Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 review

Introduction

Thanks in no small part to their lens zoom range, bridge cameras are still a buoyant section of the fixed zoom lens camera market. In fact, according to Panasonic’s research, the most important feature for prospective bridge camera buyers is their lens zoom ratio, followed by the zoom lens quality and then image quality.

Features

Consequently, Panasonic has given the FZ1000, its top-end bridge camera, a 16x zoom range with a focal length equivalent to 25-400mm. What’s more, this is a Leica DC Vario-Elmarit lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 at the widest point and f/4 at the narrowest.

As well as allowing the shutter speed to be kept at safe hand-holdable levels in low light, having a large maximum aperture gives the photographer the ability to restrict depth of field and separate the subject from the background when they want to.

Image blur is also reduced by the Lumix DMC-FZ1000’s Hybrid 5-axis Optical Image Stabilisation.

To ensure better image quality than the average bridge camera, the FZ1000 has a 1-inch sensor (significantly larger than the 1/2.3-inch devices in most models), with 20.1 million pixels. The larger size sensor means that the photoreceptors (pixels) are larger and this should have a positive impact upon noise control, dynamic range and image high quality as a whole.

The FZ1000 is set to compete with the Sony RX10 which also a (20.2Mp) 1-in. sensor, but the lens has a more restricted focal length range equivalent to 24-200mm and a fixed maximum aperture of f/2.8. The FZ1000’s f/2.8 maximum is restricted to 25mm, it drops to f/3.1 as soon as you zoom in the slightest amount, and by 200mm the maximum is f/4.0.

Panasonic has coupled the FZ1000’s sensor with a new Venus Engine which the manufacturer claims will dramatically improve the resolution, gradation, colour reproduction and sound control compared to Panasonic’s existing bridge cameras.

Naturally, being Panasonic’s top-end bridge camera, the FZ1000 has exposure modes to suit enthusiasts (program, aperture priority, shutter priority and manual) along with Intelligent Auto and scene modes to help less experienced photographers. There’s also the Creative Control option which allows users to select one of 22 filter effects to use. These effects are applied to JPEG files, but they can be used when shooting raw files simultaneously so that there’s a clean file available for processing.

In a first for a compact or bridge camera, the FZ1000 is capable of recording 4K (3840 x 2160 pixel) video footage at up to 25fps (PAL) in MP4 format. This comes with the advantage of being able to output 8Mp still images for a better viewing experience on 4K televisions.

Naturally, it’s also possible to record video at Full HD and VGA resolution. The FZ1000 can record in MP4 and AVCHD to allow easy transfer, editing and sharing of movies. Those interested in slow motion playback will appreciate the ability to record Full HD footage at 100fps.

We first saw the company’s Depth from Defocus technology in the Panasonic GH4, Panasonic’s flagship compact system camera. It has been used again in the FZ1000 to achieve focus speeds that are said to be 275% faster than those achieved by the Panasonic FZ200. Panasonic claims a focus speed of 0.09 second at the widest point of the lens and 0.17 second at the telephoto end when the viewfinder is used to compose pictures.

There are a total of 49 AF points available for selection either by the photographer or automatically by the camera. In addition to 49-Area and 1-Region AF, there’s also the Custom Multi AF mode, first seen in the GH4. This allows the user to select blocks, rows or columns of AF points for use.

Panasonic has also added Pinpoint AF, in which the camera automatically magnifies the focus area to ensure the correct section is in focus, and Focus Peaking to show the areas of highest contrast (focus) around the focus position inside manual concentrate (MF) and AF+MF modes.

Along with Face Detection AF, Eye Recognition AF mode is available to automatically set the focus directly on a human eye, and it can start focusing as soon as the viewfinder is used.

Being a bridge camera, the FZ1000 has an electronic viewfinder. This is a 2,359,000-dot OLED device. There’s also a 3-inch 921,000-dot LCD screen mounted on a vari-angle hinge to allow the monitor to be seen from a wide range of angles. One surprise with this screen, however, is that it is not touch-sensitive.

Like Panasonic’s recent compact system cameras, the FZ1000 has Wi-Fi connectivity built-in and an NFC chip to permit a connection to be made quickly to an NFC enabled smartphone or tablet. As well as wireless image transfer, this means the camera can be controlled remotely via Panasonic’s Image App.

Other features brought with the FZ1000 include zebra displays to indicate the brightest regions of a scene, timelapse shooting and stop-motion recording.

