Thinking of going full-frame? Until recently, that would have ruled out Panasonic, but not any more. With the S1 and S1R, the first in its new Lumix S Series, Panasonic is flexing its muscles, proving it means business when it comes to mirrorless.
Much like Nikon released the Z7 mirrorless camera, followed a few months later by the cut-down (and cheaper) Z6, Panasonic has two versions for you to choose from. The S1R is its pro version, and comes with a whopping 47Mp sensor, perfect for still life photography. The huge file sizes that come with such a large sensor are not for everyone (if you’re not careful, you could end up having to upgrade your computer to handle them) so with this in mind, there’s the S1 – almost identical to the S1R but with a respectable 24.2Mp sensor. Physically they're same size, too, with both Panasonic cameras a comfortable fit in the hand.
Panasonic has been at the forefront of mirrorless technology for a decade now, and knows a thing or two about image stabilisation. That’s the system that helps eliminate blur from your shots and enables you to shoot handheld at slower shutter speeds. The company has brought that knowledge to the new Lumix S Series by combining in-body image stabilisation (also known as IBIS) with a lens-based stabilisation system. We saw the same pairing in the Lumix G9, but here in the S Series, Panasonic is able to deliver up to 6 stops of stabilisation for stills and video. This has been achieved because, used together, the two stabilisation systems are better than either on its own. As well as taking its information from a gyro-sensor, the cameras also use information from the CMOS itself, as well as an accelerometer sensor.
When it comes to video, both the S1 and S1R are able to shoot 4K video, but unlike rivals Sony, Canon and Nikon, these young upstarts can offer a class-leading frame rate of up to 60/50p – a first for a full-frame camera. While these are initially 8-bit video files, later in 2019, a software key will unlock the option to record 4K 60/50p 10-bit files. If it’s slow motion you’re after, then video can be recorded at 60fps in 4K, and up to 80fps in Full HD.
While rivals have switched to phase detection for their auto-focusing systems, with the Lumix S Series, here the company is sticking with its Depth from Defocus (DFD) technology used in other Panasonic cameras. There’s good reason for this. As it proved with its Micro Four Thirds cameras, DFD auto-focusing can be blisteringly fast. In Panasonic's S1 and S1R, autofocus is able to react in 0.08 seconds, even in low light conditions down to -6EV.
If you want to track your subject – for example, with wildlife photography – then focus-tracking is critical. Thanks to its advanced AI, the Lumix S1 and S1R can detect humans, cats, dogs and birds. Because it knows the movement patterns of these subjects, it’s able to maintain tracking even when the subject briefly disappears from view.
For fast-moving scenes, continuous shooting means you rely much less on luck. The S1 is able to fire off shots while maintaining auto-focus at a rate of 9fps. Despite its larger sensor size, its big brother can still manage 6fps. But that’s not all. There’s also a 6K Photo mode where you can shoot 18Mp JPEG shots at 30fps. Then if that’s not fast enough, there’s the 4K Photo mode. It gives you 8Mp shots at 30fps or 60fps, depending on your aspect ratio.
While Panasonic's S1 shoots stills at 24.2Mp and the S1R at 47Mp, if that’s not enough for the job, there’s a High Resolution mode to fall back on. This is where the IBIS system comes in handy. Able to make tiny adjustments to the position of the image sensor, it means that clever software is able combine eight images to create a single shot. In the S1, this gives you images at a huge 96Mp. Think that’s big? In the S1R, the maximum possible resolution is an eye-watering 187Mp.
Next up is the Electronic Viewfinder. With a mirrorless system, this is how you see the world, so resolution is important. The 5.76 million dot OLED display that’s used here is the world’s highest resolution EVF, and has a refresh rate of up to 120fps. Take your eye away from the EVF and you can use the camera’s rear 3.2in, 2.1 million dot resolution touchscreen to select your focus point. This is mounted using a triaxial tilt mechanism, enabling the display to flip out so you can easily change your angle of view, whether shooting landscape or portrait.
Although it used the new, faster XQD format, Nikon took some flak for including only one memory card slot in the Z7 and Z6. There’s none of that here. The Lumix S Series cameras come with twin card slots for SD and XQD cards. In the near future, Panasonic also promises to include support for CFexpress.
At launch there are three new lenses – a 50mm f/1.4 prime, a 24-105mm f/4 standard zoom, and a 70-200mm f/4 telephoto zoom. 10 lenses have been promised by 2020. However, any new camera lives or dies by the lenses that are available for it. As we reported last year, the good news here is that Panasonic has partnered with Leica and Sigma to create the L-Mount alliance. It means the S Series will use the established Leica L lens mount, and so benefits from all the lenses in that premium range being available right from the off.
It’s not hard to see why this is likely to be the biggest camera launch of the year. For those who’ve been crying out for a full-frame Panasonic camera, your prayers have just been answered. But even if you’ve never shot with a Lumix before, you can’t fail to be impressed with the tech specs on offer in the new S Series. It’s clear that Panasonic has pulled out all the stops in its bid to carve out a place for itself in the full-frame market. With the S1 and S1R, one thing is certain: you won’t be disappointed.
On location with Daniel Berehulak and the S1R...
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