Panasonic FZ200 full zoom sample images

The images shown here are taken with Panasonic FZ200 at it's full optical zoom level, which is around 600mm with f2.8

Just look at the Depth of field at this zoom range level..!! I can't believe it...

Panasonic Lumix FZ200 hands-on preview

In my view, Panasonic's earlier FZ150 was one of the most compelling overall super-zoom cameras. Interestingly as its rivals deployed ever-longer zooms, Panasonic stuck with a 24x (25-600mm equivalent) range for its flagship FZ series and instead chose to refine image quality, features and handling. The result was an extremely confident and capable camera and like many I wondered what direction Panasonic would take for its successor.

Now we know. Panasonic has once again resisted the chance to deploy a longer zoom range or a higher resolution sensor and instead focused on two aspects to really differentiate it from rival models. The decision to employ a constant f2.8 aperture across the entire zoom range is a very welcome surprise and makes the FZ200 much more usable at the long-end than its predecessor or rivals. Previously as you'd zoom-in for a close view of the action, the lens focal ratio would gradually become darker, forcing the camera to increase its sensitivity and shutter speed to avoid shake. Now the FZ200 gathers around four times more much light than its predecessor and rivals when zoomed-into the maximum focal length, allowing it to keep the sensitivity at sensible levels for the best quality even with fast shutter speeds. This makes it so much more practical for shooting action or wildlife and I was keen to test the pre-production sample in these conditions.

During the Panasonic press event I took the opportunity to photograph skateboarders and cyclists at dusk with the FZ200 fully zoomed-in. In both cases the camera managed to deliver sharp results without resorting to very high sensitivities.

A constant focal ratio also allowed the FZ200 to zoom during movies without any visible aperture stepping. I tried this indoors and out at f2.8 and f4 respectively and was pleased to see the image not suffering from aperture steps as I zoomed in and out. You can see examples of this at the very end of my video interview above.

In these respects the FZ200 really delivers the goods, but it's important to note the depth of field isn't particularly shallow even at 600mm f2.8 due to the shorter actual focal length and the relatively small sensor behind it. Like all small sensor cameras you can enjoy a nice blurred background on the FZ200 if you position yourself very close to your subject - and indeed the FZ200 can focus with the subject pretty much touching the front element - but at typical portrait or action distances you won't be achieving anywhere near the shallow depth of field effects possible with a larger sensor camera. Here are two shots taken during my dusk shoot with the FZ200 at 600mm f2.8, which also test the continuous shooting with AF tracking. As you can see, the FZ200 nailed the focus, but the depth of field is still quite large. One upside is that the focusing becomes less critical which means more keepers, but again you won't be enjoying a really blurred background unless you get up close to your subject.

In terms of the viewfinder I was very excited to find Panasonic significantly boosting the resolution over its predecessor and rivals and actually roughly matching the detail on the Lumix G viewfinders. But it's important to note the EVF chip in the FZ200 is pretty tiny and subsequently delivers a view that's about one quarter the size of a Lumix G viewfinder. Switch between the cameras and the FZ200's viewfinder image appears tiny, but if you use the FZ200 exclusively for more than a few hours you'll find it fine. It's also worth noting that the actual viewfinder image size is roughly the same as its predecessor, so while it's smaller than those in Digital Single Lens Mirrorless cameras, it remains a very classy not to mention unexpected upgrade over rival super-zooms. Note there's still no eye-sensor so you'll be switching between the screen and viewfinder using a button.

The flip-out screen specification remains the same as before though and Panasonic has resisted the chance to boost the resolution or deploy a touch-panel. As such you get a fully-articulated 3in screen with 460k dots and anti-reflective coatings.

The movie and continuous shooting specifications are also essentially the same as its predecessor. You can shoot at up to 12fps at the full resolution without AF, or at 5.5fps or 2fps with autofocus; at 12fps you can capture up to 12 frames, while the slower speeds are limited only by memory. The movie mode can film 1080p at 50p or 60p depending on region and as before you can enjoy full manual control over exposures along with having an external microphone input. I believe the mic input remains 2.5mm, but I found its predecessor worked fine with third party mics using a 2.5mm to 3.5mm adapter.

In terms of the sensor, Panasonic claims to have made improvements over the FZ150, although thankfully this doesn't include boosting the resolution - so the FZ200 remains a 12 Megapixel camera with the ability to shoot in RAW.

Overall Panasonic has done a great job with the FZ200: its predecessor was already very good indeed, so rather than get involved with pointless Megapixel and zoom races, it's instead focused on really differentiating its flagship super-zoom from its rivals. The constant f2.8 aperture across the zoom range is an inspired move, and the detailed electronic viewfinder a very classy touch. They take the FZ200 beyond its current rivals and deliver arguably the classiest super-zoom around. I was very impressed with the pre-production sample I tested and look forward to testing a final model for my upcoming full review!

The Panasonic FZ200 should be available at the end of August 2012 for an RRP of $599 USD / £499 GBP / €TBC EUR.