Most long-zoom cameras force you to make trade-offs -- usually sluggish shooting speeds and grainy (or over-smoothed, fake-looking) photos. But not the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 (*Est. $600) , reviews say.
"Panasonic has done almost everything right with the FZ200," says Jeff Keller at DPReview.com. It's the only ultra-zoom that holds this site's rare Gold Award.
The FZ200 is one of the priciest ultra-zooms you can buy. That's because it packs serious features you won't find on its rivals. Full manual controls, RAW file support, electronic viewfinder, tilt-and-swivel LCD screen and a hot shoe all come standard. One-touch video mode and beginner-friendly auto mode are best-in-class, reviews say.
Most importantly, the FZ200 packs a phenomenal lens: It's the only 24x ultra-zoom that maintains an f/2.8 maximum aperture through its entire enormous zoom range. This lens lets in more light than its rivals, so 12-megapixel photos and full 1080p HD videos are a cut above. A lens hood comes with the camera, and you can buy filters and conversion lenses too.
The FZ200 isn't perfect. It's too bulky to fit in a pocket. The viewfinder is sharp, but small. Grainy image noise does eventually attack low-light photos, but not until ISO 800 (not too shabby for a small-sensor camera, reviews say).
"As a complete package you'll struggle to find a better camera in its class than the Panasonic FZ200," says Paul Nuttall at WhatDigitalCamera.com, where the FZ200 wins another Gold Award. More top sources recommend the FZ200 than any other ultra-zoom, period.
For about half the price, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ60 (*Est. $315) is a fine -- although less advanced -- alternative, experts say. It likewise packs a 24x zoom, full manual controls and an electronic viewfinder. It's such a great value for the money, it wins first place in a leading test. Still, its 16-megapixel photos and 1080i HD videos can't match the FZ200's in tests, thanks to a different lens and sensor. Sophisticated features like RAW file support and a hot shoe are missing, too.
In between these two, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V (*Est. $410) delivers photos about on par with the cheaper Panasonic FZ60, but it adds "nearly every bell and whistle ever created," Keller says. A 30x zoom, built-in GPS, 360-degree panoramas (in both 2D and 3D) and full 1080p HD video that can shoot a silky-smooth 60 frames per second (60p) are just a few examples. Owners praise this camera, awarding it top scores at both Amazon.com and BestBuy.com. But with middling image quality, balky shot-to-shot times and shutter lag, no RAW shooting and no hot shoe, enthusiasts should look elsewhere, experts say.