Thoughts on the Panasonic FZ-1000

panasonic fz-1000
Panasonic FZ-1000 with the swivel LCD facing forward and up a little.

From the day it was announced, I found the Panasonic FZ-1000 to be one of the most interesting cameras in many years.  It is very much the camera I hoped for but didn’t think could be built today.  Prior to its announcement I was looking at the Sony RX10 as a possible future purchase but not quite satisfied with its 200mm limit or its high $1300 price.   The Panasonic FZ-1000 however meets my minimum desired telephoto needs while at the same time introducing some very nice features that I liked in the Panasonic GH4 and some earlier FZ series cameras.   But more then that the FZ-1000 introduces some amazing video capabilities at an excellent pricepoint.

Now before I proceed, let me state clearly that I have not had a chance to see or handle the FZ-1000 directly so this article is based solely on information I have gathered from multiple sources, my prior photographic experience with many different cameras and my personal preferences and opinion.   It is not necessary for anyone to agree with me or my thoughts.  The process of writing is every bit part of my attempt to organize and clarify my thoughts and to evaluate them as I go along, for myself.  

The more I look at the Panasonic FZ-1000, it compares well against the Sony RX10 and at lower ISO’s does very well against equivalent resolution m4/3, APSC and even some full frame. It won’t be a high ISO champ in my mind however. It is excellent at 125-200, very good at 400, good at 800, acceptable (to me) at 1600 but 3200 and above you will be better off with larger sensor cameras if detail and low noise are important to you.

PHOTO-STYLES AND CUSTOMIZATION
I do like that once again (from what I can determine) like most FZ and other Panasonic cameras, the FZ-1000 allows you to tweak all the JPEG profiles to a high degree for contrast, sharpness, saturation and Noise Reduction. You’re not locked in to Panasonic’s idea of what the style should be and can change or modify most of them easily. You can even create your own “custom” style to some degree if you like.  This means that while Panasonic provides a point and shoot solution for the casual photographer, they also allow more experienced and enthusiast photographers to not only have full manual control but also to tweak the cameras defaults quite easily.  This is a significant consideration for me, as I generally like to shoot RAW+JPEG.  RAW so that I have maximum detail and JPEG as a reference.  However since I don’t always like Panasonic’s default JPEG look I like that I can customize any Photostyle for my preference.

I currently have a Panasonic FZ-150, that I have shot with frequently in recent years.  With its tiny sensor though I always shoot RAW at low ISO and then post process to get the most detail out of it.  At lower ISO’s it is quite capable, but above ISO 400, the image deteriorates quickly.  The FZ-150 allows adjustments in steps of 2, above or below the default JPEG Photo Styles.  From what I can gather the FZ-1000 should also allow the same, but in steps of 4 above or below, the default photo style settings for contrast, sharpness, saturation and Noise Reduction, which can all be adjusted up or down. In the case of noise reduction for each photo style, a decrease in JPEG noise reduction will increase detail but it will also show more noise at higher ISOs.  So it is a compromise between detail or noise.  This is one of those choices that every photographer must make.  The best compromise for them, their style and their desired results.   At small web showings or prints no larger then 11X14, you probably won’t see the difference.  But it will show at larger sizes or on images that have been significantly cropped. I personally prefer a little noise over a loss of detail due to heavy in camera noise reduction.   Noise reduction smudging is as bad as being out of focus to me.

Imaging Resource posted their studio shots (as many already know) but on the thumbnails page (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/panasonic-fz1000/panasonic-fz1000THMB.HTM) they have both Normal (5) and (0) settings for JPEG noise reduction. Look for files ending in NR0 for the lowest noise reduction.  I downloaded the NR0 files and compared against RX10 at lowest noise reduction and RAW as well as against some other 4/3 and APSC RAW files and was quite impressed at the FZ-1000 results.   (Don’t have software to read the FZ1000 RAW files yet)

DPREview has also posted Studio samples with their new studio setup as well and it shows both default JPEG and RAW examples.   http://www.dpreview.com/previews/panasonic-lumix-dmc-fz1000/6

