By reader request: The Battle Royale Between the Sony RX10 and the Panasonic fz 1000.

The two bad boys of bridge cameras....

I wasn't going to write about gear today but really, I had to. One of my readers wrote me to ask which of the two top bridge cameras I prefer and, for once, I have enough data points on both to answer him. Here's the lay of the land: When it first came out I rushed to buy a Sony RX10 camera, convinced that it might be the "holy grail" of fixed lens cameras. That's a category that's had a soft spot in my heart since the introduction of the Sony R1 about ten years ago. The Sony R1 spoiled me for compact cameras and for other bridge cameras. How could it not? It was the first camera with a nearly APS-C sensor in a fixed lens body whose fixed lens was a crazy good, 24-120mm equivalent Zeiss branded zoom lens, custom matched to the sensor. I finally passed that camera on to a good friend last year because I felt that it needed more love and attention than I was giving it. 

But for a couple of years I shot almost everything with a pair of the R1s. Everything from portraits to theater to architecture. The lens really was amazing. My commercial interest waned when we finally got 24 megapixel cameras that could see in the dark. Then I thought my clients might snub the 10 megapixels in the R1. How foolish was that?

But let me backtrack and tell you why I was (and am) interested in "bridge cameras" to begin with. First of all there is the attraction in, first the Sony R1, and then in the Sony RX10 and the Panasonic, of a bigger than average sensor (compared with most compacts) coupled with a very, very high quality lens. In the case of the Sony it is a Zeiss
designed lens and in the case of the Panasonic it is a Leica designed lens. The appeal to either is having a full range of great focal lengths in one handholdable  and easily transportable package. You don't have to carry a bag full of other lenses and, since the permanently attached zoom lenses are designed and built for the individual sensors they are much smaller and lighter than lenses designed to work on full frame cameras. 

The bundling of a whole package means fewer decisions to make and more clarity when walking out the door to undertake the pleasure of actually photographing with the gear. But the bundling and permanent attachment of lens to sensor means that the camera maker has less compromises in creating a high performance system because the back of the lens can be as close to the sensor as it needs to be, the lack of a lens mount increases precision, and the sealed internal environment mitigates against dust and contaminants. Seems like a win-win, right? Well, it is. 

But what's the quality like? In my recent experience shooting cityscapes for a large, Austin based law firm I can say with confidence that at lower ISOs the performance of the Panasonic sensor and lens rivals most DSLRs I've used but the combo adds longer reach and a much lighter package to tote around. Since the imaging sensor in these two cameras almost certainly comes from the same Sony factory and perhaps the same Sony wafers the quality differences between the two will effectively be the difference between the lenses. Leica versus Zeiss? Kind of like BMW versus Mercedes or Veuve Clicquot Versus Taittinger in the Champagne market....

I recently shot video for a client with the RX10 and the newly improved (v2.0) firmware. The video for 2K is superb. But so is the 4K video from the Panasonic. 

For the record, both cameras create 20 megapixel images. Both cameras have image stabilization. Both cameras have superb lenses. Both cameras are better video cameras than Canon or Nikon DSLRs. So what is different? The Sony has a 24-200mm equivalent lens with a constant f2.8 aperture while the Panasonic has a 24-400mm equivalent lens with a variable f2.8 to f4.0 aperture. Essentially it all boils down to reach versus light gathering. And with a smaller sensor the trade off is a ponderable. Meaning you really have to think about what your needs are. 

If you are a video user the choice is a tougher than that of the still guys. You have to decide between important features and shooting styles. The Sony has a headphone jack and that's vital for professional work. But the Panasonic delivers 4K-lite which edits beautifully in the 1080p space so that's also a consideration. For still guys it's all about reach versus light and that's the only real differential. Do you need the extra 200mm or do you need the extra stop of light?

Let the battle begin! I toss them both in the ring. The Sony rushes to attack with a supplex move while the Panasonic bounces off the ropes and goes in for a head butt to the Sony. There's some mixed martial arts and now both contenders are bleeding from their microphone inputs. Now the folding chairs come out and the battle continues....

For me the XAVC codec and the headphone jack on the Sony make it the squeaky winner for video use. The 5 axis image stabilization and faster focusing (and more assured focusing) of the Panasonic make it the squeaky winner for still imaging. What do I mean by "squeaky winner"? I mean that the differences in everything but headphone jack make the two cameras so close to each other that I can't make up my mind at all. I have two of the Panasonics (all cameras that are pressed into paid work should travel in pairs...) and I've now re-acquired one Sony. For the life of me I can't cut one or the other loose and, for the prices asked, I can afford to keep them. 

Are you crazy, Kirk? Three bridge cameras? What the hell? We'll get into "new" video production down the road but wouldn't it be nice to get three angles on an interview all in one take? Yeah. That alone is a good excuse to be overstocked on small but potent cameras. 

I've shot many paying jobs with both cameras. They are better than most of the stuff we've shot with in the past. Not nearly as good as a D750 or a D810 but for most stuff? At least as good as they need to be since the final application of the images is usually the limiting parameter. 

