Forget about Sony, Canon, Nikon, or any other mirrorless camera. Panasonic has the Lumix S1 and Lumix S1R, and those cameras are amazing. I have invested a lot in Canon, and I am really happy about the system. But if I had to do it all over again today, I definitely would choose the Lumix S1.
I have the opportunity to review a lot of different cameras. I learned a lot while photographing with Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fujifilm, Hasselblad, and Leica. I know Canon doesn’t have the latest technology, but the cameras have a real good design and layout. I hate the Sony cameras for their design and ergonomics, although today they have a good AF system and produce clean images. I seem to have a love-hate relation with the Fujifilm, with a few amazing cameras with old fashion dials, but also with some irritating downsides. I don’t know about Nikon, because they feel like a Canon from another brand (sounds silly, doesn't it?).
I do love the Hasselblad X1D 50c, even when it is not fast enough for my sort of work, just like the amazing Fujifilm GFX 50s with its terrible ergonomics. The Leica SL seems one of the nicest cameras so far, although it is not perfect. Up to now Panasonic had nothing but the small micro 4/3 sensor cameras, that are real nice machines, but lack the larger full frame sensor. Most importantly, every single one of the aforementioned cameras are very capable, amazing machines, and they get the job done. But now there is the full frame Panasonic Lumix S1 and I must admit, it is close to being perfect.
The Camera and Its Use
The Panasonic Lumix S1 is one of the two new full frame cameras from Panasonic. I got a chance to shoot a few months with this camera, and although I had my reservations, I got really excited about it. It is just like the Leica SL, big and heavy. In other words, with a perfect balance when using those large full frame lenses. It even has the same Leica L-mount.
The size of the Lumix S1 makes the camera stand out from all those small mirrorless cameras from other brands. Mirrorless is not about making cameras as small as possible, but it is just a different technology. Making a camera smaller may have benefits when taking it on holiday, but for intense use the ergonomics are more important than size, I think. Panasonic seems to agree, and this resulted in a camera body that has a really good design, with buttons on the right places, and easy to be reached without struggling. And if you believe it or not; every single button and wheel on the camera can be customized. Even the behavior of a button can be customized. I think Sony comes close to the same level of customization, but changing settings with the Lumix S1 is easy compared to Sony, thanks to its well-designed menu structure.
The Amazing Options
It is a pleasure to use the Lumix S1. I had a beautiful 24-105mm and 70-200mm lens with it. The electronic viewfinder has an amazing 5,76mp resolution and the eye pupil distance can be adjusted, perfect for those wearing glasses. The screen on the back can be tilted in horizontal and vertical direction, and it has a fully functional touchscreen. You can use it for viewing your images, choosing AF punt, operating the menu and all other functions, and you can even swipe to change parts of the screen layout. It makes the camera very user friendly. The camera has face/eye/body AF, and you can also activate animal AF.
The Lumix S1 is equipment with a super resolution function, for making 96mp images instead of the normal 24mp. You even have the option to cancel out movement, which does a great job. There is also the post-focus option, to choose the focus afterwards, or combine different focus points. Although this focus stacking option only produces jpg images, it is a nice feature. With 9 fps the camera is fast enough for most purposes. If you want to go faster, and you don’t mind to shoot in JPG, just activate the 30fps 6K resolution or the 60fps 4K resolution. For long exposure you can dial up to 60 seconds before switching to bulb, which is more than enough in most circumstances.
And of course there is In Body Image Stabilization, that can work in combination with lens stabilization. Panasonic mentions a five to six stop shake reduction with the new V1.1 firmware update
Having all those options may seem wonderful, but these won’t matter if the image quality of the camera sensor is bad. I was surprised to see how well the images looked, and how far I could lift the darkest parts of the image without any significant loss of quality. The best result I got from a full frame camera so far, would be the Sony A7R III, but I think the Lumix S1 produces a tad better quality. This is visible when lifting shadows to extremes, as you can see for yourself in the example below, where I have increased the image up to +5 EV in Lightroom, including the shadows to almost 100%. It is more than needed, but it is just to see how far I could go. At higher ISO levels the image will have a bit more noise, but similar to what I have seen with the Sony A7R III. Of course, lifting shadows 3EV or more at ISO 12,800, would result in unacceptable noise levels, like any other camera would.
I know, looking at the dynamic range in this way is not completely scientifically, but it is what my eyes see, and thus what the client or viewer will see. That is what counts.
You might think, what about the downsides? And yes, the Lumix S1 is far from perfect. The face/eye/body AF is a little bit nervous and changing faces is not as smooth as you might want to. Some dials cannot be locked, so these may change when take the camera out of the bag. And to be honest the camera feels… no, it is heavy. But that all is not that important for me, you can work with it. I did find the exposure simulation in the manual mode very sluggish. If I would have a longer exposure in manual mode, the screens did not respond real time when moving the composition. The funny thing is, when the same exposure time was given in aperture priority mode, the screens responded perfect. Perhaps this is due to some setting, or a bug in the system, but it was very annoying.
My Final Verdict
When I got the Lumix S1 out of the box, I thought it would be just another mirrorless camera that had the intention of being a modern camera, but with all the quirks of a first-generation full frame mirrorless, like we have seen with the Canon EOS R and Nikon Z 6 and Z 7. But when I worked my way through the initial settings, I became surprised of all the options I had. Setting up the camera was easy enough, although the most optimum settings can only be found after extensive use. As time passed, I grew to love this piece of machinery, and I loved the results I got.
I did have some issues with the face/eye/body/animal AF, feeling handed over to a system that had to interpret what I would consider the subject. I guess it is something that is not related to the camera itself. Even so, assigning another face in the frame to the AF system is not that reliable. When having no more that two persons in the frame, it does seem to work quite nicely.
I must say, the Panasonic Lumix S1 is an amazing camera that I loved using during these months. I hated to see it go. And perhaps it is not perfect, but then again; no camera is.
Things I Like
- Size and ergonomics
- A lot of buttons and dials
- Face/eye/body and animal AF
- 5 stops IBIS and 6 stops together with lens stabilization
- Well build menu structure
- Two card slots
- High resolution EVF
- Super resolution with option to cancel out movement
- Post-focus and focus stacking build in
- 30 fps and 60 fps in 6K and 4K mode
- Fully functional touch screen
- Amazing dynamic range and image quality
- Exposure time can be set up to 60 seconds
- AF tracking works well
Things I Did Not Like
- Dials that cannot be locked for accidental adjustments
- Two different memory cards
- Battery life is not top of the line
- Sluggish response of the screens in manual mode with long exposures
- Face/eye/body/animal AF is very nervous
- Switching AF between faces is not that reliable
- It is a bit heavy
- Why limit the exposure time to a maximum van 60 seconds?
Ah yes, perhaps you might think I am sponsored by Panasonic, but I am not. But I wish Panasonic did sponsor me with a coupe of Lumix S1 cameras and a bunch of lenses, because if I had to buy a new camera system, it would probably be this system.