If you have the budget for an entry-level DSLR camera and are contemplating whether a prosumer-class camera with a good zoom lens would be a better idea, then the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 might sound more convincing. It sports much better optics than the standard 18-55 kit lens and offers a feature set that can put any entry-level DSLR to shame. Let’s find out what it packs under the hood that makes it exciting to use.
An enthusiast-class super zoom with outstanding optics
Design and features
The FZ200 is a major upgrade over the FZ150. Before moving on to the list of upgrades, here’s what remains the same or hasn’t changed much. First up, the sensor – the FZ150 and FZ200 both feature a 12 megapixel sensor, but the latter has a slightly higher pixel density. The aspect ratio of the sensor is 4:3 at which you get 12 MP photos. It can be set to 1:1, 2:3 or 16:9, but that will lower the resolution of the output due to cropping of the frame. The support for raw format is common between the two, which means you have the option of post-processing raw data from the sensor to get better results than the compressed JPEG format. The 3-inch LCD monitor that flips out and swivels also has been kept the same. It allows shooting comfortably from angles that otherwise would have been impossible; for example, shooting with the camera held above the head or from ground level, or shooting self-portraits. The LCD has a resolution of 460K pixels, which is pretty standard; it would have been nice if this was upgraded to 921K pixels like on the Nikon CoolPix P510 and Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V. Lastly, both the models have 70MB of onboard memory, which is very useful when you don’t have a memory card at hand and don’t want to miss golden moments.
The tilt and swivel LCD allows shooting comfortably from odd angles
Now for the upgrades and the features you get with the FZ200. The lens of the FZ150 and FZ200 start from 25 mm and extend way up to 600 mm, which translates to 24x optical zoom. But here’s the best part—the maximum aperture at the wide and telephoto ends in the FZ150 are f/2.8 and f/5.6 respectively. Quite respectable, but the optics in the FZ200 is capable of maintaining f/2.8 throughout the zoom range. This means that even at 600 mm, you can go as low as f/2.8. This is the most significant upgrade over the FZ150 and is also the USP of the FZ200. It can be easily said that by far it’s the best lens to be featured in any super-zoom camera. By allowing more light to pass to the sensor, a larger aperture is favourable for shooting in low light conditions and also getting better background defocus.
Hot-shoe for flash, stereo mic and buttons for video rec and burst
The FZ200 doesn’t look very much different from the FZ150. In fact, you might not be able to differentiate between the two if you look at them from the front, unless you know the FZ150 had the model number printed just above the focus assist lamp. On the side of the lens, there’s a vertical zoom lever that is more convenient to use while shooting videos. Also present is a 3-way switch to set the focus to AF, Macro or Manual. The Focus button below focuses on the subject when pressed while using manual focus. The FZ150 had the HDMI port on the left side, covered by a rubber flap along with a jack for external mic or remote shutter release. The HDMI port has been moved to the right side, leaving the mic/remote shutter release jacks where it was. The top features a pair of stereo mic for video recording placed right over the flash strobe. The flash has to be released manually using a tiny lever present to the left. You also have the choice to use an external strobe courtesy the provision of a hot-shoe just above the electronic view finder (EVF). Further to the right is the mode dial that has 10 selectable modes—Intelligent Auto, PASM, Scene, Creative Control, Creative Video and two custom modes. The Creative Control mode offers 14 effect filters including Retro, High Dynamic, Cross Process, Toy Camera, Miniature, Soft Focus and Dynamic Monochome. Some of these filters can be used to give your videos a creative touch. Right next to the dial are buttons for video recording, burst mode and Fn1 (one out of the three custom function buttons). The burst mode has six modes. Out of these, two take 40 and 60 shots in a burst using electronic shutter, albeit at 5MP and 2.5MP respectively, with focus locked at the first shot. Then there are modes that take 12MP shots with continuous focus and mechanical shutter, and 5-shot burst (3MP) with flash. This comes in very handy for taking action shots and ruling out the possibility of getting blurred results due to hand shake or slow shutter speeds.
