14/11/2012 13:48 | By Rob Clymo, contributor, MSN Tech

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 review

Superzoom bridge camera comprehensively assessed and rated

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What is it?
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 is a highly versatile bridge camera that shines thanks to an impressive 24x superzoom lens and dazzling collection of features that offer both manual or automatic control.

What’s great?
A wealth of sophisticated features help you prise optimum results from the imposing zoom while one-touch Full HD video and RAW shooting capability adds extra value.

What’s not?
Noise creeps into some shots, even at lower ISO levels and there are some quirks, including a temperamental rear LCD screen and electronic viewfinder combination.

The bottom line:
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 is a do-it-all, high-specification superzoom that makes an ideal stepping-stone to more adventurous photography. Striking an ideal compromise between fun and functionality, it delivers generally solid pictures and has plenty of manual options to explore.

DMC-FZ200 4 star review (© Panasonic)

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200: Review

A superzoom bridge camera can be a very wise investment if you’re looking to expand your photography skillset, but don’t want to spend too much on a full-blown DSLR and land yourself with a mountain of features that you might not be ready for or, indeed, ever put to good use.

In that respect, the eye-catching appeal of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 plus its sophisticated yet easy-to-understand raft of controls, is well worth considering. The Panny does have its fair share of rivals to fend off however, with the likes of the recently reviewed Canon PowerShot SX50 HS being a notable example, plus the Nikon Coolpix P510, Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V, Fujifilm FinePix HS30EXR and Olympus SP-810UZ all offering variations on the theme. It also replaces the outgoing Panasonic FZ150, which actually looks quite inferior when placed alongside its more refined successor, although that does possess the same 25-600mm focal range if you can bag one for peanuts.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200: Build

If you’ve been used to more meagre cameras then the most noticeable aspect of this particular Panasonic is its imposing 24x wide-angle zoom lens. Retracted into the body it’s almost unnoticeable, but fully extracted it’s a whopper.

This is, of course, a fixed part of the furniture, unlike most DSLRs that allow you to switch lenses depending on your shooting requirements. As is the case with many Panasonic cameras, the build quality on offer from the DMC-FZ200 is largely impressive, with an ergonomic design that also looks quite cool thanks to it’s DSLR-like design flourishes and controls that have been positioned with common-sense practicality in mind.

Granted, this isn’t a pocket camera by any stretch of the imagination, so it might be wise to invest in a proper carrying bag, although the largely plastic construction means that even with the battery on-board, the FZ200 still only weighs in at just over 500g or so. A hotshoe allowing a separate flash to be attached, along with a port for an external microphone to be connected boosts the ‘enthusiast’ appeal too.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 build quality (© Panasonic)

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200: Usability

Splashing out on a bridge camera will invariably mean you’ll need to get to grips with more controls than you might have been used to on a compact-style camera. In that respect the DMC-FZ200 could prove a little challenging at first, but once you’ve got the hang of it, this is a superzoom that oozes fun.

View it from the front and controls seem thin on the ground, while that chunky lens dominates proceedings. Handy manual AF, AF Macro and Manual Focus buttons on the barrel offer up fingertip shot tweaking when you’re on the go and it’s a feature such as this that represent a big difference if you’re used to conventional compacts. The flexibility it offers is exciting to explore nonetheless.

Meanwhile, viewed from above, it’s an altogether different story, with the controls being dominated by a meaty black mode wheel, which serves up eleven different shooting options. It’s up here where you can really begin to milk the potential from the elegant head-turning lens, while manual control of core features including program, aperture and shutter priority means that this is a camera that boasts considerable potential compared to a more basic compact model.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200: Controls

Mastering the controls of the DMC-FZ200 is definitely rewarding. At the same time, it’s always nice to know that you’ve got the nifty Intelligent Auto Mode to fall back on if need be. It cleverly decides on what kind of optimum settings are needed at any give time and adjusts things accordingly.

