Sensor BSI CMOS 20.1 Mpx, 1" , 17.3 Mpx/cm Lens 16x 25-400 mm f/2.8 -4 Stabilisation Optical Viewfinder Electronic Screen 7.6 cm, Super LCD, 921000 dots, 3:2, Not touch-sensitive Sensitivity (ISO range) 125 - 12800 ISO
“Bridge cameras are dead,” they said… Well, in 2013 Sony realised our dream of seeing a bridge camera with a large-format sensor come to market when it made the RX10 based on the RX100 II compact’s 1” 20-Megapixel CMOS sensor. Now, at the outset of summer 2014, Panasonic released its own 1” 20-Megapixel CMOS bridge, the Lumix FZ1000. Except that Osaka gave its contender a zoom twice as long (25-400mm f/2.8-4, 16x instead of 8x), 4K video capability and a markedly lower launch price (£750 vs. £1,050).
The Lumix FZ1000 may be a bridge camera and it may have a similar name, but it’s in no way the successor to the FZ200. In fact, it looks a lot more like the GH4 hybrid and even has the controls similarly arranged. It has the same mode dial on the right shoulder (although this one doesn’t lock), the same drive mode dial on the left shoulder and the same taste for customisable buttons (Fn 1 through Fn 5). At the risk of sounding ungrateful, it would have been nice to see it have the same front dial for the index finger and a touchscreen to give it a competitive edge over the Cyber-shot RX10—but the gods have not willed it so.
We found the Lumix FZ1000 to be much easier and more enjoyable to use than the Sony RX10, thanks to the obsession Panasonic’s engineers appear to be nurturing for shortcuts. Everything—from white balance and ISO sensitivity to selecting the AF points and switching from continuous/single AF to manual—is more instinctive, so much so that you almost forget you’re using a bridge instead of a professional DSLR. Not to mention the size of the beast, which is somewhere between the Canon EOS 700D and a Nikon D7100. Fortunately, coming in at 831 g including the battery, memory card and strap, it weighs practically the same as the RX10, which is more squat, less angular and slightly better built.
For anyone who’s hesitating between the Sony RX10 and Panasonic FZ1000, several details may sway you Panasonic’s way: slightly longer battery life, a charger in the box, notched zooming, a button for the incredibly effective image stabilisation on the barrel, shutter speed of up to 1/4,000 (1/16,000 with the electronic shutter), a Cinelike image profile, and more… The display isn’t as high in resolution as the RX10’s (921,600 dots vs. 1,440,000), but it swivels and has a matte surface, which videographers should love. But the biggest difference comes in the form of the 2,359,000-dot OLED viewfinder, which is by far superior to the RX10’s. It has a wider field of view, more light, a finer image with more detail, livelier colours and much less noise in low lighting. A pleasure!
Not everything’s hunky-dory, though. There’s no headphone jack or diaphragm ring, the memory card lodges into the same compartment as the battery (whereas the RX10’s has its own compartment on the right side) and the protective cover for the USB, HDMI and remote control ports isn’t the easiest to get open. Most importantly, our biggest disappointment was the sliding lens aperture: the RX10 has a constant f/2.8, where the FZ1000 already closes to f/3.3 at 50mm, f/3.8 at 90mm and f/4 starting at 200mm. The smallest aperture is f/8, just like on certain lowly 1/2.3” compacts, whereas the RX10 closes to up to f/22. This necessarily makes the FZ1000 less versatile in this respect.
On the RX10, Sony makes do with a Bionz X, which is certainly one effective processor for in-camera processing, but it isn’t the best for overall responsiveness. The Lumix FZ1000, on the other hand, just zips away and somehow makes you forget about the fifteen glass lenses (four of which are ED and five of which are aspheric) and huge 16x zoom. It takes less than a second to start up and just half a second between shots (in both JPG and RAW), not to mention practically instantaneous focusing at all times. We can thank the GH4 and its DFD (Depth From Defocus) technology for that. Burst mode is also excellent: 4.7 shots per second for a total of twenty JPGs, or 5.2 per second for thirteen RAW+JPGs.
IMAGE QUALITY 5/5
Panasonic used a 1” 20-Megapixel sensor that may or may not come from the same factory as the RX10’s, but they made very different choices for the lens and image processing. At the 25mm wide-angle, the Leica Vario-Elmarit 25-400mm f/2.8-4 zoom lens’ deformation is more visible on the FZ1000, as are the less-well corrected colour aberrations. The borders are hazier than on the RX10, but the centre is more detailed, aided by processing that emphasises the microcontrast a tad more. You can push things even further by closing the diaphragm and zooming in. No matter what the situation, the FZ1000 will consistently give superior results to the RX10. On the other hand, the Cyber-shot offers softer processing and more neutral colours, which some users may prefer.
Like the RX10, the Lumix FZ1000 enjoys sensitivity from 80 ISO to 25600 ISO. The results are similar to the Cyber-shot’s, in that you can obtain great picture quality up to 1600 ISO, if not 3200 ISO if you really need it. However, where Sony’s engineers prefer to sacrifice fine detail for neutral colours, Panasonic’s favour microcontrast over chromatic noise, resulting in some not-so-aesthetic green and magenta artefacts. Also, dynamics on the FZ1000 are systematically weaker, making for easily blown out whites, as you can see in the flowers below.
