Panasonic Lumix DMZ-FZ1000 review

panasonic-lumix-dmz-fx1000It shoots very nice UHD (not truly 4k) video. There is some noise in the image but that’s to be expected for this price point.

For the body size and handling, it’s really a nice camera for the right person. I can’t use it for my general shooting for several reasons but if I want a stealthy UHD camera, this one just might fit the bill. At a price below $900, I was stunned just how good it actually was.

Image quality

Photo courtesy of Sava Malachowski
Photo courtesy of Sava Malachowski, © Sava Malachowski

The IQ (image quality) of the camera for a still is pretty good, though it’s not a higher end Nikon or Canon. Don’t be fooled. In dark areas at low ISO it’s easy to see the noise. A huge zoom lens just won’t have the resolution for stills. For most, they’ll be amazed. But if you’re discerning, you’ll be only “okay” with the shadow performance.

If you click on the image on the right, you can see a small sized sample of the full image. The red box shows the 1:1 sample area of the image on the moose hide. For as good as the image looks in full screen, when you get down to the nitty gritty, you’ll see it’s “okay”. I didn’t have time to do a MTR test or anything, but those don’t translate well into “what does it actually look like” terms.

1:1 quality of moose hide, you can see noise in the image, 1/160, f/5, ISO 125, 63mm
1:1 quality of moose hide, you can see noise in the image, 1/160, f/5, ISO 125, 63mm

But for video quality you get a very nice image. I was pretty amazed to see it on an iMac display, even though the image was interpolated. It was just clearer than I’ve seen HD. Really, it looked like HD played on a 120Hz TV display. That was the look. The video samples were shot at 60FPS, so perhaps that helped. It really looked like the real thing. I didn’t expect it to be that much better than HD. But if you stack up a 3-chip HD camera with better dynamic range against a limited range, small sensor like this, you might be pressed to tell the difference. Again in the shadows there will be noise. The again, what do you expect for a small form factor single chip camera?

Lens

The aperture goes from about f/3 to ONLY f/8. That’s really miserable for photography. Nature of small sensor cameras. Even though the specs claim f/2.8 to f/11, in the shooting I was testing it with, it only really gave me f/3 to f/8 to work with. That’s a tough one, especially in full daylight shooting.

That zoom and optical stabilizer is awesome. I’d love to have something that goes from 25mm to 400mm and does a real good job on my D800. If I did, I could dump a bunch of other lenses. But I’d need it to be f/2.8 and have it go to f/22. Oh well, I can dream.

Dynamic Range

We had a snow shot with moose and it worked pretty well. But the snow on the mountains was blown out in the video with zebras set to 95%. Again, it’s not a D800 but it’ll blow away your little basic point and shoot. But I think my Sony RX-100 probably still beats it for dynamic range.

View finder

The electronic viewfinder – not bad for a video camera, okay for landscape shooting but poor for sports/action/moving things. When you pan/tilt, you get an image jitter. The swim is very small but the smearing in the image will irritate you if you shoot an optical DSLR. EVF (electronic view finders) aren’t there yet. I worked at a digital night vision company where we went to great efforts to have zero swim, jitter or anything else and this isn’t even close. Then again, those systems were $60,000 and this is $900. You get what you pay for.

The info in the viewfinder for a video camera is very nice. It fits the bill of shooting things where a video camera would get you into trouble. For the price, the image quality is pretty amazing. Is there better dynamic range and such out there? Yes, The GH4 and upwards. But for what this is going for, it really makes UHD accessible.

Controls

The switch to go from zoom to MF – not a fan. 2 rings are more expensive, though. There’s the zoom rocker on the shutter release. Eh, it’s under a finger, so it feels like a little point and shoot zoom for the video camera it’s designed for.

The fully manual video camera mode – thank goodness! Not allowing me to control Auto-ISO ruins other camcorders/DSLRs. Locking down exposure is critical if you want professional-looking images.

The different programmable function buttons are nice for getting what you want. Some of the switch modes like focus control are appreciated. They’re not in ergonomic places like my D800 at all. There are buttons which are appreciated on a video camera but the layout leaves lots to be desired. Like all things, it’s something you get used to.

Autofocus

The autofocus – amazingly fast. I’m not sure what they put in there but it must be a hybrid phase/contrast focus system because it matches my Nikon D800 focus speed quite easily. However, when you need to control focus points, that’s where it falls apart.

