I’ve been an amateur photographer since my teen age, when film was the only medium. Eventually, I …. grew up to digital and thank God I currently have a quite capable set of Nikons and Nikkors with which I practice my hobby. Unfortunately, none of my cameras is video-enabled. SWMBO has informed me, in no uncertain terms, that I should add video creation to my interests.
So, being a good husband, I decided to oblige. I started reading about video and cameras that are capable of recording video. Soon I understood that this was a whole new world, of which I knew nothing about. My investigation led me to the following conclusions:
- The current state of video is FHD (1080p) with 4K being the emerging standard (and we all know how temporary standards are in technology). So if I was to acquire a new camera, it’d better support 4K.
- There are several 4K enabled camcorders in the market, but a few picture-taking cameras with support of 4K video. And I wanted a camera which would be able to cover both roles, that of a still-pictures taking camera and that of a video camera.
- 4K video enabled devices are NOT cheap.
What I had in mind was to sell one of my existing Nikons (the D300 together with my sole APS-C lens, the 18-200mm VR) to fund a new camera, which could be used for both photography and 4K video recording. It should be small enough to replace the D300 with the 18-200mm lens, and cheap enough to be funded by the money I would get from the sale of the D300 and lens. Tough proposition? Indeed!
Eventually, I selected the Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 as my new camera.
What follows is a recording of my first impressions about the new camera, after using it for about a month. I won’t bother posting here the camera specifications, they can easily be found on the network or just follow this link. What you will read below, is my personal opinion about the camera. Since this is a personal opinion, and everyone is entitled to his, do not shoot me if it doesn’t exactly match your personal opinion, just live with it.
To start with, let me just say that this is NOT a camera for the casual, not educated user. While it has many features which will allow a novice to shoot beautiful pictures and videos, it takes an expert to make full use of it. Panasonic has gone to the extremes to make the menus easy to understand, but the combination of the camera’s capabilities together with its specs and customization options, make this camera quite complicated. There are mutually exclusive settings, which do not make much sense to the uninitiated (or even the experienced) photo/videographer. However, the FZ1000 is the only camera you can buy at this moment, which supports 4K video (in reality it’s not real 4K, which is 4096 x 2160 pixels, but UHD which is 3840 x 2160 pixels) together with FHD (1080p), HD (720p) and VGA (480p) video, 20Mpixels still pictures, and which costs less than US$ 1,000. Being on a tight budget, but needing the features of this camera, it was an easy selection for me.
So let me start by giving you a user description of the FZ1000. The camera is not small, actually its size is about the same as the entry-level DSLRs from Nikon or Canon and it is about the same weight with these cameras with the kit lens attached. So if you are looking for a pocket camera with the above capabilities, this is not the camera for you. The Panasonic LX-100 is a better alternative for you.
A lot of reviewers are bothered by the fact that the camera is made of plastic instead of metal. However, I do not find this a restrictive factor, it allows the camera to be lighter while not compromising its durability, the plastic it is made of, is of high quality. A lot of reviewers also fault the camera for having the memory card slot, in the same compartment at the bottom of the camera, thus requiring you to remove the camera from a tripod (if you are using one).
The other issue about which a lot of reviewers complain, is about the size of the FZ1000 battery. And I’ll have to agree with this criticism, the battery doesn’t have enough capacity to cover a day’s shooting, especially if you shoot a lot of videos. So carrying two or three batteries with you is mandatory.
Finally, let me add a couple more points that bother me about this camera. First, the minimum aperture of its (excellent 25-400mm equivalent) lens is f8 (or f16 in full frame equivalent). I would prefer if it went down to f16, two extra stops would allow you to shoot in bright daylight without using ND filters (something the camera doesn’t have, so you’ll have to buy one or more of them).
The second issue (which has been mentioned by some reviewers) is the noise the camera produces, when it is turned on. This noise is quite strong and it is usually picked up my the camera’s microphones, during video recording. First time I switched the camera on, I was in a quiet room and as soon as I got over the excitement of my new toy, I tried to figure out what were the kids doing, which produced that hamming noise. You can hear it yourself in the following video:
This issue is the most serious issue I can find with the FZ1000. It’s easily solved though, if you are willing to invest in an external microphone, like this RØDE Stereo VideoMic Pro.
What I liked
With these out of the way, the camera performance, when shooting pictures is excellent. Below, you can see some of the pictures I shot, during a short trip to Kastoria, a city in Northern Greece, in November 2015.
Shot at 255mm (35mm equiv), ISO 200, f8 at 1/100″.
As you can see, the Leica-designed 25-400mm lens is excellent (at least in my eyes, I never pixel-peep) in all focal lengths. So, as far as still picture shooting is concerned, the FZ1000 is a keeper.
Coming to video recording, here is a very short clip I shot yesterday at at 1080p.
If you listen carefully, you will hear the hissing noise the camera produces and is captured in the audio. An external microphone is necessary for any serious work.
