Sony's groundbreaking RX10 won our award for the best enthusiast zoom of 2013. Its lightning fast performance, bright, f/2.8 lens, 24mm to 200mm zoom range and solid video performance led us to conclude that it "offered something truly unique." While the RX10 still stands alone in some respects, we can no longer call it truly unique, thanks to Panasonic's tremendous FZ1000, a worthy adversary where none existed before. This is probably the toughest matchup that we've yet judged, but we were able to condense our findings to one winner (for most photographers).
While these two cameras are each others' nearest competitors, they differ in several key ways. The first is the lens. The FZ1000 doubles the max telephoto of the RX10, while keeping the wide-angle range nearly identical (25mm vs 24mm). The tradeoff with the FZ1000 is the loss of the RZ10's f/2.8 constant aperture: the FZ1000 jumps to f/4.0 by 135mm, and the aperture loss begins pretty much as soon as you move away from its maximum wide-angle setting.
The FZ1000 is a (significantly) larger and (slightly) heavier camera than the RX10. While the RX10 kept some of the compact camera sensibilities of its RX100 forefather, the FZ1000 is well within the territory of interchangeable lens camera size and weight. Given that the RX10 is still well beyond something that could be called a ‘compact' camera, we don't find this to be a significant differentiator.
Unfortunately, the FZ1000's excess weight didn't bring with it a magnesium alloy body: the FZ1000 is a plastic affair. If there's one area where Panasonic skimped to keep costs down it was the build quality. If you want a camera that feels like a solid, serious, professional tool, you'll be happier with the RX10. Sony's contender just feels a lot better than Panasonic's; Panasonic fans can think of the difference as comparing a GH4 to an FZ200.
While Sony has made varying claims about the degree of weather sealing on the RX10, its current claim of 'dust and moisture-resistant' is sufficiently vague to eliminate it as a factor for consideration. While the degree of weather sealing is dubious, there's no debating the RX10's fantastic build quality otherwise.
While we found the RX10 focused quickly, the FZ1000 is just a bit speedier, and significantly so when shifting focus across a wide range. And whereas the RX10's responsiveness could bog down after a shooting a burst of images, the FZ1000 chugs along. Panasonic also managed to boost the maximum frames-per-second from the RX10's 10fps to the FZ1000's 12fps.
While we had some frustrating focus issues using the FZ1000 with it's pre-release version 0.3 firmware, they seemed to be pretty well taken care of by the version 1.0 update we received a couple of weeks after the announcement. Thanks to Panasonic's “DFD” (Depth from Defocus) technology, the FZ1000 is unusually quick in shifting focus across greater distances. Switching between subjects at different distances, we were amazed by how quickly the FZ1000 could shift focus. It's by far the fastest-focusing long-ratio zoom we've seen to date.
The FZ1000 and RX10 both use an 1-inch type sensor and their image quality is excellent for that sensor size, holding together up to ISO 3200. The RX10's JPEGs exhibited more noise in background areas, but generally retained more detail, while the FZ1000's showed a more noise suppression, leading to slightly lower levels of detail at higher ISOs.
These two cameras are very close to each other in image quality. So close, in fact, that we wouldn't be surprised if they were the same sensor (though the 0.10 megapixel difference suggests otherwise). The net of it is that you can effectively ignore image quality when deciding between them: they're both excellent and neither has an decisive advantage.
While Sony is no slouch in the video department, Panasonic is seriously giving the company a run for its money. The Sony A7S features the best low light video we've ever seen, but can't record 4K video without an external recorder, while Panasonic's GH4 manages this feat without breaking a sweat (for $800 less). Whatever secret sauce Panasonic has in its R&D facilities, the FZ1000 appears to have enjoyed a heaping helping of it, because the FZ1000 is the first still camera to ever provide this feature for less than $1,000. Note, though, that the 4K feature on the FZ1000 requires cropping in on the sensor, making it fairly useless for wide angle shots, but even more formidable on the telephoto end (the FZ1000's 25-400mm effective lens becomes a 37-592mm effective lens when recording 4K video).
Though the FZ1000 nails the headline 4K feature, it falls short in a couple other areas. First, Panasonic decided not to include an integrated neutral density filter like that found on Sony's RX10. Some still photographers might shrug at this omission, but video users will be disappointed here. It's extremely useful to keep your aperture wide open in order to isolate your subject when shooting in bright light. You'll have to screw your ND filters onto the FZ1000's lens.
The second big disappointment was Panasonic's omission of a headphone jack, another key feature for serious videographers. Finally, clean HDMI out isn't supported and you'll face the common 30 minute limit on recording length. (So-called clean HDMI out means the live video signal is output over the camera's HDMI port, so can be recorded on an external video recorder. You can do this with the RX10, but not the FZ1000.)
UPDATE: we received news from Panasonic that the FZ1000 will output a clean HDMI signal! It can't do so while recording, but you will be able to record onto an external device, eliminating the 30 minute limit on recording length. You'll find more information here.