Storage

You’ll need lots more storage to use UHD on this camera. Your puny little 320GB drive will be gone in no time shooting with this. Think 2TB drives minimum. Why do I say this? I’m editing my film, Antarctic Tears, which is a feature length film. And it eats up 228GB of my SSD drive. And that’s shot in HD. This camera has almost 4x the resolution. Even a 500GB SSD won’t even come close to supporting a feature length film. 4k/UHD video is what HD was to our computers 10 years ago. Be ready to spend a LOT of money if you want to really work with this.

Other items

Major video shooting issue: This thing has no earphone out. That is one major failing. Why in the world they left this out is beyond me. Perhaps Panasonic is trying to push you into a higher end camera. You might be able to use the AV out and cobble something together. Who knows w/o that cable.

If you don’t have ears on your video camera, you’ll realize only after the shot is over what went wrong. I can pipe audio through my ZoomH4n and listen there, as I can use that as my XLR input, but still. No, this doesn’t have XLR. Of course not.

ND filters for video – buy one. You’ll need one. Or two. For a 3-stop ND, I use this Hoya filter.

The batteries seem to konk out pretty quick, but we were shooting at 10 degrees F with wind chill. Buy more batteries.

You’ll need an UHS-1 SD card for it. UHD video eats up a LOT of card space. I hope you bought a spare hard disk or three. Editing this video – get Rocketstore Thunderbolt enclosure with a SSD drive with a fast computer.

Buy your Panasonic Lumix DMZ-FX1000 here at B&H Photo.

Thank you to Sava Malachowski of Sava Film and Open Range Films for the sample images and video. He had excellent footage to sample and work with in tough conditions, shooting in a Wyoming winter with dark animals and bright snow. There’s not much tougher.

Fourth of July 2014

Fireworks Wort Hotel
Fireworks Wort Hotel

The Fourth of July, 2014, in Jackson Hole was a pleasant evening. The storm that blew through earlier in the day cleared out the air and made for perfect fireworks conditions.

Click on the picture at the right. It was taken from the Jackson Indian Arts Museum across the street from the Wort Hotel.

This is a single exposure, no Photoshop involved. Judicious use of exposure time, off-camera strobe, a Nikon D800, and a Nikon 35mm f/2D lens.

Happy Fourth America.

Wort Hotel 4th July 2014
Wort Hotel 4th July 2014
Wort Hotel 4th July 2014
Wort Hotel 4th July 2014
Wort Hotel 4th July 2014
Wort Hotel 4th July 2014

Variable ND inducing softness and blurriness

In an attempt to achieve a shallow depth of field (DOF) with my Canon M-500 video camera, I purchased a Polaroid HD Multi-coated Variable Neutral Density (ND) Filter for that purpose.  The concept of the variable ND filter is to reduce the light, forcing the camera to open the aperture, reducing the DOF.

For regular ND filters, this is easy to do.  Put dark glass is put in front of the lens, cutting the light, the aperture opens, and the DOF drops.  There is no adjustment with these filters.  Really dark ND filters introduce a color shift, as the Hoya ND400 does, but it can be dealt with.

But with the variable ND filter, two polarizers are crossed and their relative position will determine how much the light is cut.  That’s the theory.  However, the variable Polaroid filter I chose makes the image blurry.  And not just a little bit but a lot.

Canon M-500 with Polaroid Var-ND
Canon M-500 with Polaroid Var-ND

At first I tried testing with video, as the above YouTube clip shows.  Once I realized the filter was making the video blurry.  It was still difficult to tell the extent of the problem, so I switched the M-500 to still mode to compare.  The problem was instantly evident.   The two photos show the problem.  Click on them to download and see for yourself.  Wow.

Canon M-500 no filter
Canon M-500 no filter

So, now it’s either drop $400 on a Singh-Ray Variable ND or just get a 3-stop ND for the M-500.  Considering the Canon video camera costs $400, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to purchase the Singh-Ray, as much as I want it. Buying a $1k camera with built-in NDs would be a better choice.

Here are some links to other discussions with the same problem:

Focus Problem with Cokin Variable ND

Variable ND filters (loss of sharpness)

Fader ND is killing my sharpness

Fader ND Softness

There seems to be a lot of non-uniform feedback on the problem.  This filter is something to be tested at the store prior to purchase if possible.  There’s nothing worse than getting home and having things not work.

