Saturday, December 13, 2014

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ1000 Review (Camera of the Year?)

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ1000 Review (Camera of the Year?)
December 2014, Carl Garrard

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ1000 Review: 
Happy Holidays to all readers.The 2014 year has been a rather interesting one for us shutterbugs, right? Camera companies are starting to show they can make enthusiast level cameras that have most of what we've been wishing they'd make for a long time. And speaking of those wish list cameras, I've temporarily stopped writing another camera review for the star of the show here, and it wasn't planned. Panasonic (and Leica) have made what they call the ultimate all in one camera, and I was too tempted to not try it out any longer. After a couple weeks or so with this camera, I'm ready to report my findings on the latest long zoom "digicam"- the FZ1000. I had planned on waiting to finish my other review first, but when shooting with this camera I found it so incredibly appealing and mesmorizing that I had to re-prioritize my publishable content. Long an avid fan of all in one designs, i.e. superzooms or long zoom cameras, the FZ1000 seems custom built to those users wants and needs. Let's see what kind of impression it's made on me so far.

Your Gateway to the best Amazon Price

FZ1000 Review- Introduction
Your Gateway to the best Amazon Price

My comments on this review will primarily center around the FZ1000 as a still image capturing device (that includes timelapse/timelapse videos). So if you are looking for detailed and technical feedback regarding video, this review will disappoint you. I'd move on videographers.

Ok with that said, and for the rest of you, on with my findings.

Panasonic has long been a hit and miss company for me, some cameras have drove me nuts, and some I've absolutely fell in love with. It's been a while I'll admit, since Panasonic have really impressed me. The last camera from Panasonic that I loved quite a bit was the DMC-L10 which came out in 2007 (before that  the DMC-L1 and LC1 which remain on my all time favorites list). Beyond that, the only camera I've really liked from them since was the FZ200, a ground breaking superzoom camera. So it was with some hesitation and hope that I wouldn't be heartbroken yet again.

When Panasonic makes a dud it frustrates me because I think Panasonic are the most capable major electronics manufacturer of the big three (Sony/Samsung/Panasonic). All three manufacturers share a commonality in that they can make a camera in house with all their own parts. Yet for some strange reason, Panasonic don't always seem to put in a full effort into their camera designs.  Sony has really come on lately and it seems  that if you are going to play in the camera industry- you better go all out.

Fortunately Panasonic seems to have read all the criticism over the years, and have taken action lately.

And that is exactly what Panasonic did with the FZ1000. Although it shares a similar sensor, I don't think it's answer to Sony's RX10, like some of my colleagues have written. I'll explain why.

Panasonic practically invented and perfected the longzoom camera design, they have the most experience of any company making them. Instead, I think Sony's RX10 was an answer to Fujifilm and Panasonic who've been making great superzooms of late (XS1 and FZ200 to name a couple). Panasonic just showed how quickly they could make a more premium longzoom camera.

Sony's RX10 is a great camera in its own right, but having used both cameras now, I'd gladly take the FZ1000 with me nine times out of ten. To me, Panasonic has created the very first all in one design that can make a real argument against forking out money for a DSLR or Mirrorless system. It's honestly that good.

The compromises compared to a DSLR/Mirrorless system with this camera have lessened to the point where I suspect it may give a lot of enthusiasts pause on why they continue to choose to invest in and carry around an interchangeable lens camera system at all. I even suspect many shooters may even sell off those systems and go both feet in on the FZ1000 with no regrets. We'll see about that.

FZ1000 Review- Using It

Using the FZ1000 is like carrying around a photographers version of your dads rolling tool box in your hand (you know, that huge thing that has everything in it, all organized and neat?). You're constantly aware of its capabilities, which are vast and, that it does almost all of them very well. And surprisingly with all these features, Panasonic has somehow found a way to make using the FZ1000 a fun experience that doesn't make you dizzy when going from using one feature to the next. That isn't an easy thing to do. In fact its rare in the camera industry, what an enjoyable experience this camera is. 

Serious kudos to Panasonic here for making a feature rich camera fun and intuitive to use.