Specifications

  • 20.1 megapixel 1″-type MOS sensor
  • 25-400mm equiv. F2.8-4 Leica lens
  • 5-axis ‘Power OIS’ stabilization
  • XGA OLED electronic viewfinder with 2.36M dots
  • 3-inch fully-articulated LCD with 920K dots
  • 4K (3840×2160) video at 30p, 100Mbps MP4
  • 1080p at up to 60p, 28Mbps (MP4 or AVCHD)
  • 120fps quarter-speed 1080p
  • 3.5mm microphone socket
  • Clean HDMI output
  • Zebra pattern and focus peaking
  • Wi-Fi with NFC
  • 360 shots per charge (CIPA standard)

Build and Handling

Given that it has a larger sensor than Panasonic’s other recent bridge cameras, it’s not a surprise that the FZ1000 is also a little larger-bodied. In fact, it’s a little bigger than the Sony RX10, but then it does have a much longer lens (albeit with a smaller maximum aperture at focal lengths above 25mm).

The camera feels well built and solid enough in the hand, without being too heavy, but it’s a little more plastic-feeling than the RX10.

Like some other bridge cameras, the new camera has SLR-like styling with a chunky finger-grip and a liberal helping of dials and buttons giving a direct route to key features.

On the top of the camera, there’s a mode dial to set the camera to shoot in aperture priority, shutter priority or manual exposure mode, or one of the automatic modes, such as Panasonic’s Intelligent Auto (iA) mode, designed to help novice photographers.

Panasonic’s Creative Control options are also accessed via the mode dial and comprise 22 digital filter effects including Sepia, High Dynamic, Toy Pop, Rough Monochrome, Soft Focus and Miniature Effect.

Although there is a deep zoom ring around the zoom lens barrel, using it to zoom from 25 to 400mm feels quite laborious, so I prefer to use the switch around the shutter release to make major adjustments and the band for minor tweaks to the framing.

A switch on the side of the lens allows the ring to be changed to control manual focusing. The reliability of the FZ1000’s autofocus system is such that this isn’t required very often, but it can come in handy with some close subjects and the Concentrate Peaking display helps to make it clear when the subject is sharp.

With 2,359,000 dots at its disposal, the OLED electronic viewfinder (EVF) gives a good, clear view and changes made to the exposure or colour settings are quickly reflected in the image it displays. The 921,000-dot LCD also provides a clear, detailed view and its articulating joint means it is useful for composing images at above or below head-height.

It’s disappointing that the screen is not touch-sensitive though as this would allow speedier selection of AF point and more convenient shutter tripping in some instances.

The EVF and rear screen are both capable of showing an electronic level so you can be sure that the horizon is at the correct angle. This is easy to see in the viewfinder, but it can be tricky to see the thin yellow line (which turns green when the camera is level) on the screen in very bright conditions or when the viewing it from an angle.

A switch around the AF/AE Lock button to the left of the thumb-rest on the back of the camera allows the focusing to be changed quickly between single AF, continuous AF and manual. The left switch on the navigation control is also a shortcut to the AF mode options. In 1-Area AF setting the AF point is selected by hitting the left routing button and then striking the down key, before using the navigation controls to activate the desired point. It’s not terribly slick and takes longer than tapping a screen or having a dedicated control.

There’s a ‘Direct Focus Area’ option in the custom menu which turns the navigation pad into a dedicated AF stage control, nonetheless, it has the downside of deactivating the shortcuts (ISO, white balance and macro mode). Thankfully, these options can be assigned to the Quick Menu.

The drive mode dial on the left of the top-plate allows the camera to be switched to continuous shooting, auto exposure bracketing, self-timer or timelapse mode. I found it especially useful when I chance upon a moving subject as I quickly set the digital camera to continuous push and continuous AF mode (the latter by the rear switch mentioned earlier).

The FZ1000’s menu is logically arranged and will be familiar to users of other Panasonic cameras. Those who are new to Panasonic cameras may like to activate the Menu Guide, although the level of assistance that this offers is variable. When Metering Mode is selected, for instance, it explains that this is to ‘select the brightness measurement mode’ and each of the options (Multi, Centre-weighted and Spot) have similarly helpful explanations when highlighted. When attempting to choose between using the electronic or mechanical shutter it doesn’t explain why you might opt for one or another (maximum shutter speed rises to 1/16000sec with the digital shutter) it merely tells you which option will be chosen by each setting.

Another issue is that the HDR (high dynamic range) option is usually JPEG only, as it is with many cameras. Canon seems to be the only manufacturer that allows raw files to be recorded at the same time as JPEG images when shooting an HDR sequence, and even then it is only made possible on the Canon 5D Mark III. However, there’s additional frustration with the FZ1000 as the camera won’t automatically turn off raw recording (with a warning) when HDR mode is selected, instead, the photographer has to turn it off before HDR setting can be activated.

Although I’ve raised a few negative points about the FZ1000, it handles well, is responsive and has generally sensibly arranged controls.

