Body and controls

The ZS200/TZ200 is the second-smallest enthusiast long zoom camera on the market, right after the original ZS100. It's not quite as pocket-sized as the Sony RX100-series or Canon's G9 X II, but it's still quite portable given its focal range. Here's what you need to know about the ZS200's design:

Key takeaways:

  • The ZS200 is just a millimeter taller and deeper than its predecessor
  • The ZS200 offers a rubberized grip that was sorely lacking on the ZS100
  • The ring around the lens can be used for zoom and focus, or virtually any camera setting
  • As with the ZS100, buttons on the rear of the camera are small and cramped
  • Sadly, the LCD on the ZS200 is fixed, while most of the displays on its peers are tilting
  • The electronic viewfinder is larger than on the ZS100, though 'color tearing' from its field sequential panel may bother some users
  • Battery life is better than average for the enthusiast compact class

The body and design of the ZS200 is nearly identical to that of the ZS100. Both are constructed of metal, but neither is weather-sealed. Both offer step-less control dials around their lenses as well as top plate control dials. The placement of controls on the top and back of the two cameras are identical.

The ZS200 in gunmetal finish (left), is 1mm taller than the ZS100 and 1mm deeper.
Control points on the two cameras are identical. Both feature fixed 3" touch LCDs.

The ZS200 retains the pop-up flash (that can be tilted for bouncing, using one's finger), four customizable physical buttons and a dedicated AF/AE lock button.

And, like the ZS100, the fixed screen is touch-sensitive and offers tabs where additional custom functions can also be saved. We're not thrilled that the ZS200 still has a fixed display - it should have a tilting one at the very least.

The layout of the menus has been updated to the latest Panasonic standards, which we find easier on the eyes and easier to navigate. The ZS200 also gains a customizable 'My Menu' tab for organizing and storing menu options, without having to hunt.

We loved the ZS100, but is was too slippery. The ZS200 is easier to grip. Still, some users may find its small buttons and dials difficult to operate.

One beef we had with the ZS100 was the lack of rubber grip, making it prone to slipping from your hand. We're pleased to see that the ZS200 offers a lovely rubber grip on front, as well as a rubber patch on back for your thumb. It feels much more secure in hand than the existing model.

However you admittedly need fairly nimble hands to operate the small buttons on the ZS200. And though the added grip makes the camera easier to hold, at 340 grams it's 28 grams (~1oz) heavier than the ZS100.

Electronic viewfinder

We were also pleased to find the ZS200 offers a resolution and magnification bump in the EVF department, 2.33M-dot equiv. with 0.53x equiv. magnification compared to 1.7M-dot with 0.46x magnification equiv. on the ZS100. Sadly, the display is still field sequential.

This means that the screen rapidly cycles between red, green and blue, making it prone to 'color tearing,' a distracting side effect of field sequential displays, noticeable when you blink or pan quickly. Some people are quite sensitive to this, while others are not, so your mileage may vary.

Lens construction

A cutaway rendering of the ZS200's lens construction. Image courtesy of Panasonic.

The most notable feature of the ZS200 is surely its lens. It is comprised of 13 elements, arranged into 11 groups - 5 elements are aspherical, 3 are extra-low dispersion and 1 is both aspherical and extra-low dispersion. Combined, they provide a 15x optical zoom lens that can be fully retracted into the camera body.

Battery life

The ZS200 features in-body charging over its micro-USB port.

Compact cameras historically offer some of the worst battery life of any camera segment. But somehow the ZS200 actually sees an increase in shots per charge over the ZS100, which uses the same DMW-BLG10 battery - 370 shots vs 300 (CIPA rated). You should also be able to squeeze out some additional battery life by switching the LCD/EVF refresh rate to '30 fps ECO' mode.

Auto ISO

The ZS200/TZ200 comes with an Auto ISO implementation that has some drawbacks. Leaving the minimum shutter speed and top ISO threshold on 'Auto' results in the camera using very slow shutter speeds in an effort to keep the ISO value down - we're talking 1/5 sec, while zoomed in to more than 70mm equivalent at ISO 1600, and we could only get the ISO to reach 3200 by cupping the front of the lens with a hand.

Even if you manually dial in a higher ISO threshold like 6400 or 12800, leaving the minimum shutter speed on 'auto' still leads the camera to select slow shutter speeds. So unfortunately, it's best to manually stipulate the upper ISO range as well as a minimum shutter speed threshold, which isn't ideal for a camera with such a long zoom range; you may find you need different minimum shutter speeds depending on how far you're zoomed in or out.