After downloading the FZ1000 jpegs at their lowest noise reduction from imaging resource I compared them to the RX10 at its lowest JPEG noise setting and to RX10 RAWs.   The FZ1000 was the equal of the RX10 in overall quality and maybe just a little better in some ways and not quite as good in others.   The Sony does seem to provide a bit more sharpening and contrast with JPEG images and maybe even RAW.  Of course, the FZ-1000 photostyles can also be tweaked to do the same.    I then got bold and started comparing to other larger sensor cameras.   What blew me away there is that at ISO 125-200 the FZ1000 held its own detail and noise wise compared to m4/3, APSC and did quite well compared to a Canon 6D full frame which is also 20mp.  Mind you there are always other factors then noise and resolution, but for the most part low ISO performance is excellent.  Of course at higher ISOs the larger sensor cameras will outshine the FZ1000, especially above ISO 800.  That is only to be expected.  For me though, a recent review of my past 13 years of digital images showed me that 85% of all my images (more then 10,000) have been shot at ISO’s of 400 or less.  Fewer then 200 have been shot at ISO higher then 1600.  So for me, the Panasonic FZ-1000 looks like it is a good match for the majority of my photography.

While both Imaging Resource and DPReview provide RAW files, I don’t currently have any software that will let me directly look at the RAW files at the moment so can’t really compare RAW output which is more definitive then JPEG output.

PUSHING THE LIMITS
Okay, I don’t have the FZ-1000 and am not likely to get one until money and the camera are both available, but I do like to explore the possibilities and limits based upon the resources at hand.   Now to be perfectly honest, from all the reviews done to date, I’m not overly impressed by many of the sample images.  Mind you it is not the camera, but the actual photography which is somewhat lacking.  Still a lot of these images are quick and easy snapshots for demonstration purposes and subject matter and attention to detail, aren’t always as big a part of the plan as the rush is to get an article to press (online).

The important thing to keep in mind is that the FZ-1000 has a 1 inch sensor (okay that is the common industry reference but of course not accurate, its actual size is 13.2 x 8.8 mm with approx. a 16mm diagonal).  The sensor is almost 4 times the size of a 1/2.3 inch sensor which is the most common size used in long zoom bridge cameras until recently.  That size plus the increased 20 mp resolution makes a dramatic difference in image quality at all ISO’s but especially at higher ISOs.  It also allows for not only more resolution but a much larger pixel size which reduces noise and increases dynamic range.    I wanted to see how far I could push the Imaging Resource Studio shot in a print.  Using the lowest noise reduction file at ISO 1600 (file name FZ1000hSLIO1600NRL0.jpg) I made some prints at magnifications that would be equivalent to 11×14″ and 16X20″.  The 11×14″ prints were very good, and the 16X20 while showing loss of detail when viewed up close still looked acceptable at normal viewing distances.

So far, without having a camera to shoot with, it looks as though the FZ-1000 will be capable of producing excellent prints or large web images depending on ISO and images shot for sharing on the web/internet at less then 100% will also look very good.  My best guess is that at low ISO’s the FZ-1000 should be capable of poster size prints at 400 and below, and at higher ISO’s up to 800 decent 16X20 prints.   ISO 3200 should be usable with JPEG noise reduction set to its minimum or from RAW and still have reasonable detail at smaller viewing sizes.  6400 will be okay for documentary type images intended for small printing (news articles) or internet viewing.   In fact compared to the old film days and early digital years, all ISOs up to 6400 seem remarkable, even if not ideal.

SIZE AND WEIGHT
There have been a lot of comments in various camera and photography forums regarding the size and weight of the Panasonic FZ-1000.  Yes it is larger and heavier then most other “all in one” bridge cameras.  In size, weight and lens coverage it falls in between the Fuji X-S1 (largest and heaviest) with its 2/3 in sensor and the Sony RX10 with a nearly identical sensor.  Some think it is too big and heavy.  For me personally, comparing against other cameras I have owned and shot with (and that is quite a few) I find that it will likely fall right into my personal sweet spot ergonomically  A lot depends on the actual grip and control layout, but looking at the camera images, and numbers it is right in that range that I find ideal and looks like some of the best cameras I have used.

My FZ150, is a nice little, light weight camera, but it is actually too light, and too small for long lens shooting comfort. Sometimes a little more size and weight is better then too little.  The FZ-1000 is only a little bit larger and heavier then my old FZ-50 camera (with a 1/1.8” sensor) which was one of my all time favorites for low ISO shooting.  The FZ-50 came in at:  Weight (with batt) 734 g (1.6 lb) Dimensions 141 x 86 x 142 mm (5.5 x 3.4 x 5.6 in).  This compares to the FZ-1000 at Weight (inc. batteries) 831 g (1.83 lb / 29.31 oz) Dimensions: 137 x 99 x 131 mm (5.39 x 3.9 x 5.16″)  The old FZ-50 was an excellent street camera and long zoom in its day.  Loved its overall ergonomics with only a few minor annoyances.   It was a camera I never minded carrying.   However its high ISO performance left a lot to be desired despite its 1/1.8″ sensor.   Of course that was the technology of several years ago, and sensor technology since then has grown by leaps and bounds.

