After making Micro Four Thirds cameras for over a decade, Panasonic has entered the full frame market with a bold statement. Michael Topham got to test the Panasonic Lumix S1R
Panasonic Lumix S1R & S1: First Look
- Panasonic Lumix S1 £2,199.99 (body only), Panasonic Lumix S1R £3,399.99 (body only)
- Wide diameter L-mount
- Venus Imaging engine
- Dual Image Stabilisation system
- 4K 60p/50p video recording
- Dual card slot (XQD& SD)
- Weatherproof construction
One of the headline news stories to break last year was Leica, Panasonic and Sigma’s decision to come together and form the ‘L-Mount’ Alliance’ for the production of full-frame mirrorless cameras and lenses. Panasonic wasted no time in letting their intentions known. Shortly after the L-mount alliance press conference, the manufacturer announced that they were working on developing two new full-frame mirrorless ‘Lumix S-series’ cameras – the 24.2MP Lumix S1 and the 47.3MP Lumix S1R.
As we’ve seen from other manufacturers, these twin models share the same body design but have different sensors to cater for two different audiences. The higher resolution Panasonic Lumix S1R is being targeted primarily at stills photographers who desire ultimate image quality, while the lower resolution Lumix S1 is more likely appeal to video shooters and stills photographers who don’t require the Lumix S1R’s 47.3-million pixels for day-to-day shooting.
Rather like the Nikon Z 6 and Nikon Z 7, there are many similarities between the Panasonic Lumix S1 and S1R. Shared features include a new Venus imaging engine, a three-axis tilting touchscreen, a large top plate status panel and a Dual IS system that combines in-body image stabilisation with in-lens optical image stabilisation. Both models support 4K 60p/50p video recording, and after all the talk of recent full-frame mirrorless cameras only having one card slot, it’s refreshing that both have an XQD slot alongside an SD slot.
Despite getting hands-on with a detailed mock-up sample of the Panasonic Lumix S1R last year, we’ve been patiently waiting for Panasonic to release more detailed information about both models and allow us to try a working sample. During our annual visit to Panasonic’s Digital Imaging Seminar, we were given the opportunity to extensively use both models and take a closer look at the three matched lenses that are initially being developed for the system: a 50mm f/1.4, 24-105mm f/4 standard zoom and 70-200mm f/4 telephoto zoom.
As we’ve reported previously, ten Panasonic L-mount lenses are expected to be available for the S-series by the end of 2020. Meanwhile, Leica has made it known that they’ll have 18 L-mount lenses available by the end of 2020 and Sigma has disclosed that 14 L-mount lenses will be available in 2019, including a mount converter.
The main difference between the S1 and S1R lies directly behind the large diameter L-Mount, with the Lumix S1R boasting a 47.3-million-pixel sensor and the Lumix S1 offering a 24.2-million-pixel sensor. To maximise the fine level of detail the sensor is able to record the S1R’s chip does without an optical low-pass filter and implements new aspherical micro lenses over each pixel to improve the light-gathering ability at high ISO settings.
On the subject of sensor sensitivity, the ISO range on the Lumix S1R spans from ISO 100-25,600 (expandable to ISO 50-51,200), with the Lumix S1’s standard ISO reaching a maximum of ISO 51,200 (expandable to ISO 50-204,800). The sensors on both models partner up with Panasonic’s new Venus Engine processor, permitting continuous shooting speeds of up to 9fps in AFS or 6fps with continuous focus on both models.
Those who expected the Lumix S1 to offer a faster continuous burst than the Lumix S1R may be a little surprised to read that the two models are identical in this respect. If 9fps sounds a bit pedestrian, there’s also the opportunity to shoot bursts of 18-million-pixel JPEG images at 30fps in the S1/S1R’s 6K Photo mode, while 4K Photo offers sequences at 30fps or 60fps, albeit at a lower 8-million-pixel resolution.
When situations demand greater resolution than 47.3-million pixels, the Lumix S1R’s High Resolution Mode can be deployed to create a whopping 187-million-pixel image. Just like the high-resolution modes we’ve used before on other Panasonic cameras, such as the Lumix G9, this feature stitches together image information recorded in eight exposures that are taken as the in-body image stabilisation system makes subtle adjustments to the sensor position.
