Review of the Panasonic Lumix S1R

The Panasonic Lumix S1R is the first full frame camera from Panasonic coming after their cooperation agreement with Leica and Sigma. This 47 megapixel camera comes with the Leica L-Mount, a whopping 180 megapixel high resolution mode, in-camera and lens stabilization, Eye-AF and a dual card slot.

On paper, This camera looks like a very strong contender against Sony, Nikon and Canon in the full frame mirrorless market but also against classic DSLR cameras. Let’s see together if that’s true.

The camera I’ve tested is a pre-production S1R. The S1 and S1R are aesthetically the same camera, with the only difference of the sensor size, so most of my review will also be valid for the smaller resolution version of the two. 

I also tested the first three lenses that Panasonic launched for the L-Mount: there’s a 24-105mm f/4, a 70-200mm f/4 and a bokeh master 50mm f/1.4. 

I’ve shot with the S1R and these three lenses for around one month and you can see my real world photos on my separate post.

The first thing I realized when holding the Lumix S1R, is the size and weight of this camera. It’s not small and It’s not light. With the 24-105mm lens mounted, the weight is close to that of a Nikon D750 with the 24-70 lens. They are pretty close, both in size and weight. Panasonic built this camera with professional photographers in mind, and to do that they didn’t think that weight and size would have been the most important aspect to focus on. So they focused on features, weather sealing, roughness and reliability.

Body, Handling and ergonomics

The camera resembles very closely the shape and feel of a classic dslr camera, more than a mirrorless. Panasonic must have thought that the best way to offer pro-level controls and feeling was to mimic the size and form that pro-level dslr have made a standard. The result is a camera with a big grip, plenty of function buttons, an excellent viewfinder and long-lasting battery.

The handle is very big and offers a very comfortable and stable hold, as opposite as smaller ones found on other mirrorless cameras. 

The now digital viewfinder mimics the size of a classic pentaprism housing. Maybe this could have been built a bit smaller. 

This is larger than the competition then, but on the other hand it offers the highest resolution viewfinder on the market. With its 5.76 million dots of resolution it’s like having an Full HD tv just in front of your eyes and That’s 55% more resolution than the Nikon Z7 and the Sony A7Riii viewfinders!

I really like the rounded viewfinder shape, that recalls a Nikon D3 viewfinder, and the button LVF that allows to cycle between the viewfinder, the back screen or puts them in automatic mode, that turn on the viewfinder only when we get close to it. On the other side, the v-mode button allows to change the magnification level. Useful if you use prescription glasses and need to adapt the image to your increased distance from the viewfinder display.

Rear screen

The rear touch screen has 2.1 million dots of resolution, like the Nikon Z7, but offers a two way tilting system that can be adjusted for waist-level or overhead work in both landscape and portrait orientation. This feature, previously seen on high-end Fujifilm X-series, has maybe been overlooked by many, but is an amazing feature for landscape photographers. That’s because we often shoot from uncomfortable angles with the camera in portrait mode to take advantage of better compositions. If you are a landscape photographer and still think that landscape orientation, camera in horizontal, is the rule of landscape photography then you still have to discover the power of portrait orientation. Portrait orientation, especially when using ultra wide angle lenses such as 14 or 15mm, allow to easily compose introducing a foreground, a middle ground and a background. We should try to connect these using leading lines and proper composition to make an interesting photo that attracts the viewer and  makes them explore and navigate our photo.

The screen has a level release to get to the portrait orientation that contribute to make it a robust solution. I found this two way tilting screen a very pleasant and welcomed surprise on the S1R, that allows to easily follow the framing and photo review on the tilted screen.

The screen has a level release to get to the portrait orientation that contribute to make it a robust solution. I found this two way tilting screen a very pleasant and welcomed surprise on the S1R, that allows to easily follow the framing and photo review on the tilted screen.

