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Panasonic Lumix FZ200 Digital Camera Review$599.00
How to innovate, in two steps. Step one: make sure you're improving something people care about. Step two: don't ruin anything else in the process, especially if the old stuff worked fine.
Panasonic, and its new Lumix FZ200, certainly earns a check for step one, and...maybe half a check for step two.
There are a few options every camera manufacturer has when they set out to design an updated superzoom. Based on how 2012 has shaken out so far, the most popular ones seem to be additions like WiFi, GPS, and...nothing. Of course all those fail step one, nobody asked for them, and we certainly don't care very much about them.
On the other hand, the FZ200's new lens is a return to the FZ series' roots. It's f/2.8 all the way down the focal range, and this unlocks a level of flattering, appealing photography that contrasts sharply with competitors, many of which can't fully take advantage of their own zoom under anything but daylight.
Now, we're tempted to give Panasonic full credit for step two—don't screw anything up—because this camera is really almost identical to the excellent FZ150, our 2011 pick for best in the category. But the truth is, the company seems to have stepped down to an inferior sensor for this model. The FZ200 doesn't handle noise nearly as well as its predecessor did, in fact noise rates are about 60 percent higher at low ISOs, resulting in noticeable grain in any shooting environment.
But again, we do like this camera. Burst mode speeds, and especially general operating speeds, are remarkably fast for a fixed-lens. Videos continue to be smooth, sharp, and fully configurable by the user. The rear LCD is also bright, accurate, and highly usable thanks to convenient swivel and wide viewing angle.
Potential fixes for the next iteration of this camera should (hopefully) include a revamped control scheme that doesn't encourage accidental button strikes, a more comfortable and more accurate electronic viewfinder (or at least an eye-level sensor), and a menu system that's a little more intuitive to navigate. Also, although the lens is great, we noticed it didn't actually fare too well on some of our tests. Sharpness could use a boost, but that aperture is just so amazing that we don't care.
Fair warning: we haven't yet tested the Canon SX50 HS (it's next), which seems positioned to compete directly with this camera. In the meantime, the Lumix FZ200 is at least one of the best ultrazoom cameras of 2012.