The High Resolution mode carries across to the Lumix S1 too and operates similarly in the way the sensor is shifted precisely between eight shots to create a single image with much finer detail. Take advantage of the S1’s High Resolution mode and you’ll be able to produce 96-million-pixel Raw files bursting with information. Although high resolution mode on both cameras is intended for tripod use, it can be used handheld. There are two modes to choose from too. Mode 1 is designed to prioritise high resolution in every part of the image whereas Mode 2 is intended for minimising blur such as greenery in landscape scenes.
One of the key features on both models yet to be mentioned in detail is the 5-axis Dual I.S II image stabiliser, which offers 6.5 stops of compensation to counteract camera shake when shooting stills or movies. It works just like the system used in the company’s Lumix G9 in the way it combines 2-axis stabilisation from the lens with 5-axis stabilisation in the camera. Added to this, Panasonic has introduced what’s called an I.S. Status Scope to help photographers remove sources of camera shake by displaying a graphic interpretation of vibration.
Once again, Panasonic has relied on its formula of contrast detection and Depth From Defocus (DFD) technology for focusing. The S1 and S1R are both capable of acquiring focus within 0.08 seconds, with the Venus Engine, CMOS sensor and Lumix S lenses communicating at up to 480fps. While focus acquisition isn’t quite as fast as the 0.04sec claimed speed on the Lumix G9, the focus tracking has been improved with what’s called ‘advanced artificial intelligence technology’ to detect the differences between humans, cats, dogs and birds.
Panasonic cameras like the Lumix GH5 and Lumix GH5S and have gained a very strong reputation among leading videographers around the world and the video specs of the S1/S1R continue in the same fashion and are bound to impress. Line-input is supported by a 3.5mm mic socket while audio can be monitored using the 3.5 mm headphone port. Advanced audio quality is also possible with Panasonic’s DMW-XLR1 microphone adapter, allowing professional microphones and XLR input sources to be connected.
The Lumix S1, which is more likely appeal to video shooters, allows video recording up to 4K 60/50p 4:2:0 in 8 Bit directly to an SD or XQD-card. In addition, 4:2:2 colour sampling can be output through HDMI and Panasonic will provide a software key to unlock the option to record 4K 60/50p 4:2:2 10 Bit via HDMI-output and 30p/25p/24p in 4:2:2 10 Bit internally later in the year.
This software key upgrade will also bring V Log to the Lumix S1. While time-limitations apply to 4K/60p (29mins 59secs) and High-speed-footage (15mins), 4K/30p and Full HD video can be recorded without a time limit. Some users may also wish to take advantage of high speed video, with 2x slow motion at 60fps in 4K available, and up to 6x slow motion in Full HD with frame rates of up to 180fps.
The S1/S1R’s dual-card slots are both UHS-II compatible to handle the high data rates required. Panasonic has also made it public knowledge that compatibility with CFexpress will follow too. Bluetooth and Wi-fi connectivity options are both available to pair and transmit images to mobile devices, plus there’s a new Lumix Sync smartphone app that has been developed for seamless remote control of the camera and immediate transfer from the camera to a phone or tablet.
Viewfinder & Screen
Similarities between the S1 and S1R extend to the electronic viewfinder and touchscreen at the rear. These are the first models in the world to debut a 5.76-million-dot OLED EVF – a resolution that’s exceeds the 3.6-million-dot EVF units you get on Nikon’s Z-series cameras and also the 4.4-million-dot EVF on the Leica SL.
Panasonic claims this super high resolution, matched with a 10.000:1 contrast ratio makes for one of the clearest and detailed views of any camera – something I’ll offer more of a report on shortly. Other points of interest regarding the EVF are its maximum 120fps refresh rate, minimum lag time of 0.005secs and option to adjust the magnification between 0.7x, 0.74x and 0.78x.
Just below the EVF the S1 and S1R is what Panasonic call their triaxial tilt rear monitor that flips out for low or high angled viewing in both portrait and landscape orientation. It’s very similar to the type of three-way tilt screens we’ve seen on Fujifilm X-series cameras, requiring a small button to be depressed at the side to pull the screen out and tilt it appropriately for high and low angle images in the portrait format.