The camera is quite capable video-wise, being able to capture UHD at 25 and 24p, FHD at 50 and 25p, HD at 25p and VGA at 25p. A special option, called by Panasonic “High speed video” allows you to capture FHD at 100p, HD at 200p and VGA at 300p, for those who want slow-motion video. I tried the FHD option, and it works just fine. However, the settings for the slow-motion video, are hidden at the Camera-M option of the mode selector wheel (which is typically reserved for 4K video), one of the irrational choices made by Panasonic in the camera’s menus. In order to activate the High Speed video option, for whatever resolution you want to use, you set the mode dial to Camera-M, the go to “Rec Quality”. Select the recording quality you want to use (4K/25p, 4K/24p, FHD/50p, FHD, 25p, HD/25p or VGA/25p), don’t worry about the 25p or 50p or 24p, just select the resolution that you want and the bit rate you want. Then save it and scroll further down in the Motion Picture menu, to turn High Speed Video on. Oh, in order for that to work, you have to set the 4K Photo option to Off!
How I’ve set up the FZ1000
The Panasonic FZ1000 allows you to customize it, to an unbelievable degree. So much so, that I decided to …. leave most things the way they were. Being used to the Nikkors, I set the lens ring to act as the zoom control, while I set the secondary (or primary?) zoom control lever, around the shutter release button, to act as the exposure compensation dial. Due also to the way my Nikons are set up, I also set the AF/AE Lock button to act as an AF-On. In that way, the focus initiation and lock is done by this button, while the exposure measurement is done by slightly pressing the shutter release (just like on my D700).
Another thing I changed from the way the camera is set up when it comes from the factory, is to set AutoFocus to Off in the Movie menu. The reason for that is, because I found that the camera is “hunting” for a new focus point, as soon as you move your subject off the center of your screen. Admittedly this may happen only if you have AF-S selected, like I did, perhaps AF-C is a better choice when shooting video, but I didn’t have the time to test it.
Another thing I want to try out, is to disable the video recording button. This button allows you to initiate video recording, while being in P, A, S or M mode. This can be confusing, because the Movie menu settings can be different from the Movie menu settings you have set in the Camera-M mode. I prefer to have only one set of adjustments to worry about, so by turning the Video Recording button off, I can only shoot video when the mode dial is set to Camera-M and I have only the options for that mode to worry about.
What I wish for
Basically, there are quite a few things I would wish to appear in a new firmware version of this camera. These are:
- A clean-up and rationalization of the Movie menu, so that the user doesn’t have to spend hours trying to figure out how to activate high speed video, or to remember which video settings are active, when one selects A or S or P on the mode dial.
- The ability to use its excellent 5-axis image stabilization system (Power OIS, as Panasonic calls it) in 4K video.
- As it is now, the camera allows you to review the picture you’ve just shot, through its EVF. I like that feature very much, but I would like it to be extended. I would love to be able to see the picture I shot for (let’s say 3 seconds) through the viewfinder, but at the same time, I would love to see the picture I shot at the rear LCD. Actually, the picture shown in the LCD should stay there, until the next picture is shot or until the Menu button is pressed. In that way, the user can have a quick preview of the picture shot through the EVF, but if he wants to better check it, he can just move the camera away from his eye and have the shot picture appear on the LCD.
Of course, no camera is complete without some accessories. And here are the things I ordered for the FZ1000.
1. A variable ND filter. Something the FZ1000 doesn’t have and which is absolutely necessary. In video shooting, you usually use a very low shutter speed, 1/50″ is normal. According to the f/16 rule, with the minimum ISO of 100, means that you need at least f/22 to shoot video on a sunny day. Unfortunatelly, the FZ1000 lens goes only up to f/16, so the ND filter is a necessity.
2. Having used the FZ1000 for some time, I decided that I needed several batteries for this camera. So I ordered two more (in addition to the one which came with the camera, and the spare one I bought with it).
3. Having watched some filming of one of my sons for an advertisement he participated in, by a professional crew, I noticed a little device that was attached at the rear of the camera (I think it was a RED camera), and which allows you to view the LCD better. Searching the internet, showed me that those things go for at least $120. And then luck helped me. I found a used one, sold by a Canadian on eBay for something like $45. The seller had clearly indicated that the latch holding the hood down was faulty. I knew I could repair that problem, so I ordered it. I had the hood latch repaired in less than two hours (the time it took for the patty I used to repair it to dry) and that was the best thing I’ve ever bought for a camera. This viewfinder is made by Kamerar and it is excellent.
4. I soon decided that I also needed a Circular polarizer filter. I do have one for my Nikkor primes, but not for my Nikkor zooms. Some investigation proved that I needed a 77mm Circular polarizer and some step-up rings (a 62mm to 77mm for the Panasonic and my Nikkor 70-300mm lenses and a 72mm to 77mm for my other Nikkor zooms), if I was to use the filter with all my lenses. These were ordered but still haven’t arrived. To add to the complexity, the ND filter I’ve ordered was a 62mm one, but at the front end, it has a 67mm thread. So I decided to dump it and get a 77mm variable ND filter too. Oh and being the crazy person I am, I also ordered a Coking filter set in 77mm diameter! And a rubber lens shade in 77mm too! These last few items have still not arrived. Oh yes, I dug up a 77mm Nikon lens cap I had in stock, to complete the setup.
