Ten years after introducing the first digital mirrorless system camera, Panasonic announced its intention to introduce two full-frame mirrorless models at Photokina 2018. With a 47Mp sensor, the S1R is the higher resolution model while the Panasonic S1 reviewed here is the 24Mp all-rounder. The two cameras have the same control layout, weather-resistant build and design. Only their sensors and aspects such as the video specifications, continuous shooting rate and burst depth are different.
The Lumix S1 is aimed at professional and high-end enthusiast photographers and videographers. It’s a complex camera that offers lots of opportunities to customise it and make it work for you. It also has a dual-tilting screen, a first-rate viewfinder, excellent video specification, a fast AF system and a useful High Resolution mode that can produce 96Mp images.
It’s the type of camera that takes some getting to know, but it’s also a camera that is worth getting to know.
As the lower-resolution of Panasonic’s two full-frame mirrorless cameras, the Panasonic S1 has a 24.2Mp full-frame sensor. Interestingly, this is a 23.8×35.6mm device whereas the S1R’s sensor is listed as 24x36mm. The total pixel count is 25.28Mp while the effective pixel count is 24.2million.
That sensor has a native aspect ratio of 3:2, but it’s also possible to shoot in 4:3, 1:1, 16: 9, 2:1 and 65:24.
The image sensor is paired with a new Venus Engine processor. This enables a maximum shooting rate of 6fps with continuous autofocusing. If you can do without C-AF, however, the rate can be pushed to 9fps. Alternatively, in 4K/6K Photo mode, it’s possible to shoot 4K images at 60fps or 6K images at 30fps.
Helpfully, those rates can be maintained for ‘more than 90 images’ if you shoot raw files and ‘more than 70 images’ if you shoot raw and Jpeg simultaneously. Further good news is that there are two memory card slots. One accepts XQD cards while the other is for the more common SD-type media (compatible with UHS-II).
These cards can be set to work as an overflow or a back-up, or you can assign one type of file to go to one card and another to the other card.
The Panasonic S1 has a native sensitivity range of ISO 100-51,200 with expansion settings pushing to ISO 50-204,800.
Panasonic is aiming the Lumix S1 at creatives who want to be able to shoot both stills and video. On the video front, the headline feature is that the S1 can shoot 4K (3840×2160) at 60fps and 150Mbps. However, if you want to keep the full width of the sensor, the maximum frame rate for 4K video is 30fps.
There’s also an HEVC shooting option at 4:2:0 10-bit for internal recording. This option is missing from the Lumix S1R.
Helpfully, Panasonic’s Dual IS system is incorporated. This stabilises images and video.
In addition, Panasonic is going to introduce an optional (paid for) firmware update for the Lumix S1 to introduce full V-Log recording. This will also enable 4:2:2 10-bit 4K 24p/30p internal video recording and 4:2:2 10-bit 4K 60p HDMI output.
Using the V-Log recording option is said to enable an extra two stops of dynamic range compared with the V-Log from the Panasonic GH5 and GH5S.
This firmware upgrade is not being made available to the Panasonic Lumix S1R.
As in its recent G-series cameras, Panasonic has employed a dual image stabilisation (IS) system in the Lumix S1. This means that it can use both its 5-axis in-body stabilisation and the stabilisation that’s built into some lenses. When the Dual IS is used, Panasonic claims the S1 can enable up to 6 stops of shutter speed compensation. This drops to an impressive 5 stops when only the in-body IS is available.
Although the Lumix S1 and S1R are Panasonic’s first full-frame mirrorless cameras, the company hasn’t gone back to the drawing board for its lens mount. Instead, it has used the L-Mount which was originally developed by Leica. So it’s now L for Leica and L for Lumix ;-).
This mount was launched in 2014 for the APS-C format Leica T. But in 2015, it was used for the full-frame system Leica SL. It’s currently used on the Leica SL, Leica TL2 and Leica CL system cameras, as well as the Panasonic S1 and S1R.
The L-mount has a large inner diameter of 51.6mm which enables very fast lenses to be used on compatible cameras. It’s also designed to be sealable to prevent dust and moisture from entering the camera.
