Full-frame hybrid: Panasonic S1
Panasonic Lumix S1 versus Nikon Z6
The Nikon Z series was a welcome answer to the A7 models from Sony for some photographers due to the better ergonomics. The grip and buttons of the Nikon Z6 are bigger, making the camera easier to handle. That goes double for the Panasonic Lumix S1. The Lumix S1 is the ideal camera for photographers who enjoy the dimensions of a modern SLR but still want the benefits of a system camera and an electronic viewfinder. The Lumix S1 is a lot more robust and heavier than the Z6. The lenses also seem to reflect those differences. Nikon prefers to opt for zooms that can be retracted extra for transport; Panasonic, for larger models that feel particularly robust. The image quality of the two cameras differs little. Both have a 24-megapixel sensor. There are largely small, functional differences between them. The S1 has a better viewfinder; the Z6 is a fraction faster. The major difference between the two cameras, in addition to the design, is the autofocus system. Nikon has a phase detection system, while Panasonic is sticking to contrast detection with DFD. That system is very accurate, but it needs to search a bit more for the focus than phase detection AF does. And you can see that in Continuous AF. That makes the C-AF on the S1 less suitable for video. On the other hand, the Panasonic has a linear focus setting for video (see below for video), and the Lumix S1 has a high-res mode and can create images with a very high resolution.
Panasonic Lumix S1 versus Canon EOS R
The Panasonic Lumix S1 is also a very different camera than the Canon EOS R. The EOS R is a lot smaller and a bit more advanced in terms of operation, with its Touch Bar and programmable ring on the lenses. The Canon EOS R takes at least a bit of getting used to, and that doesn’t work for everyone. The Lumix S1 is a bit more traditional when it comes to the placement of the buttons, and we think Panasonic has made a good choice. The viewfinder of the Panasonic is also finer, but the Canon EOS R, on the other hand, offers a turning and tilting screen with which you can also vlog. For the Canon EOS R, the same applies in terms of autofocus as for the Nikon Z6. The Dual Pixel AF is even very good at following people, even with video. But the Canon EOS R loses points because the camera has no built-in image stabilization. And that is precisely something that works very well on the Lumix S. Certainly if you want to work with non-stabilized fixed focal lengths or older lenses, that makes a big difference. The Canon EOS R also has no High Res mode. On the Canon EOS R you can, of course, get started right away with all Canon EF lenses, while the range of lenses from Panasonic is still somewhat limited.
Panasonic is best-known to most photographers for its Micro Four Thirds cameras, a system that is also supported by Olympus. Less well-known is perhaps the deep cooperation that Panasonic has had with Leica for 18 years. Both brands have been releasing compact cameras for years that are sold under their own name with minimal differences, and Leica is involved in a number of Panasonic’s lenses for the Micro Four Thirds system. On the other hand, it is not strange to assume that Panasonic is involved as a technology giant in the development of various Leica products. At Photokina 2018, it was announced that the two brands had established a partnership with Sigma under the name L-Alliance. The name is derived from the L-mount that Leica has been using for some years for the Leica APS-C and full-frame system cameras. Panasonic announced the arrival of its own full-frame system cameras and lenses with this mount at Photokina 2018, and Sigma now also has a camera for this system: the Sigma FP. The Panasonic cameras, the Lumix S1 and S1R, are now available. The S1 has a 24-megapixel sensor, and the S1R, a 47-megapixel sensor. They are cameras for photographers who are looking for the highest image quality and usability, for both photography and video. Both models can shoot in high resolution and shoot in 4K at 60 frames per second.
The Panasonic S1 is an impressive camera. It is big, sturdy, and weighs quite a bit. Those who like holding a modern full-frame SLR can indulge themselves. The S1 feels the same as a full-frame SLR, except that it has no mirror. The attention to detail and the refinement of the camera is impressive. This is a real camera for high-end photographers and videographers, and it is clear that Panasonic is listening carefully to its own users and ambassadors. Due to the large amount of physical buttons, their logical placement and the well-arranged menu, you get used to the camera fairly quickly. It is of course not possible to fully understand it in half an hour, because the options are too extensive, but all the basic options and settings are very quickly accessible. What’s very nice is the ability to put all your settings on an SD card so that you can easily transfer them to a second body, as well as the separation between the video settings and the settings that you want to use as a photographer. This allows you to switch very quickly between functions, and you can really use the camera as a hybrid for taking photos and moving images.
