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Panasonic Lumix S1R Review

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The Panasonic S1R was announced long before it actually became available, so by the time people could actually buy one, it was kind of old news. That’s a shame because this is a very good camera – as is its 24-megapixel stablemate, the Panasonic Lumix S1.

Two things stand out straight away. The first is that the Panasonic Lumix S1R is far from a cheap alternative to full-frame Sony, Nikon and Canon mirrorless cameras – it’s actually a little more expensive (not including the Sony A7R IV, however). It’s also noticeably larger and heavier than its rivals. However, it’s also clear from the start that this is one of the best full framework mirrorless digital cameras you can buy, and certainly one of the best Panasonic cameras.

Since we first tested the Panasonic S1R, of course, Sony has released the 61MP Sony A7R Mark IV, beating the S1R’s resolution by some margin, so we’ve added the A7R IV to the lab charts below to see whether its extra megapixels give it a convincing edge (sorry) over the S1R.

First announced at Photokina 2018 and rumoured long before that, the new Panasonic Lumix S range is a big step up from the smaller Micro Four-Thirds format cameras made by Panasonic until then.

Designed for professionals, experts and advanced amateurs, the Lumix S range consist of two cameras – the cheaper 24-megapixel Panasonic S1 and the more expensive Lumix S1R reviewed here.

There is a small selection of lenses to go with these new cameras from Panasonic with more to follow, but the key factor here is Panasonic’s membership of a new L-Mount Alliance with Sigma and Leica, so all three makers will be producing lenses for this fresh format, and Sigma has already adapted a number of it’s ‘Art’ prime lenses because of this format. Panasonic has promised no fewer than 42 different lenses by the end of 2020.

We tested the Lumix S1R with the Panasonic 24-105mm f/4 standard zoom, which looks like a very good standard lens choice for this camera at the moment – its image quality is well beyond what we’d normally expect from a long-zoom kit lens.

Specifications

Sensor: 47.3MP full frame CMOS, 36.0 x 24.0mm
Image processor: Venus
AF points: 225-area DFD contrast AF
ISO range: 100 to 25,600 (exp. 500 to 51,200)
Max image size: 8,368 x 5,584
Metering modes: Multi, centre-weighted, spot, highlight weighted
Video: 4K UHD at 60p, 50p, 30p, 25p, 24p
Viewfinder: OLED EVF, 5.76m dots, 100% coverage, 0.78x magnification
Memory card: SD (UHS II compatible) + XQD
LCD: 3.2-inch tilting touchscreen, 2.1m dots
Max burst: 9fps, 6fps with CAF
Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Size: 148.9 x 110.0 x 96.7mm (body only)
Weight: 1,016g (body only, with battery and SD card)

Key Features

Like Sony and Nikon, Panasonic has produced two externally identical cameras but with two different resolutions and price points. The Panasonic S1 has a 24-million pixel sensor and is priced to appeal to enthusiast photographers (and professional videographers), while the Lumix S1R includes a 47 megapixel CMOS sensor, which is the highest resolution yet offered in a full-frame mirrorless camera, if only by a small margin. A third video-centric version of the family, called the Panasonic S1H, has now gone on sale.

As if that wasn’t enough, these cameras also offer a multi-shot High-Resolution mode which combines eight images captured with a series of minute sensor shifts to produce super-high-resolution image well beyond the sensor’s native resolution.

On the Panasonic S1R, this means huge 187-megapixel photos that exceed the pixel count of even the most powerful medium format cameras – though it relies on static subjects and with the camera mounted on a tripod, so you could only use this for certain types of subject.

This high-resolution mode is made possible by Panasonic’s 5-axis in-body stabilisation system, which offers 5.5 stops of shake compensation on its own but up to 6 stops of shake compensation when used with one of Panasonic’s new image-stabilised lenses.

Other headline features include the ability to shoot 4K video at around 60/50fps for the first time in a full-frame mirrorless model, the world’s highest quality electronic viewfinder, with 5,760 million dots, and a continuous shooting speed of 9fps.

Build and Handling

Panasonic has taken a pretty uncompromising approach to the S1R’s build quality, with a magnesium alloy construction and weather sealing that makes it dust and moisture resistant and ‘freeze-proof’ down to -10 degrees. It’s a fairly substantial camera to pick up and hold and feels even meatier than Nikon’s Z6 and Nikon Z7 models and definitely more substantial than Sony’s A7 series.

