If you were on the fence between an entry-level digital SLR and a compact camera with a long zoom lens, the Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 might be all the camera you need.
Digital SLRs deliver high-quality photos and HD video and fast performance, but a dSLR might be too much camera for you in price, size and weight -- and that's without adding a long zoom lens to the equation. You can get smaller, lighter, long-zoom compact cameras at lower prices, but they come with a loss in image quality, features and control, and in most cases, aren't nearly as quick to focus and shoot.
The FZ1000 truly bridges the two using a 1-inch 20-megapixel MOS sensor (four times larger than the 1/2.3-inch sensors you find in most long-zoom cameras like Panasonic's FZ200) and a 16x f2.8-4.0 25-400mm lens (and yes, it's a Leica).
The benefit to a larger image sensor is better image quality, but they also require larger lenses. While its zoom range might not seem impressive compared with the expansive 50x or longer zooms on other bridge cameras, the FZ1000 delivers superior image quality to those small-sensor compacts.
A dSLR or mirrorless interchangeable lens camera would get you better image quality still, but a zoom lens with similar specs for one of those would be large and heavy. It would also be more expensive than this camera alone, which is currently around $800 or £650 in the UK and AU$1,200 in Australia.
Because this is a variable aperture zoom lens, the aperture gets immediately smaller as you zoom out, letting less light reach the sensor. Giving the lens a constant f2.8 aperture through the zoom range, like Sony's RX10, would have been nice, but it also would have made the lens bigger. The FZ1000's variable aperture lens is a compromise, but for me, it's worth it.
The RX10 features a 1-inch sensor as well, but its telephoto end stops at 200mm. The two cameras are roughly the same size and weight, too, so really it comes down to what you value more, the Sony's constant f2.8 aperture or more zoom range.
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200||Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ1000||Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10|
|Sensor (effective resolution)||12.1MP MOS 1/2.3-inch||20.9MP MOS CMOS 1-inch||20.2MP Exmor R CMOS 1-inch|
|Sensitivity range||ISO 100-3200/ISO 6400 (exp)||ISO 80, 100, 25600 (exp)/ISO 125-12800||ISO 100 (exp)/ISO 160-12800|
|Lens (35mm-equivalent)||24x f2.8 25-600mm||16x f2.8-4.0 25-400mm||8.3x f2.8 24-200mm|
|Closest focus||0.4-inch (1cm)||1.2 (3cm)||1.2 (3cm)|
|Continuous shooting||5.5fps (12fps with fixed focus)||7fps (12fps with fixed exposure)||10fps|
|Electronic viewfinder||0.21-inch/1,312K dots,100 percent coverage||0.39-inch/2,359K dots,100 percent coverage||N/A/1,440K dots, 100 percent coverage|
|Autofocus||23-area contrast AF||49-area contrast AF||25-area contrast AF|
|Shutter||60-1/4,000 sec||60-1/4,000 sec; bulb||30-1/3,200 sec; bulb|
|LCD||3-inch free-angle 460K dots||3-inch free-angle 921K dots||3-inch tilting, 1,228K dots|
|Video(best quality)||AVCHD 1080/60p/60i/30p||MP4 4K/30p; AVCHD 1080/60p/60i/30p||AVCHD 1080/60p/60i/24p|
|Audio||Stereo, mic input||Stereo, mic input||Stereo, headphone jack, mic input|
|Optical zoom while recording||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Wireless connectivity||None||Wi-Fi, NFC||Wi-Fi, NFC|
|Battery life (CIPA rating)||540 shots||360 shots||420 shots|
|Dimensions (WHD)||4.9 x 3.4 x 4.3 inches (124.5 x 86.4 x 109.2mm)||5.4 x 3.9 x 5.2 inches (136.8 x 98.5 x 130.7mm)||5.1 x 3.5 x 4.1 inches (129 x 88.1 x 102.2mm)|
|Weight||1 pound (468g)||1.83 pounds (830g)||1.79 pounds (814g)|
|Mfr. price||$599.99||$899.99||$ 999.99|
Video and photo quality
The FZ1000 was the first compact camera to record video at resolutions up to 4K (3,840x2,160) in MP4 at 30/25fps or 24fps (does it, too). It's something you might shrug off as not necessary and it well might not be -- yet. The fact is this camera does 1080p at 60fps or 120fps in MP4 and 1080p at 60fps in AVCHD, too. And the video at those resolutions looks excellent.
The 4K video looks noticeably sharper and more detailed on a 4K-resolution TV and even if you don't have one now, you might eventually. The extra resolution also allows you to crop in and still have a full HD video. Basically you're getting a powerful video camera with some future-proofing.
To go with those high resolutions, you'll find a full manual video mode as well as shutter-priority, aperture-priority and program auto modes; a mic jack (but no headphone jack); optical image stabilization; and a five-step speed control for the zoom for smooth movement while recording. The Micro-HDMI port on the right side supports clean HDMI output, so you can record to an external drive without text or graphics or view on a larger display while recording to the internal SD card (camera-testing site Imaging Resource has a thorough explanation if you want more details).
Another reason not to discount its 4K video is for stills. There are some things you're just not going to be able to capture when shooting photos. With the FZ1000, you can instead shoot some 4K video at 30 frames per second, then in playback go frame by frame until you find the moment you want. Select the frame and the camera saves it as a single 8-megapixel photo.
Of course, if you just want regular photos, those are pretty great, too. The 1-inch, 20-megapixel MOS sensor paired with a Panasonic Venus Engine processor with multiple noise reduction systems produce excellent results, even at high ISOs.
The images above are 100 percent crops from the center of our test scene. Fine detail remains intact right up through ISO 800. It starts to soften some at that point, but it isn't until you get up to ISO 3200 that you notice at smaller sizes.
Noise levels are quite good, too. Panasonic does an excellent job of keeping a balance between detail and noise reduction keeping things from getting too smeary until ISO 1600. And color quality doesn't start to suffer until above ISO 1600 either.
If you want to shoot in raw, you can do a little better at higher ISOs than the JPEGs straight from the camera. You'll also be able to rescue some detail from blown-out highlights or shadows. You might also find yourself occasionally correcting for purple fringing in high-contrast areas, but its not nearly as bad as other megazoom cameras.