Moderno. A show at the Blanton Museum. A test for moderately high ISO photos from the fz 1000.

The Blanton Museum opened a new exhibit in their main, downstairs, space this week so I pointed my car once again in the direction of the UT campus and headed over. I have been working pretty seriously with the new (to me) Panasonic fz 1000 so I thought I'd bring it along and put it through its steps in a low light scenario. The exhibit is entitled, Moderno, and is a look at 20th century furniture and industrial design in Mexico, Brazil and other south American countries. 

The last show I saw at the Blanton was set with more open space while this exhibit was chopped into a series of mini-galleries that effectively created a maze. Since the museum is generally a Minotaur-free zone I plunged into their elegant and austere labyrinth and emerged at the other end, unscathed. 

But while I was on the path I stopped to take images of constructions and wall intersections that caught my eye and appealed to my sense of clean aesthetics. 

As the fz 1000 is a pre-chimp, versus post-chimp, camera I was happy to see the quality of the automatic color balance and the accuracy of the camera's automatic exposure. I've stopped even bothering to stop down the one inch sensor cameras so I shot all my images at the widest aperture available.  Most of the gallery images that I'm showing here are shot between 1,000 and 1,600 ISO and the camera chose 1/60th to 1/80th of a second, when it could. Occasionally, as in the tiny sculpture gallery (where half the lights were out and the shades were drawn) the camera chose to drop the shutter speed down to 1/10th of a second at ISO 1600. Fine by me, since the image stabilization in this camera seems to be a good match for my EM-5.2 cameras. 

When I finished walking through the galleries and looking at the new offerings I headed back home and, after retouching four really nice portraits (taken with a different camera, under different circumstances) I pulled the memory card from the fz 1000 and ingested the images into Lightroom CC (pre-rampant destruction of usefulness upgrade...) and took a look. What I saw surprised me more than a little bit. 

Here's why: The images are crisp and relatively noise free. I had been given to believe that the images would be too noisy to use when shot over 800 ISO but that was clearly not the case (click on one to enlarge). It was the combination of crispy rendered files at the widest focal length, wide open, at ISOs around 1600 that made me stop and do a double take because the results repudiated the pervasive mythology about the camera I'd read in various reviews on the web. It's getting to the point where I don't really trust any of the reviewers and I think each generation of cameras is now so good that there's really very little differences that can't be tagged right back to the geometry of the sensors and the effect of the geometry on focus ramping and other issues that are completely separate from the old considerations of noise and inadequate sharpness and resolution. 

The next two surprises for me were the neutral color balance and the accurate exposure. The files are uniformly about 1/3 stop dark for my taste but I actually prefer that because the camera rarely puts me in danger of blown highlights. The one, small nick I have with the camera, when shot at its widest focal length, is that even with in camera correction of lens distortion there is still a bit of bowing outward on the edges of the frames. It's a mild correction in the Len Correction panel in Lightroom but it's there all the same and the correction probably has some effect on sharpness in the corners --- which I rarely worry about....

I'm starting to feel that this camera is being overlooked precisely because it is so good. The still image files are very neutral. There's no big, bright processing being done and there's nothing to really call attention to the work the camera is doing. There just seems to be a general ignoring of this little niche of sophisticated "bridge" cameras that is a bit irrational. If we put this camera (with its fine lens) into a time machine and sent it back to 2007 to compete directly with the $5995 Nikon D2x, a couple of serious Nikon zoom lenses, like the 70-200mm f2.8 and the 24-70mm f2.8 this $750 bridge camera would seriously kick the Nikon system's ass one just about every level I can think of, with the sole exception of putting stuff in the background quickly out of focus. 

In every other regard the results are highly superior. Better noise handling, better high ISO performance, faster frame rates, better corrected lens, smaller, lighter, more controls and more customization (not that this parameter is always a benefit), better color, better AWB, better exposure and everything else. All for a tiny fraction of the Nikon system price. 

I understand that we have a raft of alternate choices now but still, where else does one turn to get a 24-400mm equivalent lens (designed by Leica) along with great sensor performance and great I.Q. for less than a thousand bucks? Nowhere that I know of...

The final thing that has me mystified as to why these things aren't in everyones' hands is the stellar performance of the 4K (well, UHD) video. I haven't really spent much time with the camera on video projects but I started on two days ago for my kid. After swim practice I pulled aside a friend (who is also Ben's favorite chef) and did a quick, handheld interview. The camera nailed everything perfectly; even though I was using it in a fully automatic mode. When I looked at the video just now in Lightroom I had to close my mouth before the gnats flew in. The files are much sharper even in just a casual review, than anything I've seen from the 1080p files from any of my Nikons or Olympus cameras and the moving images were pretty much on par with the output I used to get when using the GH4 in 4K.  My only griped about the fz 1000 as a video camera is the parsimonious attitude of Panasonic in not putting a headphone jack on it. That's it. I can and will use this for video production (MOS) at every opportunity. Why? Because it's really good and it's really easy to use. 