20 mp FZ-1000 on the left and 10 mp FZ-50 on the right.  Eight years difference in sensor technology.
Click to see a larger version.  
Fuji X-S1, Panasonic FZ-1000 and Sony RX-10.  The big dogs of long zoom bridge cameras.
Click to view on Camerasize.com

From the outside, it looks as though the FZ-1000 provides me with much of what I liked about the FZ-50 and a whole lot more in advanced still and video technology.   Familiarity with the Panasonic FZ series doesn’t hurt any either.

VIDEO
I only recently in the past year started playing with video on my FZ-150.  I have found that learning the ins and outs of shooting video has had the side benefit of improving my still photography as well.  Mostly this is because it has helped me to see things differently and as more then stagant objects.  While I am only a beginning videographer, it is fun and a challenging learning experience.  Something new that does not take away from my decades long still photography but helps to improve it.   As a result I am quite interested in the video capabilities of the FZ-1000.   One can argue if 4K is needed or not, but I see it as “future proofing”.   It wasn’t that many years ago that ISO 1600 was high speed and a long zoom was maybe 300mm with an F5.6 aperture, if you could accept its optical compromises.   The FZ-1000 has some serious video abilities.  4K, 1080p, 120 fps 1080p, and much more.  Early 4K video is outstanding, even when viewed on a non 4K monitor.  The difference in quality and detail is substantial.  Throw in Stop Motion, Time Lapse, being able to pull sharp 8 mp stills from video, new cine friendly Photostyles, and more.  Even for photogaphers who aren’t interested in video in general, the FZ-1000 brings some capabilities that are beneficial to still photography through its Video capabilities.

FINAL THOUGHTS
There are a lot of things about the FZ-1000 and its features that I could write about.  But they are pretty much covered elsewhere.

The more I look and research, the more I like what I see with the Panasonic FZ-1000.  It does not replace larger sensor or interchangeable lens cameras but is a smaller/lighter overall alternative or companion camera.    Am anxious to see actual RAW results one day.  Of course, if you need a real low light, high ISO camera or a very long lens, then the FZ1000 is probably not for you. But if you want a balance of size, weight, features, and image quality that is suitable for a majority of what you shoot, then it may be worth taking a long look at.  I see the FZ-1000 as my near ideal travel and documentary camera that could probably cover 90% of what I shoot.

The FZ-1000 has lots of features and capabilities I haven’t touched on, but you can read all about them at numerous websites and at Panasonic’s home.  Link below to Panasonic UK, because the US site doesn’t have much very useful at this time.   Panasonic UK has an excellent introduction and feature page.

Will I get one?  That depends more on my bank account then my desire so not until I have the money in the bank.   Would it be my only camera?  NO!  Something small, that fits in a small belt pouch or jacket pocket like a Sony RX100 III, or maybe the rumored Panasonic LX8 would be nice for a go everywhere camera.    Then again, if money didn’t matter, something bigger like maybe a Sony A7r or Nikon 800e, maybe even a Pentax 645 digital, just for those occasional but exceptional landscape shots would be nice.   But if I could have only one camera and one lens, the FZ-1000 stands a very good chance of being my choice, providing I can afford to get it before something better comes along next year or so. But I suspect that for the majority of my photography work the FZ-1000 would be as good an answer as exists today.  My primary interest is in travel and documentary work, including historical, cultural and people.  It is in so many ways the camera that I have been wishing for and dreaming about since my FZ-50, and much, much, more.   In fact, when they first rumors on the LX8 came out, I thought “now wouldn’t it be great if they could take that sensor and put it in a bridge camera but with a longer lens then the RX and better video.    Lo and behold a few days later Panasonic announced the FZ-1000 out of the blue.

In the end, this is all my personal anticipation and expectation based upon the fragments of information I have been able to pull together and test against both real photography and personal experience.  I don’t get gear lust often, but this is the worst case of it in a very long time.   Now where is that winning lottery ticket.  Don’t need a huge jackpot, just enough for a fascinating camera and gas, food and travel money.  Oh, and a plane ticket, back to the Philippines.  There are 7,103 islands I still haven’t photographed yet along with significant parts of the 4 that I photographed some before.  If I get bored there, I can always join my cousin in Thailand.  Should keep me busy for couple of decades.   Not too much to ask!  By then maybe there will be an FZ-2000.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s