It goes further in a number of respects, though. The electronic viewfinder’s resolution is on a whole new level, for a start. It’s not just superbly sharp, contrasty and saturated, it’s also remarkably lag-free. We’re used to electronic displays blurring and ‘smearing’ with fast digital camera movements, especially in low light, but Panasonic does seem to have raised the bar here and this perhaps the closest we’ve yet come to a genuine ‘optical’ viewfinder look.

The screen on the back of the camera deserves some special praise too. Its resolution of 2,100k dots means it’s exceptionally sharp, but it also has a clever tri-axial tilt mechanism that allows for sideways movement as well as up and down, so this is a tilting screen you can also use with the camera held vertically.

The movement is restricted to about 45 degrees, however, it hinges in one direction only (to the right) and you have to slide a slightly fiddly catch on the side of the screen to release it.

It’s interesting that Panasonic chose this system rather than the regular flip-out vari-angle screens used on some of its Micro Four Thirds models, but this was done to offer maximum robustness and durability – we were shown how it was possible to hold the digital camera by gripping the fold-out screen alone.

This sense of strength and durability is everywhere. Inside, the S1R has a shutter with a life expectancy of 400,000 shots, and on the outside, it has really firm, positive controls – and lots of them.

It’s great to get a dedicated drive mode dial and a dual-function focus dial for setting both the concentrated mode and selecting the focus area. There’s also a focus lever/joysticks for setting the focus point and a lock lever to prevent unintentional adjustments while handling the camera.

The only issue we had was with the sensitivity of the touch-screen display – it’s very easy to inadvertently set the focus point near the bottom left corner of the frame when your nose touches the screen during shooting.

This is a common problem with cameras that offer touch-focus control and the S1R is by no means alone – if it’s too annoying, you can always deactivate the touch control.

Performance

We found the pre-production Lumix S1 and S1R autofocus systems tended to hunt a little in very dim light and were still a tendency for this to happen with our full manufacturing sample – though inside regular lighting the AF is very responsive.

Panasonic is using its DFD contrast AF system rather than the theoretically faster phase-detection AF used by rival makers, Panasonic’s high-speed data processing and AF algorithms feel very fast and responsive.

The Eye AF system is particularly impressive. In this mode, the camera automatically identifies bodies and faces in the scene with a rectangular marquee – if there’s more than one, it will usually select the face nearest the camera, but you can change the face selected using the focus lever.

When a face is detected, the AF system will pick out the subject’s eyes with a set of crosshairs – again, you can choose which eye is selected utilizing the focus lever.

Panasonic’s Eye AF system proved fast and effective when we tried it and can focus on either eye as required (images from a pre-production Lumix S1).
If you’re taking pictures of people with a high-resolution full-frame camera and fast lenses used at wide apertures, then a fast and accurate Vision AF program could really improve your success rate of sharp shots.

The Eye AF crosshairs are not especially easy to recognise, however, so while this system is very quick, effective and accurate, the visual AF display is a little cluttered.

The hybrid image stabilisation seems to work very well, though as ever it’s worth repeating that there are no guarantees in hand-held photography and image stabilisation simply improves your chances.

In our tests we were able to shoot hand-held with the lens set to 105mm at 1/6sec with about the same success rate of sharp shots as shooting at 1/125sec without stabilisation – that’s a gain of around 4 stops.

It’s a little short of Panasonic’s claimed figure, but our tests were carried out in day-to-day shooting, not in a lab, and in any event that’s a good outcome compared to results we’ve achieved with other cameras using in-body-stabilisation.

The image quality is excellent, especially at higher ISO settings. Because of this camera’s high resolution and hence relatively small photosites, we’d expect to see noise appearing quite soon and image quality falling as the sensitivity is increased, but the S1R’s images hold up remarkably well.

In fact, it’s only at ISO 12,800 and ISO 25,600 that you have seen any substantial loss of visual sharpness and fine textures starting to smooth over.

It’s hard to fault this camera’s resolving power. Both in the lab and in real-world testing, it delivered extremely sharp detail, and the 24-105mm f/4 zoom can take a lot of the credit. You can see more sample images in the gallery below.

Check Out: Best Lenses For Panasonic Lumix S1R

Verdict

The Panasonic Lumix S1R is blessed with an effective image stabilization system, a cracking EVF and a solid build, while its image and video quality also impress. The AF system is behind its peers, however, and the camera doesn’t really exhibit any size and weight advantages over equivalent DSLRs. Nevertheless, Panasonic has done a great job to deliver something so competent so early on in this system.

Check Panasonic Lumix S1R Price and Bundles 

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