Panasonic’s general-purpose full-frame mirrorless camera is very capable, says Andy Westlake, but bulkier and slightly less refined than its competitors
Panasonic Lumix S1: Features
Before we consider the bigger picture, though, first let’s take a look at the Lumix S1’s core specifications. Panasonic hasn’t skimped on the features in any way, making the camera a serious competitor to the Alpha 7 III and Z 6. Indeed in some respects it surpasses both, particularly when it comes to video.
Based around a 24-million-pixel full-frame sensor and Panasonic’s Venus Engine processor, the S1 offers a standard sensitivity range of ISO 100-51,200, which can be extended to ISO 50-204,800 for those willing to take a hit on image quality. Burst shooting operates at up to 9 frames per second with focus fixed, or 6fps with AF adjustment between shots. If this isn’t fast enough, you can use Panasonic’s 6K Photo mode to record 18MP stills at 30fps, or 4K Photo to shoot at 8MP and 30 or 60fps. The buffer is pretty huge: at a bare minimum, 74 images can be shot at 9fps in raw + JPEG before the camera slows down. With a sufficiently fast card, the buffer will clear in a little over 20 seconds.
This brings us onto the subject of storage. Panasonic has included dual card slots, a feature which some photographers now consider to be essential at this price point. But unusually it has chosen to use two different types, with one accepting the familiar SD format and compatible with the high-speed UHS-II standard, while the other takes the less-common XQD. The latter promises greater robustness and faster write speeds, but at a considerably higher price. There’s an argument that you’re getting the best of both worlds, but I suspect most photographers would prefer dual SD slots. You can set the camera so it records to the cards simultaneously or sequentially, or record different file types to each slot.
One crucial feature is 5-axis in-body stabilisation, which works with every lens you can mount on the camera. It also operates in co-operation with optically stabilised lenses, via Panasonic’s Dual I.S. 2 system, to give up to 5.5 stops to stabilisation. It’s difficult to over-state how useful this is for getting sharper images across a wider range of shutter speeds when shooting hand-held, while also allowing you to experiment with subject motion blur. If you mount a manual lens, the camera will prompt you to enter the focal length when it’s turned on, so the IS system can work correctly.
The IS unit also enables a high-resolution multi-shot mode that outputs 96MP files, which works in a similar way to that on other high-end Lumix models. It produces a composite of 8 exposures, with the sensor moved precisely between them to give full-colour sampling of the scene for increased detail and colour accuracy. Unusually the camera only records raw files (which are pretty huge, at around 184MB), requiring the high-resolution images to be generated on a computer later. Two modes are available, with the second designed to eliminate blurring artefacts due to objects moving between exposures.
Dive into the menus and you’ll find some interesting extras, too. There’s a range of auto-bracketing options, a comprehensive intervalometer, a stop-motion animation mode, creative image-processing filters, and a multiple-exposure mode with the effects previewed live in the viewfinder. The S1 even has a built-in controller for off-camera wireless flash using the firm’s FL200L, FL360L and FL580L units. Speaking of flash, the hot shoe is compatible with the same dedicated flash units as Panasonic’s (and Olympus’s) Micro Four Thirds cameras, and there’s a standard PC sync socket on the front, close to the remote release socket which is placed high on the left shoulder where it won’t interfere with an L-bracket.
However it’s in the video sphere where the S1 perhaps stands furthest apart from its rivals. It’s capable of recording 4K video at 60 frames per second, with a 150Mbps bit-rate and every frame being oversampled using the full width of the sensor. What’s more, it doesn’t suffer from the usual 30-minute recording time limit of its rivals – instead it’ll keep on going for more than an hour, thanks to Panasonic having built in a heat-pipe to avoid over-heating. On the side you’ll find 3.5mm stereo headphone and mic sockets under a shared hinged rubber cover, along with USB-C and full-size HDMI ports.
The company has also revealed that the S1 will get many extra high-end video capabilities via a ‘software key’ which is free until 30 September, but will cost £179 thereafter. Additional features will include V-Log recording with 14+ stops of dynamic range, in-camera LUT application both during and after recording, and a waveform monitor.
Both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are built-in for connection to a smartphone or tablet, via Panasonic’s new, streamlined Lumix Sync app for Android and iOS. You get pretty much the full set of expected features, including a simple Bluetooth remote release and full Wi-Fi remote control with a live view display. Naturally you can browse your images using your phone and copy your favourites across for sharing. Once set up, it all works pretty well.
Thanks to the L-Mount Alliance, a the time of writing the S1 is compatible with 8 native full-frame lenses from Leica (3 zooms and 5 primes), and 11 upcoming Art primes from Sigma, alongside Panasonic’s own 3 optics. In addition, Sigma’s MC-21 adapter allows the use of Canon EF-mount SLR lenses. This places it ahead of Canon and Nikon’s full-frame mirrorless systems in terms of native lenses, but they work better with adapted DSLR lenses. However it’s way behind Sony’s full-frame FE lens system.