Why the S1R Is Still One of the Best Cameras for Landscape Photographers

Why the S1R Is Still One of the Best Cameras for Landscape Photographers

Though the Panasonic Lumix S1R remains a dark-horse contender among its full frame mirrorless competitors, I believe Panasonic made a strong entry into the market that is still worth considering over the more established and up-to-date competition. Check out this article to learn about some interesting features that the S1R has to offer for landscape photographers. 

Overview and Image Quality

Though it was announced in early 2019, nearly three years ago, the Panasonic Lumix S1R still deserves to be a top consideration for landscape photographers, especially when considering a ratio of dollars to image quality. Because the camera has not been as popular as its competitors, it can frequently be found on popular online used camera retailers for well under $2,000. Regardless of the decline in popularity, the S1R remains a strong competitor. The full frame sensor offers a stunning 47.3 megapixels, which remains within the benchmark range for high-megapixel full frame sensors. There are full frame cameras with higher megapixel counts, such as the Sony a7R IV, which offers 61 megapixels, but landscape photographers who are interested in astro and Milky Way photography should keep in mind that more megapixels usually translates to higher noise levels when shooting at high ISOs. 

Though dedicated astrophotographers will achieve better high-ISO noise performance with lower megapixel cameras such as the Panasonic S1 or the Sony A7 III, the S1R is still a strong performer for night sky images, and for most landscape photographers who are interested in printing their images, the extra megapixels are likely worth it. In fact, DXO Mark, the popular camera quality testing website, awarded the S1R's sensor with a score of 100, and it remains at the top of the ranking charts nearly three years after release, alongside the Sony A7R III and the Nikon Z7 II. In terms of image quality, the S1R's sensor can easily compete with its competitors from Nikon, Canon, and Sony, even though all three companies have since released newer models.

Camera Body Features

Panasonic put some TLC into the development of the S1 and the S1R, as exhibited by several features that dedicated stills photographers, and landscape photographers, in particular, will appreciate them, despite their lack of marketing or attention from popular cameras review sites. Along with a multitude of fully customizable function buttons and robust weather-sealing, this camera has one feature that really sets it apart: the triaxial tilt screen. While the majority of cameras these days utilize either a standard tilting screen (only tilts up in landscape orientation) or the somewhat controversial "selfie screen" (useful for bloggers and videographers), the S1R features a three-way tilting screen, which is identical in function to the screens available on certain popular Fujifilm cameras. This screen allows you to tilt upward while in landscape or portrait orientation. For landscape photographers who often find themselves low to the ground with a vertical composition, this screen is an incredibly convenient feature. Once you've used it, it is very difficult to go back to anything else. 

The S1R also features a much more accurate manual mode exposure preview than its competitors, because it uses shutter speed to generate the preview rather than gain. Most cameras will just take the image and apply gain until the exposure preview matches the exposure value of the settings you have dialed in. In application, you won't notice a difference using faster shutter speeds, but with long exposures, you will actually get an accurate preview (with some lag), whereas other cameras can't apply enough gain to the preview to accurately simulate the exposure. This saves you from shooting test images or running calculations when working with long exposures. The lag can take some getting used to, but there is a default button assigned to toggle off the exposure preview briefly while composing, so the lag isn't an issue. 

The S1R's sensor does not utilize an optical low-pass/anti-aliasing filter or an on-sensor phase-detect auto-focus (PDAF) array. For essentially any other style of photographer, including videographers, these are significant reasons to opt out of this camera system, and this is likely why it hasn't been as popular as its competitors. The anti-aliasing filter helps prevent moiré patterns in clothing, but opting to exclude the AA filter ultimately improves overall sensor resolution and sharpness of the finest details, which is a good thing for landscape photographers. PDAF improves the speed and accuracy of a camera's autofocus, especially in AF-C mode and while shooting video. However, the on-sensor AF array also has the potential to create a strong grid-pattern of flaring that some of you may have come across when shooting directly into the sun. This is not an uncommon issue for landscape photographers who like to include a strong light source in their images, so the lack of PDAF is quite welcome. 

Astrophotography Features

As a testament to the fact that Panasonic went the extra mile in developing their full frame mirrorless line, there are a few features that will appeal strongly to astrophotographers and anyone else who frequently finds themselves taking pictures in the dark, such as backlit buttons, "Night Mode," 20X manual focus zoom, and "Live View Boost." 

"Night Mode" is a helpful setting that allows you to shift your LCD and EVF screens to a monochromatic red tone, which allows you to use your camera screen without ruining your eye's adaptation to the dark. "Live View Boost" allows you to apply heavy gain to your LCD preview, effectively brightening the image, which is incredibly useful for composing a foreground in the dark without the need for bright lights or test exposures. Finally, the 20X manual focus zoom allows you to punch in incredibly close to a bright star to make focusing your night-sky exposures quite simple. 

