Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Possibly best camera ever for newspaper reporters?

If you came here looking for a technical report on why I picked this camera and not that one. You've come to the wrong place. I've never used a camera from a high-end manufacturer that had a lot of hidden surprises. A careful reading of the specs released by the camera maker is usually enough to let me know whether or not a camera will work for me. If I need confirmation, I find a few in-depth reviews on the Web. Every thing I know about the Panasonic Lumix FZ200 tells me that it will be my next super-zoom and I'm quite confident that I will be happy with my new camera. I've already stopped by a camera store and the FZ200 passed the 'how does it feel in my hands' test.

For a technical report go to Camera Debate 

A good technical look at the Panasonic FZ200 can be found on Camera Debate. Interestingly, they compared the FZ200 to the Canon SX50 HS and the Canon won. They went for high ISO quality over the constant f/2.8 aperture.

See images taken by with an FZ200 at CNET Reviews

If you want to see a good selection of images taken under a good mix of conditions, click the link to  CNET Reviews. Do you agree with Camera Debate that the digital grain ruins the images by ISO 800? Based on the photos posted by CNET, I believe I could live with the grain at ISO 800. But, I would find ISO 1600 getting a little too rough for some applications.

FZ200 quality at f/2.8 and 600mm equivalent lens length, posted by Panasonic.

My post 

I worked as a staff photographer for nearly four decades in the newspaper business. My first camera kit was based on a 1960s Pentax Spotmatic body mated with three lenses: A 28mm, a 135mm and a 300mm telephoto. The 300mm was the slowest lens of the bunch at f/4.0.

The Pentax wore out rather quickly, dying from way too much use. It wasn't designed to take a thousand pictures a week, fifty thousand a year. I replaced that first kit with a Nikon F2 plus another gaggle of prime lenses. I loved my Nikkor 28mm f/2.0. It was some piece of glass. The rest of my kit simply duplicated the Takumar (Pentax) lens based kit.

I stayed with Nikon for years, upgrading the lenses from prime to zooms as soon as zooms that held a constant aperture of f/2.8 hit the market. When the paper at which I worked offered to pay for our personal camera kits, I switched to the Canon EOS line of professional DSLRs. I got by with two zooms lenses plus a 200mm, f/1.8, telephoto which converted to 400mm, f/3.6, when used with a 2X teleconverter.

When I retired, the paper kept my gear. I found myself forced to embrace new cameras and tackle a new approach to photography in my senior years. Money and a bad back ruled out replacing my work gear with more Canon pro stuff. I decided to buy two cameras: A Canon S90 which offered a fast f/2.0 aperture when used at wide angle (28mm) and a Fujifilm HS10 superzoom with a lens capable of emulating a 24-720mm zoom on a 35mm camera.

Taken with my Fujifilm HS10 zoomed to the max, this is a great image.

I love the Canon S90. I have absolutely no complaints with that camera. I do not hesitate to recommend its latest incarnation, the Canon S110, to those looking for a compact point-and-shoot. It does have some competition today, there are other f/2.0 wide angles being offered, google the reviews. Maybe there is a better choice today but you can't go far too wrong with the Canon.

Orchid shot with Canon S90 at show in a school gym.
I've had great luck with my point-and-shoot camera kit. I haven't been thrust into any situation where I could not get an image. That said, it has been tough at times.

The biggest problem has been lens speed. Both cameras are damn slow when zoomed out to telephoto. f/5.6 is just not good enough. One can make do. One can get by. But in professional do-or-die situations, these cameras have serious limitations.

My Fujifilm HS10 has had a rough life. It has been dropped into coarse gravel and onto a hard tile floor. It keeps going, so I must give it an A- for solid build quality. It gets the minus because the camera back monitor blinks on and off at times and something else is amiss inside the camera. A colour cast is appearing in some images of late. It is time to think about a replacement for the HS10.

I've had good luck shooting with my HS10. I had very good luck.

My choice for the best all-around super-zoom available today is -- drum roll, please -- the Panasonic Lumix FZ200. This camera offer a 25mm to 600mm zoom with a constant f/2.8 aperture used wide open. This brings back memories of my beloved pro lenses.

