Panasonic Lumix S1 Full-Frame Mirrorless Camera Review
By Steve Vansak
This is a guest review of the Panasonic Lumix S1 by wedding and portrait photographer Steve Vansak. Steve has been shooting with the S1 professionally for over 3 months, and shares his impartial views with us below.
It was quite a shock in the fall of 2018 when Panasonic announced they would be releasing two full-frame mirrorless cameras: the 24.2MP Panasonic Lumix S1 and the 47.3MP Panasonic Lumix S1R.
The other jaw-dropping part of this new venture is an alliance with Leica (who is providing the mount along with lens support), and with Sigma, who is re-engineering their entire Art line for L-mount.
I’ve been an Olympus micro four-thirds user for years, so I was familiar with Panasonic mainly through their lenses for that format.
I’d been wanting to add a full-frame mirrorless system to my wedding kit, and I was thrilled to see the Lumix S1 with two card slots and other perks that bested the offerings from Canon and Nikon.
I took the plunge and purchased the Lumix S1 in a kit along with the Panasonic Lumix S 24-105mm f/4 lens. How in the world was I going to be shooting weddings with (gulp)… a kit lens?!
Rest assured, this is a professional lens all the way, with great sharpness and micro-contrast.
Combined with the Lumix S1’s incredible dynamic range, color tonality (the skin tones are magnificent), and outstanding high ISO performance, this combo has worked amazingly well for the 3 weddings I’ve shot with it so far.
I have pushed the ISO up to 12, 800 during one of my weddings and the images are super clean and the colors hold up. I have no doubt it can be pushed higher and may be the new low light king as of this writing.
Panasonic Lumix S1 | Controls & Ergonomics
The Lumix S1 is NOT a large and heavy camera. It’s like a DSLR in its design, and hence not like any mirrorless camera before it. The grip is large and wonderful to hold.
Button placement is spot on for me, as I imagine it is for many others who prefer to feel their way around when changing settings as opposed to menu diving.
The build of the camera is stellar and screams quality. The only hardware issue I found is that the battery grip appears to have a gap on the right-hand side. It’s too early to tell if this will become a significant issue.
EVF and LCD
The viewfinder is 5.76 million dots and is wonderful to look through. I rarely use manual focus, but this viewfinder has made it very easy to do so.
The 8.1cm (3.2”) LCD allows you to control everything from image viewing to enabling menu items using touch. It has a triaxial tilt mechanism, just like Fuji cameras.
This viewfinder is one of the reasons I purchased the Lumix S1. My eyes are still doing well, but 11 years of wedding photography, with hopefully many more to come, has had me thinking about eye fatigue.
Panasonic S1 Image Quality
I have no idea who manufactured the sensor in the camera, nor do I care. All I know is that it delivers incredible image quality.
A few years ago I added the Nikon Df to my bag based on its wonderful dynamic range and great high-ISO performance.
However, the lack of two card slots and the small array of center focusing points soon had it sitting on the shelf on wedding days.
The Lumix S1 has memory slots for XQD (or CF-Express) and SD, and the dynamic range is outstanding. Not to mention, it has edge-to-edge focusing points.
Lenses for the Panasonic S1
Panasonic has launched the Lumix S1 with three lenses: the Panasonic Lumix S 24-105mm f/4, the S PRO 70-200mm f/4, and the S Pro 50mm f/1.4, the most incredible 50mm lens I’ve ever used.
My first use of the Lumix S PRO 50mm f/1.4 lens was at a camera store demo in Chicago. It was the first time I’d used the eye/body detect AF mode as well.
Leica lenses for the Leica SL camera can also be used natively on the Panasonic S1 (such as the incredible Leica 90mm f/2, used for the close up head shots in this review), along with the L-mount versions of the Sigma Art series. Further, more is coming from all three parties with 42 promised by 2020.
The contrast-based autofocus that Panasonic uses has been much maligned in Internet photography forums. I haven’t found it to be an issue with what I do as a wedding and portrait photographer.
I mostly use S-AF, which is very accurate, and hop into C-AF for things like couples walking down the aisle. I’ve been able to track these types of shots even in dimly lit churches with no problem.
I was recently shooting the first dance in one of the most dimly-lit venues I’ve ever been to, with the couple backlit by very bright string lights.
The Lumix S1 struggled to achieve focus. I turned on the matrix-like AF assist beam of my Profoto A1, and was then successful in locking focus.
The Lumix S1 does have its own AF assist beam, but I needed the extra help in this situation. So, there are limitations here for wedding and event photographers, but nothing deal-breaking.
The camera only shoots 6 FPS, so this is not a sports-oriented camera.
However, the Panasonic Help YouTube channel has great tutorials for tweaking the AF, and I have no doubt with those recommendations that the Lumix S1 could be used for some fast-action sporting events.
The eye/body AF worked very well during a bridal portrait session. With multiple people in the frame, the system will draw boxes over faces and bodies.
It is up to the photographer to press the joystick to select what they want in focus, which then turns the selected box yellow.