It’s a screen that feels extremely robust and pushes back into the body reassuringly. As for the specs of the screen, it measures 3.2in, has a 2.1-million-dot resolution and supports full touchscreen control that’s integrated nicely with the main menu and quick menu.
Build & Handling
One of the many challenges faced by full frame mirrorless camera manufacturers is trying to squeeze a full frame chip inside a body that feels great in the hand, but not so small that it has an adverse affect on handling and operation. While we’re used to Panasonic’s Lumix G mirrorless cameras being quite small and lightweight, the S-series is quite the opposite and looks like a camera system on steroids when you compare it to full frame mirrorless offerings from the likes of Canon, Nikon and Sony.
Designed to satisfy the high expectations of professionals as well as enthusiasts and anyone who takes their photography seriously, the S1 and S1R employs magnesium alloy die-cast front and rear panels, with seals at every joint, dial and button for maximum durability and robustness. Dust- and splash-proof, the S1/S1R can also operate at temperatures down to -10 degrees.
All the major buttons on both models illuminate in the dark and on the top plate of the camera you’ll find a large LCD panel that allows you to glance at all the key settings you could wish for. Shutter speeds range from 60 seconds to 1/8000sec using the mechanical focal-plane shutter, or 60 seconds to 1/32,000sec using the electronic shutter. The shutter unit itself is claimed to endure up to 400,000 actuations.
In the hand the S1 and S1R feel considerably larger and heavier than the most recent full-frame mirrorless releases from Canon and Nikon. Up against Sony A7-series cameras such as the A7 III, the Lumix S1/S1R is a bit bigger. While those coming from full-frame DSLRs will be accustomed to the size and weight of a bigger camera, people looking for a small, lightweight mirrorless system will want to take into account that there are other full frame mirrorless systems out there for similar or less money.
The size and weight difference between the Lumix S1R and the Canon EOS R and Sony A7 III was very noticeable during my hands on shooting experience. This is offset to some extent by an excellent handgrip that’s beautifully sculpted. Buttons and dials are well spread apart and will be familiar to anyone who’s used Lumix G cameras before, while the directional joystick supports quick repositioning of the AF point, albeit rather sensitive to light thumb movements.
As well as an operational lock lever that can be customised, the S1/S1R inherits the Fn Lever from the Lumix G9 that can be allocated to no fewer than 20 shooting functions. Another benefit is being able to view the remaining battery level as a percentage to give you a more accurate understanding of how much power remains.
Panasonic L-mount lenses
Initially there will be three lenses available for Panasonic’s S-series cameras based on the Leica L-mount, these being the Lumix S Pro 50mm f/1.4 (£2,299.99), Lumix S Pro 70-200mm f/4 O.I.S (£1749.99) and Lumix S 24-105mm f/4 MACRO O.I.S (1,299.99).
The Lumix S Pro 50mm f/1.4, with its focal length considered ‘standard’ for the full frame format, features an optical construction made up of 13 elements in 11 groups. To counteract chromatic aberrations, 2 aspherical lenses and 3 extra-low dispersion lenses are used in its design and unlike many 50mm prime lenses that have 9 aperture blades, it differs in that it has an 11-bladed iris in an attempt to produce the most attactive bokeh possible. An aperture ring is also present, while switching to manual focus requires the focus ring to be snapped forward. Priced at £2,299, it works out £50 less than the Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM (£2,349.99).
As for the Lumix S Pro 70-200mm f/4 O.I.S, this telephoto optic is compatible with Panasonic’s 5-axis Dual I.S II system, offering up to 6 stops of image stabilisation. Construction wise, it combines 23 elements in 17 groups with 9 aperture blades and features a single aspherical lens and 3 extra-low dispersion lenses to minimise chromatic aberrations and maximise sharpness. Like the Lumix S Pro 50mm f/1.4, manual focus is activated by snapping the manual focus ring forward.