Available L Mount Lenses

Though the native L mount lens selection was limited at the time of release, there are now 13 native Panasonic L mount lenses, with an additional 36 lenses available through Sigma and Leica, including several options from ultra-wide to super-telephoto. For this article, I have paired the S1R with Panasonic's own Lumix S PRO 16-35mm f/4 Lens. This lens, with its beautiful, robust build quality and excellent sharpness throughout the frame and aperture range, makes an excellent tool for any landscape photographer. It also accepts circular filters on the front of the lens, which makes it easy to use the best circular filter systems available, such as the Kase Wolverine Magnetic Filter Kit

Native Lens Features

When shooting with native Lumix lenses, the S1R offers several useful, well-thought-out features. Both their lens hoods and the camera's hot-shoe cover have a locking mechanism that requires you to press a button release to remove them, which is a relief for landscape photographers who are frequently on the move, as both of these accessories are notorious for falling off and getting lost in transit. 

Panasonic's native lenses feature the option to enable "non-linear focus", which means that while manually focusing, the "throw" of the focus ring varies based on the speed of rotation. When you turn the focus ring quickly, the focus point moves quickly, but when you need to fine-tune your focus, rotating slowly allows you to more precisely dial in the focus point. This is particularly useful for focusing on stars and for focus-stacking an image to maximize depth of field. 

A great feature of Panasonic's premium S-Pro lens lineup is the inclusion of a manual focus clutch, which is a mechanism built into the focus ring that allows you to switch into manual focus while revealing a traditional distance scale on the lens barrel. Aside from being a convenient way to switch to manual focus, this feature is simply a pleasure to use for those who enjoy the actual process of photography. Drag the slider below to better see how the focus clutch works. 

Aside from the other issues I've mentioned above, the most likely reason that Panasonic's full frame mirrorless cameras haven't been as popular is their pricing at the time of launch. The S1R originally sold for $3,699, which was a bit steep compared to the Nikon Z7 ($3,400) or the Sony a7R IV ($3,500). There seem to be many valid reasons for photographers and videographers in general to avoid the S1R and the S1, but for dedicated landscape photographers, it seems there really isn't any downside. Perhaps the community has avoided this camera system simply because it's less popular, and most people don't have the time or energy to dive deep into a comparison with other systems. Regardless, given the current used market for the S1R, where it can regularly be found for less than half of the original retail price, this camera should absolutely be a strong consideration for anyone looking to upgrade their landscape photography setup. 

If you are interested in learning more about the S1R, check out this hands-on preview with the Panasonic S1R

Devin is a landscape photographer based in the western United States. He enjoys capturing images of mountains, forests, waterfalls, deserts and seascapes. His passion for landscape photography extends to post processing and education. He offers live feedback and instruction for Lightroom and Photoshop via his website.

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After having the S1H for about a year originally just for video and learning photography with it, I definitely think people are sleeping on Panasonic's S line. Though I do think like you mentioned, the initial pricing for the S1 models has been too aggressive. Plus for videographers who aren't comfortable with manual focusing or do more vlogs, the autofocus can be quite annoying to deal with. But honestly, if you're in a decently controlled location or a situation where you're able to rack focus, it's a fantastic camera. I love the S1H's video and photo features (especially all the customizable buttons!) and am really looking forward to getting an S5 and probably S1 or S1R later on down the line, especially now that pretty much every focal length is covered by Sigma, Panasonic, or Leica (if you're willing to sell some organs 😅🥲)

It is a more expensive, mostly me-too camera in a saturated market. Even the lenses are generally more expensive. My main concern was that Panasonic would abandon the effort.

in the article I mention that the used market has these cameras selling for less than half of their retail price in excellent/new condition

Oh, well, I had considered this when I was shopping for the Z7. I chose the Z7 for the reasons I mentioned.
And Nikon makes the light-weight Z50 with the same lens mount that I can use for backpacking and non-serious shooting.

This camera has tempted me very much since it's release but the biggest hiccup I can't get around is it's weight. It's over 50% heavier than my A7R4.

I think if I was a predominately 'driving' landscape shooter I'd switch but packing the s1r on a ten miler with 4000' of elevation gain doesn't make sense. At least to my back, lol.

Nice article though. It's really a dark horse in the industry.

As a fellow backpacking photographer, I agree that's the main downside. I've been backpacking with a lighter fujifilm setup for years but realized I need better image quality for printing. It's worth the weight for some, perhaps not for others

I'm a fashion/beauty photographer, based in Switzerland. When I was looking for replacing my X-H1-based set (next to Hasselblad H6D) I had the whole bunch over for some extensive testing: Z7II, R5, SL2, A7RIV and the S1R.

