Panasonic S1R Conclusion
Panasonic S1R Review Conclusion
|Panasonic Lumix S 24-105mm f/4 lens at 105mm, f/4 1/400s, ISO 400.|
As one of the two most prominent manufacturers of Micro Four Thirds cameras, it was quite surprising to find Panasonic announcing at Photokina 2018 that they were developing an all-new camera system based around a full-frame sensor. However, with the growing popularity of full-frame mirrorless cameras in the market, it was, on the other hand, certainly an understandable development and a new path for the Lumix brand.
The all-new full-frame Panasonic Lumix S series debuted with two flavors: a 24-megapixel Lumix S1 model with a greater balance of features for both photo and video creators, a higher ISO spec and a lower price; and then this, the Lumix S1R, with a new higher-res 47.3-megapixel sensor and a higher price tag. At the time of its announcement, the S1R was the highest-resolution full-frame mirrorless camera on the market, overtaking the 42MP Sony A7R III. (Sony subsequently reclaimed this crown with the 61MP A7R IV.)
Sporting practically identical camera bodies, both the S1 and S1R look and feel the same. Feature-wise, the two cameras share a lot of similarities, too, including in-body image stabilization, 4K 60p video, weather-sealed construction, and the same L-mount lens standard from Leica. As such, our S1 and S1R reviews will share a lot of similarities in many ways.
However, here we'll focus on the Lumix S1R. The big boy, the high-res beast of Panasonic's new full-frame camera series. For landscape photographers, editorial photographers, wildlife photographers and others, having a lot of image resolution to play with can be critical. When it comes to high-resolution cameras, it's a crowded market. Both Canon and Nikon offer a variety of options with lots of megapixels, both in DSLRs and mirrorless forms. There's Sony, too, with its A7R-series, and notably, the aforementioned 61MP A7R IV. Fujifilm is worth mentioning here as well, as the GFX medium format system brings the price point way down for a medium format camera and could very well be a compelling option for those considering a camera with a high-resolution sensor.
So how did Panasonic fair with its first full-frame mirrorless camera? Let's jump in to see how the camera performed in our lab and real-world testing...
Design & Ergonomics
Usually, when you think of comparing the physical design of DSLRs versus mirrorless cameras, it boils down to DSLR = big, and mirrorless = small. Over the years, for the most part, this has been true, but the Panasonic S1R changes that. The S1R looks and feels more like a full-frame DSLR, and that could be a good or bad thing depending on your preferences and priorities. If you're used to and prefer a large DSLR-style camera with a big handgrip and lots of physical controls, buttons and dials, then you'll likely greatly appreciate the design of the S1R. Conversely, if you're looking for something compact and lightweight, this isn't it. If that's your style and you want a full-frame camera, then something like a Sony Alpha or Nikon Z camera might be more up your alley. However, in our experience, a camera like the Sony A7R IV, for example, is indeed smaller and lighter -- which is great for portability -- but the camera can feel cramped for those with larger hands and more un-balanced when using with longer, heavier lenses. (To be fair to the A7R IV, though, Sony has improved the grip and ergonomics, so this is less of an issue now compared to earlier models -- still, it's a smaller camera body than the S1R.)
On its own, the Panasonic S1R is a pleasure to use. The large size of the camera offers ample room to hold the camera and operate its many buttons and controls. In many ways, the camera looks like a larger G9, one of Panasonic's flagship Micro Four Thirds cameras, and a camera we have loved here at IR. The S1R features a large top-deck info display, which is still an uncommon feature on most mirrorless cameras. There's also a large 3-way tilt/swivel rear touchscreen display, rather than the more common articulating display. This feature certainly gives the S1R a slant more towards still photography applications rather than video shooting, which often benefits from articulating screens.
And we certainly can't forget to mention the EVF. One of the biggest hesitations among DSLR shooters in switching to mirrorless has been the EVF. The clarity, precision and lag-free experience of a good optical viewfinder is hard to beat. But the electronic viewfinder in the S1R is incredible. With a 5.76-million dot OLED panel, a 0.78x magnification ratio and a refresh rate up to 120Hz, the EVF in the S1R is very large, bright and extremely crisp. The fast refresh rate makes for a very smooth and practically lag-free viewing experience.
While the lower-res Lumix S1 uses a more common 24MP full-frame sensor -- similar to what we see inside the Sony A7 III, for example -- the high-res S1R uses an all-new, Panasonic-designed 47.3-megapixel full-frame sensor, which offers a native ISO range of 100-25,600 (expandable to 50 and up to 51,200) and 14-bit raw capture. Further, the sensor lacks an optical low-pass filter just like many cameras these days, which of course means greater fine detail resolution, yet a higher risk of moiré and aliasing artifacts.
|Panasonic Lumix S 70-200mm f/4 lens at 200mm, f/4, 1/640s, ISO 160.|
The result is excellent image quality, tons of resolution and terrific dynamic range. The camera really shines at lower ISOs, and yet its high ISO performance is nothing to scoff at either. Compared to the S1, the S1R doesn't have as wide an ISO range (the S1 can climb all the way up to ISO 204,800), but it still performs very well at higher ISO levels for a high-res camera, particularly up to ISO 6400. In-camera noise reduction does a decent job of balancing noise removal and retaining fine detail, though you can get better results by processing raw files on your own. Image quality is great straight-out-of-camera, but raw files with careful processing really bring out the best of the S1R's image quality performance. Raw files are nice and flexible when it comes to dynamic range and tonal adjustments. You can pull more detail with your own raw processing, as well as have better control over reducing noise and balancing fine detail compared to the in-camera image processing and noise reduction.
