More than ten years after being the pioneer of hybrids, Panasonic joined Sony, Nikon and Canon a little later in the battle for full-frame sensor hybrid cameras. The S1R is the device of all superlatives: cut with a billhook, this big box is the most solid of its kind, ultra rich in pixels (47 Mpix!), Technically advanced, hyper equipped (SD + XQD, double stab , etc.). The question was therefore to know what its limits are and whether Panasonic has what it takes to make a place for itself in a market where players are competing more and more fiercely for a volume of sales of housing in free fall. So, is this S1R perfect?
The Incredible Hulk
If this case were a superhero, it would undoubtedly be “Hulk”, less green, but just as resistant. Wide and angular, it is the heaviest, widest and most shielded of the full-frame sensor hybrids. If you are an experienced photographer, you can compare it to a full-frame SLR in terms of handling, like the Nikon D850.
A format which contrasts with the general approach of the hybrids which played, from their beginnings in 2008, on their lower weight and on their greater compactness compared to the reflex. Panasonic has started to break the compactness doctrine with its excellent Lumix G9, a massive Micro 4/3 sensor housing that foreshadows S1R. The reason for this “return” to a more reflex format is due to the better balance with the heaviest optics and the greater resistance of the format.
Pushing further than the G9 in search of solidity, the S1R gives confidence to backpacking photographers from the first contact with the massive grip. All in angles, the Panasonic tank was the subject of all the attention from the engineers to come and tickle the SLRs from Canon and Nikon. If our review of a few weeks cannot allow us to affirm that the bet is fulfilled – it takes months of review to be categorical – we are however confident. In the clip below produced by Panasonic UK, an S1R is badly mistreated. We handled the camera a few days after filming and apart from some signs of wear and a piece of a wheel showing the marks of the fire, the camera still worked like a clock.
(Embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QfyjUBmgTI0 (/ embed)
It is not only a performance for an outsider, but it is also a lesson given to Canon and Nikon because Panasonic seems here to deliver the same level of resistance (or a little more) than the pro SLRs of the two giants, but with a adjustable screen on hinges. If you are clumsy and afraid of the fragility of hybrids (we are thinking in particular of the first two generations of Alpha A7), the S1R and its brother the S1 should put you at ease!
Ultra modern with its high definition mode by moving the sensor, its 6K burst, etc. however, the S1R has a very mechanical feel. Panasonic has indeed focused on the buttons, knobs and levers to give them that slightly rough touch. Contrary to a “lifestyle” box like the Leica CL, the Panasonic Lumix S1R has this “old-fashioned” side where everything can be adjusted blindly (or almost) without a screen, provided you know its housing.
The other side of the coin is that the S1R is a little more “physical”, because not only is it heavy, but above all it sometimes requires a little more effort on the joints side to change a setting. Fortunately for the lazy, The device is also widely controllable from the touch screen, an area in which Panasonic has become master thanks to its consumer models of Lumix G. The menus are the clearest and easiest to handle in a way touch – hello Sony!
From 47 to 187 Mpix, an image monster
Lacking a low-pass filter, the S1R’s 47 Mpix sensor is a definition monster. Not only does it offer the second best image definition in the world of full-format hybrids after the Sony A7R Mark IV (61 Mpix), but it also benefits from a very high definition mode of 187 Mpix.
As we told you about when we got started, this function which assembles several images after micro-displacements of the sensor is limited in use (tripod, no movement, stationary subject, constant light). But it offers studio photographers like packshot or still life the definition of medium format for a fraction of the price.
The image quality of this sensor, we have already partially discovered with the Leica Q2 which integrates it. If the color rendering engines differ a little, the results are more or less the same. And they are very good: the pictures are very rich in details, the colors just even in low light … all in RAW. Indeed, without being bad, the JPEG rendering engine in “Normal” mode is sometimes timid, probably to limit the aliasing effects caused by the absence of the low-pass filter. A treatment that slightly harms the punch that RAW files express naturally. Nothing serious and the JPEGs are perfectly usable, but know that the sensor is damn under the pedal when working in RAW.
