Absolutely Fabulous - The Panasonic FZ1000

I knew I wanted one of these ever since it was announced. And a couple of days of working with it has confirmed everything I thought I would be getting. This is, quite simply, a fantastic camera. With a fantastic lens and performance to match. Any notion that this a 'bridge' camera i.e. a halfway house between something not very good and something a lot better is one of the great mis-descriptions of all time. The combination of features and possibilities this thing offers puts it way beyond virtually everything else out there. A few hours with the FZ1000 has convinced me that this is a special camera (and lens) and one that puts pretty much everything else in the shade. Hyperbole? Maybe, but the speed, quality and sheer class of this addition to the Panasonic range, at let's face it, an incredible price, raises the benchmark for what all cameras, let alone small sensor superzooms, have to measure up against.

The first thing I did was shoot some 4K video. I happened to have my Nephew round, who I've worked with over the years shooting events and commercial video and stills work. Looking at the footage we were quite simply stunned. Picking our jaws up off the floor we realised that all the hype about 4K is actually deserved. It is stunning, even allowing for the fact that my laptop and desktop struggles to run it smoothly. Below is a still grabbed from the video, hand held at the longest end of the zoom.

It's ridiculously sharp and puts the image quality of dedicated stills produced on many supposedly better cameras to shame. 

OK, so lets reign the gushing in a bit. Let's start at the beginning. First off this thing is a serious piece of polycarbonate. It's not small. It is in fact bigger than the Sony RX10 in every direction. It is however very light but larger than any of the Panasonic m4/3 cameras. The lens is particularly chunky. However, I love the feel and the handling this produces. And yes I love the fact that it looks like a 'serious' camera. Because that's just what it is. Anyone who has used a Panasonic G1 - G6 or GH3 /4 will feel comfortable with it however and the layout will be pretty familiar to those used to the Panasonic house style. The grip is particularly nice and I can get all of my fingers round it. 

The screen and viewfinder are also excellent. The EVF is especially good. It's sharp and clear and worked for me wearing  polarised sunglasses in less than ideal conditions. AF is blistering, even on low contrast dimly lit targets and the zoom, controlled by a rocker switch around the shutter button is very smooth and fast if you need that. I didn't miss a manual zoom ring one little bit. 

Now even though it looks like it, it is important to remember that this isn't a m4/3 camera. The sensor is a 1'' Sony unit, the same as the RX10 and the default image size is 3:2 not 4:3. Though the sensor size is smaller than that in m4/3 cameras, you'd be hard pressed to notice any difference up to ISO 640, which is the limit of the ISO's I've tested so far. And that's another great thing, the image quality isn't compromised one little bit by the smaller sensor at low ISO's. Sony have to take much of the credit for this, as they manufacture it, but the Panasonic fine tuning is also extremely good, producing sharp, clean images at those low ISO's. Jpg's are much improved too from Panasonic's usual standard.

Obviously camera tech. moves on and what this 1" sensor can produce these days would have taken a much larger light gathering surface only a few years ago. And let's get serious here, the FZ1000 produces images that will meet the very highest reproduction standards. As indeed, do lots of other cameras. In fact, for print reproduction, including high-end advertising, this was pretty much achieved with 12MP. Now I'm as impressed by high pixel counts as the next photographer and my Sony A7r does produce some incredible images, but all those pixels are somewhat of an extravagance. For 99.9% of reproduction needs they just aren't needed. It won't have escaped your attention that the top of the range Nikon and Canon 'pro' cameras are 16 and 18MP respectively. 

So in terms of stills reproduction, unless you want to work in poor light and use high ISO's, the FZ1000 can handle what's asked of it. Certainly for my stock photography needs it's easily good enough. I would also take the opportunity here to indicate that this Sony 1" sensor is significantly better than the less densely pixeled Nikon 1 alternative. Check out some FZ1000 samples and some from the ludicrously overpriced Nikon V3 and you'll see what I mean. Regarding this I hope Nikon aren't surprised by the fact that they are in dire financial trouble, because nobody else is!!

So what I have is a quality camera that delivers top class stills and video with ease. And of course it asks the question, "Do I really need that m4/3 camera" With a zoom this good and this fast, just exactly what is the advantage of lots of different lenses? In terms of how the lens performs I get
f/2.8 at 25mm (I'm using these 35mm approximations because that's what's on the lens barrel) f/3.5 at 58mm and f/4 at 200mm* where it stays. So you get a 200-400m (35mm approx.) f/4 zoom included which is pretty good. All of course made possible by the size of the sensor. So I have answered the question at the top of this paragraph by selling all my Panasonic m4/3 gear. I just don't need it anymore and more to the point, I don't want it.

There is however still one 'mickey-mouse' feature that I'm unhappy with. In what is a serious camera that is pro-spec in all respects apart from reputation, Panasonic still have the ridiculous three bar battery level indicator. Now even my Samsung Galaxy 2 camera has a % power readout, so why on earth can't Panasonic put this in. It's REALLY simple to do it and makes such a difference. 

So more on this in the next few days. I'll have some 4K video to show you when the monstrous (339MB) file I'm uploading on my slowish internet connection to YouTube finishes. I won't be be able to see it running smoothly and only those of you with super processors will have that privilege. But I edited it down to HD and it does look amazing. So hopefully some of you can enjoy seeing it at it's best.

I very rarely alter my first impressions of a camera and for the FZ1000 these are very positive. I am in fact quite excited about what I can do with it. I'm intrigued to see just what I can get by grabbing stills off the 4K footage, because that could have a number of uses. My Nephew is also interested in working with some 4K footage and since he has a PC that will handle it, I should get to see what is possible before spending a substantial sum of money upgrading my own gear if I so wish.

Already this cameras arrival has had an effect. There is an awful lot of my gear sold and for sale on ebay and more to follow. The RX10 is an excellent camera, but there is no doubt in my mind that this Panasonic is better. It's already the front runner for Soundimageplus camera of the year and the lens is also in the lead for lens of the year. The FZ1000 is that good. 

I will at some point do a comparison between it and the RX10, but I warn you now, it's pretty much a foregone conclusion. The Panasonic is better overall. The 4K video, the extra long zoom, the great viewfinder and the blindingly fast AF give it the edge. Well, actually a bit more than an edge. However I'll still be using the Sony as at the long end of the RX10 zoom - 200mm (35mm approx.) there is a one stop advantage* over the FZ1000 and that's really useful. 

As ever, you should know this is all my personal opinion and determined totally by what I need, want and look for in a camera. Your needs and preferences may be completely different to mine and therefore the FZ1000 will not be something you will consider. However, should what it does be of interest, then do check out other reviews and if possible, get your hands on one to try it. I love it, but everyone has different perceptions and tastes, so my ideal camera may be somebody elses idea of pixelated hell. 

More later.

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