Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Panasonic FZ200 Review (First Look)

Panasonic FZ200 Review (First Look)
August 2012, Carl Garrard
FZ200 Review: Panasonic's FZ200 is probably the most exciting superzoom announcement that I can recall in the last 10 years, at least on paper. Today I decided to purchase my very own FZ200 as soon as I learnt that a local shop had (two) of them in stock. Packed jammed full of just about every modern feature you can ask for, plus the headliner 25-600mm f/2.8 zoom lens (constant aperture is right), I just had to get one despite the fact that I was just there to see it in the flesh and give it a try. Lets take a look.
Prices Panasonic DMC-FZ200 -Black

I'll cut right to the chase, this is Panasonics largest FZ series camera since the FZ50 was produced in 2006, and it's stuffed full modern features. So far I've not seen one modern feature missing in this camera so suffice it to say its going to take a while to evaluate this camera. For now, I wanted to get up some initial impressions and some images both out of camera Jpegs and some included Silkypix raw conversions that are as pure as possible (since the FZ200 isn't yet supported by Adobe Camera Raw).

I'm going to do this review backwards. First I'm going to go right into image quality and first impressions, with more detailed analysis to be added later on. Spec's and press release stuff will be at the end of this article instead of in the front. So go there for all that info.

Image Quality- The question that every interested party is begging to answer is how good that constant 25-600mm f/2.8 Leica DC- Vario-Elmarit Lens performs. So lets get right on to that. Here is a shot at 25mm and ISO 100 converted from Silky pix. All standard settings in Silky pix were applied, no distortion correction of any kind was applied to the following images (when converted from raw).

ISO 100 25mm Silkypix Raw Conversion

Now lets see what the money end of the lens looks like, @600mm f/2.8, right? Funny thing today, told a friend that I picked up a superzoom with a 600mm f/2.8 lens and he almost choked while mocking me with laughter, then I showed it to him. Surprise surprise. Now lets see what it looks like at 600mm f/2.8.

Now lets look at a static subject f/stop series starting at wide open (f2/8) at 600mm, and going up to f5.6. From what I'm gathering, this lens is very sharp at 600mm. Not much degradation at all in optical quality at f/2.8. A tad bit of vignetting and the corners aren't as sharp as f/4, but the center is absolutely sharp (90% of the image) and seems just as sharp at f/5.6 with a slight mellowing of very finite detail (basically f/4 and f/5.6 are the best spots on this lens at 600mm).

All of these shots are Raw conversions from Silkypix so we can see the most detail possible at this point in the game. The noise reduction process in camera, even when set to low and the ISO at 100, is taking fine detail away from the images. Panasonic should take some advice on how to program the noise reduction settings on their firmware so they could get even better out of camera performance.

f/2.8 @ 600mm (looking good)
f/4 @ 600mm (looking better)
f/5.6 @ 600mm (The best? You decide)

Handsome, spacious, versatile. Nice job Panasonic!

First Impressions: Ok well I've been wanting a faster f/stop superzoom for quite some time. Right when I picked up a used FZ50 the FZ200 had just been announced. I was going to wait months to pick up an FZ200 but saw the lack of info on this camera on the net, and when I had an opportunity to grab one and "help out" I just decided that I better.