Thanks to its 20mm register, it’s possible to use adapters to mount a range of lenses to the L-Mount.
Panasonic is part of the L-Mount Alliance with Leica and Sigma. That means that there are three manufacturers rather than just one making compatible lenses.
High Resolution Mode
Like the Panasonic G9 and S1R, the Lumix S1 has a High Resolution mode. When this is selected, the camera takes a sequence of shots in quick succession with the sensor moving by a tiny amount between each. The S1 then merges the images into a single raw file.
When the aspect ratio is set to 3:2, using High Resolution Mode results in 12,000 x 8,000-pixel images. That’s 96Mp.
There are a few restrictions applied when you use High Resolution mode. For example, it automatically uses the electronic shutter, the minimum aperture is f/16 and the shutter speed can only be set from between 1 and 1/8000 of a second. Sensitivity can be set up to ISO 3200.
Panasonic also recommends that the camera is supported on a tripod.
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Build and Handling
Panasonic has adopted the DSLR-like shape of cameras like the GH5 and G9 for the Lumix S1. But of course, the bigger sensor means it’s a little larger. It’s also quite a bit bigger than the Nikon Z 7 and Sony A7 III. However, it feels very comfortable in your hand and has a big grip.
In fact, the grip is deep enough that my little finger doesn’t have to slip under the camera when my index finger is poised on the shutter release.
The new camera is also sealed at every joint and control point to keep out moisture and dust. Furthermore, it’s guaranteed to operate at down to -10C.
Overall, the Lumix S1 feels very solid. It feels like it will survive some serious use. The buttons and dials have also been scaled up in comparison with the likes of the G9, which makes them less fiddly and easier to use. However, the shutter release has a similar squishy-feel to the G9’s. Consequently, in the early days of use, you’re likely to fire off a few unexpected images.
I’m also not a huge fan of the feel of the large navigation pad on the back of the camera. Whereas most other manufacturers use a dish shape, or separate buttons, the S1’s pad is flat with the Menu/Set button protruding from the centre, making the control seem doomed. I find the joystick more responsive, but as the Menu/Set button is at the centre of the pad it’s more logical to use it to navigate the menu.
Alternatively, of course, there’s the touch-screen which is very responsive. There’s also the wheel around the navigation pad for whipping through setting options.
The control layout is quite similar to the G9’s, but there are few changes here and there. There’s switch on the top-left of the back of the camera, for example, which isn’t on the G9. This locks key controls to prevent the settings being changed accidentally.
Just in front of the shutter release, there’s a control dial that is perfectly positioned for reaching with my index finger. And at the rear of the top plate, there’s a second large control dial that’s ideally positioned for use by my thumb.
Clearly, Panasonic has listened to comments made about the design of the G9 because the mini-joystick on the back of the camera is in a much better location. It’s far easier to reach with your right thumb.
As on the G9, there’s a switch on the front of the Lumix S1 which is customisable. Similarly, there are two customisable buttons on the front of the S1, near the grip. These are conveniently positioned for pressing by my middle two fingers.
Also, on the top plate, there’s a chunky mode dial to the left of the EVF, with a drive mode dial beneath. To the right of the EVF, behind the shutter release, there are buttons giving quick access to the White Balance, Sensitivity and Exposure Compensation settings. Helpfully, the centre button (ISO) has a couple of pimples to make it easy to identify and find which if the three buttons you want when you’re looking in the viewfinder.
However, I used the customisation options to set the rear control dial to adjust exposure compensation directly.
AF-ON and AE-Lock
In a change from the G9, there’s a button on the back of the Lumix S1 marked AF-ON. The G9 has an AF/AE Lock button. However, it’s possible to change the purpose of the AF-ON button using the Fn Button Set option ins the Operation 1 section of the main menu. The camera’s manual also indicates that it’s possible to split the AF-L and AE-L duties across two buttons, but this option was not available on the camera I’ve been shooting with. Perhaps that will come with a firmware update?
Screen and Viewfinder
Panasonic promised that the Lumix S1 and S1R’s electronic viewfinder (EVF) would have higher resolution than the competition. And the company has well and truly delivered with a 5,760,000-dot OLED EVF. It gives a detailed, smooth view that looks very natural in good light. When light levels fall, however, the image becomes a little laggy – even at its 120fps frame rate. It’s not bad, but noticeable.
