My User Review of the Panasonic FZ 1000 "Swiss Army Knife" CameraSystem.


100% of a file you'll see down below.

I'll confess that I'm not fond of writing camera reviews because everyone who uses cameras beyond the ones in their phones has different needs and different tastes. A close friend of mine who is a videographer can't stand to see any noise at all in his video files. Stuff that most of us would consider top notch sometimes fails his QC because of the noise he sees in the shadows. Doesn't bother me, even for a minute, even after he goes to great pains to point it out. By the same token I can't stand poorly lit images. So many people think that stratospheric ISO settings are a substitute for good lighting and they miss the concept that light can be a vital tool because it provides direction, cues for texture, hardness, softness and even color purity. I'm not saying you should notice that something has been lit but you sure as hell shouldn't have a gnawing annoyance because an image is flat, dark and noisy. 

I write some camera reviews because I find a camera that seems to have been overshadowed by other cameras or newer cameras but, when I use it I find the camera compelling enough to make me smile and to make me want to use it again and again. In simple terms, I know the Nikon D810 is better "on paper" than the D750 but the D750 is a perfect blend of compromises and handling that keeps me coming back again and again. It's the same with the Panasonic fz 1000. 

What is it? The FZ 1000 is a part of the class of cameras that photography writers have labelled, "bridge cameras." That means they are more  sophisticated and capable than your phone or a basic "point and shoot" camera but supposedly are not quite up to the performance levels of a typical DSLR camera. Most bridge cameras have an extensive zoom range, a non-removable lens, and are almost as bulky as a regular DSLR. 

Bridge cameras have been with us for a long, long time. They existed in the film days as well. In fact, when Olympus exited the SLR market their sole, upmarket cameras were a line of fixed lens bridge cameras. Sony ushered in a new mini-niche of what we might call "premium" bridge cameras a number of years ago with their original R1 camera. It featured two things that made it a great working tool and a nice overall camera: It had a large sensor that was close to the size of an APS-C sensor, and it had a fairly fast and very, very, very good 24-120mm (equiv.) Zeiss zoom lens on the front. 

After the Sony R1 was discontinued nothing in the premium bridge camera caught my attention until Sony came our with a wonderful camera; the RX 10. It used a one inch sensor along with a 24-200mm, constant f2.8 lens and, after a nice firmware upgrade, offered great still and video performance. I owned one. It was superb. Nice finder, nice video, nice stills and a nice form factor. It wasn't compact but it wasn't monstrous either. In fact, the only negative that most reviewers and normal people mentioned was the relatively high price of $1299. I disagree with that critique because I thought it was a bargain for the great lens, wide range of features and the quality of the results. 

Hot on the heels of the Sony RX10 Panasonic launched the first and only competitor in the category of premium bridge cameras, the FZ 1000, which we are dissecting today. It was an interesting entry in that it didn't necessarily go head to head with the Sony in every specification; it bobbed and weaved when Sony weaved and bobbed. The Panasonic zoom lens (designed by Leica) covers 25mm to 400mm (equiv.) and starts at f2.8 but quickly slows down to f4.0 as the focal length gets longer. 
The Sony RX10.2 (the new and updated version) as well as the original RX10.0 both use the same Zeiss designed lens which only covers half as much focal length range but does so with a fixed aperture of f2.8, all the way through the range. One isn't necessarily better than the other but people will have their preferences based on what they see as more important in their lens: Speed or Range.

The Panasonic offers 4K video which outperformed the original Sony RX10 model but the newer Sony is at least the equal of the Panasonic and offers a lot more video control with features like higher frame rates which can yield more dramatic slow motion. The Sony also features a real headphone jack for directly monitoring audio. The Panasonic (sadly) does not, and that is my single biggest gripe about the FZ 1000. Looking back at the compromise blender, the lack of some video features on the Panasonic camera is offset by its current cost against the Sony. The Sony RX10.2 currently sells for $1300 while the current Amazon price of a U.S. warrantied FZ 1000 is just a little more than $700. 

