An upmarket bridge camera stuffed with advanced videography features, but the lens lets it down
- Packed with advanced features for video
- Lots of physical controls
- Fast performance
- Lens focus is a little soft
- A big investment for a single-lens camera
The Panasonic FZ2000 is the successor to the FZ1000, a premium bridge camera that excelled for both photos and videos and was a good deal cheaper than its main rival, the Sony RX10. At first glance the FZ2000 appears to be very similar, once again using a 1in, 20-megapixel sensor and with a slightly longer 24-480mm (equivalent) zoom, up from 25-400mm on the FZ1000. However, there are much bigger changes in the small print of this new model.
What are the key features?
The 2.4-million-dot viewfinder is up from 0.7x to 0.74x, giving a luxuriously big view of the scene. The articulated LCD is a little sharper and is now a touchscreen. There are two lens rings for zoom and focus, plus some new buttons. The built-in neutral density (ND) filter reduces the incoming light by a factor of four, 16 or 64. This is great news for video capture, where shutter speeds around 1/50s are used for natural-looking motion blur, and so an ND filter is necessary to avoid overexposure.
The FZ1000 could capture 4K video but the FZ2000 ups the stakes with support for both UHD (3,840 x 2,160) at 24, 25 or 30fps, and Cinema 4K (4,096 x 2,160) at 24fps. 1080p capture is now available with All-Intra compression, which produces enormous 200Mbit/s file sizes but virtually eliminates compression artefacts. 1080p slow-motion capture is available once again, but this time the capture rate is continuously variable from 2 to 120fps. There’s even an option to output 4K via HDMI to an external recorder as 10-bit 4:2:2, giving considerably more colour information than the 8-bit 4:2:0 video that’s recorded to SD card. Other advanced video features include Master Pedestal Level and Luminance Level controls, timecode support and both microphone and headphone sockets.
These features mean the FZ2000 is remarkably similar to the Panasonic GH4, which is now three years old but is still way ahead of the CSC pack for video. The recently announced GH5 goes even further with 4K up to 60fps and various other upgrades, but it’s fair to say that the FZ2000 is loaded with professional video features. That probably explains why it costs £350 more than the FZ1000 did at launch. At £1,100, it’s currently more expensive than the GH4 body-only price.
What’s it like to use?
It looks and feels like a £1,100 camera, with a chunky, ergonomic handgrip to make its sizable proportions and weight feel comfortable in the hand. The card slot is side-mounted for easy access, and the touchscreen folds out to the side and can face up, down or forwards. Plugging in a headphone or HDMI cable will limit the screen’s movement, though.
Dual command dials provide tactile access to exposure settings. There’s another dial for drive mode, lots of labelled, single-function buttons and seven customisable Fn buttons. Three new Fn buttons on the lens barrel can be assigned to any of 80 functions, but the defaults are to reassign the command dials to ISO speed and white balance, and to provide a slow, steady zoom function — another nod to video work.
The touchscreen makes it easy to move the autofocus point, even when framing shots with the viewfinder, and can be set to Absolute or Offset mode. The latter means the autofocus point is moved by swiping rather than simply touching, which makes more sense when using the viewfinder. The touchscreen also supports pinch-to-zoom to adjust the size of the autofocus area.
As with the FZ1000, this is a seriously fast camera. It typically took 0.1 seconds to focus and shoot in bright conditions, even at the long end of the zoom — a phenomenal result. 0.5 seconds in darker conditions is impressive, too. It captured a shot every 0.25 seconds in Single drive mode. Burst shooting was at 11.3fps and lasted for 96 JPEGs or 33 raw shots before slowing. Switching to continuous autofocus, it delivered 7.3fps capture. Throw in sophisticated autofocus with subject tracking and this camera comfortably outperforms SLRs at this price for action photography.
Is the image quality any good?
We’ve seen 1in, 20-megapixel sensors many times before in bridge and compact cameras, and while they perform brilliantly compared to cheaper bridge cameras’ tiny 1/2.3in sensors, they can’t match the bigger Micro Four Thirds and APS-C sensors used in compact system cameras (CSCs). Other cameras with 1in sensors compensate by pairing it with a wide-aperture lens, but the FZ2000’s f/2.8-4.5 lens isn’t so remarkable. It captures around 50% more light than a typical f/3.5-5.6 lens, but that’s not a huge difference.
We should also factor in the focal length range; 24-280mm (equivalent) covers a wide range of uses and is bigger than any single lens for an interchangeable-lens camera. The overall result is a camera that sits somewhere between the generous zoom range of a small-sensor bridge camera and the noise-free images of a CSC or SLR.
That would be fine if the FZ2000 delivered dependable results in a range of conditions, but it didn’t quite hit the mark in my tests. Focus from the lens was often a little soft, particularly around 200-300mm and at the full 480mm (equivalent) focal lengths, and there was some blooming around highlights. These problems would only be visible at large print sizes or for cropped photos, but for an expensive camera without interchangeable lenses it’s a tad disappointing.
Noise levels were good rather than great. There was very little sign of noise in bright conditions, but photos looked smudged in low light. The Auto ISO mode kept speeds below 1600 when shooting in program mode, and this kept noise reasonably low but resulted in overly long shutter speeds that blurred moving subjects.
These criticisms may seem overly harsh, and in practice the FZ2000’s photos were attractive and sharp enough for most purposes. It’s just that I expected a little more at this price.
