Panasonic S1R Hands-on Shooting Experience, Part II

The high-res S Series camera has great usability and performance

by Jeremy Gray | Posted 03/12/2018

Panasonic 24-105mm f/4 MACRO OIS LUMIX S at 105mm, f/11, 3.2s, ISO 100.
Click for full-size image. (Shot with a Panasonic S1R with Beta Firmware.)


The Panasonic S1 and S1R cameras share identical camera bodies save for the model branding. Anything positive or negative I say in this section applies equally to both cameras.

While the Panasonic S1 and S1R aren't hitting store shelves until next month, we have already had two hands-on experiences with the cameras. My colleague, Jaron Schneider, went to Barcelona to try out the cameras at Panasonic's first launch event. Later, I headed to Austin, Texas to spend a day with the cameras and Panasonic's first three native lenses.

During my time with the cameras, both the S1 and S1R had pre-production firmware, so I will not be able to go in-depth with my analysis of the camera's imaging or performance. However, I am able to generally discuss how I feel about the cameras and lenses. Further, raw files aren't supported in Adobe Camera Raw yet, so I cannot share processed raw files. The camera did offer in-camera raw processing, but I only had a day with the S1 and S1R, so I spent it shooting as much as possible, rather than tinkering with the menus.

With that said, my general plan is to write a detailed Hands-On Experience, much like my colleague William Brawley did with the Olympus E-M1X back in December. I will be covering some of the same ground as Jaron has previously in his hands-on experience but with my own personal spin. It'll be a "second opinion" type of situation. Further, as the S1 and S1R are identical in numerous meaningful ways, there will be considerable overlap with my written experiences for the S1 and S1R. For people interested in both cameras, I apologize for the redundancies. Without further ado, let's get into it and see what all the buzz is about with Panasonic's brand-new full-frame mirrorless camera system.

A somewhat large mirrorless camera, the S1R is very comfortable in the hands. The front grip is excellent and the function buttons on the front are conveniently located. Further, the shutter release position is excellent.

When I first picked up the S1R, I was immediately struck by the sheer size and weight of the camera. While other mirrorless cameras, such as the Sony A7 series, have emphasized a small, lightweight design, they've done so at the cost of usability and comfort in my opinion. Panasonic has taken a different approach with the S1R, perhaps at the cost of portability. Which direction is best is a matter of taste. In my opinion, Panasonic's approach is the better one in most cases. The camera has ample physical controls, including a lot of dedicated buttons (many of which can be reprogrammed).

The toll for these physical controls is that the camera weighs 2.25 pounds (1,021 grams), which is quite heavy. The camera is also nearly 6 inches wide, over 4 inches tall and nearly 4 inches deep at its maximum. It's a big camera and feels more like a full-frame DSLR than it does a full-frame mirrorless camera, generally speaking.

With that said, it's also remarkably comfortable in the hand. The grip is very well designed, and the shutter release is in an excellent location and even has a bit of an angle to it, allowing my index finger to rest naturally on the button. The shutter release feels great too, which is something I really appreciate.

The top of the S1R has a mode dial, a great top display and important shooting controls, including dedicated white balance, ISO and exposure compensation controls within reach of your shutter finger.

Other controls and buttons feel great. Near the shutter release are white balance, ISO and exposure compensation buttons, which you can either hold and cycle with either of the two command dials or press to cycle through available settings. For example, if you hold the ISO button, you can spin a dial to go through available ISO speeds, or you can tap the button to move through speeds. Tap once to go from ISO 100 to ISO 200, tap twice to get from 100 to 400, etc. Three of the most important controls are located within reach of my shooting hand, which is great design.

The rear of the camera has a wide array of buttons as well, including a dedicated autofocus joystick and a directional pad surrounded by a rotating dial. The focus joystick is nice for moving the autofocus point, but I did not like the directional pad. It's mushy and unresponsive, and I found myself quickly opting instead for utilizing the AF joystick or touchscreen to navigate menus.

Speaking of the touchscreen, the touch implementation is great. However, the 3.2-inch display felt a little underwhelming in general. The triaxial tilt mechanism, which is very Fuji-like in design, works well for tilting when using the camera in landscape orientation but is limited when using the camera in a portrait orientation, as it does not tilt fully in that direction. A tilt-swivel display would be much more practical.

The back of the S1R is designed well, save for the mushy directional pad. The joystick, which controls focus point location by default, is much better. The electronic viewfinder is particularly good as well due to its superb resolution and overall smoothness during shooting.

The electronic viewfinder, on the other hand, is superb. It is a 5.76-million dot OLED LVF with 0.78x magnification. Other cameras offer similar magnification, but no other camera in its class offers this level of resolution. It is remarkably sharp. Sharpness is but one aspect of its appeal, it is also very smooth during operation, offering 120Hz refresh rate. It's a smooth and sharp EVF and frankly, probably the best I've ever used. The round eyecup is comfortable as well, which is great for extended use.