Having used the original Sony RX10 a lot, and having now used the fz 1000 almost an equal amount at this point I will have to say that the quality from both original cameras is nearly identical. There are slight internal processing differences but in the end they are very much alike. And what that means is that, in good light, the cameras provide saturated, low noise files with tons of detail and great colors. The Panasonic put me off at first because there's no good profile selection for raw files in Adobe Lightroom. The program seems to apply a dark, flat profile to the raw files I bring it. They respond well to tweaking but pulling the same files into DXO is a revelation. They are great. But most of the time I shoot the camera in Jpeg and I'm happy with what I see. 

The newer Sony model uses the newer BSI version of the one inch, 20 megapixel sensor but, the people who test in depth (DPReview, CameraLabs, DXO), pretty much point to video throughput as being the big advantage of the new processor and not any big leap in dynamic range of noise reduction versus the older sensor.

So, the FZ 1000 is basically a premium bridge camera that offers an alternative to the pricier Sony option while delivering a longer focal length range at a much lower price. 

But how good are any of these cameras? Can they replace my conventional DSLR cameras or my collection of micro four thirds cameras in any compelling way? The answer, of course, is maybe.
Let's get the big stuff out of the way first. There is no way you'll get the trendy and lovable, extremely shallow depth of field that's all the rage, with this camera when you compare the results to the output of full frame DSLRs, with fast lenses (or even lenses with the same maximum apertures) at the same angle of view. It's just physics so get over it and accept it. Second, you won't be able to match the noise levels of the full frame DSLRs which shooting at the same ISOs. You might be as much as 2 or 2.5 stops behind the performance of the very best DSLR or Sony A7 series cameras when it comes to noise. 

This generation of premium bridge cameras is, as far as noise is concerned, about on par with cameras like the Nikon D300s from four or five years ago. But that only makes a difference if you are the kind of photographer who loves to photograph in low light situations most of the time. If you shoot a lot of stuff for clients, in the sun light, or in a well lit studio; or just about any situation in which flash or other supplementary light is available, you can control the amount of noise you'll end up with in your files by carefully selecting your ISO, and carefully optimizing your exposure. 

I mention this because I am currently using the camera on a extended assignment. It's not an assignment to shoot available light portraits with tiny slivers of in focus subject matter, illuminated by moon glow. It's an assignment to shoot details of buildings and snippets of sky to use on a website. In this situation the combination of features and the relatively high performance at lower ISOs makes this camera much more effective and efficient than just about anything else I could choose because----it doesn't get in the way of the creative process. 

What are the features I find compelling? There are three interrelated features that make the camera a powerful imager for the work I've described. They are, 1. State of the art image stabilization. I am able to routinely handhold the camera with the lens zoomed all the way out to the equivalent of 400mm and get sharp images. 2. A very, very good EVF with a high resolution. I love being able to look through the finder, dial in the polarizing filter and see exactly what I'll be getting in terms of exposure and color before I click the shutter. I shoot in "A" mode a lot and ride the exposure compensation with my right thumb on the rear wheel. I push the wheel in (click) to switch over to aperture setting when I want to change f-stops and then click it back again to put me right back in exposure compensation mode. It's a fast and effective way to control the image and work at speed without endless chimping. And, 3. The long range of the lens is a revelation for me. I love being able to compress images with the maximum focal length and seconds later created some dynamic, forced perspective with the wide angle end of the lens. 

If I use these three features and shoot at ISO 125-800 I can walk away with beautiful shots that clients are happy to buy. Pretty amazing when you consider the purchase price of the camera at $700-750 includes a great lens. 

Another feature I find convenient is the leaf shutter which enables me to sync flash at higher shutter speeds than I can use on the Nikon, and do so with any flash. 

The camera uses Panasonic's new DFD focusing technology and it is much faster to find and lock focus in S-AF than my original Sony RX10 was. I have borrowed a new RX10.2 and my preliminary test indicate that it's no faster than the original. The AF on the Panasonic is at least on par with that of my Olympus EM-5.2 and I find that camera to be pretty quick with slow moving stuff (like executives) that I tend to shoot for work and play. 