And FZ1000 video quality is great at 1080p, comparing favorably to the well-regarded GH4. But in terms of resolution at 1080p, the FZ1000 has a trump card that gives it a leg up over the RX10. Shooting 4K and downsampling to 1080p in post, while a hassle, yields video that is cleaner than you'd ever get out of a camera's native 1080p output. To say nothing of the 4K performance itself, which is reasonably competitive to the GH4 in terms of effective resolution.
Color handling differed slightly, with the FZ1000 getting a slight nod: greens felt more natural and colors weren't as saturated. More importantly, though, the Cinelike V and Cinelike D color modes extend the FZ1000's lead in this area: their flat profile gives videographers more headroom for grading.
We were happy to see that neither camera employs line-skipping to generate full HD video (line skipping can produce unsightly artifacts, including moiré patterns). Nevertheless, the RX10 reads out all pixels and then subsamples them in its processor, while the FZ1000 combines pixels on the sensor chip, so both can still produce moiré and aliasing when shooting particularly challenging repeating patterns. We'd rate the two roughly equivalent in this area: neither are greatly troubled in this department.
When it comes to low light and dynamic range, our initial impression of the FZ1000 is that it compares favorably with the RX10. We'll be doing a more extensive comparison of the two camera's image quality in a future test, but for now, we'd count them as pretty well-matched.
When it comes down to it, the FZ1000 is a bit of mixed package in the video department. Our guess is that Panasonic is trying protecting its $1,600 GH4, which includes all these missing features, and more (though not, of course, the integrated ND filter). We give the video-recording nod to the FZ1000, thanks to its superior slow-motion mode, grading-friendly color profiles and 4K capability. On the other hand, if you don't care about these advantages, the RX10 offers some key features missing in the FZ1000.
If the RX10 were available for $1000 this would be a torturous decision. The RX10 is a gem: its superb build quality; beautiful, fast lens; and fantastic handling made it one of our favorite cameras of 2013. To be sure, there are photographers who will be happier with the RX10. If the practical advantages of a fast, constant aperture lens, headphone jack, integrated ND filter and stellar build quality are what you're after, pick up the RX10 (but perhaps not before waiting to see if Sony sees fit to cut its price...). On the other hand, if it's zoom that you want and you're in love with the idea of 4K, the FZ1000 is your ticket.
But this isn't a difficult fight to call for most photographers. The $400 premium Sony asks for the RX10 is the deciding factor. When one camera is 50% more expensive than it's closest competitor it had better offer something special. The RX10, while incredible, just doesn't offer enough additional functionality to sway our decision. Unless Sony announces a major price cut for the RX10, the decision for most photographers will be easy: get the FZ1000.
We'd no sooner written our comparison review than we heard news that Sony had dropped the RX10's price by $300. While the official Sony website shows the new $999 price as a "sale", we received confirmation from Sony this will be the MSRP from this point forward. Now that the RX10 is a mere $100 more than the FZ1000, our decision is difficult indeed.
Downsampling the FZ1000's 4K output to 1080p is an awesome capability, giving you incredibly high-quality 1080p footage and allowing you to add additional motion stabilization or panning within the frame in post. The camera crops in to shoot 4K though, so you miss out on the classic 30mm wide-angle range when using this option. Panasonic's flat 'Cinelike' tone and color profiles are key features for serious videographers, though, a huge plus for post-processing.
At the same time, the headphone jack, clean HDMI out and built-in ND filter of the RX10 are important features that are missing from the FZ1000. And the FZ1000's build quality pales in comparison to the RX10's: it's not that the FZ1000 has the tough, solid feel of a well-constructed camera made of ballistic plastic, vs the RX10 magnesium-alloy body, but rather that the FZ1000 has a plasticky feel in the hand and the RX10 a particularly excellent build quality. We said it before, but the FZ1000 is no GH4: it feels more similar to the $500 FZ200, whereas the RX10 feels like a $1,500 tool you'll carry with you for the next decade.
For those curious about 4K or who don't mind some post-processing legwork for stellar video quality, the FZ1000 is the clear choice. Likewise, if you shoot beyond 200mm much at all, the FZ1000 with its 400mm (35mm equivalent) telephoto is again an easy choice. Conversely, if you spend most of your time between equivalent focal lengths of 24mm and 200mm, the RX10 gets a bit more compelling since you'll enjoy a faster lens over a good bit of that range (135mm to 200mm). If you'd have a hard time forking over $900 for a slightly cheap-feeling plastic camera (fantastic though it may be), you'll also be happier with the superb construction of the RX10. Everyone else will need to carefully weigh both cameras' advantages and give each of them a test drive before buying. Sony's adjusted pricing has evened the playing field; neither camera is an automatic winner over the other any more.
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Smaller than SLR/CSC with comparable lenses; Larger sensor than other bridge cameras; SLR-like body without the hassle of changing lenses; Weather-sealed; Constant f/2.8 maximum aperture; Generous zoom range; Great viewfinder; Swift performance; Plenty of enthusiast-friendly features including raw shooting; Wi-Fi and NFC wireless sharing.
Expensive compared to other bridge cameras; Menus respond slowly after burst shooting; Lens doesn't zoom very quickly; High ISO performance doesn't quite match RX100 II.