The S1R also offers a top information display, which looks good and does its job. Next to the information display is a button to illuminate not only the display, but a selection of critical buttons on the camera. Similarly useful in low light, when the camera senses dark conditions, it dims the rear display. There's also a dedicated night vision mode, which makes the display red to help preserve night vision. It may not be something many users will need, but the thoughtfulness of this feature is symbolic of the entire camera's design.

So yes, the S1R is big and heavy when compared to its full-frame mirrorless competition. But, with the heft comes not only ruggedness and weather sealing, but a bevy of physical controls and intelligent design features. It's a very comfortable and enjoyable camera to use.

A Brief Word on Image Quality

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the S1R I used in Austin was not equipped with production firmware. While I'm not sure how much will change with respect to image quality before the camera ships, it's possible that important adjustments to the camera's imaging performance will be made ahead of firmware version 1.0. With that said, I will not be able to make any sweeping claims about the S1R's quality. Further, raw image processing is not yet available for files from the S1R, so I will be withholding analysis of raw files for now.

The Panasonic S1R uses a brand-new 47.3-megapixel MOS full-frame image sensor, which is the highest megapixel full-frame sensor in a mirrorless camera to date. Unlike the image sensors in competing mirrorless cameras, the one found in the S1R doesn't include phase-detect pixels. The sensor's native ISO range is 100 to 25,600 and with expanded settings, the camera's ISO can go down to 50 and increase to 51,200.

Panasonic 24-105mm f/4 MACRO OIS LUMIX S at 51mm, f/11, 4s, ISO 100.
Click for full-size image. (Shot with a Panasonic S1R with Beta Firmware.)

While evaluating image quality using JPEG images can be a little tricky, and I can't speculate with regard to how image processing of JPEG files might change in firmware 1.0, what I can say is that the S1R captures really nice images across a variety of ISO settings. At or near base ISO, images are very sharp and detailed, and I am pleased with the colors and tones from the S1R.

In low light and with the ISO increased, image quality remains impressive. While there's certainly some noise and various noise reduction algorithms being applied, the images maintain a good amount of detail and don't take on an ugly, digital appearance. The noise reduction seems intelligently applied to areas of the image with rich detail. Tonal transitions are smooth, and the grain is fine and somewhat film-like in appearance. The quality of noise is perhaps more important than the amount of noise. I don't mind grain if it is uniform and doesn't distract the viewer, and in the case of the S1R, the grain isn't distracting.

Panasonic 70-200mm f/4 OIS LUMIX S PRO at 159mm, f/4, 1/200s, ISO 4000.
Click for full-size image. (Shot with a Panasonic S1R with Beta Firmware.)

Again, image quality might change in the final release of the camera, but what I can say for now is that barring something unexpected or odd, the S1R will deliver very good image quality. It will be interesting to see how it compares to the Sony A7R III and the Nikon Z7 in our lab tests, but I expect that the S1R will perform well in our battery of tests.

Shooting Experience: Autofocus, Continuous Shooting and More


Autofocus is a particularly interesting area when it comes to the S1R. Unlike other mirrorless cameras on the market, Panasonic has opted for contrast-detect autofocus rather than phase-detect or hybrid autofocus. This is a fascinating decision and one the company certainly didn't take lightly. As I headed to Texas, I had some concern about how the S1R's autofocus would perform not only in general, but also with respect to continuous and low-light autofocus performance.

Panasonic 50mm f/1.4 LUMIX S PRO at 50mm, f/1.4, 1/400s, ISO 2500.
Click for full-size image. (Shot with a Panasonic S1R with Beta Firmware.)

As it turns out, not only does the S1R and its 225-area contrast-detect autofocus system work quickly and accurately, but it also performs well in subject tracking and continuous autofocus scenarios. Even in very dim light, the camera did a really nice job of acquiring focus with all three lenses I used, even the 50mm f/1.4 PRO, which was on firmware version 0.2.

The S1R offers a variety of autofocus area modes, including body/face/eye detect. The camera does a nice job locating a body in the frame and then dialing in on the face. Locking on the eye was a bit less reliable, although the camera did a good job when the face was moderately large in the frame. For example, the camera did well, even in low light, when shooting a portrait where the subject's upper half was filling the frame. However, it didn't do as well at finding the eyes when it was a full-body portrait. By tapping on different selected areas, which are highlighted with rectangles for body and face and lines for eyes, you can quickly swap between detected people in the frame.

Panasonic 70-200mm f/4 OIS LUMIX S PRO at 200mm, f/4.5, 1/250s, ISO 3200.
Click for full-size image. (Shot with a Panasonic S1R with Beta Firmware.)

For continuous focus, the body detect, subject tracking and single area modes I tested worked well. Body detect and subject tracking were particularly impressive. Obviously additional testing is needed, but first impressions in this area are certainly positive.