In groups, I prefer to have eye AF off, but I will use it in single or couples portraits. This is just my preference.
Using the Panasonic S1 for Video
Since I’m a wedding (stills) photographer, I didn’t get into the video aspects of the Lumix S1 as I feel I’d be talking out of school.
Many are getting this camera strictly for video even though Panasonic is marketing these two bodies for stills shooters.
It WILL do excellent video, but I simply am out of my league on that front, so have left it to the YouTube video above to explain whether the S1 is suitable for video shooters.
Unique Features of the Panasonic Lumix S1
I have always been told to take the road less traveled. In my wedding business I do look at what other photographers are doing in my area and then do the opposite.
The Panasonic S1 takes on that same aesthetic and is perhaps why I’ve taken the plunge with this new system as opposed to others with a (mostly) full lens line up.
So what has Panasonic done that sets it apart from the other full frame mirrorless cameras? Here are a few features that are important to me.
The L Mount Alliance itself is unique and important. In addition to Panasonic, Leica and Sigma are making lenses for the mount which will make 42 lenses to choose from by 2020.
The Sigma MC-21 adapter brings Canon EF lenses to the party with full AF (S-AF only) and other adapters bring a variety of different branded lenses in manual focus.
Sure, the Leica lenses are on the pricey side but they are available to rent should you need them. Also, Leica TL lenses will natively mount to the S1 with full AF if you can fathom an APS-C crop and loss of resolution.
I can’t ever recall such an open system with three companies (possibly more in the future) making products with the same mount. This is a big deal.
Focus Peaking during AF
A small, but favorite feature of mine on the Lumix S1 is focus peaking during AF mode. It adds a nice colorful glow around the areas of your image and is especially helpful shooting at f/1.4 with their astounding 50mm f/1.4 lens.
Constant Preview is Panasonic’s terminology for seeing your exposure in your eye before you take the shot, a mainstay feature of mirrorless cameras.
However, on the Lumix S1, they take it a step further by allowing me to see actual motion blur live in my eye.
I’m near Chicago and love to capture the blurring L train above my clients’ heads for city engagement sessions (see above image). I can now “dial in the blur” of the train live in my eye as I change my shutter speed. It’s terrific.
The 6.5 stop 5 Axis IBIS is incredible considering this is a full frame sensor and has been rated above the Sony and Nikon full frame cameras.
While I do not need to handhold images for 7.5 stops like the class leading Olympus EM1 X does, the Panasonic Lumix S1 stabilization is a boon to wedding photographers trying to nail focus in a run and gun environment.
What Needs Improvement
The Panasonic S1 is very much a complete camera even at launch. The company launched the first mirrorless cameras along with Olympus in 2008 and have been refining ever since.
Although this is their first full frame camera, it’s doesn’t feel like a beta system at all. However, as with any camera I have some nits.
- The battery grip feels loose. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not in danger of coming apart or anything. It just has a bit of play in it due (in my non engineering opinion) having only one short pin in addition to it’s screen in mechanism holding it in. Other than this, the hardware is top of the line and very much in a professional class.
- I’ve had the IBIS shut off on me when shooting with their heavy 50mm f/1.4 lens. There is a little symbol within the viewfinder indicating that it is working. It turned red and I then had to turn it back on. I noticed a few shots had blur from camera shake. This happened during a paid shoot and is a concern of mine. I believe it is a software bug in the 1.0 firmware.
- Lumix Pro Services is much like CPS for Canon, NPS for Nikon, Pro Advantage for Olympus in that it allows you to register your professional equipment for cleanings, expedited repairs, loaner equipment, etc. However, as an owner and professional user of the Lumix S1, I cannot join the program due to Panasonic not making enough equipment for me to purchase and then join. 2 bodies and 4 lenses are required and well, they only have 3 lenses on the market!
Panasonic Lumix S1 Review | Conclusion
While the Lumix S1 is much larger than all mirrorless cameras that came before it, you don’t really feel it during use.
The Panasonic Lumix S1 very much feels like a camera and not a computer that takes pictures. It screams professional. Although the menus are deep and endlessly customizable, they are a joy to use. I actually had fun setting up this camera.
I’ve been spoiled by the class-leading IBIS of my Olympus OMD EM1 II, but the Lumix S1 is great in this department as well. Unique features such as focus peaking during AF mode and constant preview keep the tech-head in me happy.
The lenses are top-quality and the entire combo makes me feel like I’ve joined the Leica SL family. In a way I have, as Leica’s lenses work natively and vice-versa.
The AF is very accurate, and while the tracking capabilities of this camera are adequate, it is not a sports camera. For portrait, wedding and event photographers, the Lumix S1 is a fantastic choice.
The price is slightly higher than its competitors, but there are many more features packed into this body with so many lovely customisation options.
If you need a full lens line-up RIGHT NOW, Sony mirrorless is the best choice. However, if you’re willing to wait a few months for the lenses and you value terrific ergonomics, the Panasonic Lumix S1 is the way to go.
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