25mm, 1/125, f/2.8, ISO 80 - Click for 100% 1,000x750 detail
25mm, 1/400, f/5.6, ISO 125 - Click for 100% 1,000x750 detail
P1450078 400mm, 1/125, f/5.6, ISO 250 - The 400mm position produces an interesting bokeh effect Click for 100% 1,000x750 detail P1450070 25mm P1450074 200mm P1450075 400mm Scene shot from the same POV at 25mm, 200mm and 400mm - Click to enlarge
If Panasonic hadn’t made the unfathomable choice not to give the FZ1000 a headphone jack, this little bridge would have been the top choice for demanding videographers on a budget. But don’t let that get you too down; after all, for the £750 launch price, you get 25p 4K (3840 x 2160 pixels) video recording in MP4 at 100 Mbps with AAC. To record in 4K, you have to select manual video mode. Also, just like the GH4, the FZ1000 only uses the centre section of the sensor, which reduces the wide angle to just 31mm.
For Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels), you can choose between 50p, 24p, 25p and 50i in AVCHD with Dolby sound, and if you prefer MP4 + AAC, you get 50p and 25p. Users can even play around with High Speed Video (MP4) in 25p Full HD with a 100 fps output. There’s Cinelike gamma (S-Log2 gamma-style, as on the Alpha 7s), zebra patterns, focus peaking and 4K HDMI output for photos and video (which the RX10 does only for stills).
The FZ1000 makes good on its promises. The image quality is outstanding: it’s sharp, the detail is incredible and when you pause a 4K video it’s like looking at a superb still taken on an 8-Megapixel camera (assuming you have a 4K TV or monitor to watch it on). The built-in mic, whose structure is inspired by the FZ72, is excellent, providing nicely spatialised audio, well-filtered hiss and excellent resistance to saturation.
The only drawbacks, other than the lack of a headphone jack (yes, that’s the third time we mention it), are that in 4K the autofocus is extremely slow and there’s a tiny bit of latency when you press to stop recording. But it’s nothing deal-breaking; on the whole, the FZ1000’s video function is a feat to behold.
Which to choose: high-end bridge, or entry-level/mid-range SLR? If you’ve read this far, then you’re probably interested in cameras enough to have had this experience: a friend, family member or colleague is in the market for “a good all-purpose camera” and wants you to tell them which one they should buy. They want it to “zoom in really far”, “take good photos” and “be user-friendly” (or the alternate, “not be too complicated”). But they also don’t want it to be “some cheap compact” or “look like a toy” and, of course, “it can’t cost more than £800” (which is already a pretty good budget, in our book).
This puts you in a tricky position. You could either tell them to get a bridge with a 200x super-telephoto lens, which would be very “all-purpose” and reasonably priced but not have astounding picture quality, or you could advise them to look into an entry-level or mid-range DSLR that would have superior image quality but whose kit lens (an 18-55mm with a “pointless” 3x zoom) isn’t very bright or versatile. Or you could tell them to buy an SLR with two kit lenses (18-55mm and 55-200mm), or just the body and buy a separate 18-200mm lens. But that would sound too expensive and only discourage them because they don’t want to have to change lenses in the field the way most SLR owners do.
Fortunately, with the emergence of high-end bridges like the FZ1000, the RX10 and even the Olympus Stylus 1, the image quality, responsiveness and features have improved so much that you can now confidently and uninhibitedly recommend someone a bridge camera!
Here are four good reasons to get a bridge camera (and three good reasons to get a DSLR).
Reasons to buy a bridge camera:
versatility and a bright zoom lens (from 8x to 16x, with an f/2.8 maximum aperture) an electronic viewfinder (assisted manual focusing, real-time white balance and exposure control and 100% viewfinder coverage) a responsive autofocus that's just as fast whether you use the electronic viewfinder or the display (whereas on an SLR, it's only fast when you use the optical viewfinder) advanced video functions (focus peaking, zebra patterns, faster autofocus, 4K video in the case of the FZ1000, etc.)
Reasons to buy an entry-level DSLR:
you can change the lens and opt for a brighter and/or more ample prime or zoom lens an optical viewfinder (no lag or noise in low lighting and more natural colours) longer battery life a bigger sensor (APS-C) for better pictures in low lighting and lower depth of field
4K video and advanced video options 1" 20-Megapixel CMOS sensor 16x zoom (25-400 mm f/2.8-4) with 5-axis stabilisation Highly responsive Excellent OLED viewfinder Swivel screen Wi-Fi & NFC Good picture quality up to 1600 ISO Power adapter comes included 1/4,000 mechanical shutter and 1/16,000 electronic shutter
f/2.8 aperture only at wide angle No diaphragm ring Minimum aperture only f/8 No headphone jack Non-touchscreen display SD card and battery in same compartment Body materials could be better Could use better dynamics
Panasonic is taking on the high-end 1” bridge camera market and, to do so, has pulled out all the stops to compete with the Sony RX10 and a slew of under-£750 SLRs. From a versatile and perfectly stabilised zoom lens to lightning-speed autofocus and 4K video, the Lumix FZ1000 is a Swiss Army Knife of photography whose few shortcomings aren’t enough to deprive it of a well-deserved five-star rating.