Last but not least is the kit lens – the Lumix S 24-105mm f/4 macro O.I.S. This general purpose standard zoom with its 0.5x magnification and minimum focus distance of 30cm teams up with S-series cameras to offer up to 6 stops of image stabilisation. The lens comprises 16 elements in 13 groups and uses two aspherical lenses and two extra-low dispersion elements.
Among the ten or more lenses due to be released by 2020 are a 24-70mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8 and 16-35mm f/4. Two teleconverters (1.4x and 2.0x) will be following too, along with a super telephoto lens, two primes and a macro lens.
Panasonic’s decision to enter the full-frame mirrorless market got a lot of people talking last year. Although we’ve only had a few hours of shooting with a pre-production sample of a Lumix S1R, it’s enough to make a few early comments on what we can expect to come when the final review samples arrive in a few weeks time.
A lot has already been mentioned about the size of the system and while it’s not small or compact, what we must not forget is that there’s always the Lumix G series for those who want a camera and lens system that’s light and conveniently sized. One thing Panasonic never wanted to do was cannibalise its own G-series with the S-series. The S-series is the next level up and rather than appealing to the average consumer, Panasonic is looking to tempt the most serious of photographers, as well as demanding pros, across to their new system. This is no easy task however, especially after all the superb full-frame offerings that were announced during 2018.
The standout feature that actually made me say the word ‘wow’ out loud is the EVF. It’s sensationally sharp, refreshes quickly and offers a first class viewing experience. I’d have no hesitation in saying it’s the best EVF I’ve ever used. First impressions of the autofocus is that it’s responsive too. It did a fine job of tracking and keeping apace with moving people and cyclists in the street. Furthermore, eye detection in portrait scenes rarely left me disappointed and the only time the camera really showed any sign of hesitation was in an extremely dark low-light scene.
High Resolution mode impressed too, especially when shooting handheld. It’s made so easy to use that landscape photographers and those who want to capture the finest level of detail can easily use it without always relying on their tripod. The huge 187-million-pixel files the Lumix S1R creates will fill up memory card space and hard drive space fairly quickly, but thanks to the speedy Venus image processor you’re not left waiting around in the field for too long for it to stitch the image together.
Ergonomically, the S1R is rather nicely laid out and in many respects feels like a bigger, beefier Lumix G9 – a mirrorless camera that fitted the hand extremely well . The grip is extremely comfortable and as you’d expect of a larger camera, it balances well when heavier lenses are attached. Photographers with large hands are likely to find that they prefer the handling of the S1/S1R than smaller mirrorless cameras like Sony’s A7-series. The weather sealing will also come into its own too when venturing off limits. The Lumix S1R certainly feels like it’s up to the task of surviving rigorous use, but it really needs a test in the wilderness to find out just how durable it is.
My lasting impression from using the Lumix S1R for a few hours is that it’s one very capable camera indeed and there’s much to like. There’s appeal to the S-series system, especially with the backing of Sigma lenses and Panasonic’s professional support, but I sense the hardest job for Panasonic moving forward is going to be getting the Lumix S1/S1R into professionals’ hands and convincing them that this new system is superior to what most pros and serious users are already using. In terms of price, the Lumix S1 and Lumix S1R are competitive, but again they have to be in a sector of the market that continues to grow at a rapid pace with lots of great alternatives already available.
We’ll bring you a full review of the Panasonic Lumix S1R as soon as our review sample arrives, which we’re expecting in the next few weeks.
Price and availability
The Panasonic Lumix S1 and Lumix S1R will be available to buy from 18th March 2019. The full breakdown of pricing is as follows:
- Panasonic Lumix S1 (body only) – £2,199.99/ €2,499.99
- Panasonic Lumix S1R (body only) – £3,399.99/ €3,799.99
- Panasonic Lumix S1 kit (with 24-105mm lens) – £2,999.99/ €3,399.99
- Panasonic Lumix S1R (with 24-105mm lens)– £4,199.99/ €4,799.99
- LUMIX S PRO 50mm f/1.4 – £2,299.99/€2,599.99 (Available from)
- LUMIX S PRO 70-200mm f/4 O.I.S – £1,749.99/€1,999.99 (Available from)
- LUMIX S 24-105mm f/4 Macro O.I.S – £1,299.99/ €1,399.99 (Available from)