The landscape for cameras has changed dramatically over the last few years. With budget compacts all but dead and buried given the take-over of phone cameras, the last bastion for this section of the standalone market is the bridge or superzoom camera. Which is where the Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 II comes into play.
The follow-up model to the 2014 original – which was Panasonic’s first foray into the larger 1-inch sensor size – the Mark 2 model doesn’t reinvent the wheel, rather polish up some elements of the original model, for a more refined superzoom.
Thing is, with phone cameras beginning to encroach on zoom territory too – the Huawei P30 Pro with its (admittedly lesser) 5x optical zoom being one such example; and the first of its kind which will no doubt spawn more similar competitors – does a nip and tuck superzoom still hold a relevant place in the market?
What’s new for round two?
- New body design with dual dials and programmable buttons
- Higher-resolution LCD screen, now with touchscreen
- Marginally greater magnification in viewfinder
- Longer buffer for burst mode shooting
- Unlimited video recording, incl. 4K
- In-camera USB charging
- Adds 4K Photo modes
As we said up top, the differences between first- and second-gen FZ1000 models are fairly marginal. The biggest change with the sequel is the body has been reformed, adding dual dial controls and programmable buttons into the mix. If you have specific adjustments to make then this makes a welcome difference – but if you’re used to the original model then it’s unlikely to be a reason to dive in and buy.
Elsewhere the FZ1000 II ups the LCD screen resolution, adds touchscreen controls – very welcome on our account, that’s for sure – and marginally magnifies the electronic viewfinder. In-camera charging – which we don’t like as much as a simple charger cradle solution, given its slowness; however it’s good for on-the-go charging with a power bank – also features, alongside Panasonic’s staple 4K Photo modes.
And that’s your lot. There’s no new lens (the existing one can go down to f/11 now, though, not just f/8 – but there’s sill no neutral density (ND) filter) and no new sensor on board. That’s arguably fitting, given that image sensors haven’t moved forward a huge deal in the last five years – unless we’re talking about considerable leaps in lens mount, such as in the new Nikon Z6 (but that’s a whole other kettle of fish).
Design and Performance
- 0.39-inch, 2360k-dot OLED electronic viewfinder, 0.74x magnification
- 3-inch, 1240k-dot touchscreen LCD on vari-angle bracket
- 16x optical zoom lens (25mm-400mm f/2.8-4 equivalent)
- 5-axis hybrid optical image stabilisation (OIS)
- 12fps burst shooting, 30fps with 4K Photo
The main reason to buy the Panasonic FZ1000 Mark II is its big zoom lens. Not only can this large-scale bridge camera capture fairly wide-angle shots (at a 25mm equivalent), it can zoom right through to capture far-away subjects as if they’re up-close too (at a 400mm equivalent, hence 16x optical).
It does so with a relatively fast aperture, at f/2.8 when shooting at the widest angles, which not only lets a lot of light in, it helps blur the background for those more pro-looking shots. However, that maximum aperture isn’t sustainable throughout the zoom range – by 170mm it’s restricted to f/4.0, which will have some impact on creative control at longer zoom selections (less light entering means you’ll likely need to shoot at higher ISO sensitivities, which has a knock-on affect on quality). Still, it’s a pretty impressive figure set from a lens of this scale.
We used the FZ1000 II when on a visit to Beijing, China, where its long zoom was useful to capture close-up shots of local cuisine, in-action shots of locals cycling through the city, and long-zoom shots of ornamental statues from afar. In terms of versatility this camera certainly puts a big tick in the box – if you’re happy carrying around such a large chunk of kit anyway.
We’ve found the touchscreen controls particularly useful, while the option to jump between screen work and viewfinder is handy when sunlight glare causes issues with exposing on the rear screen. Given Beijing’s general smog, however, we’ve typically shot with bracketing active to gather wider exposure possibilities in such an unpredictable climate.
At longer focal lengths the FZ1000 2’s built-in 5-axis stabilisation system is an absolute essential, helping to keep composition that much smoother and ‘held’. And there’s a temporary focus retraction button to the side of the lens, which we’ve found useful when shooting at 400mm and finding composition too tricky – a quick tap-and-hold of that button draws the focal length back, marking out the in-shot area as an overlay on screen, making it easy to quickly recompose.
