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: Performance
Panasonic was the first company to make a mirrorless camera, and it’s now had over a decade to perfect the technology. So it should come as no surprise to hear that in most respects the S1 is an extremely capable camera that does what you ask with the minimum of fuss. It’s quick and responsive, and the excellent control layout makes it a pleasure to shoot with.
As we’d expect the metering system generally does a very good job, although it has a tendency to underexpose in cloudy, low-contrast conditions. However you can see this live in the viewfinder, and compensate easily enough. If you’re a fan of the ‘expose to the right’ exposure methodology for shooting raw, then the Highlight Weighted Spot metering option is well worth exploring.
Panasonic’s colour palette and auto white balance has improved dramatically over recent years, although it still can’t quite match the best in the business at making attractive out-of-camera JPEGs. Its colour palette prioritises accuracy over the more saturated signatures provided by the likes of Canon and Nikon. Its standard auto white balance setting errs a little towards the cool side for my preference, but thankfully Panasonic has provided cool- and warm biased alternatives.
Most users will, I suspect, be shooting raw. It’s here that you’ll discover just how fine the S1’s image quality really is. Low ISO raw files are highly detailed and noise-free, with an astonishing degree of malleability, meaning you can retrieve a phenomenal amount of detail from deep shadows without having to worry about noise. High-ISO image quality is also excellent, and I wouldn’t hesitate to shoot at ISO 12,800 as a matter of course, with ISO 25,600 being entirely usable with careful noise reduction.
Despite the huge battery, the S1’s stamina isn’t noticeably better than the Sony A7 III’s, which presumably reflects the processing power required to drive its huge, high-resolution EVF. However it should still last a day’s shooting, and can be topped up using a powerbank via the USB-C port.
Panasonic’s in-body Dual IS2 image stabilisation system works extremely well, particularly if you can find somewhere to rest your elbows for extra stability. Using the 24-105mm f/4, in favourable conditions I was able to get sharp shots at shutter speeds as slow as 0.5 sec at the 50mm setting, and 1 sec at 24mm. This corresponds pretty closely to the claimed 5.5 stops of stabilisation.
High-resolution mode works remarkably well too. Like most such modes, it can still fun into problems with moving elements in a scene, in particular running water, which can be problematic for landscape shooters. But in favourable conditions it produces fine results, especially when set to Mode 2 to suppress motion blur. It’s not the same as having a 96MP camera, by any means, but there’s definitely a lot more detail than you get from a standard 24MP image. Below you can see a 100% crop of the image above, to show just now much detail is in the file.
Like most cameras the S1 also has its quirks and irritations, but nothing that I’d consider to be deal-breakers. For example, you have to use different buttons to engage magnified view for focus checking depending on whether you’re in AF or MF mode, which can be confusing. The Q Menu is nicely designed for use with the LCD, but the icons and settings are shown far too small in the viewfinder. Also, when using the two memory cards sequentially, once you’ve filled the first the camera will obtrusively remind you of the fact every single time you turn it on, despite the fact that the camera will have switched to using the second card. But these are all quite minor concerns that could be easily fixed via a firmware update.