Panasonic FZ1000: Not just another superzoom...
Superzoom cameras get a bad rap. Also known as 'bridge' cameras (forming as they do a bridge between compacts and D/SLRs) the physical design of the average superzoom is predicated on compromise. Their longer lenses and more traditional ergonomics make them bigger than normal compact cameras, but they can't offer the same large-sensor image quality as a DSLR. They're right in the middle.
The only area in which superzoom bridge cameras can unequivocally eclipse DSLRs is zoom reach. Today's bridge cameras can offer zoom ranges that span ridiculous focal lengths, some from wideangles of 24 or 25mm to telephoto settings sometimes well over 1000mm (equivalent). They manage this feat thanks to their tiny, compact camera-sized sensors. You might not get stunning image quality at the extremes of the range, but that's the compromise.
The FZ1000, as per the headline of this article, isn't just another superzoom. Even given the generational improvements in the class, the FZ1000 is a genuine leap forward. The FZ1000 improves on the traditional strengths of superzoom cameras while greatly mitigating the usual weaknesses. The first and most obvious sign that the FZ1000 is a little bit unusual is its 1-inch type sensor. Although not as large as the APS-C sensors in most DSLRs, 1 inch is a considerable improvement on the 1/2.3in and 1/1.8in sensors in conventional compact cameras. Certainly, my initial impressions of the FZ1000's image quality are very positive indeed and it's great to be able to say that about a camera in this class. I don't feel like I'd be making serious compromises on image quality if I picked up the FZ1000 in preference to an ILC for a weekend excursion, for example - certainly not at low to medium ISO sensitivity settings.
|Shot towards the end of the day, this ISO 125 image made a pretty dull JPEG but careful processing of the raw file reveals a lot of detail, and I've boosted the saturation a touch to bring back some of the natural warmth in the late afternoon light.|
The FZ1000's impressive image quality is of course not only a result of its sensor, but also its lens. At 25-400mm the FZ1000 lacks the telephoto reach of some more conventional bridge cameras, but the Leica-branded F2.8-4 optic really delivers the goods. I don't exactly love Panasonic's JPEGs, but we've been offered a beta version of Adobe Camera Raw with preliminary support for the FZ1000, and it's very obvious when playing around with the camera's raw files that at medium-low ISOs the images contain bags of detail.
The combination of zoom range, lens quality and a decent sensor make a compelling package, especially for travel photography, hiking, biking etc., where you don't want to carry a lot of gear.
I only spent a day shooting with the FZ1000 but I did say 'wow' more in a few hours than I have for a while. Partly, I must say, due to the FZ1000's AF performance, which is seriously impressive. AF acquisition is extremely fast and for static subjects it's pretty well rock solid, even under interior light. My colleague Richard didn't have a 100% success rate shooting moving cyclists, but at 12fps I know he got more in-focus shots than he was expecting. Getting anything in focus on a camera of this type when your subject is zipping towards and across the frame is a novelty, to be honest, and Panasonic deserves credit here.
As well as stills the FZ1000 offers a very competitive video specification. Capable of recording 100Mbps 4K video (with a moderate sensor crop) the FZ1000 immediately stands out from its class, and joins a very exclusive group of 4K-capable stills cameras. It's no GH4 (if you want 24p footage for example you can only shoot at HD resolution using the AVCHD file format) but we didn't expect it to be.
If you have no interest in video capture at all, you'll be reassured that Panasonic doesn't seem to be charging all that much for the feature. At an MSRP of $899 the FZ1000 is a full $500 cheaper at launch than the Sony Cyber-shot RX10, which offers half the FZ1000's maximum bitrate in full HD video mode and less zoom flexibility - albeit at a constant F2.8 aperture. The RX10 certainly feels nicer in my hands (the FZ1000 is a little plasticky in comparison) but in my opinion that's a small price to pay for... well, a smaller price to pay.
When we reviewed the Sony RX10 we said that it was difficult to assess given that it had no direct peers. Well, it certainly does now.We'll be comparing the FZ1000 and RX10 in more detail in the coming days but for now, it's very clear that Panasonic's latest compact is not just another superzoom. Read our detailed first-impressions review for more information, and check out our gallery of real-world samples.