The Panasonic FZ series of travel friendly, highly specified, flexible “bridge cameras” / “super zooms” with PSAM modes and RAW capture have been a justifiable success for Panasonic over the years and subsequently gained a great reputation amongst users. In the past I’ve tested several previous FZ models and have been sufficiently impressed to recommend a number of models to both family & friends.
For the latest model Panasonic has equipped the FZ200 with a constant aperture F2.8 25-600mm lens which is presently unrivalled in this segment of the camera market. And it’s this high quality lens which really what sets the FZ200 apart from the opposition. The F2.8 aperture throughout the focal range allows not only some degree of background blur but has the added benefit of increased light capture which means you stand more chance staying with the ISO100 -800 range and thus avoid excessively noisy images. Other welcomed updates / improvements over the FZ150 include a much improved 1.3million dot electronic viewfinder (EVF). Sensibly Panasonic hasn’t messed about too much with an established winning formula meaning that this latest FZ model was always going to deliver great handling and supreme flexibility and that’s exactly how it turned out.
The FZ200 produced good images up to ISO400, reasonably decent images up to around ISO 800 but things go downhill thereafter. Overall image quality is good enough to satisfy the target audience but regrettably for the image conscious users, images are still “noisy” compared to say any Compact Camera System (CCS). If there is still an Achilles heel in the FZ ranges armour it’s this aspect of image quality. On the plus side the camera offers supreme versatility (in control, image parameters, RAW capture, picture effects & features) has reliable and accurate white balance control (which can be tweaked), demonstrates good metering (which can be varied), for the non ambitious has Panasonic’s excellent iAuto and the lens stabilisation is an admirable performer. All these features / performances add up to overall package which makes the FZ200 the best FZ camera yet. The camera isn’t too bulky, the ergonomics are rather decent, the menus easy to navigate and all in all it’s a well rounded camera. That new lens is a revelation.
So besides High ISO performance are there any moans? Well the FZ200 doesn’t possess GPS or Wi-Fi .its unfortunate that rear articulated screen doesn’t have touch facility and I’d also have liked its resolution to be a bit more substantial. However in fairness the FZ200 was released almost a year ago so it’s no surprise it lacks some of the latest must have features. Consequently I’d be stunned if these features don’t appear on any subsequent updated model. Rather surprisingly there is no electronic level gauge function (an obvious oversight) & why oh why is the instruction manual not available in-box in written / booklet form? Lastly there really should be an eye sensor associated with the EVF. In truth these are relatively minor niggles and whilst their omission is a tad bit annoying they don’t have a detrimental effect on overall performance.
So after a week using the FZ200 what do I conclude? Well the only super zoom / bridge camera that currently comes close to the Panasonic is the Fuji XS-1 however the Fuji is considerably bulkier and although it does definitely surpass the FZ200 in the image department (thanks to a bigger sensor) having tested the Fuji XS-1 I have to say that personally I preferred using the Panasonic FZ200.
As it stands at this moment in time the Panasonic FZ200 is at the top of its game. Realistically only the adoption of a bigger sensor (or maybe the new “Micro Colour Splitter” sensor?) is likely to see any truly significant improvement (in ISO performance) and ultimately improve on what is already a highly flexible / versatile and well evolved model.
In its present form the Panasonic FZ200 is probably the best FZ model yet and undoubtedly the most complete super zoom / bridge camera on the market. A highly versatile camera, the FZ200 is an ideal camera solution for those seeking a sensibly priced, high performing, flexible all in one solution. The near perfect embodiment of what a bridge camera should be, the FZ200 realistically only requires a few tweaks, the adoption of some of the latest must have features & the adoption of a bigger sensor to become the ultimate super zoom / bridge camera.
Mark Baynham (February 2013)