Is Panasonic the pioneer of modern digital photography? The electronics giant firmly believes so, stating the future of capture will be to shoot ultra hi-res video and extract still images from the footage. After launching the GH4 back in May this year – the world’s first CSC offering 4K video – it’s a different way of shooting, and 8Mp stills can be produced from the videos. 4K is Ultra High Definition video, captured at a resolution of 3840x2180 pixels. This makes it four times bigger and more detailed than Full HD. The FZ1000 is the world’s first bridge camera to support this alongside 20Mp stills, so we put one to the test to find out how good it is.
Features & Build
The unique selling point of the FZ1000 is its video recording. Alongside 4K, video can also be captured in Full HD (1920x1080) at 50p or 25p, and at four times slow-motion.
Panasonic has employed the same powerful Venus IX engine as found in the GH4 to handle the processing-intensive video work.
The 20.1Mp 1in MOS sensor is much bigger than that in most bridge models too. It’s around four times larger than the more usual 1/2.3in sensors, so image quality should be a notch above the rest. We’ll come on to this later (see Image Quality panel). For stills use, the FZ1000 can shoot JPEG and RAW files with a maximum resolution of 4864x3648px.
The operating speed has been placed high on Panasonic’s checklist, with a start-up time of 0.66secs and a rapid 0.09secs AF time. The key here lies within its Depth-From-Defocus (DFD) technology. This uses two images with different depths of field to focus. There’s a total of 49 resizable AF points and the shutter ranges from 60secs to 1/4000sec. There’s a Bulb mode too and a brisk, 12fps burst rate.
Turn your attention to the rear and you’ll find a 3in 921k-dot LCD which flips out to the left and can be rotated through 270° to assist with awkward shooting angles.
Above and overhanging the display is the 0.39in 2,359k-dot Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) which gives 100% frame coverage.
To the right of the EVF there’s a 3-way focusing switch that toggles between MF, AF-C and AF-S focusing modes. There’s also a D-Pad to the right of the display for quick access to ISO, White Balance, and Macro and this also sets the active AF point. A rubber grip snakes around the D-Pad and extends up past the rear command dial.
The EVF’s housing accommodates apop-up flash, stereo mic and a hotshoe. To the left there’s a Drive mode dial and on the right is the Mode dial with PASM shooting modes. A dedicated movie button sits next to the shutter – a logical position in a camera made for video just as much as stills.
The non-interchangeable lens zooms from 25-400mm (film equivalent) and has an aperture of f/2.8-4. This has Power O.I.S (optical image stabilisation) to combat camera shake.
Wi-Fi and NFC are built in for image sharing or shooting remotely using the free Panasonic Image App.
Performance & Handling
The large, rubberised front and rear grips give the camera a secure feel in the hand, and the metal lens is sturdily built. Zooming can be controlled using the lever around the shutter or the sizeable lens ring, and the latter can also be switched over for focusing duties. One minor issue we found was that the switches for O.I.S and for the Zoom/Focus options were quite small and fiddly to use.
The 3in 921k-dot flip out screen is perfect for shooting close to the ground or getting above a crowd, and it can be rotated back on itself to protect the screen.
The EVF above juts out by about 2cm, sand this stops your nose pressing into the LCD screen when using it. The EVF can be set to automatically engage via a motion detector. In use, we found the 2,359k-dot viewfinder to be perfectly clear with almost no lag.
The command dial on the rear sits within easy reach of your thumb making it easy to adjust the exposure.
But some of the other buttons were a little less logical in their positioning. There’s a total of five Function (Fn) buttons which can be set up to access various settings. Our main gripe with this is that it made the camera quite confusing to use, as though they’re custom buttons, they’re labelled with the default settings on all but one of them. This means you could adjust one setting with a button labelled as something entirely different.
Despite this slightly awkward button arrangement, the FZ1000 makes up for it with a blisteringly fast autofocus. An impressive feat for a camera relying on contrast detection, and providing the subject we aimed at had contrast, the FZ1000 was able to lock on in a heartbeat. The AF points can be resized using the Command feature and can be positioned anywhere in the frame thanks to its 49-point system. In terms of audible noise, the AF is quiet though not silent, as a gentle clicking sound was heard when locking on. This changes in movie mode though, as the focus mode switches to Continuous for smoother focusing. Here it wasn’t audible at all and couldn’t be heardin video footage recorded.
It’s not just the AF that’s quick. The 4K-capable processor was able to produce single JPEG and RAW files in just 0.25secs each. In the remarkable 12fps burst mode, JPEGs never slowed. But when switching over to the RAW format, the FZ1000 did slow down after 13 shots and these took 11.8secs to clear the buffer.
Value for Money
As Panasonic’s flagship bridge camera, the FZ1000 doesn’t come cheap. But if you’re solely after 4K video recording it’s certainly more affordable than the GH4 CSC which is currently £1749 with 14-140mm Power OIS lens.
To put the FZ1000 in perspective, its closest competitor is the Sony RX10. This is priced at £699 and also uses a large 1in sensor. But it has a shorter focal range of 24-200mm, a slower burst rate of 10fps and can’t shoot 4K video. So it’s worth weighing up the differences to see if you should pay more for these features in the FZ1000.
The 24-400mm zoom is quite modest for a superzoom, with some more affordable models reaching well over 1200mm. It’s also worth noting that the same cash would buy you an entry-level D-SLR and two budget lenses. This will give better image quality, but wouldn’t provide the all-in-one convenience, nor the 4K video capture.
Billed as the ultimate hybrid bridge camera and an uncompromising D-SLR replacement, the FZ1000 has a lot to live up to. The image quality doesn’t match that of an APS-C D-SLR, but it did deliver some of the best images we’ve seen from a bridge model. Its AF was lightning-fast and so was the blistering 12fps frame rate. But it’s the 4K capability that makes this camera stand out, and it’s a cost-effective option for those requiring this feature.
- Street price: £599 (As of July 2016)
- Resolution: 20.1Mp (5472x3648px)
- Sensor: 1in MOS (13.2x8.8mm)
- Lens: 9.1-146mm 16x Optical
- Image stabilisation: Power O.I.S
- ISO range: 125-12,800 (can be expanded to 80-25,600)
- Shutter: 60-1/4000sec & bulb
- AF system: Contrast detection with Depth from Defocus (DFD)
- Focusing modes: Manual Focus, AFS/AFF & AFC
- Shooting modes: Intelligent Auto, PASM, Movie, 2 Custom modes, 8 filter effects and 25 Scene modes
- Monitor: 3in, 921k dot flip-out LCD
- Viewfinder: 0.39in EVF 2,359k-dot 100% coverage
- Pop-up flash: Yes
- Hotshoe: Yes
- Video: Not available
- Write speeds: 0.25secs RAW, 0.25secs Fine JPEG
- Storage: SD, SDHC and SDXC
- Weight: 780g (body only)
- Dimensions: (WxHxD) 136.8x98.5x130.7mm mm
- Visit: www.panasonic.com/uk
This review was first published in the November 2014 issue of Digital Photo - download back issues here.