Panasonic S1 Review

Introduction

Panasonic is one of the original manufacturers to initially pioneer the Micro Four Thirds realm of compact feature-rich mirrorless cameras. However, now, in 2019, that changes. The release of the Panasonic S1 marks a new lineage for the manufacturer and the first to feature a full-frame sensor. The S lineup makes a brand new line and one that aims to sway professional photographers and videographers alike. For years Panasonic has delivered smaller cameras than traditional SLRs — ditching much of the back pain that often accompanied them.

Yet, ironically, here we are in 2019, and the release of this camera not only breaks their original heritage, but it’s also undoubtedly larger than several SLRs. Interesting. This lineup is the result of a collaboration with Leica and Sigma to develop new cameras and lenses that employ Leica’s existing L mount. Like Sony and Nikon, Panasonic has decided to release two separate cameras at launch, primarily differentiated by resolution and price.

The resemblance to the previously released Panasonic G9 is evident with this camera, as they both share much of the same controls and styling. However, in build quality is where these cameras are differentiated and where this new line stands strong as Panasonic’s latest flagship. It is a 24.2-megapixel full-frame camera aimed squarely to compete with the Sony A7 III, Canon EOS R, and the Nikon Z6. But, since this is their first-ever full-frame camera, how does it stand up to the competition? Has Panasonic done well with its first release? Or are they better off sticking with traditions? In today’s post, we find out. 

Panasonic-Lumix-DC-S1-camera-body

What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the Panasonic S1?

Pros:

Image Quality

Images captured are sharp across the frame with natural colors and rendering. Both RAW and JPEGs are punchy with an excellent dynamic range, which for this camera is an impressive 12 stops.

It features a High Res Mode, which renders a large 96-megapixel final image by merging eight separate exposures by shifting the sensor slightly between each exposure. We initially saw this feature released on the Panasonic G9. Overall, it is both a useful and welcomed addition for increasing the effective camera’s resolution when shooting landscapes or in studio environments. However, any movement that occurs during the frame causes ghosting, so it’s best reserved for static subjects.

It has a continuous burst rate of 6 fps with AF-C tracking or 9 fps without AF, though there is a slight blackout during the burst.

It inherits 4K and 6K photo modes, a popular feature inherited from several previously released Panasonic bodies. Both these modes shoot a short video that users can extract stills from after the fact. 4K Photo shoots at 60p with 8-megapixel stills while 6K Photo shoots at 30p with 18-megapixel stills. In all, this makes an excellent feature for capturing action that’s not moving particularly quickly, but fast enough where AF-C is insufficient. 

This camera has an incredible buffer as well, which delivers virtually continuous shooting of JPEG images without stuttering. For RAW shooting, 90 shots in a row. Excellent.

Video Quality

Video on this camera is surely no slump either. Panasonic is long renowned for excellent video capabilities in its still-centric cameras, and this camera surely follows suit. It shoots: 4K UHD 60p at 150 Mbps or 30p at 100 Mbps, 1080p FHD up to 60p, and 720p HD up to 180p. This camera delivers two massive advantages: it’s the first among its competitors to deliver 4K 60p in full-frame and second it also shoots 4K 30p at a full pixel readout without a crop! Nice. This is amazing considering this is typically the downfall to shooting video with still-centered cameras. Thankfully, that specific issue isn’t present when shooting at 30p. 

The quality of the footage produced is stunning, with superb color rendition, sharpness, and excellent dynamic range. As with pictures, the camera delivers a total of a 12-stop range, which is further improved when shooting in the HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma) profile. Even in extreme daylight conditions, the camera can faithfully render footage, with very little clipping in the highlights.

Not only that, but this camera also has unlimited recording time when shooting 4K at either 24 or 30p. That’s huge. Previously, only the GH5 and GH5s featured unlimited record time, so it’s great to see the limitation lifted here. Now for color, it shoots 8-bit 4:2:0 internally. However, you can hack this to get 10-bit color by shooting in the H.265 HLG profile found in the camera’s settings, which also has the added benefit of increased dynamic range as well. 

Low Light Performance

Low light performance is a resounding strength of this camera. The simple fact that it’s a full-frame sensor provides a distinct and real advantage over Panasonic’s own Micro Four Thirds cameras, namely the GH5. Low light performance rivals that of even the Sony A7S series. Natively, it has an ISO range of ISO 100 to 51,200. However, this is one very few cameras that delivers usable images through the entirety of its range, and even ISO 51,200 is usable.

