Finding just the right camera for me
You only go around once. May as well take good photos of it.
For our 25th anniversary and to celebrate our 50th birthdays in 2015, I’m preparing to take my lovely wife on her first visit to New Zealand and Australia. It will be my first trip “home” in 30 years.
We’re heading to stunning beaches, taking jet-boat rides, and visiting geothermal wonderlands in NZ, getting personal with koalas, roos and likely jellyfish near Sydney and yachting up the coast during our Aussie stopover on the way home. Plenty of opportunities for photos and video.
I want to capture our experiences to remember for a long time, as we might never get back there again. We’re practically 50 now, after all. That means updating my now aging photography gear. A 6-megapixel DSLR was great in its day a decade ago (weren’t we all?), but newer gear does so much more, and does it all with that new-camera smell.
My criteria for a new camera were straightforward:
- All-in-one portability — I don’t want to lug around a bulky bag of lenses to suit any occasion (i.e. the 18-55mm and 55-300mm lenses often accompanying me when I travel with my Nikon DSLR). One camera for the good stuff, and the iPhone 6 Plus for the quick snapshots and (gasp!) selfie-stick video grabs.
- Must shoot great video — I have that huge, image-stabilized iPhone to take quick and more-than-competent HD video but being able to optically zoom in on the action would be much better for building a dynamic travel journal.
- Decent sensor specs — I wanted more than the miniature sensor usually found in point-and-shoot cameras. Those ultra-compact but small-sensor units are really great for casual use (my wife uses a tiny Canon Elph for her Grade 1 classroom photos, and they turn out surprisingly well), but if I’m using up very valuable vacation time taking photos, they should be as good as I can make them. Within reason. Which leads to the final criterion…
- Cannot cost an arm and a leg — $400 to $800 was my wife-approved range. And by “wife-approved,” of course I mean she didn’t know I was buying a camera. Given the tremendous latitude this allowed, I was actually prepared to pay more if it meant getting a camera I wouldn’t regret buying based on price alone.
Weeks of obsessive late-night online research led me to consider many options. I went back and forth between a few cameras — Canon, Sony and Panasonic superzooms all had their fine points and ranged in price and attractive features. Any of them would meet most of the criteria I had set out and serve quite well.
But at some point you have to jump in, and only one camera truly met my objectives. I finally purchased what many commended as a terrific all-around camera — one of the best introduced in 2014 — the Panasonic Lumix FZ1000.
I didn’t quite believe a camera could be as versatile as reviewers claimed. Well, they were right — this camera can be summed up in one word.
After intensive use at home since purchasing the Lumix FZ1000, I know it will handle with gusto anything I throw at it — from fantastic stills to amazing 4K video (including options for 60, 30 or 24 frames per second).
Frankly, it offers everything the snap-happy traveler could want in a camera with a hard-wired (built-in) lens. So, what’s to like about it?
The 25mm to 400mm Leica 16X zoom lens offers remarkable range, and it’s plenty bright with an f/2.8 to f/4.0 range.
The one-inch MOS sensor is much larger than most other bridge or point-and-shoot cameras — popular superzooms currently available (2015) typically use a 1/2.3-inch sensor.
The 20.1-megapixel resolution provides great results, and when shooting video beyond the optical zoom range, it can crop into the big high-density 20MP image for extended zoom range without giving up a bunch of resolution in the final result.
The built-in WiFi works like a charm. This camera creates its own WiFi server that can connect directly to your laptop or desktop computer for transferring files. Of course, you can connect using a USB cable for even faster file transfers, but WiFi is very convenient.
The 4K video capability means this camera has some future-proofing. Ultra high definition video is still emerging on the scene, and it’s good to know I can capture travel footage in a format that is the highest resolution available. All attached to a bright 37mm lens (in 4K mode) that can take me into the action at up to 2,368mm superzoom.
That’s right: 2,368mm zoom. Don’t let the basic 16X optical zoom statistics fool you. This camera is actually capable of 64X zoom when shooting in 4K video mode — that’s a whopping 2,368mm telephoto length, yet images are extremely good. Not just “good for a bridge camera with a one-inch sensor,” but good when compared with any camera you choose to match up against it.
Don’t believe it? The videos below show real-world results — the maximum zoom is sharp, bright and detailed. So good, you’d hardly know it was a 16X optical zoom amped up with digital processing to produce amazing “superzoom” results.
Want even more from this camera? Every single frame of that 4K video can be grabbed as an 8MP photograph. It’s like having a 24-frame-per-second burst mode (or 30fps or 60fps for that matter).
About the UHS-3 memory card requirement for 4K video
Some reviewers and Panasonic themselves advise that you’ll need a very high-speed UHS-3 memory card to handle the 100-megabit/second data generated when shooting 4K video. Fast memory cards are great, but I used a UHS-1 SDXC 64GB memory card and the 4K video experience was perfect.
So, while it may not always capture the very busiest of scenes, you may be able to get by with a less-expensive UHS-1 card rather than the much more expensive UHS-3 cards recommended by the manufacturer.
(Note: I did, however, purchase from Amazon a pair of 64GB UHS-3 cards that were less than one-third of the price these same high-speed cards were selling for in the popular camera department of our local drug store).
Many photography-expert reviews of the FZ1000 are online. My goal with this post is not to replicate those (I don’t know enough to provide an expert review) but rather to confirm what others have said about the camera. For the US$899 asking price (which I paid with a modest smile of satisfaction), it’s an easy decision when compared with other cameras in its class. Because right now, only a few cameras are in its class.
Where to get it and see current prices
This video was shot on Jan. 31, 2015, with my new Lumix FZ1000 bridge camera. Hand-held from about 70 feet away, the FZ1000 in 4K video mode allowed me to zoom in with a 2,368mm reach (64X zoom) to capture remarkable detail without the pixelation one would expect from a 16X lens extended by digitally zooming into the image. This version was downsampled to 1080p for lower bandwidth streaming.
Here’s the raw 4K (2160p) video straight out of the FZ1000. It is shot hand-held and I’m a little uncoordinated standing upright, but it does provide a sense of the clarity this camera can obtain even at its impressive 2,368mm digital superzoom length. I had the camera set to 3:2 ratio for this particular session.
Click any of the four photos below to see the full image (3,504 x 2336 pixels) exactly as they came out of the camera’s 4K video file.
View any of these four 8-megapixel still photographs grabbed from the 4K video above (not retouched in any way). The camera can shoot 4K video in 24, 30 or 60 frames per second. That gives you a lot of photographs to choose from every second.
As it turns out, the Lumix FZ1000 also takes photos of things other than birds. And by things other than birds, naturally I am referring to cats.