Panasonic S1: BUILD
The camera looks a bit like a sturdy G9, including the red ring around the adjustment button on the left shoulder. But the Lumix S1 is a lot more robust. This gives the Panasonic Lumix S1 even more room for large buttons and also room for a big battery. The camera feels very robust and has extensive gaskets to make it dust- and (splash) water-proof. Panasonic has more than earned its spurs on this point with models such as the GH5 and G9. The S-series cameras have both an XQD and SD card slot and will also be usable with faster cards in the future. On the back, there are many physical adjustment buttons, including a joystick for the autofocus that is nice and fast and, for example, a selection button for switching between various AF positions. On top of the right-hand side next to the shutter-release button are two adjustment wheels and an on/off switch and buttons for the ISO value, exposure compensation and white balance. On the left is the mode button that we know from the G9, with an additional adjustment wheel below for transport selection. On the front, the mount release button is surprisingly located on the bottom left of the mount instead of – more commonly – on the right. There are also two programmable buttons between the lens and the grip. Panasonic has also further refined the menu structure, so that you no longer have an endless series under one tab. In combination with the touch option, this ensures a very user-friendly menu structure.
SCREEN AND VIEWFINDER OF THE Panasonic Lumix S1
The viewfinder has the highest resolution available: 5.7 million pixels. The amount of detail that you can see as a result is phenomenal. The viewfinder magnification is not only substantial, with 0.78x, but also adjustable. Glasses wearers can reduce the magnification slightly so that you can see everything well with your eye at a slightly greater distance from the viewfinder. On the right shoulder, we also find an LCD with all the information about the camera settings. The screen on the back is 3.2 inches and has 2.1 million pixels. The screen tilts both horizontally and vertically and is of course touch sensitive. The screen cannot be folded up for selfies but always stays behind the camera. Many photographers find that better, and it works very quickly. Panasonic also claims that this solution is stronger than a screen that turns. Due to the lack of a hinged construction for turning, the screen can also be slightly larger. We find the camera a bit on the heavy side to carry at arm’s length for a long time. A GH5 is a nicer camera for vlogging in that regard.
Autofocus SPEED AND ACCURACY Panasonic LUMIX S1
The autofocus uses Panasonic’s latest-generation DFD technology. It is thus a contrast-detection system, but, thanks to DFD, the camera can interpret the blur and the system knows in which direction it should focus and how much. It looks a bit like a phase detection system in this respect, although you still occasionally see the typical back-and-forth searching as the camera tries to apply the latest corrections. The system works quickly and very accurately, and, with the brightest lenses, it can focus down to -6EV, which suddenly seems to be the new standard, with cameras such as the Canon EOS R and the Olympus OM-D E-M1X that can do that. Just like the new Olympus, the Panasonic S and S1R also have AI-based algorithms that can recognize people and animals, making it possible for the camera to select the right AF fields and adjust their size. The latter is unique, and you see the green area that indicates the focus area getting bigger and smaller while you take pictures. The camera of course also has the ability to focus on a human eye, and that makes portrait photography with little depth of field a lot easier. To make that possible, you can opt for Linear Focus Response on the Lumix S1.
Panasonic aims high for the new sensors, with aspherical micro lenses. Noise and dynamic range must be of the highest level. Shots at 6400 ISO do indeed still look beautiful, with little noise. And the sharpness of the shots, even with the ‘normal’ S, is very good, although that of course also has to do with the quality of the lenses. Much attention has also been paid to color reproduction and color purity, and that is reflected in the JPEG images. If you work in RAW, you can of course adjust everything to your heart’s content.
