Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ1000 review: This long-zoom camera may sway you from an entry-level dSLR

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The Good The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ1000 produces excellent photos and video; it has an expansive feature set to satisfy snapshooters and enthusiasts; it offers a lot of direct access to important settings and has a fantastic electronic viewfinder.

The Bad Its maximum f/2.8 aperture is only available at its widest focal length. The plastic body and large lens makes it feel a bit off-balance. Controls and shooting options might be intimidating for some.

The Bottom Line With excellent photo and video quality and a deep feature set, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ1000 is the perfect mix if you want dSLR-like controls and better than point-and-shoot performance with the convenience of a single fixed lens.

8.5 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 9
  • Image quality 8

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).

Sarah Tew/CNET

Worthwhile trade-offs

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
Flash Yes Yes Yes
Hot shoe Yes Yes Yes
LCD 3-inch free-angle 460K dots 3-inch free-angle 921K dots 3-inch tilting, 1,228K dots
Image stabilization Optical Optical Optical
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
Availability 8/1/2012 7/2014 11/1/2013

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 ( Panasonic's LX100 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).

A 4K photo captured with the FZ1000. Joshua Goldman/CNET

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.

Joshua Goldman/CNET
Joshua Goldman/CNET

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.