 It helped that the camera made a good first impression on me as I was set to wait it out (price drops and test data to fall in my lap). So much for that plan! So here is a pretty hashed up list of my first impressions of the FZ200 thus far. In just a few hours of use I made this list, so impressions are then subject to vary with more thorough use of the FZ200. So please keep that in mind.
  • Quality Build- Bar the plastic thumb rest- everything is an upgrade over previous FZ's (smaller ones) I've used in the past.
  • EVF- Very detailed, the view isn't as large as I hoped though. The lack of rubber around the eyepiece is a slight let down as is the lack of an auto switching sensor that detects your face coming.
  • Ergonomics- All buttons are big and easy to find and press, a huge improvement. The four way controller is perfect in feel (concave and snappy on the thumb) and clicks are precise. Rear thumb scrolling control wheel is the easy to adjust, click and scroll type, use this for EV and aperture/shutter speed variations amongst other tasks. Very impressive in feel, unlike the LX5's which is nearly buried into the body.
  • Grip- Extremely comfortable (fits all four fingers on my medium sized hands, no fingertip crunching either). Hands down most comfy FZ series Panasonic I've tried yet, including the FZ50. Nothing sticks into the hand (err FZ50's strap lug), just the right size for being a smaller camera and it supports the weight of its lens and accessory lenses quite nicely. The grip is better than say, the T3i Canon Rebel for instance (which is a DSLR).
  • Lens- Fast start up and zooming, pretty large, excellent machined aluminum front barrel. Will easily hold axillary lenses. It is threaded and the front element are also threaded. KUDOS, big time. First looks at IQ at 600mm were impressive enough to sell me, even wide open at f/2.8 (tests above bore this impression out nicely).
  • Features- Seriously packed up machine. Mechanical shutter panorama feature is impressive (more on that later). The menu system and layout is excellent, very sensible and fun to use camera. Much more to follow on that as menu systems are a pet peeve of mine- and the FZ200's irritates not!
  • Flash- Pops up and forward some for improved lens shading performance on macro subjects, but real close subjects will suffer lens shading if you use flash and macro on the widest end setting.
  • Macro- Touch the lens focus ability on wide end (that's good and bad), 3-4 feet max distance at 600mm, which makes this a very impressive macro camera in terms of distance to subject options. Magnification is pretty darn good too. The add on close up lens for macro aficionado's is recommended though.
  • Size and Weight- Size: Isn't going to fit in a pants pocket but should be just fine for most coat pockets. The lens is dense but overall the weight of camera is low despite the impression of higher build quality. A very well balanced product overall in terms of the quality-weight-price factor.
  • Overall First Impression- The nearest ideal to an all in one camera I've used to date- I was very skeptical going in on trying it out, and bought one on the spot as a result. I've used about five FZ models in total, this one by far is the most impressive of the electronic zoomers (in other words I leave the FZ50/V-Lux1 out of that comparison and judgement).
  • Quibbles- Lack of DNG raw format, tad hollow sounding, lack of rubber thumb rest.

24 Hour, ISO Performance Update:

Silkypix is showing me that this camera is quite decent for higher ISO images. Lets face it though we are still talking about a 1 2/3" sized sensor albeit "MOS" designation or what not, it's still teeny and we're all hoping and asking for it to do too much. Yet, despite that handicap, I'd not hesitate to run this camera up to 1600 ISO routinely using Raw and taking my time with the post processing.

I'll be right up and honest and say that the Jpeg engine is really killing the potential of the FZ200's fine detail. I've seen Panasonic told this by my buddies at Imaging Resource and DPReview I can't recall how many times, and yet they continue to sledgehammer the raw output with noise reduction. Pity because there are some aspects of the Jpeg output that I really like, and I will be fair and say the base output at 100 and up to 200 is decent enough for my standards to use when I'm using the fun art filters, sweep panorama, and HDR modes. Sometimes you don't have control of the ISO used in some of those modes though so that puts me right back at square one.

Request for Panasonic- Jpegs should always be allowed to have zero noise reduction out of camera with a menu option- always when you are catering to an enthusiast crowd. The "shoot raw then" excuse is not acceptable when some of your features are tasked to Jpeg output only. We aren't seeing the full potential of those features then. Please continue the heavy NR but at least give the end user the option to turn it off. Please?

I've made this same request in futility with another maker but it never hurts to ask.

Prices Panasonic DMC-FZ200 -Black 

ISO Series From Raw- The following images are untouched Jpegs developed in Silkypix, standard color settings and no noise removal, sharpening is also standard. They give you an idea of what to expect at a base level from the FZ200 to start from (prior to noise removal and extra sharpening if needed). Remember, no noise reduction of any kind has been done here.