Focusing Performance

The focusing performance here is better than all previous releases. However, like the G9 and many cameras before it, Panasonic’s doubling down on their 225 AF point Depth from Defocus (DFD) system. Yet, this system is updated to now also include sophisticated facial, eye, and subject tracking. Interestingly, it’s also the first camera to feature animal tracking in the Panasonic lineup as well. When subjects are relatively close to the camera and moving at an average walking pace, the AF-C subject tracking performance works brilliantly.

Eye detection tracks multiple subjects within the frame, and users can easily switch between subjects with the joystick. For Interviews or regular movement, this system is flawless. This system also performs well in low light, where it avoids the artifacts that typically comprise phase-detect systems under these conditions. For video, however, it’s still a bit inconsistent, unfortunately — more on that below. 

This camera features some excellent, yet niche options to customize the focusing as well. For focus by wire lenses, you can change the focusing to make it either linear or follow degrees of rotation (a.k.a. manual range). This is an excellent addition for users who prefer manual focusing and want more mechanical control, which is often tricky with these systems. In all, it makes performing complex manual focus pulls a breeze and is more intuitive, comfortable, and consistent.

Battery Performance

While this camera features the largest battery in a Panasonic camera to date, a whopping 3050 mA hours, which makes it almost twice that of the Panasonic G9. The performance delivered doesn’t quite equate to double the battery life. Nonetheless, battery performance is excellent, considering how feature-packed this camera is. The battery provides 400 shots in everyday use, or 1000 shots when using the power saver mode.

For video, it delivers approximately two and ½ hours of 4K recording. Nice. While these figures only slightly exceed the performance expected in mirrorless cameras, 320 shots per charge being the industry standard. They’re remarkable, considering this is a full-frame camera with 5-axis stabilization and 4K recording. However, if you’re still concerned, have no fear. This camera boasts USB-C charging and a hole in the battery compartment door. This hole is used to run a cable to either a DTAP or USB-C battery bank. 

Display & Viewfinder

It has a 3.2-inch tri-axle touchscreen LCD, reminiscent of the Fujifilm X-T3. It produces a resolution of 2.1 million dots and is easily visible even when working outdoors in harsh sunlight conditions. The touchscreen is also well implemented, more of this particular feature in the following sections. 

The OLED Live viewfinder, however, is the real star of the show here. Panasonic marks the first company to deploy a 5.76 million dot viewfinder, a first for a mirrorless camera, and the highest resolution to date. With that, this is the best image quality you can expect when composing through a viewfinder, period. Not only that, it has an incredibly high magnification of 0.79x, providing an even greater field of view. Yes, while this is a bit smaller than the magnification of the G9, the combination of its resolution and magnification delivers the best viewing experience on any Panasonic camera thus far. Not to mention, it also has the same variable refresh rate as the GH5s, which cycles between 60 or 120 Hz. 

Similar to the Panasonic G9 and high-end digital SLRs, this camera also features a top status LCD. This LCD displays critical information about current shooting parameters at a glance. 

This camera also features a dedicated viewfinder switch, which customizes the amount of eye relief users receive when composing, a feature inherited from the G9 as well. This feature makes achieving true 100% coverage when wearing glasses possible, as it would be challenging otherwise.

User Interface

The menus and navigation structure on this camera are both excellent. No surprises here, these are longstanding strengths from Panasonic. However, the on-screen menus have improved, and so has the touch implementation. The menus now support extensive touch gestures where the entirety of the camera is touch-controlled at this point. 

It has backlit buttons. While this is a niche feature, it makes this camera well equipped for shooting in the dark and is quite a rare finding on a mirrorless camera. Typically, we expect this feature in only a handful of very high-end digital SLRs. 

It has Night mode. During this mode, both the LCD and viewfinder are set to a red tint, preserving the viewer’s night vision. Night mode is a considerate addition, especially for those shooting time-lapse or astrophotography. 

Physical Interface & Ergonomics

It has a dedicated AF joystick for quick AF point selection or menu navigation. 

It has thee custom shooting modes, C1-C3. 

Every button on its body is customizable. 

It has a very logical physical button layout, in line with the traditional styling of SLRs. With that, it is quite intuitive and familiar during initial familiarization. The placement of the buttons is well thought out, and overall the ergonomics on this camera are excellent. Surely among the top in its class. 