My Fujifilm HS10 took this. The FZ200 will make it easier.
So, what claims does Panasonic make for the FZ200 that have convinced me it it the best super-zoom for me? Check out the Panasonic site for the answer. And look carefully at the posted images shot by some pros. Here is a link: The Breath of Nature Captured with FZ200.

If you are actually a working pro, the FZ200 will not replace your Nikon or Canon DSLR with assorted detachable lenses, but if you are anything less, say a reporter, I'd give the purchase of the FZ200 a lot of thought.

There are reviews on the Web of the FZ200. But in my experience, what is important is not the grain that appears at IS01600, or the number of lines per mm that can be captured with the lens zoomed all the way out, what's important are the moments that can be captured. Most of us are not looking for ultimate quality and quibbling over tonal range, most of us simply want a decent shot Bruce Cockburn in concert for our scrapbook. A large aperture (f/2.8) should make this easier. I liked what I was getting before, I can't wait to see what I'm going to be able to achieve with an FZ200.

An f/2.0 aperture made capturing this moment possible. Thank you Canon S90.


  1. Are you still using the FZ200 now? I'm also a newspaper reporter I need a camera to replace my iPhone.

  2. Since I wrote this post, reporters have been taking over more and more of the duties of staff photographers at newspapers. If the paper at which you work is asking you to shoot a lot of art to accompany you stories, if the stuff is going to be played big and often, you may well require more than an iPhone or simple camera. But if a good replacement for an iPhone would meet your needs, I have no fear in recommending that you consider an FZ200 but the FZ200 is much larger than an iPhone. Will such a bulky camera suit your needs? Do you need the relatively large zoom? Visit a camera store, get a hands-on feel for the FZ200. If it is more camera than you need, I'd consider a smaller camera offering a full stop (or more) faster wide angle like the Lumix DMC-LF1 or Canon SD120. Note the SD120 does not have so much as an electronic viewfinder. For some, this is a deal breaker. I have been using an early version of the SD120 since I retired and I have had great results. The SD120 fits easily into a pocket unlike the larger FZ200. (My shot of Ann Coulter taken with my SD90 has been stolen and used numerous times around the Web. Here is a link to just one use of my Coulter image: Good luck choosing a camera. p.s. I'd also chat with someone on the photo staff at your newspaper for a little more input. Cheers!

  3. Thanks a lot for your very detailed reply. At our office, we can request for photographers but they are not always available, and a lot of times I have to take my own pictures, sometimes at night. Our section requires many photos in a page. One of my fears is, like you said, carrying a bulky camera. I tried talking to our photographers and they would always recommend the DSLR ones from Canon, since that is what they are all using, but I don't think I would want one of those.

    I'll try looking at the FZ200 at the camera store and also the compact ones as well. Do you think compact cameras are good enough for newspapers though? I haven't used one in a while.

    1. Cameras are only tools. When I worked at the local paper I had a number of news shots published that were taken with a Canon SD10. On one occasion, I was the first photographer at the scene of a car accident. I was actually off at the time and had only my SD10 tucked into my pocket when I happened upon the accident. Because I was there first, the action in my images was far better than that captured by the newspaper shooter using a high-end Canon EOS DSLR. My point and shoot pictures were published while the other shooters stuff went directly to files. Only you know exactly what you are going to be shooting. For many reporters a simple point and shoot like a Canon SD120 will do just fine. The SD120 is small enough to carry in a pocket or purse. Unfortunately, the SD120 does not have a hotshoe, so a good external TTL flash is not an option. It also lacks a viewfinder. For a viewfinder, consider the Panasonic's Lumix LF1. A Sony Cyber-shot RX100 II is more money but it offers a hotshoe. Another option would be a Canon PowerShot G15. This camera is a bit bulkier but it will do in many situations. My personal choice would be the Lumix FZ200 (love the f/2.8 constant aperture zoom) carried in a small camera case with two spare batteries and a small charger, an external TTL flash unit with a rotating, swivel head, one spare SD card and a cable to download images. I'd carry a small photo umbrella and a small but suitable tripod in the trunk of my car. No car? Scrap the umbrella and tripod. One can make do.