Better results can be obtained with more careful processing and by overexposing a tad, then pulling back the highlights in raw development, if you so choose. From what I see here, the little sensor is quite capable up to ISO 1600, but useable up to its maximum (extended in the menu) ISO of 6400 with careful processing. Clearly you can see why ISO 6400 is an extended ISO setting in camera because of the color shift. Likely, this ISO setting is a pushed/simulated ISO setting based on the results I see. Panasonic was unavailable for comment on that.

ISO 100 Raw Conversion
ISO 200 Raw Conversion
ISO 400 Raw Conversion
ISO 800 Raw Conversion
ISO 1600 Raw Conversion
ISO 3200 Raw Conversion
ISO 6400 Raw Conversion
Ok more to follow on this "rolling review" so keep in touch! Thanks for all the feedback thus far, been a pleasant experience for me!


  1. Thanks Carl, I (and lots of others, I'm sure) really appreciate you making the effort to get some information up quickly.

    I'm tempted to pick up an FZ200 because I'm getting a bit tired of carrying around a Canon 40D with 100-400L for distance work. I may be ready to accept a smaller sensor and less back ache! :-)

  2. Hey glad to help. I'm just as curious as others on this camera too, and its nice to see that some sites already have some samples up. I just had to see the raw conversions and the silkypix shots look really good so far, ACR should be even better. Very promising optical and noise performance from raw files on this camera. A real treat!

    On the lugging around- man do I totally get it. On days I want a camera with me but the trip isn't 100% photo related, I prefer to bring something compact or even ultra compact with me. I have just acquired a V-Lux1 and FZ50 (which will go back in favor of the V-Lux) which I think is near perfect for available light casual photography.

    This little FZ200 had me pegged from the first press release info I got from Panasonic. But I was reserving excitement till I dug in on those raw files. I'm pleased with what I'm seeing so far.

    More to come!


  3. Great start Carl, been reading this hear and over at DPReview. So far that lens does look amazing, even wide open. Thanks for sharing all this. BTW, nice blog.

  4. Thanks David! We'll see how much time I have to spend on this and how my motivation goes. Have the kid all week and getting ready for a move so it comes at bad timing however I think I can eek out some more information on the review (to make it a "review" worth the status).

    I'm pleased to see Pana didn't botch this lens, raw files show very little vignetting/distortion or softening at all at 600mm, quite impressive!


  5. Great first look Carl, starting to look like the FZ150 has actually been surpassed. I was half-expecting Panasonic had bitten off more than it could chew with the new lens and sensor, but your samples look sharp (and I agree that eventual ACR support should help with the noise issues.)

    One request, could you do some telephoto macro samples with a complex background? I'm curious to see the bokeh on the lens at F2.8 and F4. Also would love to see some portraits at 75-125mm equivalent at the same apertures, the FZ150 is seriously deficient in that area and that's the main reason I've been looking at DSRLs lately.

  6. If the FZ200 is on a solid tripod the sharpest f/ stop at 600mm (equiv) should theoretically be its smallest one. Diffraction does not become an issue until the aperture diameter is close to 3mm, which for the FZ200 would be f/36 (which is beyond the adjustment range).

  7. My major concern is close-up photos, compared to the Canon SX40, which I returned when I heard about the FZ200. The SX40 has a "virtual" teleconverter (1.5x and 2.0x) that you can use in the full range of the lens (from 0mm to 820mm), which is amazing for close-ups of flowers, allowing for magnifying the normal close-up photo by up to 2 times. Does the FZ200 have anything like this? If not, I may have to stay with the SX40. I think there is a teleconverter I may be able to add to the FZ200 (1.7x I think), but that is extra money and kind of a pain to have to add to the lens for every closeup (compared to quickly changing the setting on the camera). Thank you.