Going further, the S1R, like many modern cameras featuring in-body image stabilization, offers a multi-frame High-Resolution Shooting mode, which lets you create massive 187-megapixel raw files. As is often the case, the S1R's high-res mode has some limitations. It requires a tripod, and the multi-frame compositing process is a bit sluggish. For the most part, you also need to limit any sort of subject movement in your scene. However, unlike most other high-res shot modes, the S1R has an option to try to remove any after-image blurring from objects that might have moved during capture. There's also a mode that prioritizes sheer resolution and will leave any blur artifacts in the final shot. Despite limitations, the results can be impressive, and it's a handy feature to have if you really need tons of image resolution.
|Panasonic Lumix S 70-200mm f/4 lens with 2x teleconverter at 373mm, f/8, 1/250s, ISO 3200.|
Autofocus & Performance
Like Panasonic's Micro Four Thirds cameras, the new S1R's autofocus is based around a contrast-detection AF system combined with their Depth From Defocus technology. The S1R does not have on-sensor phase-detect like many of its competitors. The DFD technology really speeds up the AF performance compared to traditional contest-detect AF systems, which is typically significantly slower than phase-detect AF. With standard single-shot AF, the S1R's autofocus proved to be fast and accurate, with speeds rivaling pro-level DSLRs. Autofocus also performed well in a variety of lighting conditions, including really low-light situations.
However, when it comes to continuous autofocus, this is, unfortunately, and area of weakness for the S1R compared to cameras with hybrid and phase-detect AF systems. As the camera continues to track a moving subject, there is still a characteristic CDAF wobbling effect seen as the lens constantly shifts the focusing element(s) back and forth in an attempt to determine and maintain focus. It can be visually distracting, and we didn't see the best keeper rate when shooting fast-moving subjects with the S1R. It's by no means terrible at C-AF, but it is at a disadvantage for these types of subjects compared to a lot of competing cameras.
In terms of performance, the Panasonic S1R is a surprisingly responsive and nimble camera on most counts, despite its high-resolution sensor. Single-shot times are very fast, and continuous shooting -- though not class-leading -- performs surprisingly well. Burst shooting with single-shot AF tested slightly faster than Panasonic's 9fps spec, even with raw enabled. Buffer depths are also generous. Shooting highest-quality JPEGs at the quickest burst rate also exceeded Panasonic's specs in our testing with a fast Lexar Pro XQD card. Shooting with RAW or RAW+JPEG will fill up the buffer more quickly, but it still has a healthy buffer depth considering the 47MP files. While 9fps is likely fast enough for many situations, for those who need speedier burst performance -- and still don't mind the lack of C-AF -- the S1R includes Panasonic's array of 4K PHOTO and 6K PHOTO shooting modes. If you're okay with capturing just JPEGs and lower resolutions, you can shoot 18MP (6K) images at 30fps or 8MP (4K) at up to 60fps.
|Panasonic Lumix S 70-200mm f/4 lens at 200mm, f/4, 1/1000s, ISO 160.|
Where the S1R comes up a little short, however, is related to continuous autofocus. With C-AF, the maximum burst rate drops to just 6fps. This is decent for a lot of subjects, but combined with the less-than-stellar continuous AF performance overall, it's clear the S1R is not the best choice if you shoot lots of sports, action or really fast-moving subjects. Furthermore, the buffer clearing times are pretty sluggish. Shooting RAW+JPEG, we found buffer clearing could take close to twenty seconds, which can be frustrating out in the field. However, the camera doesn't lock you out of menus, changing settings or reviewing images while the buffer is clearing, which is good.
As mentioned earlier, the S1R features in-body image stabilization that's also Dual IS-compatible with optically-stabilization Panasonic L-mount lenses (of which, there are currently only three: a 105mm macro and two 70-200mm zooms). The IBIS system is rated at up to 5.5 stops or 6 stops with Dual IS. (Note: Firmware update v1.2 increased IBIS to 6 stops in-camera and 6.5 stops with Dual IS.) In practice, the IS system works well. Shooting a high-res camera handheld can be very tricky, as the increased resolution can make handheld vibrations all the more noticeable, but thankfully the S1R's excellent IBIS system smooths things out and makes handheld shooting easier.
True to form for Panasonic, the Lumix S1R -- despite its focus as a photo-centric, high-res camera first and foremost -- packs in a surprisingly healthy dose of advanced video features. The Lumix S1 and the S1H models, meanwhile, offer even more high-end video amenities, so if you do shoot more video, these other versions might be more appropriate options. However, if you mainly shoot stills and want a high-res camera that also doesn't skimp much on video, the S1R is indeed a promising option.