Not that the FZ1000 Mark II is an especially super-fast camera. When shooting cyclists through Beijing’s streets, we’ve found the continuous autofocus to fare fairly well – but results have been hit and miss, even when upping the shutter speed. Better than you’ll get with a phone, no doubt, but no pro DSLR by any measure – even with Tracking AF selected. It does have a significant burst mode, though, at up to 12 frames per second (12fps) at full resolution.
In single autofocus the camera is far more adept, offering a variety of focus modes, including Face/Eye Detection, 49-Area auto, Custom Multi area, 1-Area AF, and Pinpoint mode. The last of these is our favourite, offering a cross-hair ‘pinpoint’ that zooms into 100 per cent to acquire and confirm focus before shooting – a mode that other manufacturers have struggled to offer in the same fashion as Panasonic.
Where the FZ1000 2 succeeds, then, is with its versatility and variety. If you’re comfortable commited to carrying a fairly large camera around then its variety of focus modes, burst speed, flexible autofocus and considerable controls give it an enthusiasts edge way beyond what a phone camera can offer.
Battery life has been quite decent too – we’ve been able to shoot around 300 shots, including additional on-screen time between shooting, which seems within the right bounds of the claimed 400 shots per charge life.
- 20-megapixel 1-inch CMOS sensor
- Venus Engine processing
Another real reason to consider buying the FZ1000 Mark II is its larger-than-average sensor size. The 1-inch scale is the same as found in its Sony RX10 III competitor. This larger scale is important for image quality reasons – a larger sensor node means greater light-gathering properties, which equates to a cleaner signal and, in turn, a potentially cleaner and more detailed image as a result.
A sensor of this size also gives immediate benefit to maximum depth of field, where blurred background is amplified even further thanks to the longer focal lengths achievable. Even f/4.0 helps give a slightly softened background in many scenarios (dependent on the subject distance from the camera, though).
The thing is, not much has changed in the second-gen model. This is the same sensor as found in a 2014 camera, which you might think puts it out of date before it’s even out of the box. The buffer is a little larger for burst mode, but otherwise, ultimately, the quality isn’t going to look dramatically different between first- and second-generation models.
Saying that, if Panasonic had crammed in more resolution or more up-to-date technology then, well, it’d be more expensive and likely deliver an image size beyond that of most people’s needs.
As we said of its predecessor, the quality of the images is largely free from interfering image noise at the lowest ISO sensitivities (ISO 125 being the lowest). We’ve shot Chinese lanterns, ancient doorways and stray dogs all revealing ample detail.
Range up the sensitivity, however, and detail begins to diminish. An ISO 3200 shot taken at a Black Shark launch event, for example, showshow processing for image noise reduces the overall detail and sharpness. At least image noise isn’t especially visible anywhere though.
It’s the different focal lengths that will pose different pros and cons. The widest-angle, for example, has softer edges towards the extremities of the frame, as is typical from such a lens type. And full zoom can’t maintain the same sharpness as the mid-zoom results either, as our shot of the Great Wall show.
Overall, despite the more limited maximum aperture, the FZ1000 Mark II is a capable bridge camera with some foibles in the image quality department. It’ll walk all over a mobile phone’s equivalent shots, thanks to the zoom lens and 1-inch sensor, but it can’t always perform miracles.
The Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 Mark II is a relatively soft update to the superzoom original. But that’s not to take away from what it gets right: if you want a versatile zoom lens with good quality images then it’s certainly worth putting on your shortlist.
No, the image quality hasn’t moved on beyond its 2014 original, but with a great vari-angle touchscreen and high quality electronic viewfinder it’s a very diverse zoom camera. Plus it’s more affordable than its nearest Sony competitor, which adds to its points of attraction.
Sony Cyber-shot RX10 Mark III
A pricier and more premium build superzoom option comes from Sony in the RX10. Now in its third-generation form, it’s had a longer innings than the Panasonic, but its higher price point is a potential offput.