^ The exposure of this high-contrast shot is well judged, and details in the dense foliage is sharp. (1/160s, f/4, ISO 125, 24mm equivalent)
^ Zooming in to 83mm (equivalent), focus is OK rather than good, and there’s a hazy glow around highlights . (1/800s, f/4, ISO 125, 83mm equivalent)
^ At 221mm the depth of field is quite narrow but it’s hard to pinpoint which part of the scene is in focus — it all looks a bit soft. (1/125s, f/4.4, ISO 125, 221mm equivalent)
^ Moving subjects and cloudy conditions require a faster ISO speed. The slightly soft focus and higher noise mean details look scrappy. (1/250s, f/4.5, ISO 800, 480mm equivalent)
^ Indoor photography and a manual 1/100s shutter speed has pushed the ISO speed up to 3200, and the resulting noise reduction has smeared skin and hair textures. (1/100s, f/4.1, ISO 3200, 90mm equivalent)
What’s the video quality like?
There’s no doubting the FZ2000’s video specifications. I doubt many people will be using timecode or recording 10-bit colour to an external recorder. However, features such as the variable ND filter, support for Cinema 4K and headphone socket to accompany the microphone socket really do raise the game for serious amateur video production. Touchscreen-controlled autofocus is hugely beneficial, too, and should really have been included in the FZ1000.
1080p video uses the full frame width, resizing each frame to the required 1,920 x 1,080 resolution. This is done using a high-quality algorithm for normal-speed recording, but details in slow-motion capture are more crude. It’s not immediately obvious in most clips, but side-by-side comparisons, particularly of diagonal lines, reveal the disparity.
^ Comparing frames from 1080p video captured at 120fps for slow motion (left) and at normal speed (right) shows that slow-motion capture is more susceptible to blocky details and false colour.
4K video capture is limited to 30fps and slower frame rates, and rather than resize pixels, it uses a 1:1 crop of pixels from the sensor to produce its 3,840 x 2,160 and 4,096 x 2,160 frames. That means the lens has a 38-760mm equivalent focal length for 4K capture, which is handy for telephoto work but less use for wide-angle. It also means that the limitations of the lens displayed in photos also applies to 4K videos. This footage still looks significantly sharper than 1080p videos, but other cameras deliver even better results at 4K.
The buttons on the lens barrel proved to be useful for applying very slow zooms while recording, but I found that the optical stabilisation didn’t do enough to keep handheld shots steady at the long end of the zoom. Video autofocus was responsive and suffered very few errors while recording, although it’s always best to switch to manual focus for scenes that you can shoot only once, such as wedding vows. Colour reproduction was excellent, with Panasonic’s Cinelike D profile providing a flat colour response that’s a great starting place for colour grading on a computer.
Should you buy the Panasonic FZ2000?
The FZ2000 is mostly impressive but there’s no doubt that the lens is the weak link in the chain. It’s by no means disastrous but it may prove to be frustrating, especially when most rival cameras at this price have the option of interchangeable lenses.
The Panasonic GH4 is currently available body-only from John Lewis for under £1,000, but you’d need to spend a good deal more to stock up on suitable lenses to pair it with. However, the Panasonic G80 costs £800 with a 12-60mm lens. Add a 45-200mm lens for £380 and you have a broadly similar camera to the FZ2000 in terms of optical specifications. You’d lose certain features such as Cinema 4K, the ND filter and the ability to perform slow zooms across the 20x zoom range, but gain the option to add other lenses in future. When you’re spending the best part of £1,100, I believe that flexibility is worth having.
|Sensor resolution||20 megapixels|
|Sensor size||13.2×8.8mm (1in)|
|Focal length multiplier||2.7x|
|Viewfinder||Electronic (2,360,000 dots)|
|Viewfinder magnification (35mm-equivalent), coverage||0.74x, 100%|
|LCD screen||3in (1,040,000 dots)|
|Photo file formats||JPEG, RAW (RW2)|
|Maximum photo resolution||5,472×3,648|
|Photo aspect ratios||4:3, 3:2, 16:9, 1:1|
|Video compression format||MP4 (AVC) at up to 200Mbit/s|
|Video resolutions||Cinema 4K (4096×2160) at 24fps, 4K (3840×2160) at 24/25/30fps, 1080p at 24/25/30/50/60fps, 1080i at 25/30fps, 720p at 24/25/30/50/60fps|
|Slow motion video modes||1080p variable from 2fps to 120fps (up to 1/5x at 24fps)|
|Maximum video clip length (at highest quality)||29m 59s|
|Exposure modes||Program, shutter priority, aperture priority, manual|
|Shutter speed range||60 to 1/4,000 seconds|
|ISO speed range||80 to 25600|
|Exposure compensation||EV +/-5|
|White balance||Auto, 5 presets with fine tuning, manual, Kelvin|
|Auto-focus modes||Multi, flexible spot, face detect, tracking, pinpoint, custom multi|
|Metering modes||Multi, centre-weighted, centre, face detect|
|Flash modes||Auto, forced, suppressed, slow synchro, red-eye reduction|
|Drive modes||Single, continuous, self-timer, panorama, HDR, time lapse, stop motion animation|
|Optical zoom (35mm-equivalent focal lengths)||20x (24-480mm)|
|Maximum aperture (wide-tele)||f/2.8-4.5|
|Closest macro focus (wide)||3cm|
|Closest macro focus (tele)||100cm|
|Connectivity||USB, micro HDMI, 3.5mm microphone, 3.5mm headphone, 2.5mm wired remote|
|GPS||Via smartphone app|
|Accessories||USB cable, neck strap|
|Warranty||One year RTB|
|Price including VAT||£1,099|