The Q.Menu helps modifying parameters without having to navigate too many menus
The rear panel sports a clickable horizontal dial on top that, in addition to making navigation easy, allows switching between the shutter and aperture setting, and changing values by rotating it. Then comes the other two customisable function buttons and the 5-way D-pad that has shortcuts to ISO, white balance, self-timer and AF mode (tracking, face detection, 23-area and 1-area). Right at the bottom is the Delete button, which brings up the Quick Menu while in shooting mode. This presents quick access to commonly used parameters such as video format, resolution, quality, AF, metering and EV. It’s much quicker than going through multiple sections of the main menu that have a raft of other settings such as ISO increments (1 or 1/3-step), minimum shutter speed, flash synchro, auto bracketing, and so on.
A petal-type hood is included in the package
The FZ200 supports shooting in full HD and you have the option of using the entire optical zoom range while shooting videos. Videos can be recorded in MP4 or AVCHD format.
The shooting comfort offered by the FZ200 is no less than what DSLRs offer. The large rubber grip for the fingers and the thumb grip make the camera comfortable to hold and inspire confidence even to shoot single-handed. The buttons and dials are placed in a way that it’s easy to access them without straining the thumb and index finger. They are large and the tactile response is excellent. The user interface is extremely well designed. The clickable dial and 5-way D-pad make navigation easy and the UI, although a bit plain and texty, is snappy—it’s more functional than fancy.
The FZ200 is one solid performer. Use the Auto or Program mode in broad daylight and you’ll get pristine results with very good reproduction of colours and details. Even the fine details in the farthest objects are clearly visible at 100 percent zoom. The quality is even better if you shoot in RAW and process the results. By far, this is the best performing super-zoom camera when it comes to taking photos.
The noise is handled extremely well up till ISO 400. The constant f/2.8 aperture lens goes a long way in being able to shoot at acceptably fast shutter speeds in low light and at the telephoto end. The photo quality starts deteriorating from ISO 800; the graininess increases at a faster rate with subsequent increments in ISO, but thankfully, there is negligible colour noise. Hence, there hardly any colour deviation and the luminance noise can be reduced by a significant extent by applying a bit of noise removal in photo editing applications or image viewers.
Outdoor shots in good light have good details and contrast
The optical image stabilisation mechanism performs incredibly well. We were able to shoot at shutter speeds as low as 1/10-sec handheld in low light and the shots were crisp. The IS also helps keeping the video frame steady while shooting even at full zoom.
Crisp handheld shot in very low light – ISO 640, 1/5 sec shutter, f/2.8 and no flash
The quality of video recording was excellent. The picture quality of full HD videos shot outdoors in shadow and indoors was excellent; however, a slight jitter was noticeable while panning. Also, videos shot against bright backgrounds such as sky looked slightly overexposed, which could have been due to incorrect metering.
Shot using the One Point Colour effect filter – blue colour selected
Excellent background defocus with the large f/2.8 aperture
On the whole, the performance of the FZ200 was excellent—we give it 9 out of 10 for the kind of performance it delivers in its class!
Verdict and price in India
The biggest advantage that DSLRs have over digital cameras is the sensor that’s more than thrice as large. This helps capture almost noise-free images at up to ISO 800 along with larger optics that yields excellent background blur; the quality of photos you get is outstanding. With a prosumer-class digital camera, the noise is handled quite well at up to ISO 400, after which you have to be careful not to boost the ISO too high. But the advantage is the single lens that can capture anything from super macros to distant scenes with great ease. And this is the forte of the FZ200; we’ve never seen such a great lens on a super-zoom camera. Thanks to the large aperture, it takes great-looking shots even in low light. Also, the handling is one of the best in its category.
At Rs 34,990, the price far exceeds the price of an entry-level DSLR. At such a high premium, it’s fair to expect built-in GPS and eye sensor for the EVF, which are missing from the feature set. Also, the SD card slot should have been placed on the side so that it would have been accessible while the camera is on the tripod.
If you don’t need a telephoto lens and your priority is pristine photo quality, go in for a DSLR. But if it’s the other way round and you don’t have the budget to invest in telephoto and macro lenses, then the FZ200 will keep you more than happy.
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Oct 25, 2016
Oct 25, 2016