It sizes makes it one of the toughest and most robust mirrorless cameras to date. Not to mention, it also has a very generous grip that thoroughly removes any pinching that occurs between the grip and lens barrel. In all, it has significant amounts of gripping surfaces and is quite comfortable and secure to hold.

It’s fully weather and dust sealed, supporting use in temperatures from -10 C to 40 C. 

Niche Features/Extras

It has a USB-C port, which supports file transfer speed of 3.1 as well as supports USB charging. Using this port supplies continuous power when recording and an excellent option to extend battery life. 

It has built-in 5-axis image stabilization, this time featuring what Panasonic is calling Sensor-Shift Stabilization. Panasonic rates this system to deliver 5.5 stops of stabilization alone or 6 stops when paired with compatible lenses with image stabilization built-in. 

It shoots HDR.

It has a full-size HDMI port. Users can output 4K UHD 30p 8-bit 4:2:2 or 60p 8-bit 4:2:0. 

It has a headphone input port.

It has a feature called Post Focus, present on several previous G series cameras as well. Post focus takes a small video clip while the camera automatically adjusts focus across the entire plane. This clip is how this feature allows you to select the image of the area you want in focus. 

It has dual card slots, one being an SD, the other an XQD. Ouch, two different card formats in the same body. Well, that decision has both pros and cons. The advantage is that it means this camera supports the faster and more robust card format. Not only that, but much of the competition lacks dual card slots altogether. The con is while XQD cards are more robust than SD cards, they cost upwards of 2 times more than comparable UHS-II SD cards. So, populating both slots will cost double what it would be to fill two SD card slots alone. 

It has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, which allows the camera to shoot remotely via the updated Panasonic Lumix Sync app. This app supports full remote control over the camera, with live view. 

Cons:

Video Quality

It lacks waveforms, only the GH series cameras have this feature. 

It experiences a 1.5x APS-C sized crop when shooting 4K 60p, which defeats the purpose of a full-frame slow-motion video camera if this is your primary shooting mode. Not only that, but 4K 60p recording is also limited to 30 minutes. 

It experiences a crop when shooting 720p HD at 180p, something the GH5 lacks as well. In addition, all high frame rates shoot in auto exposure mode only. Manual exposure is not available. For most circumstances, the lack of manual exposure will make these modes virtually unusable. 

The camera lacks built-in log profiles. Panasonic released a paid firmware updated that includes V-log. If you want this feature, you will have to fork over some extra money. This update increases the dynamic range to 15 stops while also allowing the camera to shoot 10-bit 4:2:2 internally at 4K 30p and output 10-bit 60p via HDMI as well. So, while paid, it’s a feature-packed update that delivers value. However, this camera has Cinelike D, Cinelike V, and Like 709, which all supply decently flat footage for color grading if you opt not to purchase this update. 

It experiences rolling shutter while panning, though not the extent as some of its competitors. 

Focusing Performance

For stills, AF-C tracking is still inconsistent, especially when face tracking is enabled. It just struggles to keep up. Thankfully, standard tracking AF works, though it has a relatively low hit rate compared to the competition. Nonetheless, for sports, wildlife, or action photographers, this is not a camera that will deliver confidence when shooting fast-moving subjects. It is best for ordinary or everyday movements instead.

On the other hand, focusing during video still has a pulsing effect as the camera maintains critical focus — this effect is both noticeable and distracting. Use single-shot AF or manual focus instead. Overall, while the system has improved, especially in subject recognition and flexibility, it still only works in controlled environments and with slow movements. 

Display & Viewfinder

It lacks a fully articulating screen. While not necessarily a con, it’s a workflow hindrance considering many previous Panasonic releases have this feature. If you’re looking to do self-composed videos or to vlog, we’re back to using external monitors here. 

Physical Interface & Ergonomics

This camera is one of the largest and heaviest full-frame mirrorless cameras on the market today. Its heavier than the Sony A7 III, Nikon Z6, and the Canon EOS R.  The body alone weighs 2.25 lbs, making approximately 30-40% heavier than all of these cameras. To a certain extent, it’s even more cumbersome than a traditional SLR like the Canon 5D Mark IV. With that, if you’re looking for a lightweight, compact camera, surely look elsewhere.

Is the Panasonic S1 a good starting camera?