I choose the Z7II, but the S1R was definitely the runner-up. By far the most rugged of all and great handling. The EVF is fantastic and only surpassed by the SL2. Nice feature is the threefold magnification of the EVF that will allow users wearing glasses to see the full frame in one glance. No other camera had that. The IQ is fantastic and right up there with all the others and certainly better than the R5.

Size and weight is relative. Once you've added the much needed L-Plate or grip to the other cameras (esp. the Z7 and A7 are actually too small to be comfortable for a day shooting) you're very close to the S1R anyway. The lenses are stellar and right up there with the S-line of Nikon. I tried the 24-70, the 50/1.4 and a 90 Summicron. The fact that you can use all Leica SL glass is a great bonus.

Diehard sports/action photographers may need to look elsewhere, but for anyone else AF is more than sufficient in acquiring, speed and tracking. In fact, it was more accurate with less front-focusing issues than some other cameras.

The reason for me to prefer the Z7II early 2021, was the lack of native Profoto support and tethering support in Capture One for the S1R. The Profoto support is solved as we speak and no doubt that Capture One will follow too. If I had to make the choice today again, it would probably be the S1R. The S1 is by the way the best hybrid in its class (imo).

Right now the cameras (both the S1 and S1R) are reduced in price (to below the Z7II - and the Z6II for the S1) and with an extra cashback in most markets. That makes these cameras a steal when you need a reliable workhorse camera with stellar IQ and great handling.

Not really. Lens lineup is overpriced and very limited, body is really heavy and Panasonic might just outright abandon the mount. It's not a good investment.

The lens line-up is well over 45 lenses in native mount, not incl. the adapted lenses. I wouldn't call that limited. It exceeds at least Z- and RF mount. Besides that, when the on avg. 3-4 lenses you need are available it doesn't matter how extended the line-up is.

Now let's see what's there when we take out the old sigma art crap with the built in adapter, the obscenely overpriced leica stuff and all the crop lenses. Not much, and even that has bad price to performance.

Zero chance they abandon it considering how the S1H has sold. It's essentially been welcomed as the GH5 of full frame. Likely will see and S2H this year.

Lenses do seem expensive, unless you buy second hand. Then they seem extremely affordable. I would say this system is definitely not the system to purchase new unless you're swimming in cash and don't care.

agreed. My article doesn't really make sense if you're set on buying brand new gear, as none of the features really justify the extra cost. But when you consider all of those features in light of the fact that the used market for the S1/S1R and lenses is excellent at the moment, it suddenly becomes a strong option for anyone looking to upgrade. When I say "used market" I mean several Adorama and MPB listings in Excellent + condition. So you basically are getting a new camera with very little risk.

In Europe the new price of the S1R is well below the Z7II (EUR2500 vs. EUR3100). Comparable lenses are priced similar to the Nikkor Z-mount equivalents and as for the Pro-series, they are equally good. So, the system has become a lot more interesting. In terms of robustness, the S-series outperforms every competitor (perhaps except the SL2). It's build like a tank. Sony and Nikon are not bad, but are nowhere near this build quality. The S1 in Europe now costs EUR1700, which is a steal for a hybrid that comes very close to the S1H.

So they are selling them pretty much at loss, or as low as they can go, and there hasn't been anything new from Panasonic since the initial models. But sure, there's no way they would abandon the line... Be realistic guys, they are struggling to release the gh6, much less keep up with Sony and Canon ff.

You may be right, but I don't think so. We're pushing 2 years now where there's been a significant strain on manufacturing from both a parts and labor standpoint. I guess they could release an "iterative" camera from existing parts but I don't love companies releasing cameras just for the sake of releasing (Olympus E-M1 III comes to mind). Additionally, the amount of firmware updates Panasonic has provided over the past two years is extremely impressive and to me demonstrates their commitment to the lineup.

Usually the margin on these cameras is quite a bit higher than that (esp. for the manufacturer), but I prefer this slower release cycle combined with frequent firmware updates over companies that release new cameras just for the sake of it. Fujifilm used to have the same approach until their X-H1 debacle...

Now in 2022, is it really true that "higher megapixels usually translates to higher noise levels when shooting at high ISOs"? :-p

Yes it is true. The A7R series has always had higher noise than the A7 series. The S1R is noisier than the S1 for astrophotography.

I don't think so. The amount noise is basically the same after downsampling. At least in 3rd and 4th generation.

This is correct. DPreview did a nice video on A7R4 vs A7s3 or 2 or some "low light killer". 7R4 was just as good if not better when comparing apples to apples.

There are a lot of comments on that DPReview test. In fact they only go to ISO6400 or so. For many that is hardly high-ISO anymore. The advantages of camera’s like the S1 or A7SIII versus high-res siblings are in the range ISO25.800 and up. In that range there’s a clear advantage to have fewer pixels.
In my work I rarely reach ISO1600, so no issue for me. Most people never go there, but esp. for video work in low-light these high ISOs can be handy for some.