Performance wise, the FZ1000 is fast in just about every single way. Its auto focus is nothing short of ridiculously fast and accurate, start up time is instantaneous, processing done before you know it (use a fast SD card). Looking through the awesome viewfinder is much like a full frame DSLR view- big, detailed, informative (only more informative or less depending on your personal wants/needs). The monitor refreshes at two rates, 30fps or 60fps (battery saving option), and simply is the best EVF I've ever used. Panning looks great, not only does it not lag in good light- you can't get it too, no matter how fast you move it around. This is what optical finder fans have been wanting in an EVF for quite some time.

Best EVF I've tested yet, never mind that it bests much more expensive cameras. First EVF made to challenge full frame optical finders in my opinion. Although other finders share the same OLED panel, its the optics in front of it that really make the difference in viewing. Not all are the same!

Only in lower light does the EVF start to slow down, but that doesn't bother me because I'm not shooting fast action sequences in low light. And yet even in low light it somehow manages to do very well. Plus, it gains up  in low light - meaning I can see the scene better through the EVF than with an optical finder (don't get me started on how good the magnification/focus peaking helps for low light manual focusing either).

This is the first EVF that I can honestly say can challenge an optical finders' advantages and give me pause on which I'd prefer overall. I'd call it a tie when compared to the best optical finders out there, but both still have their own advantages and disadvantages. There's no APS-C DSLR optical finder out there I'd prefer over using this EVF (at least nine times out of ten). The weaknesses we've all discussed online about EVF's are just about nil with this one. I could spend an hour writing about the EVF alone, it's adjustable for brightness, contrast, color, refresh rate, information shown, format type, diopter, you name it. Just superb.

Oh, the LCD isn't bad either (sarcasm alert), really good stuff. I like that the LCD screen matches the sensors naive 3:2 ratio, this way you're not using a cropped portion of the LCD (unlike the EVF which uses 4:3 natively). Of course I like the tilt/swivel design too. If it had a glass cover, I'd be emphatic about it. Hint hint. I'm not disappointed personally that it's not a touch screen but I can see how some users would demand it.

It's Leica DC Vario-Elmarit may seem to be the star of the show, but there is equally much more to like about the FZ1000 than its lens

FZ1000 Review- Supreme Versatility
In over 14 years of using digital cameras, I can say without reservation that this is the most versatile fixed lens imaging tool I've ever used. I'd not hesitate to make professional level gallery quality landscapes, shoot macro, shoot action, shoot low light scenes, or bring it indoors for commercial work and/or freelance flash usage. The lens is capable of surprisingly excellent defocused effects and details alike, and its focal range is supremely versatile. For amateurs and pro's alike, I can see this camera becoming the most popular and capable all in one solution of all time (at least as of the date of this article).

Focal length indicators on the lens, backed up by a nice step zoom operation if  you so choose to enable it in the menus.

Auto focus (combined with the excellent EVF) is fast enough to shoot sports and fast action sequences with confidence. Now you won't have the constant autofocus tracking capability of the pro level DSLRS, but, well chosen one to three shot bursts should render a high sharp keeper rate (use the center AF point for this). This camera is fast, really fast. And no, it doesn't slow down at full telephoto either. I'd suggest  the focus/burst, refocus/burst technique. If you don't get keeper action shots with this camera, then you need to examine your skills. The camera is not the bottle neck.

To me the trick is to disable image playback so there are no delays from shoot to shot while viewing through the EVF. This made a huge difference for me for action sequences and especially panning and shooting- you can continue to track your subject and continue to shoot with this EVF simultaneously.

FZ1000 Review- The Art of Compromise
Making a fixed lens camera has always been a compromise compared to system cameras from the start. Long zoom cameras have been around for as long as digital cameras have been available. Yet for one reason or another, they have never seriously competed against interchangeable lens systems because of various weaknesses and shortcomings. Until now.

The lens, the LCD, the controls, the EVF, the grip.. a complete package.

Convenience and compact size (for what you get) has never been a weakness for a fixed lens digicam. I'd say the very first all in one digicam that gave DSLR's trouble was the Sony R1 with its near APS-C sized sensor, but that was in 2005 and its lens was limited in range. Ironically it took the same company to challenge a DSLR/Mirrorless system nearly a decade later with the RX10. Until the FZ1000 came out, I made an argument for the RX10 as being a very tempting all in one design that would probably make most photographers happy.To me though the FZ1000 takes the RX10 to the cleaners.