There are some goofy guys out there that believe everything has to be shot with a D810 and an Otus lens but in most cases (commercially) that's like mowing your lawn with napalm. People would do well to get over the need to conquer the world. It's too expensive and time consuming. The most elegant designs are the simplest and the most fun way to shoot is to apply just what you need to make the image that fits your target. Done.

Simple answer to this contest? The newer, Sony RX10-2 (which I do not own) is better than either of these previous generation cameras and were I to buy only one it would be the new version Sony. But here's warning: This opinion is only valid until Panasonic comes out with a new version of the fz 1000, then all bets are off till we have a chance to shoot them again. 
Let me know if this answered your questions!

added the next day: 
Handling! Yes! Which one handles better? Everyone agrees that the Sony feels more lux. It looks sleeker and more polished, so it must be the winner, right? Well, not so fast... The Panasonic is a bit bigger but it's bigger in all the right places; like the right hand grip, the buttons and knobs and the ability in general to wrap your hands around the camera comfortably. In actual use I like the Panasonic just a bit better and.....the battery lasts about 25 to35% longer than the one in the Sony.

Again, an almost toss up. Trading some styling performance for actual hand feel in one direction or the other....


Richard Leacock said...

"Now the folding chairs come out and the battle continues...."


Informative and entertaining sir. Kudos all around. A practical analysis of a closely matched pair of good cameras.


Andrew W. said...

You take your photographs in Austin, with (I presume) quite bright light. What about us poor souls in the northern parts of Europe, Scotland in my case. This time of the year we can go weeks without seeing the sun and noon is not much brighter than dawn/dusk. How does this pair handle dim conditions? The f2.8 should help (f4.0 not so much), but I am using f1.8 on a D3100. What do you think of these cameras once the light is less than optimal?

Larry C. said...

Hi Kirk,

After handling both cameras at my local camera shop the Sony feels better in my hands, and who could blame someone for buying into that lens? While the longer reach of the Panasonic would be nice it would come into play only a few times a year for me. Based on that alone I would choose the Sony.

I currently shoot with my Fuji X-E1 mostly with the 18-55mm kit lens supplemented with my old Minolta Rokkor MD lenses. Right now it's still fun, and it inspirers me to shoot more images. Haven't felt that way about a camera system in many years.


Wayne P said...

The paragraph that begins "There some goofy guys out there...." Brilliant! One of the best things you have written.

Peter F. said...

Kirk, how about the ergonomics of the two? That often makes the difference for me ..

dasar said...

Thanks a lot for the info

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Over on Twitter Michael asked me which camera has the best Jpegs. Reflexively I would say the Sony because they are snappier looking right out of the camera but the Panasonic Jpegs are flatter and can be worked with a bit more in post processing. If you need em right away it's the Sony, if you like to tweak exposure and contrast to taste, then Panasonic. Sorry, I can't be any more definitive than that....

Gato said...

Now this is one gear post I did read, as I expect one of these will be my next camera purchase. Right now I lean toward the Sony as the extra f stop seems more valuable for my use than the longer reach, plus I have very fond memories of the color quality from my Sony 828 of many years ago. On the other hand I hate to give up the fully articulated LCD I use almost every time I pick up my current Panasonics.

I am almost, but not quite, convinced the image quality of a modern 1-inch chip with a dedicated lens would be enough to replace my m4/3 kit, with the advantage of a smaller kit, simpler shooting and flash sync at higher shutter speeds. I have a print from my old 2/3 chip 828 hanging in the living room and it holds up fine, though if I were printing it today I'd back off a hair on the USM -- but can't blame the camera for my changing taste in processing. I suspect the quality difference would be something I could see in Photoshop but none of the viewers would ever catch in a print or finished screen image.

Decisions, decisions ...

Anonymous said...

I went through the process of trying to decide between these two cameras last summer. In favor of the Panasonic was the greater reach as well as the fully articulated view screen. In favor of the Sony was the built-in neutral density filter and the constant f/2.8 aperture.

I would have been happy with either and eventually selected the Sony. Both are great cameras.

And I don't have to clean sensors anymore.


Dave said...

"that's like mowing your lawn with napalm" best quote I've seen that captures our affection for uber high res digital cameras. I've pretty much made the transition from DSLR to the RX100 & RX10. The video is more than sufficient for my needs, and to be honest the images cover 90% of what I need (versus what I think I want).

My reason for going Sony instead of Panasonic were: Auto ISO in manual mode, headphone jack and the built in ND filter. I remember being shocked to find out that my GH2 wouldn't do auto ISO in video when I used manual shooting mode.

Maybe that's changed but I found it a pain the butt (small pain but pain none the less).

Andy deBruyn said...

"and to be honest the images cover 90% of what I need (versus what I think I want)" and that's a great quote too right along with Kirk's napalming one's lawn. Good article. It has me thinking about that transition to more sensible pastures.

Unknown said...

Any chance you have some portraits taken with either/both cameras? Would love to see how both of these handle portraits even though that may not be the ideal use for each camera.