Overall, my impressions of the autofocus performance are very positive. I had no issues and was generally impressed with the camera's capabilities.


With a 47.3-megapixel sensor, you might not expect much in terms of speedy performance. However, powered by Panasonic's Venus Engine Image Processor, the S1R delivers solid all-around performance. With single-shot autofocus, the camera can shoot at up to 9 frames per second. With continuous autofocus, the speed drops to 6 fps, which is still pretty snappy.

Panasonic 50mm f/1.4 LUMIX S PRO at 50mm, f/1.4, 1/60s, ISO 1600.
Click for full-size image. (Shot with a Panasonic S1R with Beta Firmware.)

Buffer depths are good, although not quite as good as they are on the S1. The S1R can record up to 40 raw files or 50 JPEGs files in a single burst, according to Panasonic's specs. Importantly, thanks to not only its processing power but also the implementation of an XQD card slot and a UHS-II SD card slot, the S1R works quickly through its buffer. When I was shooting, I never felt slowed down by the camera. Obviously, specs and features are important, but what I care about most is that the camera stays out of my way for what I want to shoot and for me, that's what the S1R did. Sports shooters who need a significant buffer depth may be better served by the S1, but the S1R is no slouch.

Menus and Usability

Not only is the S1R quick, but it's also really enjoyable to use. The menu system is well-designed and of the biggest compliments I can give to a camera is that I didn't have to think very hard about where to find certain settings. Settings are where you'd expect them, and the menu can be navigated quickly, even when you are not experienced with the camera. Further, touchscreen implementation works well, as does the Quick Menu.

Additionally, there are some physical aspects of the camera which are particularly impressive. For example, there are illuminated buttons, which is really nice. The electronic viewfinder, which I discussed earlier, is excellent in real-world use. It is very sharp and smooth and is poised to become the new standard-bearer in the industry. The top display is also a welcome addition.

Panasonic S1 versus S1R

Much of what I like about the S1R can be equally applied to the S1, including the excellent build quality and overall camera design, both in terms of hardware and software. The two cameras are very comfortable to use and feature many physical controls. They also utilize the same electronic viewfinder, which is one of the best I have ever used thanks to its industry-leading sharpness and fast refresh rate.

What separates the S1R and S1 perhaps the most are their respective image sensors. The S1R employs a 47.3-megapixel sensor, whereas the S1 delivers 24-megapixel images. In both cases, imaging performance is good. However, the sharpness and detail in the S1R files is notably good and while the S1 does a bit better at higher ISO speeds, I still prefer the look and overall quality of images from the S1R. It will be interesting to compare raw files later, but for now, I prefer the S1R's image quality.

Performance between the two cameras is pretty similar, although the S1 offers more buffer depth and feels a little bit faster in real-world use when shooting continuously. Both cameras offer really good autofocus performance as well.

Video is yet another one of the handful of differentiators between the S1 and S1R. Unlike the S1, the S1R does not have HLG Video recording. Further, the S1R doesn't record 4:2:2 video. Both cameras record 4K/60p video and can shoot Full HD video at up to 180 fps, but the S1 is definitely better-suited for video-intensive work.

When it comes to pricing, the S1 is, unsurprisingly, the more affordable option. However, it is still quite expensive, arriving in April with a price of $2,500. The S1R will cost $3,700, making it more expensive than both Sony and Nikon's high-resolution mirrorless cameras.

Panasonic S1R Hands-on Experience (Austin, Texas) Summary

A very positive first impression for a new chapter in Panasonic's storied history

What I liked:

  • Excellent camera design and build quality
  • Fantastic electronic viewfinder
  • Impressive image quality
  • Good all-around performance

What I didn't like:

  • Tilting touchscreen doesn't tilt a lot
  • Mushy directional pad/buttons
  • Quite large and heavy
  • Not as many video features as the S1

While I have been unable to use the a production-ready S1R camera, based on the time I have had with the camera (and lenses), I think that there is a lot to be excited about as we approach the launch of Panasonic's new full-frame mirrorless camera system.

The usability of the S1R is excellent. It may be large and heavy, especially compared to other full-frame mirrorless cameras, but is remarkably well-designed. The build quality is very good, and the electronic viewfinder is one of the best on the market.

Panasonic 50mm f/1.4 LUMIX S PRO at 50mm, f/1.4, 1/400s, ISO 4000.
Click for full-size image. (Shot with a Panasonic S1R with Beta Firmware.)

Not only is the camera comfortable and easy to use, it also performs well. Image quality, at least so far based on JPEG files, is really good, and I'm hopeful that raw image quality will follow suit. Autofocus and continuous shooting performance are impressive as well.

First impressions are important and the Panasonic S1R has delivered positive impressions in spades. I'm excited to see how the S1R performs in our lab and more broadly, how Panasonic continues to develop their new system.


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