Handling. We can go back and forth on this in the comments all day long but I am very resistant to the ultra-miniaturization of cameras. When designers shrink hand held tools too far it effects handling in a negative way. Over the decades industrial designers have worked hard to find "right sizes" for various objects that are manually controlled. I picked up a Sony RX100.4 to see what all the excitement was about and I couldn't give it back to the sales person quickly enough. It's just too small to work well for anything more than quick snaps. And I'm not a person with huge hands. I wish I was because then I could swim faster. But no such luck. 

I went into the store, originally, to play with this camera (the FZ 1000) and I expected, based on other reviews, that I might find it too large, too bulky. But I found that my hands wrapped around it in a very natural way and my fingers fit on the shutter button and other controls without the need for extensive camera operator rehab. For a camera with an extensive range of focal lengths it seems to have just the right feel to allow someone to handhold the whole package securely and without the dissonance of weird projections or bumps. 

Along the same lines I worried, initially, that I'd find the one dial control for my most commonly used dials (aperture and exposure compensation) to be burdensome but, now, after a month or two of fairly regular use, it seems perfectly natural. 

I have a user complaint about the initial portage system included with the camera. The strap is too thin at the ends where it connects to the camera and twists too easily. I tried to get used to it but hated it and switched it out for one of my standard Tamrac straps and have been feeling warm and fuzzy about carrying the camera around ever since. 

Video. I'll be honest. I am pissed at Panasonic for making such a decent video platform and then shortchanging us by not delivering a headphone connection. With the addition of a headphone jack this camera would have been a really compelling Electronic News Gathering, 4K work camera. The focus in video is good, the lens range is excellent and the image quality in 4K is just great. I made a video for my kid's 20th birthday, using this camera to interview many of his friends who still live in Austin and, when well lit or just supplied with enough photons to stay with low to middle ISO settings, the camera makes crisp, detailed and color neutral images that remind me of the quality I was getting from the GH4 (waiting patiently for the GH5---I have the feeling that it's due the first quarter of 2016----just a feeling). 

If I had been able to listen to audio while recording it would have been perfect. As it was I played back the video as soon as I completed shooting just to make sure I had usable sound. A pain in the ass, to be sure. 

While the 4K video is good the 1080p video is very decent but limited to the usual 28 mbs ACVHD video we've all come to know and dislike. It makes more sense to leave the camera nailed into 4K and then just choose when importing whether you need 2K or 4K. 

A nice feature is the video profiles that come with the camera. Pretty crazy for a $700 device. But it comes with a CineLike D and a CineLike V profile. The first is flat and emulates a mild S-Log profile. I can't figure out the why I want the V profile since it seems to be contrasty and saturated which is pretty much the opposite of what I want when I go to edit. These profiles are not available during still photography. They are video only. Too bad, because I actually like using the flat profile in some situations with the Nikon D750 and D810 cameras. 

I can only give a provisional approval on the FZ 1000 as a video camera. The visual component is quite good at 4K and I could see just about any MOS (mit out sound) situation being successfully filmed with the camera but for anything with interviews or general narrative work you would have to be able and willing to work with double sound and sync up the sound from an external audio recorder during your edit process. Not optimal for someone who needs to use this camera for video work on the daily basis. If you fall into that category and are looking for a truly flexible tool for both video and photography I'd immediately disregard the FZ 1000 and snap up the new model of the Sony RX10.2. The audio is well done on that camera and the video in 4K is competitive with the video from the Panasonic. 

Final take? Good for MOS work. Good 4K image quality with lots of controls. Sound is the weak point and you can either trust to the meters, use and external recorder or look elsewhere. Not sure if Panasonic is trying to coerce us back into doing silent movies but if I were in their network of photographer affiliates I'd be howling about this one. 