Top screen

The S1R comes with a top-plate lcd screen, that reports the most important settings and can be illuminated in dark environments. The top has function buttons for quick settings access. You can keep them pressed and use the front or back wheel to change the settings very quickly, exactly as a classic Nikon or Canon DSLR.

The behavior can be changed to work the same as Nikon or Canon DSLR. In Nikon-style mode the setting can be changed while pressing the function button, while Canon-style the function button needs to be pressed twice: once to enable the setting change and twice to lock it again.

AF switch

I’m very happy Panasonic added a physical switch to allow for quick autofocus setup. I loved this feature in old high-end Nikon cameras, like the Nikon D300, but that has now been removed from more recent DSLR and Mirrorless! Thanks to this switch there’s no need to open menus or cycle between options and loose time, but with a quick turn of the switch we can move from AF-C mode with face recognition, to Af-S single point. That might happen if you have to quickly switch from a static scene to a dynamic one.  The AF is very advanced, comes with eye af that rivals the solutions from Sony and Nikon, and even and AI system that promises to recognize and focus on animals.

Panasonic Lumix S1R autofocus switch

In the menu you can select the AF mode face/eye/body/animal, so you can be sure your cat will be tick sharp!

Panasonic S1R Autofocus Menu Animal Eye-AF.jpg

Dual card slot

The S1R features a dual slot card bay, as opposite to the Z Nikon line. They are not of the same type tough, but one SD and one XQD. I would have preferred to have two of the same type. Not sure why Panasonic took this choice, but I realized why the need of a XQD card while testing the high resolution mode. The photos are so big that even on a relatively fast UHS-I SD at 99MB/s card it takes around 10 seconds for the camera to complete the images saving process. You could invest on the top of the SD offering and put a UHS-II card type to go close to 300MB/s, or jump to XQD to get 400MB/s. 

Even if the two cards in the memory slots are of different types they can be setup to work in Backup mode (photos are saved on both cards), in Relay mode (move to the second card when the first is full) or splitting JPG/Raw or videos between them.

One last feedback on the memory cards compartment: to open you need to operate on the lever latch, push it down and slide back the door. That compartment won’t open by mistake and That’s another example of the attention to details of Panasonic to make the camera well sealed and robust.

Panasonic S1R Memory Cards Slot.jpg

Battery slot

The battery bay is blocked by another lever latch (that I would prefer to be held in place by a spring to not require an additional step to close it) and contains a very large battery rated for 400 shots, similar to Canon R and Nikon Z6, but lower than the Sony A7III where sony packed a huge battery able to get to around 700 shots on a charge.  The battery has a 23wh capacity, that’s actually 40% more than the Sony Z-type batteries, but the Lumix must use more energy.

But don’t get scared by this numbers, in real case scenarios people get many more shots than these CIPA rating. If you set the camera to go to sleep mode one second after you remove your eye from the viewfinder, these CIPA figures jump to over 1000 shots per charge.

Panasonic rates the S1 and S1R to work perfectly down to -10 degrees Celsius. I’ve tested the camera on the field on multiple occasions, and although the temperature went only down to -5, I can say the battery behaved very well and never gave a sign of discharge because of the low temperature.

Battery charger

The battery charger deserves a quick look! It’s a modular one, made of 4 parts. This makes is easy do adapt in different countries, and at the same time gives us the possibility to use it in many ways: charge the battery, recharge the camera via usb-c via the charger, recharge the camera via a laptop or an external battery pack (very useful during for long night sessions)

Camera ports and connectors 

On the side compartment the S1R comes with 4 ports: mic input port, headphone output port, usb-c and hdmi outpt. Minimal but actually all what we need! The camera can be powered via usb-c also via a battery pack. That’s a good news if you want to use the camera long periods of time, for example for a overnight timelapse.

Buttons feeling

My last point on the exterior of the camera is on the buttons. I like their feeling and that on the top we have dedicated buttons for WB, ISO and exposure compensation. Also the joystick on the rear makes it very easy to center or move the focus point. Panasonic also maintained the 1-2 switch in the front, that allows to quickly switch between pre-assigned settings.