Is this camera good?

Last night one of my former coworkers asked me about a starter camera for his daughter.

Sony-HX-20V
Sony-HX-20V

She’s looking at getting into photography.  As with all kids, do you go all in and get something amazing or will it collect dust in the closet with the guitar, keyboard, science kit, etc?  That’s a parental prerogative question and for you to answer.

However, I’ll post the text of the email.  It’s low risk to start with a $130 camera and if your child gets into it, great, keep it, buy her a much nicer once to dramatically improve her photographs.  And, if she really gets into it, the choice will be easy.

Ultimately, you’ll want something with at least aperture control so you can take over depth of field.  Here’s the email text:

_______________________

The Nikon L610 looks like a fun starter camera.  No guarantees on quality as I’ve not used it, though but it reviews well:

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/886605-REG/Nikon_26345_COOLPIX_L610_Digital_Camera.html#ReviewHeader

 The only negative on it is shutter lag.  Article here on how to deal with that:

http://aaronlinsdau.com/gear/articles/digisnap1.html

 It uses AA batteries, so buy a pack of Eneloop batteries – love those things, as they’ll last a long time.  Alkaline will die immediately and Li are terribly expensive unless she’s going to a very cold place:

http://www.amazon.com/eneloop-Pre-Charged-Rechargeable-Batteries-Position/dp/B004RP2VNI/ref=sr_1_4?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1370527627&sr=1-4&keywords=eneloop

I use these batteries on my product shoots all day.  They don’t lose their charge sitting on the shelf like regular NiMH batteries, either.

I used this (gf’s camera)

http://www.amazon.com/Sony-Cyber-shot-DSC-HX20V-Digital-3-0-inch/dp/B006K551WQ

in Antarctica – highly recommended, cannot recommend it enough.  It’s a lot more $ than the Nikon but it takes amazing pix in difficult conditions, has a great zoom.  It’ll take better shots than my DSLR without photoshop.  It’s discontinued, so when Amazon is out, that’s it, it’s gone.  It’s not discontinued because it’s bad, just a Sony thing I’m sure.  Maybe the Sony HV-50V is a good replacement.

But if you want to spend more $$ and get an awesome camera, the only one that’s better is the Sony RX-100.  If she doesn’t get into it and finds the L610 is not enough camera, then you have an upgrade path.  But, if she doesn’t get into it, you’re only out $130 with the Nikon.  Parental risk/reward assessment.

Let me know if you have a camera question – I’ll do my best to answer it!

Video & still storage

I will be taking approximately 300 GB of data cards to capture images and video along the expedition. However, all of these storage devices only weigh l about an ounce and a quarter. As the two cameras I am taking use SD cards, I will have no problem carrying all that storage.

20120930-134634.jpg

That amount of storage Will allow me to capture up to 1,600 minutes of hi-def 1080p at 28MB a second. That level of video quality crushes my old MacBook Pro. I will have to get a much faster computer to edit this when I get home.

Plus, the media is quite tough so I don’t have to be too worried about it. My biggest risk is that they are very small and have to be careful with them.

It’s amazing that I can carry an entire hard drive that would be used in a laptop that can be balanced on a few fingers.

Dolly rev 1 performance

The dolly saw its first field action this weekend at the old mission dam in Mission Trails Regional Park.

Being so tied up with filming, we didn’t take any action photos. Oops.

Like most other dolly systems, this configuration only works with the camera upright. That’s great if you want to film everything flat. But as with expeditioning, keeping things level is rarely interesting.

The camera almost ate it once and that’s where I believe I cracked a filter. Better the filter than the lens.

Based on this experience, I’ve got parts on order from Mcmaster Carr. I ended up doing a little engineering analysis AFTER I ordered parts and found what I bought won’t cut it. I will be able to try out the concept, though.

It will be much more versatile than what I and every other Indy film maker has.

That’s a good thing.

20120214-140906.jpg

Getting the right capture equipment

Finding the right video camera to capture this year’s training trip has been a production. As much as I like running around with my Nikon D300s, it’s just not practical for expedition filming. It’s great for dual-capture for video when you have time to set things up but definitely not when you have to run-and-gun as the saying goes.
Right now the two main contenders are:
Canon Vixia G10
Canon XA10
Both are based on the same body but the XA10 has additional microphone abilities.