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: Viewfinder and screen
If there’s one aspect where the S1 trounces its rivals, it’s when it comes to composing and viewing images. Indeed the sensational 5.76m-dot OLED viewfinder is quite simply the best we’ve yet seen. With 0.78x magnification, it offers an impressively large and detailed view; those who find it difficult to see into the corners of the finder can cycle through two lower magnifications by pressing a button beside the eyecup. All the most important exposure information is displayed on black strips above and below the preview image, and it’s possible to superimpose gridlines, an electronic level and a live histogram. Colour, white balance and exposure are all previewed live by default, while a front-plate button provides depth-of-field preview and (more unusually) shutter-speed preview.
The S1’s rear screen provides another ace card over the competition. Not only can it tilt up for use as a waist-level finder or downwards for overhead shooting, but a third hinge allows it to tilt for portrait-format shooting, in a similar fashion to Fujifilm’s top-end cameras. Unlike a fully articulated screen, it’ll also work perfectly happily with a L-bracket for tripod shooting; the only disadvantage is that it can’t be set to face forwards for selfies for vlogging. Like the EVF it’s bright and unusually sharp, and the two are near-perfectly colour matched. Overall I can’t think of another camera that provides a better experience for composing your photographs.
Panasonic Lumix S1: Autofocus
Panasonic is unusual in not exploiting on-sensor phase detection for autofocus. Instead, it uses its tried-and-tested combination of contrast detection and depth-from-defocus (DFD) technology, with the latter using information on the lens’s optical characteristics to determine how to achieve correct focus. This works really well with native lenses, and with static subjects you won’t see any disadvantage compared to other cameras that use phase detection. As usual with on-sensor AF, it’s capable of accurately focusing fast prime lenses with no trouble at all. In AF-C mode, you can see the focus continually ‘wobbling’ very slightly so the system can keep track of moving subjects. Tested with the 24-105mm f/4, I found the AF system delivered a very respectable in-focus hit-rate shooting at 6fps, at least in good, light.
Panasonic has included its usual array of focus-area modes, which is comprehensive to the point of being overwhelming. In addition to the usual single area and expanded modes, there are multiple user-configurable zone modes that use horizontal, vertical or oval groups of point, along with a conventional subject-tracking mode. New to the S1, however, is an intelligent subject-detection mode that can identify faces, eyes, bodies, and even animals.
Tested in the relatively dimly-lit and fast-moving environment of a circus, I found this did an impressive job identifying and outlining subjects of interest, and keeping track of their movements. However in this low-light, fast-moving situation the continuous shooting rate slowed right down, as the camera prioritised getting the subjects in focus instead. As a result, the S1’s shooting speed ended up being considerably slower than I’d expect from its main competitors in such a situation.