Autofocus

The Panasonic ZS200/TZ200 uses the same 'Depth from Defocus' contrast-detect AF system as other Panasonic models. It's a little smarter than your typical CDAF system in that it jumps right where it needs to be and then makes fine adjustments to nail focus. The downside is that DFD is prone to 'hunting,' especially in video. It's also not as well suited to subject tracking, especially compared to Sony cameras which now feature phase detection, which gives those cameras a better understanding of subject depth/distance.

Key takeaways:

  • The ZS200 can shoot bursts at 6 fps with continuous AF at 6 fps, with the buffer filling up after about 28 Raw and more than 60 JPEGs
  • The camera performed very well with a subject approaching the camera, with a hit rate of nearly 100%
  • With a randomly moving subject, the ZS200 did better than expected, though not as well as class-leading enthusiast compacts
  • The AF system tracks moving subjects fairly well in low light conditions, even with its slow lens

The ZS200 offers your choice of three release priority modes: focus, balance and release. We used balance for the tests below.

AF performance

Our first look at how the ZS200's AF system performs comes in the form of our bike test. At 200mm we needed to go all way to ISO 800 in order to get a shutter speed fast enough to reduce motion blur, hence the noise in the shot below. With the aperture at a whopping F6.1 (F16.6 equiv.) there's a ton of depth-of-field, though you can still make out what's in focus and what's not.

A frame from a 42 shot burst taken at 6 fps.

The ZS200 performed very well when a subject was approaching straight-on, with a hit rate approaching 100%.

A bigger challenge is when a subject is approaching while moving erratically. Cameras with contrast-detect AF system generally struggle with this test - let's see how the ZS200 did:

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The easiest way to check focus here is to look at how visible the holes in Dan's vest are. The ZS200 did better than expected, with a hit rate of around 70% in this particular test, though focus definitely drifts in and out when the camera was distracted by other objects.

Close-up AF

This final AF test is meant to demonstrate performance when photographing in a casual social situation under dim lighting, like at a bar or restaurant. We tested out the ZS200 using both its face detection and also tracking (the bike test is done with the latter). Since the camera performed similarly for both methods, here we've uploaded the results from the face detection run.

We should note that we usually have a video showing the camera's behavior during this test, but it became apparent on the ZS200 that utilizing HDMI-out resulted in a lower hit rate - this isn't something we've noted on any previous camera for this exercise.

In any case, the ZS200 performs pretty well, especially considering the relatively slow F3.7 aperture at the 35mm-equivalent focal length. It gets tripped up a couple of times, but overall puts up a good performance.