Battery life: This camera uses the same battery as the new Panasonic GX8 as well as the older G6. I've found it to be a good battery with more stamina that its competitors. After using the batteries for five or six charge cycles I've been getting a fair amount of image through the camera before having to stop for a battery change. The specs say about 360 (CIPA) shots per charge but I find that I'm regularly getting closer to 500. I don't chimp much at all and rarely use the rear screen so I don't know if that accounts for the difference, but I am getting a bit more out of the batteries than I seem to with the EM5.2 from Olympus. I have four batteries. If I go out to shoot video I bring all four and two chargers. If I am going out for long afternoon walk I'll just bring one extra battery and be pretty confident that I'll get through the day.  If you are an American and shoot Panoramas, or English and shoot Panos, you might be unhappy to find that the tripod socket is not centered under the lens but is off center and annoyingly close to the battery/memory card compartment. If you are any other nationality or language group you will find the same thing. (I just find the use of Panos, Journos and other faux-jaunty abbreviations grating).

Image Quality. If you have to have the highest image quality on the market at all times then stop reading this and go buy a Nikon D810 or a Sony A7r2 right now. You probably won't be disappointed. If you need good quality and are a good craftsperson you will find a lot to commend the Panasonic. They finally have their color palette all straightened out. A few generations ago the consensus was that the Jpegs colors were a bit off. A bit far behind Olympus and Fuji. I'm going to say that I find the colors, after I've tweaked the profiles I'll be using, to be right on the mark and not oversaturated like the colors from the aforementioned rivals. The current palette is very neutral and all the images I'm showing from the camera are mostly right out of the camera. 

When I first started shooting with the camera I found the file detail starting to get mushy when the ISO went up. I experimented around a bit and, after bringing down the noise reduction slider by two clicks I was able to see a nice increase in fine detail. I would much rather have the option to apply my own noise reduction in post processing than be handed a mushy (but apparently noise free) file to work with. Once the noise reduction is baked in there's not much you can do to change it up. 

Below are several images that I shot today. The first one down is a church next to the state capitol. I've always liked the metal dome. This is the camera at 125 ISO, with the aperture set at 5.6 and the shutter speed unrecorded. AWB. Profile = Vivid -2 Noise reduction.

The full frame version.

Slightly more than 100% crop. Click on the image to see bigger. 

400mm equivalent from half a block away.

The thing that consistently amazes me about the camera is how well the image stabilization works at longer focal lengths. There is a real argument to be made concerning actual quality of a bigger lens on a full frame sensor shooting the same shot but without the benefit of this outstanding image stabilization. 

I like shooting in the Jpeg world because the camera does such a good job with distortion correction. See the doorway shot above. All the lines are straight (I used the two axis level in the EVF) and the detail, even out to the corners, is very good. 

Compared to a DSLR. I've thought a great deal about why I end up buying cameras like this and I've come to some conclusions. First off, there are many situations when having a complete package of camera and lens that fits in one hand just makes sense. If I was to do the same job I am currently working on, but with full frame cameras, I would need to be carrying around a 24 to something millimeter lens, an 80-200mm lens and a 200-400mm lens to get the same angles of view. I don't know if you've shopped for those combinations lately but it will make a (used car sized) huge dent in your monthly budget and you'll be carrying well over ten pounds of gear. Most of it unstabilized. 

In optimum conditions the DSLR gear will give you lower noise and more detail but in real world conditions it may be a draw. The compromise being ease of use versus overall image quality. And if your final filter is the web, will you be seeing all the image quality that is potentially there in the bigger cameras? I'm not sure you will. 

That being said, this is not a narrow depth of field camera (nor are any of the other premium bridge cameras) so it's a hands down, grand slam for DSLRs and fast lenses, in that category. 

But, interestingly enough, I just had a meeting with a graphic designer on a large job and I mentioned using narrow depth of field for her project. She politely informed me that while this was a popular style in her company's home country of Germany a number of years ago she would be curious to know if I could shoot in a style where MORE STUFF IS IN FOCUS. Interesting, yes?

