Initial Reactions to the Panasonic FZ2500 that Showed Up Yesterday.

I hadn't really intended to buy an FZ2500 camera but in the end my list of rationalizations made compelling sense (to no one but me) and I decided it would be a profitable addition to my little corral of cameras. In spirit the FZ2500 is very similar to the Sony RX10iii, which I hold in high regard. They are both all-in-one camera packages that have big, one inch sensors and wide ranging lenses. Both are very able 4K video machines and both are highly competent photography tools. On any given review site these two cameras get compared side by side whenever either one is analyzed. Each has its strengths and weaknesses and I figured if I had them both the they would happily complement each other. Right?

Aesthetically they are two different animals. The Sony is designed with a more lux attitude in mind. Metal everywhere and a refined physical interface. It's the product whose makers recognized the selling value of good industrial design. It's sleek....for a big, rounded brick of a camera.

The FZ2500 (from now on, "The Lumix") feels like the designers cut a few corners, spec'd a lot of plastic, borrowed from a 1980's industrial design style, and pretty much scrimped on the stuff that didn't directly effect image quality or basic handling. I'm slightly annoyed at the shiny control knobs on a camera that is otherwise finished in matte. The switches are less than elegant and the overall feel is of a company that values raw performance over finesse. But I'm okay with that because the real reason to buy either camera is to make movies and photographs. 

Both cameras use 20 megapixel, one inch, BSI, CMOS sensors, but
the one in the RX10iii is a newer version that uses a stacked design which allows faster processor performance --- which has benefits. Both use lenses designed by famous, German optical companies; Leica on the Panasonic and Zeiss on the Sony. My long term tests, and rigorous use, confirm that the lens on the Sony is a world class optical system. Even though it's early days with the Lumix I read enough horror stories about soft or unsharp lenses on the Lumix that I immediately powered mine up on arrival and shot everything I could within a quarter mile of the front door. I got a good copy. The lens is sharp up close, far away and in the middle. I didn't bother to check the extreme corners...

The Sony lens may turn out to be a cut above for still photography but I think the differences between the two will mostly be evened out when they are used as video cameras. If I were solely a still photographer though I probably wouldn't have bought either camera. But that's a topic for another blog post. 

There are several reasons I bought the Lumix. I thought I'd get those out of the way right now. The first is that this camera, when used to shoot video (either 1080p or 4K) does not have an arbitrarily imposed time limit. Pop in a big card and you can shoot until your battery dies. All of the Sonys conform to the 29.99 minute limit imposed (via taxation) on most "world" DSLRs. Bravo! Now, at least with my North America Lumix, I can set it up as a wide camera and shoot a theatrical production without having to stop and start the camera each time it nears the < 30 minute time limit. With the power savings gained by running the camera into an HDMI monitor, and turning off the camera monitors, I am confident that the Lumix battery will get me well over an hour of record time. Maybe a bit more. 

The Lumix is very videographer oriented. More so than the Sonys (which are video friendly) and I think the differences are most obvious in how well the camera handles routine video tasks. The Lumix has a three option neutral density filter array (the RX10iii has none and the RX10ii has 3 stop filter only). The right strengths of filters gives one more options to help stick with a preferred aperture, and the fact that the filters are internal means no worries about dust or fingerprints. 

Panasonic has worked harder than Sony on making the autofocus in their bridge camera superior, and even dependable. The DFD system provides quicker lock on, and does a better job with tracking, than the Sonys but preliminary tests still say that if one is working in lower light or with less detailed subjects then manual focusing is still the way to go. 

The Lumix has a feature which allows one to zoom into a scene without the focus shifting in and out. It's pretty much like having a par focal lens when it works. I'm still trying to master that control but it has real promise. Another advantage of the camera is the ability to control the speed of the zoom with much greater finesse. Finally, while on the subject of focus, even though I'm not a big fan of touch screens, it is nice to be able to use a fingertip to drag the onscreen cursor to the exact spot you desire. Even better to be able to shift focus from one subject to another with a touch. 

Panasonic and Sony handle some stuff differently under the hood. The bit rate, or how much information you can shove through the pipes to the memory card, is capped out on the Sony cameras at 100 mbs. The camera also delivers only 8 bit 4:2:2 to an external recorder. The Panasonic can use an All-I file scheme that allows for a 200 mbs 1080p file. That should translate into a bit more quality in the final video. Maybe a bit sturdier file when you get ready to do some big exposure or color corrections in post. The Lumix can also output "clean" files to an external, HDMI recorder but can do so at 10 bits and 4:2:2 (only in 1080p). The increased bit depth should give you a margin of safety for things like bright blue skies, which are prone to banding with lower bit depth files...

I've yet to see any big quality differences between the cameras. I'm very, very familiar with Sony 8 bit files, having spent about four hours with them today and hundreds of hours with them over the past year. I've shot about twenty minutes of video with the Panasonic so I'm not committing to any conclusions. But every company has their own "color science" so it's nice to have another tool in the kit. 