Yes having 400mm on the long end helps, its a big difference going from 200mm to 400mm, really. Using them both though, the lens is just one of many advantages. I can't emphasize just how much better the FZ1000 feels in hand, how quickly and more efficient it is to use, and how well implemented everything is. It's much less of compromise than the RX10 compared to a system camera/camera system in every day use. Granted, it is newer than the RX10, so it will be interesting to see what the RX10 II is like if Sony makes one. It's also still less money to fork out. 

I can't help but think of the FZ1000 as the ultimate all in one still imaging device. It's image quality from the sensor is very close to that of good DSLRS (imagine what a 16mp chip same size could do...), not far off at all. Optically, you'd spend a fortune in comparison on a mirrorless or DSLR system trying to match its focal length in lenses that have a similar max aperture, or could match the macro capability alone. Lets not get into discussion about sharpness or distortion comparisons either, it would be hard pressed to find a set of lenses that could best the FZ1000's in these categories.

Bokeh wise, the lens performs better than expected, with creamy defocused backgrounds if you use longer focal lengths, keep the aperture wide open, and you aren't too far from the subject. Subject isolation (depth of field) is definitely decent to very good as well. Now DSLRS and system cameras with larger sensors and faster lenses can do better in this regard, but at a much higher cost than the FZ1000. Is what you gain here worth it to you? Only you can decide, but you won't know unless you use a FZ1000 yourself first, trust me.

Panasonic FZ1000 Review: Conclusion- Camera of the Year?

During my evaluation period, I've come to the conclusion that there is no single camera designed before the FZ1000 that bests it as an all in one digital camera design. This camera should please both gear heads and photographers alike- and lets not forget videographers either!

For the conclusion here, let me start by stating why I personally like and love about the FZ1000, and, what recommendations for improvements I'd make with it.

FZ1000- What I Love
Your Gateway to the best Amazon Price
  • Excellent viewfinder (huge/detailed/fast refresh rate- best EVF to date) 
  • Excellent sensor performance (good at all but highest ISO, good resolution)
  • Excellent zoom range (covers a majority of users needs)
  • Bright max aperture through range
  • Excellent optical performance (sharpness, distortion, bokeh)
  • Excellent battery life (I shot a 1200 image time lapse and still had 50% remaining)
  • Extremely excellent handling, balanced, and shooting comfort (the grip... wow)
  • Excellent feature set, well implemented
  • Excellent image stabilization (I made a 400mm equivalent image hand held at 1/5th second)
  • Outstanding autofocus speed (may be the fastest autofocusing camera I've ever used in good light)
  • Supreme Versatility as an imaging tool (and/or video device)
  • Implementation of time lapse feature is exceptional (with ability to make an excellent time lapse video in camera)
  • Bang for the buck factor (the best deal as an all in one camera ever designed)
  • How fun it is to use (it does not get in your way, begs you to use it)
  • Future proof video output, done well (as in, its not just a specification that it has 4k video alone)

FZ1000- What I Like
Your Gateway to the best Amazon Price
  • Jpeg color/general output 
  • Build quality
  • Range of art filters
  • External Control placement (especially the rear scroll/click thumb dial and focusing switch)
  • Variable LCD screen (very nice panel too)
  • Dual zoom controls
  • Main Menu system is organized and easier to use than some other Panasonic cameras I've evaluated
  • Multi exposure setting allows for raw recording (can bracket scene on one raw file)
  • Electronic shutter (1/16,000th of a second, wow!)
  • Zooming speed with zoom ring (don't turn it fast, turn it slower!)
  • Step zoom feature
  • Lens has some of that Leica magic, first I've seen in the superzooms from Panasonic
  • Video quality is outstanding