The 24-megapixel sensor of the Panasonic Lumix S1 is good and not inferior to that of other full-format sensors with 24 megapixels. Like the Sony A7 III, the Lumix S1 has no anti-alias filter. Because of this, you run a little more risk of moire (unless you shoot in the High Res mode). This also gives you a bit more sharpness than, for example, the Nikon Z6 and the Canon EOS R. Although the latter has 6 megapixels more, which does not lead to a higher sharpness than with the Panasonic Lumix S1.
DYNAMIC RANGE AND NOISE
The Panasonic Lumix S1 also performs excellently at higher sensitivities and can easily be compared with the best cameras from the competition, such as the Sony A7 III and the Nikon Z6. Even at ISO 6400, the images still look virtually noise-free. At higher ISO values, the dynamic range visibly decreases, and you get more noise, but the latter can also be kept under control with careful post-processing. Because Nikon and Sony use part of the pixels for the phase detection autofocus, you can see it in the images in the form of stripes through the image in the case of extreme post-processing. The Panasonic Lumix S1 has no special phase detection pixels on the sensor because Panasonic does not use phase detection. This ensures that the Lumix S1 has a small advantage in this area if you have to clarify shadows (or underexposed images) very strongly.
One of the strong points of the Panasonic Lumix S1 is the excellent image stabilization. Panasonic is one of the pioneers of built-in image stabilization and has many years of experience with it in Micro Four Thirds cameras. The image stabilization built into the body works over five axes and stabilizes every lens that you put on it, no matter how old. If you put a Panasonic lens on it that also has image stabilization, the two systems work together for an even better effect, and you can get more than five stops of correction. This allows you to work with low ISO values longer so that you can get higher image quality from the camera. Even in low light. The S1 uses the Dual Image Stabilization. According to Panasonic, it is the only system for full-frame cameras in which the stabilization of the lens and that of the camera actually work together and reinforce each other. The result is a gain of 6EV, and that is a lot for full-frame cameras. In practice, we were able to effortlessly get sharp shots with the 70-200 mm f/4 at 200 mm and 1/20th second. The image stabilization is thus good. However, we were unable to detect a major difference with other cameras from other brands.
Video Panasonic S1
Panasonic has been making the best hybrid camera with the Micro Four Thirds GH models for years. Fortunately, the Lumix S1 has adopted many of the capabilities of the current top model in the GH series, the GH5. The Lumix S1 can film in 4K up to 60 frames per second. However, it only achieves the highest speed in APS-C crop mode. If you want to use the entire sensor, you can do so at lower speeds of up to 30 images per second in 4K. In full HD, the camera can film at speeds of up to 180 images per second, with 50 or 60 images per second output. So you can easily make a 3x slow motion in full HD. The Lumix S1 can also film in 10 bit and, together with the ability to film in 4K-60p, these are two major differences with the A7 III from Sony, for example. A unique feature that Panasonic offers is the linear focus response. For photography, a non-linear focus can be fine, because the focus becomes more accurate as you turn the focus ring more slowly. This is unworkable for video. You can thereby effectively shift the focus accurately from one point to another during a shot. To make that possible, you can set the size of the setting stroke of the Panasonic lenses. You then get a linear focus so that with a piece of tape and a pencil, you can even indicate the arc you need to turn to make a certain focus pull. That is how professional filmmakers work. This makes it easier to use your Lumix lenses for video.
HLG AND High Resolution
The new Panasonic S models have HLG and the ability to make High Resolution photo positions. We know both of these possibilities from a number of Micro Four Thirds models, although the HLG mode is available for video use. It’s nice to see that the S1 and S1R also get these advanced features and that HLG is also there for taking 4K photos. HLG is still an unknown option for many photographers. That will soon change now that the selection of 4K screens with a high dynamic range is increasing rapidly. The great thing about HLG is that you can photograph in it and that the images can be viewed just as well on a conventional screen with a standard dynamic range as on a new HDR screen. Thanks to HLG, the contrast size of the displayed file is adjusted to the capabilities of the screen. So, on a normal screen, you see a normal photo, and, on the HDR screen, you see an image with an extra large dynamic range with much more details in the highlights and the deep shadows and brighter colors. If you have never seen the difference, go to a good electronics store and compare a 4K HDR screen with a normal screen, and you will immediately understand that this is really the technology of the future. The HLG shots are saved in a special HSP file format and can be viewed with a HDMI cable directly from the camera on a television or monitor.