  8. Read all the comments guys, and thanks. As I work in more to the review I'll keep your concerns closely in mind.


  9. i'd be really interested in how the new sensor preforms in low light and night sky shots, and if the manual mode can hold the shutter open for 60 secs up from the fz150's 30 secs.

    great initial writeup btw.

  10. The FZ200 will indeed shoot up to 60 seconds in Manual mode, up to ISO 1600. When you go over ISO 1600 that number drops to 15 seconds max.

    Can you be more specific on "night sky shots"? Do you mean long exposures at night?

    Low light performance, is subjective always but technically speaking it's based on the Raw convertor used or if you prefer Jpeg only. Which do you prefer?

    Thanks btw, glad the start of this is helpful, more to come.

  11. The FZ200 has a 48x digital zooming option, so yes indeed, it takes close ups nicely on a cropped Jpeg. Personally I think it's better to do a 50% crop from a raw file at 600mm, but that's based on my bias towards loving raw.

    Off to see if I've got a clear shot of the moon now, be interested to see what I can do at 600mm f/4 spot metering and a raw file :).


  12. Yeah sorry I should have been more specific.
    1. what does the 60 second long exposures at night look like :)

    2. low light indoors at anything > 200 iso, as i found the fz150 was very disappointing in those environments i.e. it got very very noisy far more quickly than i'd have expected.

    the long exposure using the silkypix raw and the indoor low light using jpeg

    so very excited about this camera, really hoping it lives up to it's specs on paper :)

  13. ok, thanks for those low light images, I'd be happy with those results, especially coming from the FZ150 .
    fully agree that it'd be very nice to be able to turn off noise reduction for jpegs. ( come on firmware update to allow that :p )

  14. Some test images I've seen elsewhere on the web suggest a tendency to purple fringing - what has your experience been?

  15. Great review. I have narrowed my selection to the Sony RX100 or the FZ200. I realize one is a compact pocket camera with a 1" sensor while the FZ200 is a super zoom. However, I am looking solely for Auto mode for now and wondering which of the two cameras you would go with and an all in one go anywhere camera?

  16. Thanks, have a lot more to add to the review though :).

    Wow two completely different cameras. All depends on how much focal length you need. A superzoom is more versatile, while the pocket camera is well, more pocketable. Both will perform admirably on auto- so its a matter of what you want to carry most of the time vs. your needs I suppose.


  17. Carl,

    you said you don't like the aggressive noise reduction. Did you try to reduce it via Photo Style in the Rec menu? There is an option to change NR from -2 to +2.


  18. Hi Carl,
    how is the shutter lag of fz200? is it good enough for sports shooting?



  19. Thanks for all the time and effort you put into this - it's very helpful.

  20. Having difficulty posting with those silly anti-robot strings, which are completely illegible. Just further to the above, looking forward to the extra you still have to add. It certainly sounds a very promising camera. Like many others, I get fed up with lugging a DSLR (A33) and ultimately being underwhelmed with the results anyway. I have been using my HX9V much more of late and it's great as long as you don't pixel-peep which, unfortunately, I do. At anything over 50% the excessive noise reduction, with smearing and blockiness, makes cropping a complete no-no and there is no way of adjusting it or taking raw. Sometimes it is even visible at normal screen sizes. Why the NR is not adjustable is anybody's guess - you might have thought Sony would have twigged by now but then they don't have much of a reputation for listening to their users' comments. I have also looked at the RX100 and dismissed it as over-priced and too limited so the prospect of having decent zoom and a decent lens and sensible noise-reduction - even though you complain, Panasonic's touch is very much lighter than Sony's in jpgs - really is very attractive.

  21. Totally agree that Sony's NR processing on Cybershots is much heavier than Panasonic's, and usually you don't even get an NR level choices.

  22. Hi Carl,
    Thanks for the review. I just picked up an FZ-200 last week (to replace my beloved FZ35). I really like this line because they are portable, durable and have great results all things considered. The 200 has so far been superb at speedy shots (I.e. a mallard duck flying by, kids playing sports, SeeDoo on water, that kind of thing. Compared to the 35 I do see some purple fringing which was mentioned earlier in this thread. This occurred during sunset shots using IA mode. I'm not sure however if thi was my error as Im getting used to the camera but I have never seen this with my 35.

