of the Camera Raw plug-in.
PhotoFunStudio allows you to work with the movies produced by the FZ200. You can edit your video and then burn the results to a Blu-ray (or DVD) disc. You can also save the edited movie in MPEG-2 format. If you want to use something else to edit your videos, most modern Windows video editing suites can work with the AVCHD files produced by the FZ200. However, some of them may not support the AVCHD Progressive format, so check with your software manufacturer first. Mac users can edit 1080/60p videos without issue using the latest versions of Final Cut Pro X or iMovie '11.
The FZ200's documentation is split up into two parts, which I'm never a fan of. Inside the box is a thin "basic manual" to get you up and running. If you want more details, you'll need to load up the full manual, which is PDF format on an included CD-ROM. The manuals aren't exactly user-friendly, either, though they should answer any question you'll have about the camera. Instructions for using the bundled software is installed onto your Mac or PC.
A version of this review was first published at www.dcresource.com, but is presented here with many changes, notably revised body/handling commentary, the inclusion of a full set of product images, our usual studio comparisons and an expanded samples gallery, plus the addition of a standard dpreview score.
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