Panasonic to dominate bridge cameras with new 4K-capable Lumix FZ1000

When it comes to bridge cameras, you face two options: ultra-zoom models with small sensors, like the Nikon Coolpix P600 and Samsung WB2200F, or high-performance ones with smaller zooms, like the Sony Cyber-shot RX10. Panasonic is aiming to satisfy both categories with its new Lumix DMC-FZ1000, which has a large 1-inch sensor among other top specs, paired with a 16x optical zoom lens. It’s clear that Panasonic is going after the RX10, but it has an ace that trumps it: 4K video recording.

While part of the same family of cameras such as the recent FZ70 model with its 60x superzoom lens and the FZ200, the FZ1000 is actually of an entirely different breed. The use of a large 1-inch sensor clearly sets it apart from all other models in the FZ-series, and the addition of 4K video – which makes it the first compact camera to support Ultra HD video recording – clearly aims it toward advanced amateurs and professionals looking for an all-in-one solution, rather than the consumer sector that the rest of the FZ-series is designed for.

In addition to its large sensor, which promises better image quality than the smaller sensors used in regular compact cameras, as well as its 4K video capabilities that make it a viable alternative to the high-end Lumix GH4 Micro Four Thirds model, the FZ1000 also features a high-resolution OLED electronic viewfinder (EVF), sporting the same 2.36-million dot resolution as that of the GH4. This is more than 2.5 times the resolution of the tilt-and-swivel 3-inch rear LCD (non-touchscreen), which already offers a crisp preview at 921,000 dots.

The FZ1000 will be the most affordable 4K-capable camera on the market.

On the inside of the camera, the 1-inch sensor features the same 20-megapixel resolution as that of the Sony RX10. This is four million pixels more than the GH4, Panasonic’s other 4K-capable camera, has to offer, although the GH4 has a larger Micro Four Thirds sensor. ISO sensitivity of the FZ1000 ranges from 125 to 12,800, and can be extended down to 80 and up to 25,600. With a sensor of this size, however, we reckon that the highest sensitivity settings should only be used in last-resort situations, if at all. The FZ1000 also uses the same Venus Engine quad-core image processor that’s in the GH4, which has been designed specifically to handle 4K.

As for the lens, the FZ1000 has a fixed 16x zoom ranging from a 35mm-equivalent of 25mm to 400mm, topping the Sony RX10’s 24-200mm lens with twice the reach. Whereas the Sony’s lens offers a constant, bright aperture of f/2.8, the Panasonic’s Leica DC Vario-Elmarit lens starts at f/2.8 at the wide-angle end, and closes down to f/4 toward the telephoto end. Still, for a lens of this size and with this reach, those are very impressive figures. In addition to its reach and brightness, the FZ1000’s lens also sports a new focusing motor that promises impressively fast focusing speeds, up to 0.09 seconds at wide-angle and 0.17 seconds at telephoto settings. It also uses a 5-axis image stabilization system to help counter shakes.

In terms of its video capabilities, the FZ1000 offers 4K Ultra HD recording at a resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels and 30 frames per second (fps). While recording 4K video, it is possible to extract 8-megapixel still photographs that match the resolution of the Ultra HD footage. When scaling down to Full HD at 1920 x 1080 pixels, the FZ1000 offers smooth transitions at 60 fps, slow motion video by reducing the 6op output to 30 fps in post-production, or a cinematic effect with only 24 fps.

The FZ1000 has integrated Wi-Fi and Near-Field Communication (NFC) for quick pairing with compatible smartphones and tablets. Besides image transfers, the Panasonic Image App can control the camera for remote shooting.

We had an opportunity to try out an engineering sample of the FZ1000, and as you would imagine, it feels and operates like a compact DSLR. The autofocusing is indeed lightning quick, although we were in a brightly lit room, so we can’t speak about low-light performance. The EVF is nicely bright and responsive, and a pleasure to use if you prefer to use viewfinders. Panasonic showed us some sample images, and it looks like the camera is capable of delivering excellent image quality with accurate colors and beautiful defocusing, but what was impressive was the demonstration of 4K video that was shown on a large Panasonic 4K tablet. The video quality was sharp and stunning, but when paused, the image looked like a high-resolution photo – supporting Panasonic’s claim that you can extract 8MP photos from 4K video. For anyone looking for a DSLR-like bridge camera, the FZ1000 will definitely appeal to a variety of users.

Coming in at $899, the FZ1000 will be the most affordable 4K-capable camera on the market, and will appeal to everyone from 4K early-adoption consumers to indie filmmakers on a super-tight budget. Considering that its prime competitor, the Sony RX10, has a list price of almost $1,300, the Panasonic has a lot going for it. With its longer zoom lens, same sensor size and megapixel count, high-resolution EVF, and 4K video recording, it gives the RX10 a serious run for its money.

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