Panasonic S1R ISO WB Exposure Compensation Buttons.jpg

Illuminated controls

A nice feature that sets the S1 and S1R apart from most of other cameras in the market is the illuminated controls, that become very valuable when shooting in low light. They can be configured to light up always or only when hitting the illumination button for the top display.

Features 

Sensor

The S1 and S1R uses newly designed full-frame sensors, with resolutions of 24.2 and 47.3 Megapixels, respectively. In order to maximize resolution, neither of the sensors have optical low-pass filters. The S1R's sensor in particular uses microlenses and deep photodiodes to  to maximize the signal-to-noise ratio and captures 14-bit Raw files to retain all the dynamic range. The native ISO range on the S1R are 100 - 25,600, that can be extended to 50 - 51,200.

For me personally, what’s more special about this high resolution sensor is that the S1R has a high resolution mode that allows us to get a whopping 187MP resolution photo. 

This is done thanks to the 5-axis sensor stabilization that allows to slightly move the sensor in different positions while capturing and combining 8 photos together. Doing so it manages to remove any color fringes typical of Bayern pattern sensor types (basically all the sensor on the market apart for the Sigma Foveon type), removing Moirè patterns and increasing the pixel count by a factor of four. The result? The details are just crazy. Look how sharp are details at 100% zoom on this photo that I captured over sunset in the beautiful city of Bern, in Switzerland.

Panasonic claims this super high resolution makes for one of the clearest and detailed views of any camera – and I’ve to say I’ve never seen something like this. 

This mode differs from the Sony offered one. Sony Pixel shift technology uses 4 shots to remove color fringes and increase sharpness, but is not increasing the final resolution output like Panasonic does.

UPDATE (16 July 2019): the newly launched Sony A7R IV introduced a new High Resolution Mode capable of creating 240 Megapixel!!! But for that you will need to run the photo merge in the Sony PC application, while the S1R produces the final output in-camera.

High Resolution shots (which are Raw files) come in a whopping 187MP, with file sizes around 300Mbytes each. The Raw images can be converted to JPEGs right on the camera or with the Panasonic Raw processing software Silkypix (Adobe does not support yet the Lumix S1 and S1R raw files in Lightroom and Photoshop). On the S1 the high res photos are 96MP

The camera allow to choose whether to average any movement in the final photo (to simulate the effect of a long exposure) or to attempt to cancel-out and motion. I loved to use the blur mode for my long exposure photos with moving water. The only limitation I found is that the camera allows for maximum 1sec exposures in high resolution mode. This might be connected with the fact that longer exposures might catch too much vibrations to make the method work. But I would love to see if Panasonic can extend this to longer values, I think that thanks to the sensor stabilization this can be stretched longer. 

Most of my long exposure photos are shot with shutter speed between 30 to 60 seconds. 

Of course Both modes must be shot from a tripod to ensure the camera can precisely control the relationship between sensor and scene.

Panasonic S1R high resolution mode menu.jpg

Autofocus

Panasonic cameras don’t use a on-sensor phase detection autofocus sytem, like Nikon and Sony, but rather they own depth-from-defocus-system. This system attempts to assess which direction it needs to focus by interpreting the out-of-focus areas of the image.

This is based on the understanding of how each lens renders defocus. Threfore it works better on Panasonic lenses, as other producer lenses are not calibrated for this method. I didn’t have other non Panasonic lenses to test this to far, but I can say that with this three lenses I’ve tested: the 24-105mm, the 50mm 1.4 and 70-200 f4, the autofocus has been very fast and precise.

Panasonic S1R Lenses 50mm 24-105 70-200.jpg

While focusing the sensor output reaches 480fps for a super quick focus acquisition of 0.08 seconds.

Panasonic claims that the S1/S1R can focus in light levels as low as -6EV using its Low Light AF mode, which is triggered automatically and works by boosting the gain prior to focusing. 

During my tests the camera was able to focus precisely and very fast even when having mounted a 6 stops ND filter at sunset. So I think this claim is definitely verified!