Another feature that the Panasonic Lumix S cameras get is a High Resolution setting. The cameras take eight shots in quick succession, whereby the sensor is always shifted half a pixel through the built-in image stabilization. The new Venus Engine processor in the camera then merges the eight images into a shot with a higher resolution than you can get with a single shot. The cameras also have the ability to adjust the shots if moving objects are detected in the photos. The resolution in the HR position is four times as high as normal. We are then talking about 96 megapixels for the S1. The High Resolution mode does indeed work well and provides a visible increase in sharpness. However, do not think that the sharpness will be four times or even twice as high because the files have four times as many pixels, or 2x linear. But every visible difference counts.
The degree of success depends on both the subject and the technique used. Any vibration in between the shots is deadly for the end result. Make sure you have a very good tripod, tighten everything well and try to keep the whole set out of the wind when you work outside. Furthermore, it is of course important that the subject stands still for a while. For landscapes, there is already a limitation because even a breath of wind causes movement in leaves and blades of grass. And that causes ugly artifacts. You don’t see that on an Instagram image, but we assume that’s not what you want to use the High Res mode for, either. If you start printing in large format, you will see such errors in the image. If you often need high resolution images, then the S1R may be a better choice. For studio work, the High Res mode is a good way to get even better files, and it can also be a solution if you occasionally need a larger file. Below you can see the difference between the High Res mode at 100% and a normal, 24-megapixel image enlarged to 200% to arrive at the same image standard. The differences will probably hardly be visible on a small screen but are clearly visible at 100%.
For the time being, there are three lenses from Panasonic: a Panasonic S 50mm f/1.4, a Panasonic S 24-105mm f/4 and a Panasonic S 70-200mm f/4. The Panasonic S models have the L-mount, which we also see on the full-frame and APS-C model system cameras from Leica. The lenses that Leica has made for the mount can thus also be used on the Panasonic. The number of available lenses will also increase quickly due to the partnership with Sigma. Sigma has already released its Art lenses with a Sony FE mount, and an L-version is thus no more than logical. In addition, the interest in releasing more lenses for system cameras will increase among lens manufacturers since Canon and Nikon have also put mirrorless cameras on the market. Brightness and specifications yet to come. Panasonic promises in any case to release another 7 lenses for 2020, as well as two teleconverters. We can thus expect that most of the needs of photographers and videographers will be covered within two years.
We’re satisfied with the quality of the shots that were able to get with the three current lenses. The bokeh of the lenses is beautiful, especially with the 50mm and the 70-200mm, and the sharpness of the lenses is high. The 70-200mm and the 50mm have a focus ring that you can pull back to immediately switch to manual focus, and the 50mm has a ring for setting the aperture.
Panasonic Lumix S1 SAMPLE IMAGES
Curious about the performance of the Panasonic Lumix S1 in practice? Click on the button below and visit our renewed web gallery with sample images.
ConclusiON: Panasonic Lumix S1 REVIEW
The Panasonic Lumix S1 is a great first full-frame camera from Panasonic, and one with which Panasonic has also established a distinctive model. The S1 is big, heavy and solid. It’s the ideal camera for photographers for whom mirrorless doesn’t necessarily need to be smaller. It feels like an SLF, but then one with an electronic viewfinder. The grip is big, the battery is big, the viewfinder is big. Everything about the camera is easy to operate, even with gloves. The lenses available so far perform very well. Panasonic has the space to make that choice as well. If you want something small and compact, Panasonic offers the Micro Four Thirds system. This is a camera for the real fan of the photography craft. The choice to collaborate with Leica and Sigma gives the system extra weight. The selection of lenses is still limited to fantastic but pricey Leica lenses and three good Panasonic lenses. But that will change quickly. The Panasonic S1 is not only a really good camera but also a camera with which you have a real choice again as a photographer.