FZ1000- What Needs Improving
Your Gateway to the best Amazon Price
  • Tripod mount is off center and too close to battery door 
  • Choice of HDMI port type
  • Wider range of minimum aperture settings (f2.8-4 through f11 would be good, f8 is a bit limited)
  • Strap lugs (right one digs into hand for certain positions, Leica's V-Lux Typ 114 implementation is perfect-flush mounted)
  • Quick menu could be more intuitively designed (but I'm getting used to it)
  • I'd love to see it without an AA filter for even more fine detail (that awesome Leica lens is being held back)
  • Jpegs need a real NR off setting- even the lowest is too aggressive, and/or separate chroma/luminescence control
  • More control over art filter/scene mode output (especially the panorama setting)
  • Include a full printed manual please, especially for a camera as feature rich as this
On my last list, there are no deal breakers. Don't let anything on that list dissuade you from purchasing an FZ1000, as there is so much going right about it you'll nearly forget about anything wrong- trust me. But, when writing reviews, I do need to include areas of improvement or niggles I encounter.

So, as you can see, there's very little I don't like about the FZ1000, and trust me when I say I'd hold no punches. Panasonic did NOT lend me this camera and I have no reason even if they did to hold back any criticisms. The overwhelming enjoyment I've experienced with this camera has really given me hope that camera companies can do great things when they buckle down and focus.

The best I can sum up the FZ1000 is that it is the first camera I've ever used wherein I'd pick it as a one camera photographic and video solution (this includes a DSLR system or system camera package). If on a deserted island with one camera, yep, you guessed it- FZ1000. I've lost count on how many times I've considered selling all my DSLR gear and getting one more FZ1000 (or Leica V-Lux Typ 114) instead. I haven't yet, but those thoughts are not going away. Powerful stuff.

During the writing of this review I often found it difficult convey the way this camera makes me feel. There is so much I want to write here about the pleasant experience of using this camera, that I'd often sort of get tongue tied. I mean how do I convey just how good this camera is, when its all about experiencing it to know?

Not only is the FZ1000 the camera of the year by my eyes, but it's created a new class of super camera that, if nurtured, could thrive and potentially replace many system cameras (and video cameras) of all kinds for a majority of users. The FZ1000 is simply that good. And to tack onto the award, I'd say the FZ1000 makes the argument for the best value ever since digital cameras have been around. Capability for the dollar, no camera before it has ever made a better argument than the FZ1000 has, and I thought I'd seen it all.

Smartphone users, this part is for you:

For those of you who think that your smartphone is making all the images and video you'd ever need, you're missing out on something extraordinary. Remember, you only have one opportunity to grab a photo or video in life, and the quality of each is equally important (especially years down the road). A camera such as the FZ1000 opens up a whole new world, and is worth taking along through travels in our everyday lives.

Now back to the conclusion.

Tried as might, I couldn't find many weaknesses with the FZ1000, and the few I found were far from deal breakers. Panasonic has simply hit a grand slam with this camera. Interest in most cameras that come across my desk either as loaners or by my own hard earned dollar fades pretty darn quickly I must say. But with the FZ1000 the more I use it, the more I like it and want to use it.

Since you get so much for your money, I'd recommend the FZ1000 to many photographers, even casual family shooters or soccer moms - confidence will soar with the results. Whatever you pay at the retail counter will soon become a distant memory as you fall in love with one of the best digital cameras ever designed.

It's become apparent to me that one review may not be enough to express how exciting this camera is. Likely I'll follow up with another article in the future on the FZ1000 here, and on other internet outlets as well. For those of you who think the FZ1000 may be for you, I have the following to say:

  • 100% Highly Recommended

  • Definitely the 2014 Camera of the Year

What is the takeaway from my review? If Panasonic puts more effort into cameras like this, they could very well replace DSLR's altogether for almost all shooters. The FZ1000 is already that good in my opinion, but I'd like to see this class of camera continue to improve for enthusiasts. I'd like to see two things in the next FZ- weather resistance and the AA filter removed. Keep the same sensor for all I care, but if you're gonna change it, go with a new CMOS tech 16mp version for even more improved DR and low light performance.

Carl Garrard

P.S. Be safe, and happy holiday shooting

FZ1000 Review - Image Gallery

These are a random sample of stand out images I made since I've owned the FZ1000. Many more images will be made, and presumably better ones. But each image I've included shows a sampling of the merits of the FZ1000 in such areas where I feel it stands out remarkably well. Click on the images for a much larger view.