I've tested the S1/S1R files at high ISO and tried out the downsampling theory and the results were not comparable. There is no question that the S1 performs much better at high ISO's than the S1R. I believe the S1 has the same sensor as the A7iii, which is still one of the best high ISO performers on the market. The A7RIII/IV perform better at high ISO than the S1R, so it's possible that downsampling produces similar results for that camera system. I haven't tested it. All I know is the S1R is still noisier than the S1 even when downsampled.

S1R uses inferior non-BSI sensor (probably made by Tower Jazz), so it lacks behind Sony sensors in terms of both noise and DR.
You wrote that "The A7R series has always had higher noise than the A7 series." This is simply not true, it has been proven many time. I was reacting to that.

Yet DXO rated the s1r sensor higher than both the A7RIV and The A7R III. Any noise deficiency can be made up for with it's pixel shift mode that you can actually use in the field, not just a lab.

Take a look at DxO's partial results. Both A7R III and A7R IV have significantly higher DR score and higher ISO score. It seems that not even DxO knows how they calculate the overall score. S1R's inferior DR is actually noticeable in the real-world use, you definitely can't push it as far as RAWs from Sony BSI sensors.

Yes I saw that and as an A7RIV shooter (and previous A7Riii) I can attest that the DR is extremely good. That being said, I've also been able to take good images with M43 and APSC cameras in challenging lighting by bracketing it just making exposure in the field. Something tells me I could do it with the S1R. I guess my point would be that if one is blaming the S1R sensor for their poor images there's probably bigger fish to fry.

I seriously considered this camera, but settled on a Sony A7R IV. But this Panasonic was my second choice. I was concerned that Panasonic could decide to exit the ILC market, given how the market overall has contracted over the last dozen or so years, and the business has to be profitable in order to succeed and grow. If LG can exit the smartphone business, anything is possible.
People griped a lot about the weight and size of this camera, too, but it would have been fine for me.

In a market that declined by 90% over the last 10 years, anything is possible. Those brands part of a large corporate (Sony and Panasonic) are under scrutiny of HQ demands, whereas the smaller ones (like Nikon, Fujifilm and Leica) are vulnerable due to their size and market dynamics. Canon is somewhere in the middle. Pentax and Olympus bravely plough on for years now. No brand is safe...

A few years ago I had to buy a new camera and I decided to stay with Hasselblad even though I knew they struggled (financially) until acquired by DJI. Two new H6D's are no small feat. Yet I realized that even in the event that Hasselblad quits, there's a whole market for maintenance and repair that goes on for many years.

The good thing for Panasonic is that the L-mount also includes Leica and Sigma. That way you shouldn't have to worry too much about lenses becoming unavailable.

Great points, Jacob!

I had a Panasonic S1R that I bought when B&H had the lot of “refurbished” S1R’s for $1900.00. I couldn’t pass up that deal. I loved the camera in so many ways. The EVF was the best I’ve ever used - manual focus was a breeze, and the Fuji style rear screen dual tilt was convenient. As has been noted it was built like a tank, handled well, and was as well thought out as any camera I’ve used. There was something about the camera that made me want to use it.

Ultimately I reluctantly ended up selling it. The AF was just too unreliable for me (admittedly not an issue for landscape, but I do more than just landscapes). The weight became difficult over time, though it was comfortable to hold. The IQ was good, but the sensor could not match the DR of my a7riv, though I preferred the colors of the Panasonic. Overall my Sony offered more as a picture-taking machine. I admit, however, that I miss the S1R. I’ve never enjoyed using my Sony as much as I did the Panasonic.

As an aside, if we’re talking in general about best bang for the buck landscape cameras (which I realize the author was not), the conversation would have to include the Pentax K1 which can be had for $900 - $1100 on the used market.

yep admittedly it's not the best FF ILC out there overall, but for a landscape photographers who don't need the best AF on the market, it should definitely be a top consideration.

Personally I've always been drawn to cameras with a bit of charm and nice features. The S1R feels like a worthy successor to my XT2

Agree! The S1R does have charm and nice features. If the successor has phase detect AF, and a little less weight I might just try to pick one up.

I tried the S1R once more and now with the 1.9 firmware update. I can confirm it now comes very close to the Z7II, R5 and A7RIV. The focus acquiring of fast moving objects is still a bit slower, but once focus is acquired (we're talking fractions of seconds here) it sticks well.

I do a lot of fashion and make-up portraits and what I love about the DFD system that Panasonic uses, is that focus is very precise. I rarely had front-focusing issues (eye lashes instead of eye pupils). In my experience this is significantly better than with Nikon (Z7II - not the Z9) and esp. Fujifilm (all models).