5. While the FZ1000 does have a build in flash, and I also own three more flashes I can use with the camera (two Nikon SB-800s and an old, manual, Vivitar flash), none of these is useful when shooting video. So I ordered an 160 LED video light panel, in case I need to add some light in my videos.The panel I selected uses AA batteries, which I prefer, most of these lights require a video camera battery (and the corresponding charger).
6. The first time I sat in my room to try the camera, I noticed a very weird hissing sound. I thought it was my kids viewing some stupid video on their phones, so I yelled them to shut it off. Then the thought occured to me, that the kids were not at home! The bloody FZ1000 was making that noise! After some internet research, I learned that it was …. normal. Yes, all FZ1000s make that noise. The suggestion on the net was to use an external microphone, placed as far away from the camera as possible, to capture audio. So a Rode Videomic was ordered too, together with some brackets which would allow the mic to stay at some distance from the camera body, to avoid recording the noise it produces.
7. Finally, I ordered a cheap monopod, which allows you to hold the camera steady, by anchoring the monopod to your belt.
As you can understand from the above, the dream of having to carry only a small camera instead of a large camera bag is not going to materialize. The FZ1000 bag is indeed much smaller than my Nikon bag, but still I need a bag to carry all those things with me.
So let’s move on to living with the new camera, or shall I say shooting?
The FZ1000 is a very nice camera to have. First of all it features a non-removable 25-400mm f/2.8-4 lens, designed by none other than Leica, which can cover most of a user needs! It is a bridge camera by design, featuring a large 1″ sensor (large, compared to the sensors used by most similar cameras, with such huge lenses). It has a 5-axis stabilization system, which allows you to shoot pictures with low shytter speeds, without worrying about camera shake (the stabilization system is not available when shooting 4K video though). Its lens is fast enough to allow you to use it in dim light situations. So photography-wise, it covers my needs. Video-wise though, is where this camera excells! It allows you to shoot Full High Definition (FHD) video in addition to 4K, with all the right tools to do it. It features zebra stripes (to show you which parts of your image are overexposed), focus peaking, slow motion video shooting (up to 120 fps), plus, it allows you to capture 8 Mpixel still pictures from your 4K video. It also allows you to use an external recorder/monitor, where the camera can output a clean HDMI signal, which is a major issue for professional videographers.
With the accessories I fit on the FZ1000, it became a very easy to use camera. Of course, a few things needed improving. For example, the base pad of the Kamerar viewfinder, when fitted on the camera, didn’t allow you to open the small hatch under which the battery and the memory card exist. That meant that changing the battery or the memory card (more about which later), required you to remove the viewfinder. Not good. I spend some time trimming the base pad enough to allow the hatch to open, so you can change cards and batteries without removing the viewfinder. I also trimmed another part of the viewfinder mounting system, in order to allow more room for my thumb, to press the AF-On button at the rear of the camera.
Coming to memory cards, if you are to shoot 4K video and record it on the camera’s SD card, you need to have very fast SD cards. I had several Sandisk Extreme Pro cards, from my Fuji X-100 camera (sold) rated at 45 MB/sec. Forget these, they can’t be used for 4K. You need at least cards capable to go up to 95 MB/sec in order to record 4K video internally. So be prepared to order some of these.
Is the FZ1000 the perfect camera? No, of course not. There is no such a thing as “the perfect anything”. This is a great camera, but not without its shortcomings. Like everything in life, you have to first specify what you need and then find the product that fits your needs. The FZ1000 is just a camera which cover my particular needs, mine. That doesn’t mean it is the appropriate camera for yours. What are some of the shortcomings I’ve found? Well, here we go:
There are several inconsistencies in the camera adjustments. For example, if you use one of the P, A, S modes to shoot FHD video, all shooting parameters, aperture, shutter, ISO are shown in your viewfinder. If you want to shoot 4K though (when you have to set the top dial to the camera icon), then the parameter set by the camera, is not shown. For example, if you are shooting 4K video using shutter priority, the shutter speed and the exposure compensation are shown, but the aperture selected by the camera is not. Same thing if you are in aperture priority mode, the aperture you have selected is shown in the finder, but the shutter speed set by the camera is not. If you are shooting 4K video in P mode, then neither the shutter speed nor the aperture set by the camera is shown. That’s a major omission on behalf of Panasonic, which I hope will be corrected in a future firmware update. Another thing I do not like about the FZ is that its focusing ability is severely limited in low light situations.
There are several other things like that, which can really make you climb on the nearest wall. But what matters for me, is the quality of the pictures the camera takes and the quality of the video. I am willing to forgive those stupidities, if I get the output I want from the camera.
Until the next post about the FZ1000!
(*) My current Nikon inventory includes a D700 with the battery pack, and the following Nikkors: 18-35mm, 24-85mm, 70-300mm, 20mm/2.8, 35mm/2, 50mm/1.4, 85mm/1.8, 105mm/2.5 AI, two SB-800 flashes etc.