Since Sony released the RX10 last year, there have been exactly zero competitors to rival that camera's stellar lens quality, zoom reach, and sensor size. It redefined what a "bridge camera" could be. Panasonic is the next company to realise the advantage of bringing large sensor image quality to a fixed long range zoom.
The FZ1000, available in July for $US900, has a 20-megapixel one-inch sensor and an equivalent 25-400mm f/2.8-4 power zoom lens, aided by 5-axis optical stabilisation. That's double the reach of the RX10's 24-200mm f/2.8 setup. What you sacrifice is a hair of wideness, and a full stop of brightness at the long end, which will definitely affect low light shooting. The lens is a beauty designed with the help of Leica. It has a series of aspherical elements, which Panasonic claims will reduce colour fringing and distortion, and it's powered by five speeds of zoom which should provide some good control. It does, however, lack the control ring that we loved on the RX10 which allowed for smooth aperture adjustment. The FZ1000 only has a focus ring.
Shots are framed usingA 2.4 million dot OLED viewfinder and rear LCD that flips out and rotates for tough angles. It shoots at 12 fps in burst mode, and has a contrast AF system with Panasonic's DFD (depth from defocus) technology that cuts down on hunting. Autofocus seemed really fast when we played around with the camera.
Still capabilities aside, the FZ1000 was built just as much for video. It shoots in 4K at 3840 x 2160 resolution in 30p with a 4:2:0 8 bit MP4 codec. Full HD mode records at 24 Mbps in AVCHD, in 30p, 24p, or 60p. There will also be a 120 fps slow motion mode with reduced-quality MP4 recording. The 4K mode does crop in on the sensor, reducing the focal length to an equivalent 37-592mm. The camera also features focus peaking, magnification, zebra patterns, and a flat cinema-like colour profile for more versatility when grading.
4K shooting definitely makes the FZ1000 a bit more alluring than the RX10 on the video side, but there are some missing pieces you should know about. You can't shoot 4K in 24p, which will make those seeking a cinematic look quite upset. Panasonic was very candid in admitting that they left out the 24p option simply to differentiate the camera from the higher-end GH4, which also shoots 4K. That sucks. To keep the FZ1000's price at a low $US900, Panasonic had to make the body all plastic and without weather sealing. This is compared to the RX10's magnesium alloy body which is protected against the elements. Another key feature not found on the FZ1000 is a built-in ND filter, for maintaining shallow depth of field in bright light. These smaller features are easy to forget about, but go a long way in user experience.
It's great to see this type of camera gain some competition. It's evidence that larger sensors are going to take over all camera categories -- a necessary move in order to differentiate from smartphones. Bridge cameras make a ton of sense for many consumers who don't want to buy and carry expensive telephoto lenses. Before, we were stuck with puny small-sensors in extremely un-stylish bodies. But with the performance of cameras like the FZ1000, people can have their cake and eat it too.