Mark the tog said...

I chose the FZ-1000 for the reach and 4K.
At the long end, and using 4K, the effective focal length is 590mm.

This was invaluable yesterday in filming a presentation from the media platform at the back of the hall. My colleague, shooting with a Canon 7D and a 70-200 f 2.8, was writhing in envy at the framing and quality I was getting even in crap light. It was using ISO 2000 that may have scared me but sampling down to HD the output was a delight to the client. Oh yeah, they had casually asked for B roll from the camera.

MikeR said...

OMG! I just jotted down all of the cameras that I've been through in the digital age. Starting in 2001 with a Kodak DC4800, then a bunch of P&S's, a DSLR, a brace of M43's, I counted SIXTEEN. These "replaced" my old Canon AE-1, the only camera I used for 16 years prior. Sobering. Sobering.

But, I think I've settled down. My last buy was a Lumix LX100, that I'm quite happy with. M43-size sensor, Leica-designed 24-75mm (equiv) f/1.7-2.8 zoom lens, a very useful externalization of controls rivaling the current Fuji models, and decent video capability when I want it. Fits in a slightly oversize Manfrotto belt pouch. (I have a Lumix LX7 if/when I need smaller).

So, a useful post for me. Helps me curb my gear lust. Thank you.

Unknown said...

What a great read extolling the advantages and disadvantages of each camera. I love the thought of riding myself of anything other than one easy to use and carry Point & shoot with an excellent bright short to medium telephoto lens. I used the sony R1 camera for many years until it finally gave up the ghost. I would most likely lean to the rx10 due mostly to size, weight, and Sony brand. I Found a used Sony R1 in a 2nd hand store and am seriously thinking about picking it up as the price is certainly good. I really enjoy your writing and your 1st book was an excellent read and I am looking forward to your next book.

Chappy Achen said...

Thanks for all your efforts in writing about your work, your style, and how you approach your jobs. It is this that I enjoy most about your blog, it is on my daily read list, Thank you. Chap

Anonymous said...

I know this space is about Sony/Panny, but Austin TX was selected as a PEN-F premiere yesterday. Were you part of testers given this new beast from Olympus?

chrisvdl blogs said...

I recently purchased the Panasonic fz 1000 to complement my Sony a65. The fz 1000 has not let me down and I am impressed with the performance. Although not a dslr, it does fill a void for two reasons. First it is a reliable, easy to use to catch things if I am set up on my Sony. I do not have to loose setting and change lenses. I catch what I need on the fz 1000 and go back to shooting on the Sony. Second for the bit of video I do, it gives better quality film and I can pull 8mp stills post filming if there is a shot or angle I did not get with the dslr.

The fz 1000 has a good feel, and has features I am yet to grow into. With bridge cameras and mirror less with interchangeable lenses, there is still nothing that can replace the feel, quality, or performance of my Sony as far as I can see. As an amateur photographer, the fz 1000 fill a void for a secondary, high quality point and shoot, that gives a lot of features and performance of a dslr over any other camera I have looked at.

rob said...


as is often the case with your postings, i just happen to be dealing with a similar issue.

i am 70% video and 30% stills which might make me in the minority of your readers.

but i have been seriously looking at the sony rx10mk2 as a low profile video interview camera.

i have been scouring the web for video footage and reviews.

some gush glorious, others put the big knock.

is the video from your rx10 sharp?

does the lens render excellent/good/average/meh color?

i work in fcpx and use color finale to adjust color levels.

have you brought any rx10 footage into your edit system?

as always, thank you for your thoughtful and enjoyable posts.

after last week's 25+" of snow, the idea of spring bluebells in austin make me smile.

be well.


ps-the other camera i have been looking at is the canon xc10 but am seriously leaning towards the sony rx10mk2 ;-)

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Hi Rob, this is one of those difficult questions just because part of the answer is subjective. If you require high ISO with no noise stop reading and ignore the RX10.2. While I am somewhat noise resistant my sometimes partner in video crime can't stand noise in the shadows, owns an RX10.2 and it drives him nuts. He limits his use to anything under ISO 640 and, if he has his choice, under ISO 400. On the other hand I find the RX10 good to 800 and will often go to 1250 depending on the subject matter. But my experiences for the most part revolve around the original RX10. It had pretty decent ACVHD footage to begin with but the 2.0 firmware to XAVCs kicked the quality of the video way us. Sharper and cleaner. Almost to the level I was getting out of a GH4. If I had to choose I'd sure steer clear of the Canon; I've heard nothing but blah about that camera from a usability perspective. Don't know anything about the image quality.

Also, the lens on the Sony is great. Nice color and sharp. I also love it as a still camera.

Edward Richards said...

I had an original Pen F when it and I were both a lot newer. Do I remember correctly that the rectangle was vertical, taller at the sides? I assume they have not done that with the new version.

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

edward, your memory is good. All the Pen film cameras made vertical frames instead of horizontal. Sadly, no. The new cameras are all horty. But no reason not to try one.... They actually still work with Pen FT lenses if you get a cheap adapter...