After making these little files for your consideration I picked up my aging phone and called me sales associate at Precision Camera to make sure they had more of the cameras in stock. Why? Because I think cameras should travel in matched pairs. Whether I'm heading out for a job or a personal art shooting experience I want my back up camera to match the main camera, from the menus to the batteries to the position of the switches and buttons. And I generally go to great lengths to make sure my shooting cameras are set up identically. 

I have some travel plans in mind for the end of the year and the beginning of next year and right now this is the camera I am considering taking along. 

I have one more test to do before a big project next week. That's to grab the Olympus flash that works on this camera (the Olympus FL600R) and put it through its paces. If it comes up golden I'll be pressing this camera into service for my biggest job of the quarter. But I'm not altogether crazy...I'll have some of my regular cameras riding along as "lifeguards" for my bold experiment. 

I'm pretty impressed at how useable and comfortable this camera is. The bulk of the body comes without the usual, commensurate weight and that means a good amount of hand space to get comfortable with but none of the shoulder drag we begin to dreads as the days go long. 

24-400. f2.8-4.0, 4K video, killer EVF, outrageous Image Stabilization, a well thought out menu. What the heck is there not to love? Why didn't I buy one last year? Mysteries of the photographic universe, indeed. 

Golly jeepers!!!! I forgot to tell you that the camera can also show and shoot square. You get a 13+ megapixel file and all the squareness you deserve. Now I'm considering this one as a portrait camera too. Where will it end?

ISO 1600. No color correction. No noise reduction other than what was provided in Jpeg. 

I certainly didn't think I'd find a yoga class right in the middle of the upstairs gallery. Surprise.

Square documentation of Vincent Valdez's work. Wonderful and powerful, life-size paintings. 

Always good to go to museums and see new work. 
Moderno will appeal very much to graphic designers.
I was more enchanted with the configuration and colors of the space.
See? Something for everyone.


Dwight Parker said...

Lord, I gotta stop reading your posts whenever you get a new camera.....you make me want to go out and buy one as well.........

Craig Yuill said...

Kirk, how is the video stabilization on the FZ1000? Do you think it is as good the E-M5 II for handheld work?

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

The EM-5.2 is about a stop better. The fz 1000 is close.

Anthony Bridges said...

Hey Kirk. You should give your opinion on the new Sony rx1r ii when it appears at Precision. The sensor in it is huge compared to the FZ1000. From your description of the Panasonic, it doesn't appear that the FZ1000 is lacking anything essential with its humble 1" sensor.

Anonymous said...

I'm a 4O year veteran Wedding photographer and I now shoot 90+% of the Wedding with my FZ1000 over my shoulder while the D750 rides around my neck for arm candy and the occasional bokeh type shot.

You forgot to mention the leaf shutter with flash sync at any speed.

And the 4K photo mode. Timing to get the first kiss? 4K video it and choose your frames when you get home. The camera pulls frames itself, no software needed, and the time stamps are even right so your images stay in order.

I've used them all and other than being able to isolate the background this is all the camera anybody needs. Love it.

theaterculture said...

Apropos of what I take to be your point here, I recently splurged and treated myself to an EM5ii as an upgrade to my venerable EP2. There are a lot of things I absolutely love about the upgrade - far superior handling, much better EVF (without having to rube-goldberg on an extra piece), crazy 40mp mode, and the all-intra video with steadicam-inside stabilization being the chief ones.

However, having used the camera a bit and worked with and printed a few of the files now, I'm finding that the still image quality is not much better than the old EP2 until you hit ISO800, and not SO different until you hit ISO1600 and start cropping/printing large with it. All of the internet commentary had given me to believe that this was going to be a scales-from-the-eyes, unbelievably different difference, that increased dynamic range and extra resolution were going to come pouring out of the screen and off of the prints to drown me. I see better results in marginal situations - the EM5ii is going to be much better for shooting theatre! - but the "magic hour" shots aren't appreciably more magical and in 10 years I won't be able to tell you which 8.5x11s were the product of which camera.

My takeaway: love the new camera, but the 5 year old one was already capable of making great images in great light, and the improvements on the level of iq are not as stark as the web discourse would lead you to believe. Things like haptics, convenience of control, and take-anywhere-ability are the distinguishing factors for today's photo tools; and yet for every guy like you talking about them thoughtfully, there are a hundred DPReview threads dissecting the finer points of a DxO mark score...

Richard Jones said...

Good morning, Kirk,

Check out the in-camera Panorama Mode (in Scenes) on the FZ1000. You can pan horizontally when the camera is oriented vertically for greater height in the image.

I enjoy photographing historical buildings, closeups of details and interiors, and when unable to position far enough back to photograph the entire structure, the Panorama Mode is a great help.(I don't do enough to warrant using a separate stitching program.)

- Richard Jones

Anonymous said...

The reason you don't see these cameras everywhere is the same reason that the photographic industry is in so much trouble.
Everybody who wants a capable camera already has one (or more than one) and has woken up to the fact that, as you said, that all cameras are very good nowadays.
There's simply no need to upgrade any more for the sort of stuff that most of us do and the the next camera that they bring out isn't going to make any real difference when we come to look at our photographs at the end of the day.
The photographic industry is killing itself by making products universally excellent and affordable (for most of us).