    However, the 12 frames per second, panorama, ease of use and quick start up time are a joy. This is my first articulated LCD and it's very welcome. Autofocus is very good and evf works well. I would love to post some sample pics here but no idea how. I mostly take pics in order to paint from later and so really need good detail and colour rendering. The detail on the 200 is awesome. Got some phenom close ups and some amazing zoom images too. Birds in flight seem to be standing still for this camera!! Still figuring out colour though - seems to tend towards the bluer end of the spectrum (compared to my 35). One other beef, I hate the lens cap fitting inside the lens housing - much prefer my old camera where I just slapped on the cap. Other than those small complaints, this is a fantastic camera and I am really impressed and excited to see just how far I can push it.


  23. Hi Carl,
    Thank you for your review. Would you be interested to do comparison with FZ200 @ 600mm against Sony DSLR with 500f8 Reflex?

  24. why does carl intentionally choose not to answer some questions ?

    joh asked :you said you don't like the aggressive noise reduction. Did you try to reduce it via Photo Style in the Rec menu? There is an option to change NR from -2 to +2.

    i've asked him the same thing about his noise comments and he just ignores whatever he feels like.

    carl is a total pompous ahole who won't even share his email with us. "F" carl. he's got noise in his brain.

  25. Let me count the assumptions in this rather impolite comment above. ... "intetionally" thats one, "ignores what he feels like" thats two.... "pompus ahole" three, "share his email with us" not an assumption but you want me to share my "email" with you? WOW! and lastly "he's got noise in his brain" not an assumption, true, my ears do ring constantly but thats because of my old mechanic days from my 20's.

    One question for you, with a comment like that, assumptions like that, why should I even reply now? Would you be motivated to help someone with a nasty little bratty mouth that needs a good pop like yours?

    I don't think so, but I don't want to assume.

    It's photokina time, I'm working a full time day job, running a household and a family, working on several photo projects at once with other makers and spending what time I have left giving you as much information as I can. Next time ask why and dont' assume why I don't answer your questions you little twirp.


  26. Hi Carl, Thank"s for all your info, for someone to spend time colecting the info and then writing the same to help others I was shocked & disgusted with the comment made by ?? what was their name? Oh yes the little twirp, for the want of a better name, "F**%(#@!):"**"%T" I could not believe a person could be so obnoxiouse and ignorant of a persons feelings after all the help you offered out of your own time. I for one apreceiate your time and effort and hope you will continue to do so, and I am sure the majority would agree. Just one more thing the twirp said you have noise in your head well, so do I, I dont` think the twirp has anything in its head --- "Just a no brainer".

  27. He came back and I've had enough so comment deleted including all further comments from whoever that is. Internet sure brings out the weird in people, some pretty scary folks post online have to say! Appreciate the kudos, I do what I can!


  28. Hi Carl,

    Thanks for the very useful review. One question that I do have is regarding the focus across the full frame. Have you experienced any problems with parts of the frame near the edges being out of focus. I have seen this with a FZ150 that I tested, photographing a brick wall. One area, the lower left side, was always a out of focus that it was noticable without zooming in on a 24" monitor.


  29. Hello Carl
    I have and observation about adding Panasonic's Telephoto Conversion Lens, which will produce a f/4.0 at 40x Zoom. Here is information from [ ] on the Telephoto Lens.
    - Telephoto conversion lens limits the total focal length to 598 to 1,020mm (35mm camera equivalent).
    - Maximum aperture is restricted to be F4.0.
    - Magnification: 1.7x
    The above would indicate that this Magnifying Lens would have the ability to produce very sharp up to 40x zoom photos, when used with this camera.
    Thanks in advance for any thoughts, observation or information on the topic