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: Build and handling
I’ve already mentioned the S1’s bulk, and at 149 x 110 x 97mm and over a kilogram in weight, it’s as large as a high-end full-frame DSLR. While this feels at odds with the while idea of mirrorless, the advantage is that it allows the camera to be festooned with a vast array of physical controls. It’s also, on the whole, built to the same kind of level as the Canon EOS 5D series or the Nikon D850, and feels like it would be just as much at home hammering in nails as taking pictures.
The massive body also provides space for a huge grip that’s probably the best of any mirrorless model to date. With a thick textured rubber coating and pronounced thumb-hook, it feels absolutely secure in your hand. As a result, the camera is perfectly at home with long telephotos on board, in marked contrast to Sony’s comparatively tiny bodies. The shutter button is highly responsive; indeed it’s so twitchy I frequently found myself firing it by accident.
You also get stacks of direct control, which is all highly customisable to suit your preferences. There are no fewer than three electronic control dials, along with a joystick controller for positioning the AF point, and physical dials for setting the drive and focus modes. Three prominent buttons behind the shutter release access white balance, ISO and exposure compensation, but I preferred to reconfigure the dials such that the top-plate thumb dial directly changed exposure compensation, while the back dial changed ISO. But whichever way you prefer to shoot, all the key settings are at your fingertips and easy to change with the camera held up to your eye. Panasonic’s touchscreen interface is excellent too, with large onscreen buttons and rapid responsiveness complementing the physical controls perfectly.
Panasonic has included a couple of unusual high-end features too. Pressing the light button beside the top-plate LCD also illuminates a selection of buttons on the back, while a lock switch on the shoulder can be used prevent accidental settings changes. A small front-plate Fn lever enables silent mode by default, but can be set to operate other useful settings such as focus peaking, or to turn touch functions on and off.
There are a couple of niggles, though. The power switch is awkwardly positioned on the top-plate, so unlike its Sony and Nikon rivals, you can’t quickly flick the S1 on and off with your forefinger to conserve the battery, as is desirable with a mirrorless camera. Panasonic seems to have tacitly recognised this to be a mistake, as it’s changed the design on the S1’s upcoming video-focused sibling, the S1H. The menu/set button and d-pad are also rather spongy and imprecise; this wouldn’t matter so much were it not for the fact that you use these controls a lot. Overall, though, the S1 gets far more right than it does wrong in terms of handling.