Performance

We have found that Panasonic’s G-series of compact system cameras have excellent metering systems and there’s rarely a need to switch from the general-purpose Multi option. The FZ1000 Multi metering system is just as good and the camera produces perfect exposures in a wide variety of situations. In fact, it manages to produce a correctly exposed subject when some lesser cameras would struggle. Under a bright overcast sky, for example, it produces a correctly uncovered foreground, even when the subject under the active AF point is itself significantly brighter than a mid-tone.

Further good news is that thanks to the FZ1000’s wide dynamic range, in many situations the bright sky isn’t burned out and some tonal variation is retained.

In very high contrast conditions the FZ1000’s idynamic range boosting system can help extend the range of tones visible in the shadows and highlights, but the impact is subtle and not overly ‘HDR’ (high dynamic range). Similarly, the camera’s in-built JPEG-only HDR program produces natural-looking results even though pushed to the maximum setting (+/-3EV).

Colours are also generally good straight from the camera in the default ‘Standard’ Photo Style. The ‘Vivid’ option can be useful on occasion for injecting a little more vibrancy and some landscapes look better when the ‘Scenery’ Photo Style is used, but it can make blue skies a little too vivid and greens sometimes rather acidic. Still, on the subject of colour, the FZ1000’s automatic white balance (AWB) system performs well in most natural light conditions, managing to retain some of the atmospheres of the shooting problems. In bright sunlight, the results when using the AWB settings are often almost indistinguishable from those taken with the Sunny whitened balance setting. In shade, however, the Sunny setting is sometimes preferable as it imparts a little warmth. As is often the case, the Shade setting overdoes things just a little.

The FZ1000’s native sensitivity range runs from ISO 125-12,800, but there are extension settings to push the range to ISO 80-25,600. At normal viewing sizes, JPEG images generally look good throughout the native sensitivity range. At 100% on-screen, however, even ISO125 pictures have a slightly stippled texture visible and this gradually gets stronger at the expense of detail as sensitivity rises. By ISO 6400 the stippled texture of luminance noise is very obvious at 100% on screen, but images still look pretty good at regular viewing sizes. Push up to the expansion settings and colour saturation also starts to suffer and images are best kept fairly small.

We have seen a similar approach to noise reduction in Sony cameras such as the RX100 III, and while it makes shots look less than ideal at 100% on screen, they usually look very good, with the impression of lots of fine detail. Our lab results show that the FZ1000 is capable of resolving more detail than the Sony RX10. Naturally, raw files can be subject to bespoke noise reduction as they are processed. Without any noise decrease being applied, chroma noise (coloured speckling) is visible at 100% in images shot at ISO 400 and above. By ISO 12,800 coloured speckling nearly obliterates the image.

Chromatic aberration is generally well-controlled inside JPEG images, but at 100% on-screen you can see hints of it here and there, along with greyish patches that suggest it has been removed, if you decide to look for it. But it’s not a major issue at all.

Panasonic has made great strides with its AF systems over recent years and the FZ1000 benefits from this since it focuses quickly on the subject even in fairly low light conditions. I found that it can actually get fast-moving subjects sharp and follow them as they move towards the digital camera provided that the active AF point is over the subject. As we have seen before, nevertheless, the Tracking AF mode can only keep up with fairly slow-moving subjects because they move around the frame and it’s of little use to anyone capturing fast sport or action.

Verdict

The Lumix FZ1000 is Panasonic’s classiest bridge camera to date and while undoubtedly inspired by Sony’s RX10, it takes the concept of a high-end option even further. The use of a 1in sensor allows the FZ1000 to enjoy much better quality than the company’s earlier 1/2.3in super-zooms, even though the lens may not sport a constant focal ratio, it still works within a fairly bright f2.8-4 range while also boasting a much longer focal length compared to the RX10. Indeed that could be all many people need to know: a sensor that’s arguably identical to the RX10 (it certainly delivered essentially the same quality in my tests), but coupled with a lot longer and more flexible 16x / 25-400mm zoom range along with 4k video. Given the FZ1000 also boasts 1080p with a four-times slowdown, a higher-resolution viewfinder, fully-articulated screen, built-in timelapse, deeper bracketing, flat video profiles, more powerful smartphone remote control and an AF system that’s quicker and works under lower light than the RX10, and it quickly sounds like a no-brainer. It’s not completely one-sided though. The RX10 still boasts weather-sealing, a continuous focal ratio, aperture ring, headphone jack and optional XLR inputs over the RX10, alongside higher bit rates for 1080p thanks to a recent firmware update. In my tests, the quality and noise levels may have been basically the same, but the shorter zoom variety allowed the RX10 to deliver crisper details in the corners at mid focal lengths. Some may find these benefits outweigh those of the FZ1000, but I’m guessing it’ll be a small and select group. Before my final verdict below, I’ll make a more detailed comparison between the FZ1000 and RX10 for you.

Check Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 Price and Bundles

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