ISO 400 Jpeg out of camera. I'm not a huge fan of the Jpeg engine when it comes to detail retained, but I do like the rendering, color output and other factors. For critical prints, I only use raw, for web sharing I have no issues with the Jpegs.
And speaking of rendering, this Jpeg (ISO 80) out of camera shows some of that Leica magic in the lens. Kudos to Panasonic for processing correctly. The amount of "Leica magic" is equal to the amount I've seen in another favorite digicam of mine, the LC1 or Digilux 2.  It's subtle, but its certainly there.
Color is one area the Jpeg engine excels. This shot was made at ISO 200, and its right out of the camera. Of course the user has a lot of control over the Jpeg output, all but fine detail (too much NR even at the -5 NR low level for my taste). Reds aren't easy to do and this shot is an extreme example of how good the processing can be.
Moving on to raw output, this shot is a high ISO and bokeh test shot. ISO here is 4000, and we get to see the power of the defocused effects the lens can produce. This was shot in low light. I've included a 100% crop of this image below so you can see how outstanding high ISO can be with this camera. With care, this is an ISO 6400 camera all the way. For limited prints, ISO 12,800 is as high as I'd recommend since 25,600 is a push ISO and you don't benefit from using it.
100% crop. Just click on the image for a look at how nice the grain looks. No NR was done, ACR processed.

Shooting the moon at ISO 400 yields the above. My experience says that f/5.6 is the optimal f/stop for the best sharpness and less CA. A 100% crop is provided below. Not bad at all I say.

This is an excellent output by any standard, beats the XS1 at 400mm, even though that camera goes to 624mm equivalent.

Generations. A leaf, gift to me from my daughter, not bad for macro at all. Raw processed to taste.

I just added this shot because its pretty. ISO 200 raw processed (ACR), one of my favorite shots during my short tenure using the FZ1000. I expect to make many more good images, pending the image gods want it so.
A combination wide angle performance, and dynamic range. I found there to be an incredible amount of DR in the raw files, interesting it scored only 11.7 stops on  DXO Mark, the output is identical to Sony's 20mp 1" sensor in my opinion. Shadows were lifted quite a bit for this image, and I could pull back the highlights fairly well too. All I need from raw files. Great performance.Sharp in the corners f/8 ISO 80.

More ISO 80 at 400mm, raw output on this shot.,f/5.6 this time.
I.S. works fantastic. 1/20th of a second at 400mm f/8 and sharp? Not shabby Panasonic!!!

About 50mm equivalent, ISO 80, great DR and detail. Cropped on the top only. ACR processed.
More Leica lens magic. ISO 125, f/8 400mm. The DR here is spectacular, lighting exceptional. I really like this shot- simple, detailed. Nice post storm weather adds to it, of course.
100% Crop, bird in flight. AF is so swift and accurate it almost feels too easy. Puts most of the DSLR's I've used in the past to shame. Can't wait till I do a serious all day B.I.F day. I know its all the camera I'll need, keeper rates are going to be very high.

Here is a 1/2 600 shot time lapse video. I shot two 600 shot time lapses back to back (to be merged later) and still have 50% battery life left. Goes to show you if you don't spend too much time previewing and playing around, you can get a lot of images off one charge.

Here is a link to the video, in case the one uploaded above is inferior, which it probably will be :)

Your Gateway to the best Amazon Price go out there and get one. It won't let you down :)


  1. Pretty enthusiastic review, otherwise some good info in here. Think this review is what I needed to push me to buy it (using your link to Amazon by the way). Thanks for taking the time to put it together, I am looking forward to a follow up article.

  2. Honestly, Carl, can't you show a little more interest and enthusiasm? - smile-
    I enjoyed it.

  3. LOL... Its not usually like me to be THIS enthusiastic, but what can I say. Great cam!

  4. Nice review! Appreciate your work.
    What about Leica 114? Better in any way? Except extended warranty and image processing software, are there any other reasons to consider Leica vs. Panasonic?
    Thanks a lot.

