The great allure for me, of the Panasonic FZ200, is the possibility that the 600/F2.8 lens might be an adequate substitute for my rather heavy Canon 100-400/F5.6 zoom when used at fast shutter speeds at 400mm, with my latest Canon camera purchase, but hopefully not my last purchase, the 15mp 50D.
Although I now use Nikon cameras for all the wider-angle shots I take, this rather ancient Canon 100-400 IS, bought around 2002, still serves a useful telephoto purpose. The Nikon equivalent, the 80-400 VR appears to be not quite as good as the Canon. I had thought of getting the new 24mp Nikon D3200 with either the old Nikon 80-400 or the newer Sigma 150-500/F5-6.3, but have been uncertain as to what improvement I could expect. If either of these lenses were to prove less sharp than my current Canon 100-400, then there would be little benefit from the extra pixels of the D3200, compared with my Canon 50D.
On the other hand, if the Sigma at 500mm and F11 were as sharp as my Canon lens at 400mm and F11, I would get the benefit of both the higher resolution of the D3200 sensor and the longer reach of 500mm. The improvement should be worthwhile and the additional weight of lens and camera would be only marginally heavier, so this would be my preferred option.
So what's the problem, you may ask? In a word, quality control. (Oops! That's two words
There seems to be so much variation in opinion, on the internet, regarding the comparative quality of these lenses, and so many reports of people returning a lens and finding the replacement was better, I'm simply put off by the prospect of having to revisit these scenarios of the past when I used to rigorously test all lenses before buying, either by taking test shots in the bricks-and-mortar camera shop, or buying the lens on the basis I could return it for a full refund if it didn't prove to be satisfactory after the more rigorous tests and comparisons I was able to carry out at home.
I guess this is a part of the price one pays for an expensive and heavy telephoto lens, better quality control.
Okay! Enough of the preamble! I've just had an FZ200 flown out from Hong Kong by Express Mail. In Australia we have the very sensible policy of no tax on imported purchases under $1,000. Why is it sensible? Because the cost of establishing a bureaucracy to monitor and collect trifling amounts of GST on hundreds of thousands of low-cost imported purchases for personal use, would cost much more than the revenue collected.
Below is one of my first comparison images. I realize the comparison may not be perfect for some because I didn't use a tripod. The comparison is in relation to my use of my telephoto lenses. I don't use a tripod when I photograph wildlife.
However, the shutter speed of 1/1250th (1/2FL) for both shots should put your minds at rest, as well as the fact I've attempted to also get the same DoF with both shots.
One complaint I've often had on this site, in the past, is the biased way that MFDB versus DSLR comparisons have been made. Equalizing shutter speed and DoF has often been ignored, yet these two aspects of camera technique are often crucial to the effect of the resulting image.
The 400mm lens on the 50D is equivalent to 640mm in full-frame 35mm terms. The 600mm equivalent of the FZ200 is slightly less. However, the differences in aspect ratio tend to compensate for such differences. Horizontally, the FoV differences between the 4:3 aspect ratio of the FZ200 and the 3:2 aspect ratio of the 50D/400mm are negligible.
However, cropping the FZ200 image to a 3:2 aspect ratio results in a 10.8mp file. So, when viewing the attached images, one should bear this in mind. A part of the reduced detail in the FZ200 shot is due to the lower pixel count. 15mp has to be better than 10.8mp, all else being equal. These are 100% crops of converted RAW images. I had to download the trial version of Photoshop CS6 plus the beta version of ACR 7.2 in order to convert the RAW FZ200 images.
According to the differences in sensor size between the FZ200 and the 50D, F2.8 on the FZ200 is theoretically equivalent to F10 on the 50D. In practice, I've found that these theoretical differences are just that; theoretical. There appears to be other factors that influence the result, whatever they may be.
F11 on the 50D appears to be a perfect DoF match for the FZ200 at F2.8, at least at 600mm.
Another consideration is sharpening. The 50D image at ISO 1600 is noisier than the FZ200 image at ISO 100. There's no doubt about that. If I were to show both images with the same degree of sharpening, the FZ200 image would appear very noticeably softer, but also less noisy.
Fair's fair! Either I apply noise reduction to the 50D image to bring it down to the level of the FZ200 image, or I apply extra sharpening to the FZ200 image in an attempt to bring it up to the sharpness and detail of the 50D image.
I chose the latter. I'm trying to test for absolute detail.
I think you will see from the results that the P&S compares fairly well with the larger and heavier cropped-format DSLR, in the specific circumstances I've addressed. Nevertheless, at 100% on monitor, representative of a huge print, the 50D/400mm combination, even at F11, out-performs the FZ200.
However, at smaller sizes, A4 and even A3+, the differences may be hardly noticeable.