My FAVORITE 5 FEATURES FOR LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY

  1. High res mode

    Crazy high High Resolution Mode (that I would love to see extended for longer shutter speed, but probably technical limitation) and the option to apply blur when merging the shots to get a long exposure effect. This is not a new feature and is a technique that many app on smartphone use to simulate a long exposure, but I’m happy to see it in on the Lumix. As the high resolution mode allows a maximum 1 second exposure per photo, we would get 8 shots of 1 second each, for a final long exposure (kind of) of 8 seconds.

  2. Three axes screen

    Three axes screen is amazing for landscape photography. I shoot many if not most of my landscape photos in vertical orientation and this is such a top feature for me. This also true when shooting panorama photos and I’ve the camera on a special panoramic head and is usually not that easy to see the screen.

  3. Autofocus -6 stops

    With this camera I can use autofocus even when using a very dark ND filter such a 6 stops. Usually I need to focus before mounting the filter and the swtich the camera AF to manual to avoid any change. With the S1R this is not needed anymore, so even recomposing with the filter mounted is not a problem anymore.

  4. Shutter speed up to 60 seconds

    Shutter speed up to 60 sec: didn’t see this mentioned anywhere at the moment, but it was a very nice surprise. The S1R shutter speed can be set to values up to 60 seconds, as opposite of 30 seconds as most of the cameras on the market nowadays (apart for Olympus cameras). This, allows to avoid using a remote shutter controller most of the time! I really hate them, and no. You don’t need them to get a sharp photo. Just setup a 2 seconds timer on the camera to avoid any vibration when you click the shutter. That’s more than enough. If not maybe you should change your tripod to one more stable ☺ For longer exposures, that I still love to do I can use a smartphone app like Cascable, or we can try to convince Panasonic that they should give the possibility to choose any shutter speed we like!

  5. Great stabilization

    Stabilization for photo and video super good: IS on this camera is really amazing. Sensor stabilization and lens stabilization together gives even better results. It can be even used for handled videos with great results.

  6. Lenses

    The 24-105mm and the 70-200 lenses are both with a max aperture of f/4. They are very light, sharp and stabilized. These two lenses will add their stabilization to the in-body sensor stabilization to reach 6 stops of gain. The 70-200 comes with tripod collar (with Arca-Swiss foot) for a more balanced and stable mount on tripod.

    The 50mm f/1.4 does not have Optical Image Stabilization, but on the other hand comes with a crazy maximum aperture of 1.4 that give’s a fantastic creamy bokeh and a very shallow dept of field. This comes with a price though. The price and the weight! But quality comes often with this two tags. 

Conclusions

I wish Panasonic will launch soon lenses specifically made for landscape photographers such a prime 15mm or 14mm f1.4 with filter tread. That would be my perfect lens. From landscapes to astrophotography, I could use for most of my needs. For the rest I will be happy with a 24-70 f/2.8 that Panasonic has already on the road-map. They announced they will have 10 lenses available for the L-mount by end of 2020, so I propose my ideal one here ☺

The partnership with Sigma and Leica allows Panasonic to have many lenses available for the L-Mount from Leica already and soon many adapted lenses from Sigma. But I’m looking forward for a Panasonic ultra wide angle prime lens such a 15mm, with filter tread! I hate when I have to use bulky filter holders just to use ND filters on a lens that does not support filters. Supporting filters mean much more compact lens/filter system to use and to carry, as you can mount your lens hood  the filter is more protected from damages, wind and water (I often shoot seascapes, and is so much more easy to keep clean and protected a small filter!). Is much more easy to change filters and you can always keep one in your pocket ☺

I would like to thank Panasonic for letting me test this camera for a month and get so much excited about it. This was a pre-production mode (firmware version 0.7.), but I have to say that I didn’t find so many software glitches. A few times the camera got stuck doing dome operation but this is normal at this stage. 

See you next time, ciao!

Raffa