The other attractions of the DSLR are most certainly the ability to change lenses and to use fast, single focal length, prime lenses. You won't be doing that with the FZ 1000 but you won't be wasting time trying to decide upon which lens to use, either. 

Compared to dedicated video cameras. While this camera is a good all around, cost effective solution you'll probably find a dedicated video camera easier to work with for some projects; especially those that require long recording times (the FZ is limited to 29 minutes and change). Most video cameras have headphone jacks and audio controls that will give you a lot more leeway in getting great audio. 

Compared to Micro Four Thirds cameras. Ah. There's the rub. While the M43 cameras are really good I'm not sure they are that much better than either the Sony or the Panasonic. The benefit is the ability to use super high quality, fast lenses like the 42.5mm f1.2 Panasonic lens or the 75mm f1.8 Olympus lens for various work that requires more DOF control and ISO control. The other deciding attribute is also in the lens camp. It's the ability to use wider lenses, like the 7-14mms from Panasonic and Olympus. Based just on wide range zooms though I would say the PBC's are close to the performance of the M4:3 camera for most things. 

Compared to the Sony RX10.2. To be honest, if I were coming into this clean, with no budget constraints whatsoever, I'd go for the Sony RX10.2 instead. The one stop faster aperture is compelling where it is needed most; at the long end. And the video controls, and especially the audio controls, are worth it. But as I said, IF there was no budget constraint, etc. The reality is that a person shooting in outdoor situations, who only used video sporadically, and for fun, would be a natural for the Panasonic instead. 

In my situation I shoot video with the Nikon D810, the D750 and also the Olympus EM5.2. While none of them shoot 4K all of them have good audio controls, headphone jacks and total manual controls. I bought the FZ 1000 mostly for the reach and the all-in-one package. I am convinced that the next iteration of the Nikon D810 will have 4K video and much improved video handling and I'm waiting to invest in that. Should Nikon fail to deliver I'll end up with something like the Sony FS5 for my video work. But the Panasonic FZ 1000's are already earning their keep on project after project. I'm very happy with them. In the interest of extreme disclosure Panasonic won't even return my calls, much less give me free product (so get lost if you want to play the "fanboy" card or the "on the take" card). I liked my first Panasonic FZ1000 so much that I bought a second one, both with my own hard earned cash. I thought I might take them on a shooting trip, one backing up the other. I may still. 

Finally, below, is a quick shot on the pedestrian bridge next to First Street. The DFD works well as does the multipoint focusing system. 

My Conclusion: The two premium bridge cameras have one distinct advantage over the mirrorless legion or the APS-C cameras. There is no decision making to be done. You leave the house with a package that covers most everything you need. The Panasonic FZ 1000 is very fast to focus, starts up fast and has a very decent buffer. The colors are good and the files are very competent right up to 1600 ISO. The Leica designed lens is very, very good and is worth the expenditure for the whole camera. A really skilled operator could make a living shooting with one of these cameras and rarely feel as though he or she was shortchanging his clients. Especially if they were looking for sharp images with deep focus. Two extra batteries, a variable ND filter and a Polarizing filter are all you need to have a complete camera package for almost any use. Add an external audio recorder and you could make near state of the art video productions as well. 

Final word? I like this camera a hell of a lot better than I like the current Canon Rebel or Nikon D3300 with their cheesy dual zoom lenses. The Panasonic is faster to shoot, has a better lens and yields on sensor results that are at least as good but without the hassle of changing between two mediocre lenses. The EVF, to my mind, is always a distinct advantage. And the smaller sensor and increased depth of field can be seen as a benefit for those who've always had trouble nailing focus or getting enough stuff sharp. I like the colors I'm getting and I think the menus beat the snot out of the Olympus menus. At $750 (or there about) I think this camera is a bargain. If you have tons more money then ignore everything I've written and buy the new Leica SL. It won't be nearly as cost effective but you will be able to change lenses AND your investment of nearly $10,000 more dollars will get you narrower depth of field with some lenses. Seems like a slam dunk to me.

A quick and impromptu shot on the bridge.