And on the back of the camera, at 3.2-inches, the 2,100,000-dot screen is larger than average. It’s also a dual-tilt touch-sensitive device. While the dual-tilt mechanism is great for stills, I’m disappointed that it can’t be flipped out to face forward. That would make presenting to camera far easier. This is a popular feature on the GH5 so it’s a shame it hasn’t made it to the Lumix S1.
However, the tilting mechanism seems robust. And once you get used to sliding the catch to release the portrait-orientation tilt, it’s quick and easy to use.
The Panasonic S1 is a high-end and complex camera. That means it has an extensive menu. Helpfully, Panasonic allows it to be navigated, and features selected by touching the screen. In a change from the Panasonic G9, each section of the menu is clearly subdivided with a second column of icons sitting next to the main section icons.
Confusingly, as you move between the main menu sections (Photo, Video, Custom, Setup, My Menu and Playback), the last subsection that you used is highlighted. This means that you can navigate from the top of the Photo section to the bottom of the Video section, for example, with a single nudge of the joystick or press of the navigation pad. As a result, it can seem like you’re continually changing direction as you look for specific features. Even if you’re using the touch control, your eyes have to travel one way and then the other in your search.
There were several times during the first few days that I had the Panasonic S1 that I checked the Photo Style I had set. That’s because, in the default settings, the colours are a bit more muted than I’m used to from Panasonic cameras. And I like that. The results look more natural.
There are three automatic white balance settings, AWB, AWBc and AWBw. AWBc produces cooler images under artificial light while AWBw produces warmer results. I found AWB a reliable choice in natural light, but on the whole, I prefer the results when using the Fine Weather setting. In very gloomy or shaded conditions, the Cloudy setting produces more attractive Jpegs, but they can be a bit too warm.
As it has a 24Mp sensor, the S1 doesn’t break any records for detail resolution, but there’s certainly a good level of detail in images shot at the lower end of the sensitivity scale. This is maintained very well up to around ISO 12,800. Images shot at 25,600 also look good for the most part, but there are issues in some areas.
In the gloomy conditions of a 1940’s-themed railway cafe, for example, the camera struggled a bit with low contrast areas with fine detail. Some of the carpet pattern, for example, looks a bit blurry in the Jpegs. A blackboard with chalk writing highlights what’s going on quite well.
In the raw file, which has been run through Adobe’s DNG converter and then opened in Adobe Camera Raw, the black of the board has slightly stippled appearance at 100% on screen. However, some of the writing is sharper than in the simultaneously captured Jpeg. This has sections that are less legible than in the raw file as well as other areas that are bolder.
The in-camera noise reduction system is attempting to conceal noise and bring out the detail. Where the chalk is faint or smudged, it struggles to distinguish the noise from the detail and softens both. And in other areas where the chalk is clearer, it has enhanced the writing, making it look a bit bolder. It’s a typical response made clear by the subject.
Generally, at high sensitivity settings, the raw files look a bit sharper and more natural than the Jpegs.
I was sceptical about the claims Panasonic has made for the S1’s autofocus (AF) system, but it’s very good. I don’t think it’s in the same league as Sony’s in the A7 III when you’re shooting moving subjects, but it’s still very capable.
What impressed me the most is its ability to pick out very small subjects. When I was photographing small flowers, reeds and leaves, for instance, it didn’t need much persuasion to get them sharp. In most cases, it picked out the subject against a busy background. That came as a nice change after shooting with the Canon RP which often seems to prefer the background in shots like that.
There are nine AF point selection modes on the S1: Face/Eye/Body/Animal Detection, Tracking, 225-Area, Zone (Vertical/ Horizontal), Zone (Square), Zone (Oval), 1-Area+, 1-Area and Pinpoint. I found 1-Area and 1-Area+ the most reliable.
However, the Face/Eye/Body/Animal Detection system does a good job of spotting those subjects in a scene. That’s indicated by a white box around them. A yellow box indicates the focus area. This is useful when there are several faces in the scene, you can just tap the one that you want to be the focus point to move the yellow box.
