Compared to Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 (con't)

Handling

Specs are one thing, but how do the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ1000 and Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 compare in terms of design and usability?

From a build quality standpoint, the Sony wins hands-down. The RX10, with its heavy magnesium alloy body, feels as sturdy as a midrange interchangeable lens camera, though the plasticky rear controls feel out of place. Aside from its lens barrel, the FZ1000 is largely plastic, and if blindfolded you'd think it was a standard-issue superzoom camera.

In terms of ergonomics, it's a bit of a draw between these two premium superzooms. The FZ1000 has a larger grip and it feels more secure in the hand. The RX10 has better access to buttons, which allows you to keep your eye on your subject, instead of having to move the camera away from your eye. The FZ1000 has five customizable buttons, though only three of them can be reached without having to pull the camera away to hunt for them.

The FZ1000 has a single ring around its lens which can handle zoom or focus. The RX10 has a similar lens ring, plus an additional one for adjusting the aperture.

Both cameras have rings around their lenses. The FZ1000 has one, handling zoom or focus, while the RX10 has two: one for zoom/focus and the other for aperture. Neither of the zoom/focus rings can be customized to handle other functions. The FZ1000 has a single rear dial that handles exposure, and you switch between aperture/shutter speed/exposure compensation by pressing it inward. Strangely enough, you can assign exposure compensation to the zoom controller, which changes to whatever exposure setting you're not adjusting when in Manual mode. The RX10, on the other hand, has two standard dials on its back plate, so there's no need to toggle anything.

As mentioned earlier, the FZ1000 has an XGA OLED viewfinder, while the RX10's is SVGA. The EVF on the FZ1000 is clearly more detailed than then RX10's, but not tremendously. The refresh rate on both viewfinders is excellent in good light. The FZ1000's EVF continues to perform well in low light, though the Sony's refresh rate drops off slightly.

The FZ1000 features a fully articulating 3" LCD with 921k pixels. This design is very useful for recording video. The RX10's display pulls away from the body and tilts up and down.

The two companies take different approaches to their LCD displays. The Panasonic has the good ol' flip-out, rotating display that covers a total of 270 degrees, and it can also be closed for protection. Sony's display pulls away from the back plate and can tilt up by 84° and down by 43°. The situation in which the fully articulating (rotating) display wins out is when recording video. A tilting display just doesn't offer the same flexibility. Both displays have reasonable outdoor visibility.

Menus on the two cameras aren't that different from each other. There are customizable shortcut menus as well as more traditional tabbed main menus. The menus on both cameras are very responsive, with the FZ1000 'feeling' a bit faster. On the whole the FZ1000 feels like the faster camera, not only in terms of UI, but also startup time and focus speeds.

Image Quality

You can gather a lot about the differences in image quality by viewing our studio comparison test, so head over there to see how the two cameras perform in a controlled environment.

We have several real world examples to illustrate the differences between the FZ1000 and RX1000. The first shows you how the cameras compare at wide-angle, 200mm equiv, and 400mm equiv (FZ1000 only). For fun we've also thrown in the RX10 at 400mm using its Clear Image Zoom feature as well as the FZ1000 at 800mm equiv courtesy of its i.Zoom option. The aperture was fixed at F5.6 for both cameras.

The first thing you'll notice here is that a) the Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 is noticeably sharper and b) there's noticeable vignetting in the top-left of the Lumix DMC-FZ1000's photo. The two cameras are similar in most respects at 200mm equiv, though the FZ1000 capturing a bit more detail (look at the fence) than the RX10. The FZ1000 continues to perform well at its telephoto end, which is 400mm.

In the 400mm equiv example we've thrown in an of what the RX10 looks like at 400mm using its Clear Image Zoom feature, which Sony claims doesn't reduce image quality as much as traditional digital zoom. At 100%, the results from the Sony are pretty lousy, but downsized to 8 megapixel, they're not bad. The FZ1000's i.Zoom features gives you an equivalent focal length of 800mm and, like with the Sony, results at full size aren't great. You can, however, easily use the 8 megapixel image for just about everything.

There are three examples in the above widget, covering architecture, portraits, and low light situations. While you can flip between them using the pull-down menu, you'll have a better experience if you follow the text links below.

Beginning with the architecture photo, you'll see that the two cameras handle noise reduction differently. If we look in low contrast areas you'll see that the RX10 is applying more noise reduction than the FZ1000, which leads to 'mushy' detail. The opposite is true in high contrast areas, such as this banner, where the RX10's adaptive noise reduction results in superior sharpness. The RX10's lens has excellent corner sharpness, while the FZ1000 doesn't fare quite as well.

The portrait example shows several things, including skin tone reproduction, noise reduction, and bokeh. The cameras were set at their maximum apertures: F2.8 for the Sony and F4 for the Panasonic. Both cameras perform well, as you can see by scrolling around the image. One thing that the Panasonic does better (again) is handling fine detail, which is especially noticeable in our model's hair.

Our night scene was taken with the same settings on both cameras: a 4 sec exposure at F4, with the ISO set to 125. The only real difference here is that the FZ1000 shows a bit more noise than the RX10 in some places.

As is usually the case, one can get around noise reduction by shooting Raw and post-processing to your liking. If you view this area in our studio test scene, you'll see that neither camera has a lot of fine detail at ISO 400. Switching to Raw evens the playing field considerably. The FZ1000 allows you to process Raw images in-camera, so you can adjust things like white balance and noise reduction without having to touch a PC.