Add on features such as the brainy Face Recognition feature that can memorise up to six previously seen faces so you won’t screw up your next family photo shoot, along with a wide-ranging selection of scene modes such as Macro, Portrait and Night Scenery, and you’ll be well-armed for any kind of shooting session.

What’s more, you’ll also find a crop of Creative Control modes, which offer everything from toy and miniature effects through to rather more sober Sepia and monochrome editing options. The nicely sculpted, well-balanced body and sensible button layout also makes the DMC-FZ200 easy to handle in less than ideal situations too. In that respect, it’s a real success story.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200: Screen

A similar picture emerges around the back with a large portion of the black casing being dominated by the 3-inch LCD screen, which is fully articulated although finicky to open, thereby making light work of any tricky shooting scenarios you might want to get yourself into. It works to great effect, and visibility is generally good in most conditions.

With practice, the buttons both on top and at the rear produce rapid-fire picture delivery and subsequent on-screen reviews. There’s an electronic viewfinder that can be used to size up shots instead of the LCD screen if you really want to look like you know what you’re doing, although it needs manual intervention to switch from one to the other.

You can also enjoy one-touch Full HD video recording, which is made all the more impressive by the conspicuous top-mounted internal microphone. However, one minor gripe is that you’ll need to pay extra for an appropriate cable if you want to make use of the HDMI port on-board.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 lens (© Panasonic)

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200: Performance

So what can you expect in terms of performance from the Panasonic? Well, a big plus for the DMC-FZ200 is its capacity for recording big and beefy RAW files, meaning plenty of scope for enthusiasts who want to make the most from their shots, or correct any minor aberrations that might have occurred during shooting activities.

Panasonic also includes its fab Power Optical Image Stablisation; far from being a specification sheet gimmick, it can really fend off camera shake, which is always an added risk of working with such a large lens. It therefore goes without saying that a tripod is worth considering when pondering over the purchase of a superzoom.

However, it’s perhaps the maximum aperture of F/2.8 across the range of the zoom lens which is the standout feature here, making the DMC-FZ200 a highly versatile option if you want to shoot in a variety of different ways. Indoors, outdoors and all points in-between, the Panasonic has got it covered.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200: Results

There’s lots of fangled technology squeezed inside the DMC-FZ200: the 12.1-megapixel MOS sensor can even deliver 3D still images that can be viewed on a compatible 3D TV but, quirky features aside, this doesn’t mean performance is ever sacrificed with the camera firing up in a little less than one second.

It’ll also deliver an impressive 12 frames per second continuous shooting if you really want to put it through its paces, while being able to move the focus point around inside your shot really adds powerful DSLR-esque functionality.

At the same time, it is possible to pick some holes in the performance of the FZ200, with noise creeping into our shots on occasion, while other images tended to be missing that certain something. In that respect, it needs perseverance to master effectively. However, the upside to that is those RAW files it produces, meaning that you can bolster any substandard results with some dextrous tweaks in an image editor, should you be so inclined.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 back (© Panasonic)

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200: Verdict

Some people can tend to be a little bit sniffy about bridge cameras, but there’s no doubt that a model like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 does quite a lot for the money. Sure, it’s not cheap, although at the same time it offers enthusiasts who are keen to take more manual control of their shooting plenty of scope to improve.

With a perky 24x zoom lens, extensive selection of hands-on features and generally straightforward usability, the Panasonic represents one of the better bets in the burgeoning superzoom marketplace.

Admittedly, the DMC-FZ200 doesn’t always leave a favourable impression and can struggle, with grainy, lacklustre shots surfacing from time to time. There are cheaper alternatives too, such as the Nikon Coolpix P510 that also boasts a bigger zoom, but it’s hard to dismiss the Panny, simply because it’s ultimately so much fun to use. And, for many people, that’s often the bottom line when it comes to buying their next camera.

Panasonic 4 stars

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200: Available now - £569. Search for it on Bing.

Take a look at the 10 best cameras under £200
And see how the competition measures up in our Canon PowerShot SX50 HS review

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