There is one more feature that I anticipate using and that's the focus stacking mode. One uses the touch screen to set the closest point at which one wants sharp focus and then the furthest. I presume you can add more data points in the middle area for a better outcome. Then you initiate the process and the camera takes as many images as you've selected; each at a different depth into the frame and then blends all of them together to get a sharply focused image, from front to back. 

I am of two minds about introducing a second manufacturer's cameras back into the mix. On the one hand I like having a separation between the cameras I use for my own play/art and the cameras that are necessary for the business. Were I to use the A7Rii for a personal project that might lead to that camera being damaged or destroyed I would feel stupid either having to replace it or to go to a shoot without it where that cameras might have been the perfect choice.

I use the RX10 cameras for many video projects for clients, as well as the A7rii. I don't want to jeopardize my working tools just for the heck of it. 

The Panasonic makes for the perfect "play" camera in that it mimics most of the desirable features found in my Sony RX10 cameras --- but at a lower cost. It can be both a fun personal video camera and "car" camera that's always on call for the random still photo. 

The counter argument is all about menu familiarization and the muscle memory of handling. Going back and forth between two systems menus is no fun. At least not for me. And then there's the added pain of a whole different set of batteries. That breaks a year long run of using only Sonys with only NPfw50 batteries. 

We'll see if I can get used to it. I'll report more when I shoot more. For now good information about the Lumix FZ2500 is in short supply. The DPR review is next to worthless and the stuff on YouTube is sparser than on most new cameras. 

An RX10ii next to the FZ1000. 

First Test Shot. Shoot what you know....

The Saramonic audio interface on the bottom left, the Zoom H5 on the top right. 
Too many cables.

Aputure Light Storm LS-1/2. Mounted in a vertical orientation for efficiently lighting the background.

A Lastolite 48 by 72 inch diffusion panel. Good for just about anything you want to light. 

I've decided that I like the FZ2500. The finder is great. The camera feels like it's just the right size for normal people's hands and the overall idea of it is just right. I'll be using it tomorrow to document some of the street life swirling around SXSW and then again on Sunday to document panel discussions and a corporate event that promises to eat up my entire Sunday. I'll probably even get to wear a wrist band. Oh joy.


Kenneth Voigt said...

poor guy....., he was doing so well

Richard Leacock said...

Your experiences will be welcome to a few videographers I know to see how you make out with the Pany in comparison with the Sonys you've been working with. The info on the workflow, file use and malleability, physical interfaces for control of image and sound etc will be looked forward to. Some of the features, recording length benefit, are definitely attractive compared to the Sonys. 6 of 1, 1/2 dozen to the other...But it looks like a nicely spec'd camera for video and stills.

As to Kenneth's comment, I do have to admit that I did stifle a giggle. ; )


Anthony Bridges said...

Hi Kirk. Do you mind sharing the name or make of the clamps holding your scrim in place in the last photo? That setup looks really good at blocking window light.

Michael Meissner said...

Since the Panasonic FZ2500 uses the same DMW-BLC12C battery used in many of their mid-range micro 4/3rds cameras like the G85, you can pick up the Tether Tools case relay power system Power Bundle for $185 or so:

At present, I haven't bought one yet, but it seems to be the solution for video taping a long performance (assuming the camera doesn't overheat).

It includes a dongle that replaces the battery in the camera, that connects into the case relay power system that has an 1200mAh internal battery, and converts USB 5v/2a power into the 8v needed by the camera. The bundle includes a larger external battery (10000mAh) and a USB power adapter that can source enough juice.

Note, the Tether Tools site claims that the CRPBCL12 is the appropriate battery for the DMW-BLC12 battery (such as I use in my Panasonic G85), and that the CRPBLF19 is the appropriate adpater for the DMW-BLF19 battery. But a quick glance at the FZ2500 seems to indicate that it takes a DMW-BLC12 battery.

As I expected Precision Camera carries the Tether Tools.

Michael Matthews said...

So mich for the unified field theory.

"Do I contradict myself?
Very well, then; I contradict myself.
(I am huge -- I contain multitudes.)"

-- W. Whitman

Art in LA said...

Oooo, a car camera! Good idea. I need to be better about keeping a "real" camera by my side, not just my iPhone, in case the situation requires something more substantial.

I love the form factor of these integrated cameras, but I feel like I'm wasting the lens when the sensor/body becomes obsolete and you can't continue to use the lens. On the other hand, digital cameras are so good now that I bet I could use an RX10 forever, as long as the electronics hold up.

Kirk Tuck said...

All that.

Cliff said...

“A man buys something for two reasons: a good reason and the real reason.”

tnargs said...

"If I were solely a still photographer though I probably wouldn't have bought either camera. But that's a topic for another blog post."

That's the post I'm waiting for.

Heavenpixel said...

I recently bought a panasonic fz2000 and I found some strange things. First, only when the camera is turned off, when I tilt the camera back and forth it feels like something moves inside, or something in the lens mechanism loose I don't know what could be. The second thing when I zooming in and after that zomming out, the image moves slightly until the zoom starts. This video shows the problem: https://youtu.be/2OGiLmdrSxg Can you help tell me If your camera does the same or this is only my camera problem? Thank you! :)