Although the detection system works well with moving subjects, the focusing often lags a bit behind. And sometimes, the yellow box is in a random area away from your target.
In the past, I’ve found that Panasonic’s Tracking AF mode is useful with subjects moving at walking pace. On the Lumix S1, however, it can keep up with subjects moving faster than that. The only problem is that it can be a bit erratic. Sometimes it sticks with them very well, and sometimes it doesn’t.
One of the benefits of a full-frame sensor is that the photoreceptors are bigger than on an APS-C or Four Thirds type sensor. That means that they gather more light and produce a cleaner signal.
That cleaner signal helps to give images more latitude for adjustment post-capture. And it’s especially noticeable with images from the S1. For example, I brightened some heavily underexposed low-ISO images by 5EV, the maximum adjustment possible with Adobe Camera Raw, and they look fine. The colours are good and noise levels are great.
This means that if you need to preserve bright highlights, you can underexpose images with the Lumix S1 and then selectively brighten them. That’s very useful for landscape photography and high contrast scenes.
High Resolution Mode
Thanks to the S1’s IBIS (in-body image stabilisation), its sensor can be moved by a tiny amount between shots in the High Resolution mode. This enables the camera to gather more information about the scene and create larger images.
I shot High Resolution images with the S1 on a tripod on a fairly still day. Although there was some movement in the trees, I can’t see any ghosting or strange artefacts.
At 100% on screen, the elements within a 96Mp image look the same size as a standard shot from the S1 at 200%. That makes it easy to compare the benefit of the high res mode.
At 100%, the softer parts of the High Resolution images that I shot are indistinguishable from the softer areas of a standard image at 200%. However, the sharpest areas look appreciably sharper and more detailed.
When the image resolution is set to 300ppi, a standard 24Mp image produces prints that measure 20×13.3inches or 50.8×33.87cm. However, a 96Mp High Resolution mode image would make prints that measure 40×26.6 or 106.6×67.7cm. Each dimension is twice that of the standard image. That’s attractive to landscape, still life, macro and commercial photographers.
Panasonic’s GH-series of cameras has won it lots of fans amongst videographers. The Lumix S1 has a lot of the same technology, but with a larger sensor. This gives it an advantage for noise control and greater scope to restrict depth of field.
Video footage from the S1 is in line with the stills it produces. The 4K footage is especially impressive with lots of detail, great colour and good tonal range.
However, the IBIS doesn’t smooth out quite so much movement as it does with the GH5. That shouldn’t be a huge surprise given that the larger sensor would have to travel further.
The video below was shot on the Panasonic S1 set to 4K (3840×2160) 60p 4:2:0/8bit LongGOP 150Mbps in MP4 format. The camera was resting on the top of a fence for the first section and handheld for the last two, all with the IBIS activated.
Follow the link to browse and download full-resolution images
On paper, the Panasonic Lumix S1 looks great. And although it takes some getting used to, it delivers on its promise.
It feels very nice in your hand, with a good, solid construction, a beefy grip and plenty of customisable controls to access key features. The superb, high-resolution EVF and dual-tilt screen also ensure that you have a great view of the scene whether you’re shooting in portrait or landscape orientation.
I’d prefer a vari-angle screen because it can be flipped out and seen from in front of the camera, but I can live with the dual tilt mechanism. And it is a very good screen.
It took me a little while to get used to the S1’s main menu. Its habit of taking you to the last point you were at when you jump between different sections was disconcerting at first. It feels like you’re missing something and when you’re unfamiliar with the layout, you keep having to navigate to the top and then scroll down until you find the feature you need. However, with time, this becomes less of an issue.
And while the AF tracking options lack the sticking power of Sony’s, it’s good enough for most subjects. You could turn up on the touchline and be confident that you’ll walk away with a collection of high-quality, sharp images. And when you want to shoot motionless subjects, there’s the excellent High Resolution mode.
So while it wasn’t love at first sight with the S1, after shooting with it for a couple of weeks or so, I like it a lot. Its control layout is nicer than the Canon EOS R’s, it has a deep array of features and most importantly, its images and video are great.