Well, it’s an excellent camera, yes. But a starting camera? Well, no, not unless you have the budget for such a camera. If you’re one of the rare few who do, then yes, this would surely be one to consider picking up. It has excellent image stabilization with superior shutter mechanism dampening that creates an incredible shooting platform. It also makes a killer video camera, though it doesn’t outshine the GH5 series by any means. Bar none, this is Panasonic’s most expensive camera release to date, and justifiably so. But, it also makes among the costliest mirrorless cameras on the market today as well.

It’s more expensive than both the Sony and Nikon cameras. So we have to stop and ask ourselves a simple question, is it worth the extra $500? Is it worth it to get an additional card slot, 4K 60p, a few niche features, and better low light performance? Only you know the answer. For us, we think yes, though the price is too high right now to justify the purchase. Considering the depth of the features this camera has, its priced fairly. It’s evident than Panasonic has taken inspiration from many other mirrorless cameras and a few of their own releases with the creation of this particular lineup. But, in all, the inspiration was well executed to deliver one of the best mirrorless cameras to date. Well done. 

What are the best lenses for the Panasonic S1?

We have an essential note to cover before going into the best lenses and bundles for this camera. Rather than develop a new mount and start a system from scratch, Panasonic formed a partnership with both Leica and Sigma to use their existing L mount. This new mount and design have sparked quite a bit of controversy and debate recently. At the time of writing, only a handful of lenses are currently available for this system. However, these manufacturers combined are expected to deliver over 42 lenses by the end of 2020, so there’s hope. Not only that, Sigma has already released its MC-21 adapter, which converts this L mount into a Canon EF mount. Unfortunately, adapting with this mount means that you lose AF-C during the process. Overall, the lens selection for this system is minimal as of right now, and it’ll be a challenge for early adopters for sure. 

Lens Adapter:

Sigma MC-21 Adapter (Sigma EF-Mount Lenses to Leica L)

General Photography: 

Lumix S Pro 24-70mm F2.8

Lumix S Pro 24-105mm F4

Specifically for Portrait Photography:

Lumix S Pro 50mm F1.4

Lumix S Pro 70-200mm F4

Best bundles for the Panasonic S1

Is the Panasonic S1 a good camera for you?

Possibly. Current Panasonic shooters should consider switching if they have the budget to accompany the transition, especially current GH5 users. Why? You will be able to take advantage of the beautiful images and footage a full-frame sensor can deliver. With that, you will get better low light performance, more shallow Depth of Field, and higher resolution. This camera makes a natural yet progressive change in Panasonic’s evolution. 

Considering this is Panasonic’s first-ever full-frame, it raises the question of how will it compare to the other cameras on the market? No questions asked here, it fears quite well. In all, it’s thoroughly comparable and competitive in performance to the Sony A7 III, Nikon Z6, and, quite frankly, any other 24-megapixel full-frame camera for that matter. It makes an incredible feat for the camera maker to deliver such a camera at launch. The addition of 4K UHD at 60p and dual card slots makes this the most capable full-frame video camera yet. The competition surely has some catching up to do here. 

For those who shoot with traditional digital SLR, this is the camera to consider for your transition. It’s a hefty camera, though so beware. But, it’s feature-rich body will surely not leave you disappointed. This camera packs nearly every single feature Panasonic has released in a camera to date, into a robust professional-feeling body. It has a brilliant menu system and user experience with virtually no shortcomings. Not to mention, you will feel welcomed with it’s form factor, layout, and overall design. 

In all, this camera represents the pinnacle of Panasonic. They also have a longstanding tradition of improvement to existing releases via firmware updates, so it’ll surely be a camera to watch in the coming years. 

Overview
  • Image Quality
  • Video Quality
  • Focusing Performance
  • Low Light Performance
  • Dynamic Range:
  • Battery Performance
  • Display & Viewfinder
  • User Interface
  • Physical Layout & Ergonomics
4

Summary

In the end, this makes a well versed and excellent all-round camera. While undoubtedly the most expensive camera Panasonic has released to date, its cost is justifiable considering the depths of its feature set. Panasonic has taken inspiration from its competition but done so in its own unique way. In all, the inspiration was well executed and delivered one of the best mirrorless cameras to date. It represents the pinnacle of Panasonic, inheriting nearly every feature they’ve released in a single camera thus far. With their longstanding dedication to continued improvement, it’ll surely be a camera to watch in the coming years.