The only weakness of the sensor is, as with its competitors, in the number of pixels! Although very well made, we feel that at full aperture the 24-105 f / 4 is really, at 105 mm, at its limit of resolution power. This is felt when we make the parallel with the shots that come out of the excellent 50 mm f / 1.4, the only lens in the range to be able to “spit” all its pixels to the 47 Mpix sensor. It is therefore necessary, as in the “R” series of Alpha A7, to equip themselves with quality optics to take full advantage of the 47 Mpix. Which is paid for in money and weight / size.
Once you’ve spent a few days with the 5.7 Mpix viewfinder of the Lumix S1R, switching back to another electronic viewfinder is a bit difficult! It is one of the best if not the best viewfinder we have ever reviewed. If that of the Alpha A9 still has the advantage of fluidity and response time which goes hand in hand with the fury of its sensor, the viewfinder of the S1R is the most defined, the most precise of its kind. This image precision has the virtue of better appreciating the sharpness of a picture before shooting. Less smooth and “organic” than the viewfinder of the Nikon Z7, the viewfinder of the S1R is therefore less poetic, but more practical, more “technical”. It’s a question of taste.
Like any self-respecting hybrid, the electronic viewfinder is supplemented by a screen, again excellent with regard to our S1R. Not only is the panel splendid, but the tactile ergonomics are, as we said above, excellent. And the hinge, ultra resistant, is more practical in photo than the classic ball joint of the Lumix G9 cameras – a ball joint kept for the recently announced video model. Panasonic shows here that it has learned from its mistakes and that it can adapt the equipment to the needs of the target – the (almost) pure photographers in the case of the S1R.
Autofocus, strengths and limits of DFD
In bright light, the quality of the algorithms of its DFD technology allows Panasonic to (almost) match the hybrid autofocus (phase + contrast) of the competition, all with “simple” contrast detection. But no miracle, in low light the DFD technology is not only less reactive, but also less precise than a hybrid autofocus. This makes the device pump more than a 3rd generation Alpha 7.
Same sound in the tracking: if the technical score of Panasonic is impressive the S1R suffers however the comparison in the follow-up of the subject compared to that of Sony. In this area, Sony has taken such a lead that it atomizes Canon, and hurts Nikon. And so is Panasonic.
As for the burst, The S1R does not disappoint given its definition: 9 frames per second in AF-S and 6 fps in AF-C with subject tracking. Which makes 423 Mpix and 282 Mpix swallowed per second respectively – that makes pixels!
Video: enough for photographers
The S1R takes advantage of Panasonic’s know-how in terms of video encoding quality, but some important functions for editors – proxy files, LOG files – are not included. If Panasonic did not put everything in a single box, it is because the company followed the example of Sony, which divides its full-format boxes into three – normal, super resolution and video / low lights. Leaving room for its new video box, the newly announced Lumix S1H, which promises to be a real bomb in the field.
Far from being a penguin, the S1R delivers excellent quality sequences and takes advantage of many advanced options notably in terms of definition, encoding quality, frame rates, etc. not to mention the zebras and all the standard paraphernalia at Panasonic. Plenty of things to do for photographers who have video needs. But professional videographers will only have eyes for S1H.
One problem: the price
At 3699 euros for the bare body and 4599 euros with the 24-105 mm f / 4, the Panasonic S1R is expensive. Not inherently expensive, but expensive compared to the Nikon Z7, sold 400 euros less. But especially very expensive against the Sony A7R Mark III, now sold at 2799 euros in official price. With the most mature (native) optical fleet of full-format hybrids and a flawless electronic partition – excellent video quality, dazzling eye AF, etc. – the A7R Mark III is much more attractive technologically, but also financially since it costs 900 euros less than the S1R. Sony has well soaped the board for Panasonic by lowering the price of its case by no less than 500 euros following the launch of the S1R, leaving Panasonic to fight with its nascent system.
If it is equipped with interesting functions, the S1R should in our opinion be chosen for a major reason: its exceptional resistance, Sony and Nikon do not offer a case as shielded. Resistance aside, it is difficult at the moment to give the advantage to Panasonic with such a price difference and such a light optical park – and also very expensive.