  5. Rick says: Mine should be here in a week. I bought it through Ritz Camera and Amazon.

  6. Mine is in the mail. I bought it through Ritz Camera and Amazon.

  7. Great review. My FZ1000 is on the way tomorrow or the next day. From other reviews and some forum comments, I was pretty darn sure this was THE camera for me. I had already made the decision and placed the order; but your review made me feel really good about my decision. Call me impulsive; but I've already sold my DSLR and lenses. The one area you didn't touch on was the capability for wireless control of off camera flash. Once I'm sure it's a keeper, I intend to buy a remote capable flash and do a shootout against my G15 with the ST-E2 transmitter and a 420EX flash. If the FZ1000 is equal or better, I'll sell off the Canon flash gear (save for a 270EX for the G15) and get a second flash for the FZ1000. I already have a radio remote and a Panasonic cable for it.
    An added note: your reviews on the G15 and the S90 cover two of my favorite cameras (I have the S95 with the Franiec grip) along with the FZ200.
    Thanks for a great review.

    1. I wrote the above post. Now, 5.5 years later, I'm still using the FZ1000 as my primary serious camera. I am still without an interchangeable lens camera, although I have tried a couple; but they didn't stick. The G15, S95, and FZ200 are still here; but seldom used. Flash with the FZ1000 is much better than the G15, although I did change to a Metz 50AF-1 to replace the Olympus 36R I had in 2015. All the Canon flash gear is now gone.
      Because of the success with the FZ1000, I did get a Canon G7X II for a pocket camera with a fast lens and a similar 1" sensor. It effectively replaces the G15 and S95; and for travel makes a nice pair with the FZ1000.

  8. I purchased an FZ1000 in June of 2015 after having used Nikon SLRs and DSLR for 30 pro years. I totally agree with your review and assessment of this amazing camera, which I've used non-stop since. It really changed my approach to photography and I am having much more fun again with the endless possibilities this camera creates. One other shortcoming that wasn't mentioned--short battery life. But the batteries are so small, it's easy to carry extras in a pocket.

  9. Excellent article! I completely agree with your review of the camera.
    I just bought the FZ1000 earlier this month. I had been looking at it for it's video capabilities and not much for photography, as I already had a good Canon DSLR set up for photos. I purchased the FZ1000 due to its 1" sensor, 4K video and high speed video capabilities. Then I took it out with me on a day trip. I started shooting on my Canon 60D but ended up shooting primarily on the FZ1000 and found it a joy to use. It is the best all-in-one imaging system/camera on the market in my opinion. Editing the photos, I was super impressed by the image quality. Even the battery life was better than I expected. One battery actually lasted me the whole trip.
    The FZ1000 has become my favorite camera to use. I still love my 60D, but will probably shoot that less now unless I am looking to use my 150-500mm lens for bird/wildlife photography, or need an artsy shot with a prime lens.
    My boss at work loves the camera as well and is thinking about getting one(I work for a small video production company) as well as my fellow editor is thinking about getting one as well. I am so happy I ended up getting the camera and I really think Panasonic hit it out of the park with this camera. Highly recommend it to anyone looking for a well priced, high quality imaging option.

  10. Hello all: I know this is a late comment for this neat camera, which I own, but I cannot find any comments here about the deplorable camera/motor noise recorded during video. The web contains many frustrated comments about this Achilles heel problem. I wonder if any owners here have encountered this and have found a solution. Thanks!

  11. Hello all. I know this is a late comment regarding this neat camera, but I wonder if any of you have encountered and solved the much-commented-on-elsewhere deplorable motor/camera noise which is recorded during video shooting? I feel it is the Achilles heel of this camera, and welcome any solutions you may have found! Thanks

  12. Turn off the vibration reduction. :) Use a hot shoe mic :).

  13. Take a look at my Leica V-Lux Typ 114 review too, and my comparison article vs. the Sony RX10. I'm doing a follow up article on the Leica now, which I shoot with primarily. I prefer the grip and lack of strap lugs protruding from the camera. Of the three, I'd pick the Leica.

  14. That appears to be excellent however i am still not too sure that I like it. At any rate will look far more into it and decide personally! Sports video camera