Offering 4K video up to 60fps, the S1R is one of only a few full-frame mirrorless cameras to offer 4Kp60 video -- the other options being, well, the other Panasonic S cameras: the S1 and S1H. Smaller-sensor cameras, like the GH5 and Fuji X-T3 offer 4Kp60 too, but if you want this with a full-frame mirrorless camera, you'll want to look at Panasonic. Quality-wise, the S1R's 4K video looks beautiful, especially at lower ISOs. The camera also offers a range of Full HD recording options, including high-speed frame rates up to 180fps, which can create really nice in-camera slow-motion footage.
As mentioned, the S1 and S1H are the better choices for more serious video shooters, especially since these offer unlimited continuous 4K recording, while the S1R is limited to a mere 15 minutes of sustained 4K recording. Additional limitations include a single video format option (MP4), and the video image is cropped. Standard 4K has about a 1.09x crop factor, but there are also APS-C and pixel-for-pixel 4K settings that crop-in even further.
|Panasonic Lumix S 24-105mm f/4 lens at 24mm, f/8, 1/4s, ISO 100.|
Overall, the new Panasonic S1R is a very impressive camera, not only in and of itself in terms of design, image quality and general performance, but also as the first release of a camera in an entirely new system. Of course, Panasonic isn't starting completely from scratch, as they are building upon their years of experience and excellence with Micro Four Thirds cameras. As a "bigger brother" to the Lumix G9, in a sense, the Panasonic S1R proves to be an excellent professional-level camera for landscape, architectural, portrait and (in some cases) wildlife photographers who need and want high-quality, high-resolution image-making performance. The new 47MP sensor inside the S1R captures fantastic images, with excellent detail, terrific dynamic range and really good high ISO performance; it's a very versatile, well-built camera all around.
Of course, it's not without its downsides. Based around a contrast-detection AF system, even with fast DFD technology, the continuous AF performance struggles a bit with fast-moving subjects. And, while it's perhaps understandable given its resolution, the S1R's slower burst speed with C-AF as well as its sluggish buffer clearing times also make it less ideal for fast-paced action shooting. Also, it's price point of $3,700 body-only is relatively expensive, and you have to factor-in lenses, too. It's definitely a camera designed for the pro or serious enthusiast photographer. However, the price isn't out of line compared to similar high-res full-frame cameras from other manufacturers, and so you get what you pay for.
|Panasonic Lumix S 70-200mm f/4 lens with 2x teleconverter at 257mm, f/8, 1/800s, ISO 1600.|
In terms of lens selection, Panasonic S lenses are somewhat limited, but it's continuing to expand. Launching an entirely new camera system is a daunting task, but Panasonic was smart to help create the L-mount alliance and build upon the existing L-mount format. It takes time to build up your system of lenses. Having this jumping-off point with existing lenses (albeit expensive ones from Leica) as well as having Sigma bring a whole slew of their lenses to the playing field, gives the Panasonic S series a really healthy start. Right now, native L-mount lenses from Panasonic themselves are fairly limited, but their roadmap is ever-increasing with more offerings. At this point in time, there aren't major omissions either, as the Lumix S series lenses cover a lot of ground already, with wide-angle, standard, and short to medium telephoto lenses -- both as zooms and primes -- already on the market or soon-to-be available. The basic set of lenses for the majority of shooters are here, and Panasonic's done a lot correctly in a short amount of time.
All in all, the S1R is a super solid, high-quality, robust, professional-class full-frame mirrorless camera. An easy addition to our Dave's Pick list.
Pros & Cons
- Impressive image quality with excellent resolving power
- Very good dynamic range
- Very good high ISO performance considering the resolution
- In-body image stabilization
- High-Resolution mode creates 187MP raw files
- Good overall performance
- Fast startup times
- Low shutter lag
- Good buffer depths considering image resolution
- Very fast single-shot AF performance
- Good low-light AF
- 9fps continuous shoot (S-AF)
- 4K UHD video up to 60fps
- Full HD video up to 60p
- High-speed Full HD video up to 180fps (in-camera slow-motion)
- Slow-mo video also in 4K at up to 60p
- Unlimited Full HD video recording time
- Uses L-mount lenses
- Rugged, weather-sealed construction
- Illuminated rear buttons
- Large size with deep handgrip & lots of physical controls
- Tilting rear display
- Large, sharp OLED EVF is fantastic
- Dual card slots
- Firmware updates improved IBIS, added CFexpress support
- Decent battery life; Power Save options help extend shooting time significantly
- Sluggish buffer clearing, even with fast XQD card
- C-AF can struggle with fast-moving subjects
- Contrast-detect AF system not as fast as phase-detect for moving subjects
- Continous shooting with C-AF is only 6fps
- 4K video recording limited to 15 minutes
- 4K has small (1.09x) crop, uses pixel-binning
- High-speed Full HD video limited to 10 minutes
- Big and heavy compared to typical full-frame mirrorless cameras
- Fairly limited lens selection so far from Panasonic, but increasing & L-mount Alliance provides options