It had long been rumoured that Panasonic would launch a so-called 'full-frame GH5', which, as it turns out, isn't too far wrong: on 18 March 2019 the company will release two full-frame mirrorless cameras in its all-new Lumix S line-up.

Called the S1 and S1R, here's all the details about the new system camera, its design, lens mount, lens roadmap, and how the new Lumix Pro support network will operate in conjunction with the existing Lumix and new full-frame mirrorless camera line-up.

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Lens mount and lenses

  • Leica L mount lenses: Leica SL, TL, CL compatible
  • Micro Four Thirds (MFT) lenses not compatible
  • Panasonic, Leica and Sigma in lens alliance
  • Three Panasonic S Pro lenses at launch
    • S Pro 50mm f/1.4 (S-X50)
    • S Pro 24-105mm f/4 Macro OIS (S-R24105)
    • S Pro 70-200mm f/4 OIS (S-R70200)

First things first: the all-important lens mount. Lumix S opts for the Leica L mount, which isn't perhaps a huge surprise given the format already exists, saves on production costs, and both companies have a long working relationship (there have been Leica-badged Panasonic compact cameras released for many years).

Plus, Leica, Panasonic and Sigma have formed a lens alliance, dedicated to the L mount, meaning each will produce their own lenses. Panasonic will make its own 'S' lenses, while Leica will continue to make its own L mount lenses (with SL and TL being its latest offerings).

Now, as Lumix S isn't directly related to Lumix G (the company's existing mirrorless compact system camera line-up, which uses Micro Four Thirds (MFT) lenses), there will be no cross-compatibility. Indeed, given the sizing and proportions of both systems, we don't believe it would be physically possible to get an MFT lens to fix to the S mount and be able to deliver in-focus shots - even with an adapter.

At launch that means the Lumix S1 and S1R will arrive with a choice of lenses (there are eight Leica SL lenses already on the shelves at the time of writing). There will also be a Panasonic S 50mm f/1.4 with aperture control ring (which we've seen in person – and it's massive), a 24-105mm f/4 Macro and a 70-200mm f/4.

Panasonic promises to "develop more than 10 lenses by the end of 2020", too, to ensure its commitment to S series. At the Panasonic Imaging Seminar in Bareclona, Catalonia, a roadmap promised the following: a 1.4x and 2.0x teleconverter, due early 2019; a 24-70mm f.2.8, due mid 2019; a 70-200mm f/2.8 and 16-35mm f/4.0, due last quarter of 2019; then, in 2020, a 'super telephoto lens', two 'fixed focal length' and a 'macro' lens (no further details provided).

Features

  • Sensor-based image stabilisation: 6-stop 'Dual Stabilisation' (for both stills and videos)
  • Autofocus capable to -6EV, sensor output at 480fps for 0.08s focus acquisition
  • Viewfinder: 'Real View Finder' with 5.76m-dot OLED display (120fps refresh max)
  • Screen: 3.2-inch 2.1m-dot LCD  touchscreen with tri-adjustable mount
  • 100% weather sealed construction (details still TBC)
  • 1/320th sec flash sync (industry's fastest)
  • Single SD (UHS-II), single XQD card slots
  • Durable shutter to up to 400,000 cycles
  • Top display panel with illuminator

The Lumix S1 and S1R look a lot like Lumix G cameras, just bigger... much bigger. Now, as this is a pro-targeted full-frame model, we wouldn't call the physical size a drawback. With one hand wrapped around the large grip, every finger has its own place, ensuring a solid connection to the camera, which will be essential with longer focal length lenses (even that 50mm felt larger than a Canon EF f/1.2 to us!).

Within the body there are a heap of top-spec features, including the highest-res viewfinder we've ever seen in a camera, sat alongside a versatile tri-adjustable LCD screen.

But the one feature that'll really jump out is the sensor in both S1 and S1R will come with built-in dual stabilisation, offering compensation for up to six f-stops. That's on par with Sony, Olympus and others' offerings, statistically speaking, which is impressive from a full-frame sensor - and doubly impressive when paired with Panasonic's stabilised S Pro lenses.

Design overview

Lumix S1: On the front

  • Front thumbwheel, embedded into grip
  • Two assignable function buttons between grip and lens
  • 1-2 switch (for two-form setup) to front corner (where AF-S/C would usually exist)

That chunky grip has two assignable Fn buttons embedded against the body. They take a bit of wrist wrangling to get them pressed, however, due to the sheer size of that grip. Just like the Lumix G9 there's also a 1-2 switch to the front, to select between multiple setups. Handy if you're carrying one body only and shooting different scenarios and need a quick shift.

Lumix S1: On the top left

  • Full mode dial: P, S, A, M, iA, C1, C2, C3, Movie
  • Drive mode: Collar around mode dial

The mode dial features all the usual culprits, although iA (intelligent Auto) is a bit of a surprise to find here. There's also a depressible lock to keep the dial firmly in place. Surrounding this dial is a collar to select drive mode, with single and stages of continuous shooting and intervals available.

Lumix S1: On the top right

  • Light-up display panel with relevant information
  • Separate WB, ISO and Exp Comp button trio
  • Rear thumbwheel (circular, overlaps rear)
  • On/Off switch

The S1 is rather DSLR-like in its setup. With a dedicated trio of buttons to control WB, ISO and Exp Comp, in conjunction with the large rear thumbwheel, access is at your fingertips.

Showing all current settings is a small LCD panel, with separate illumination light, ensuring you can see all the necessary details when working in the dark.

Lumix S1: On the rear

  • Lock switch (locks all controls to avoid accidental presses)
  • Playback button (left); Back, Disp., Delete trio (lower right)
  • AF-S/C/MF is a rotational switch surrounding the AF select button (upper right)
  • Joystick toggle control (upper right, near AF controls)
  • Q Menu (designated 'Q'), Menu/Set button to centre
  • Movie record button (by viewfinder)
  • Rotational d-pad (TBC)

To avoid accidental presses and unwanted results, there's a large 'Lock' switch to the left side of the camera (if it was raised to your eye in use). That's useful to stop the touchscreen jumping into action.

Autofocus controls are handled by a dedicated button for AF Area/Type, while a rotational collar around this handles single and continuous autofocus or manual focus. A toggle to the side looks ideal for making adjustments, much like that of the Lumix G9 (but much better positioned; it's more open on the S1/R).

Image and video quality?

  • All-new full-frame sensor and Venus Engine
  • Standard ISO sensitivity up to 51,200
  • Lumix S1: 24.2-megapixels
  • Lumix S1R: 47.3-megapixels
  • HLG Photo (Hybrid Log Gamma) / High Resolution Photo (96MP)
  • Video: 4K50/60p maximum
  • 4:2:0 8-bit to card, 4:2:2 via HDMI
  • Update for 4K 50/60p 4:2:2 10-bit via HDMI coming 2019

For a greater image quality overview, take a look at our S1 preview based on a shooting experience at the launch event in Barcelona, Catalonia. 

In terms of details, however, the options are two fold: a more conventional 24.2-megapixel resolution in the S1; and a far higher-resolution 47.3 offering in the S1R (similar to the recent Nikon Z).

Both of these offer built-in stabilisation, with the resolution not impacting its up-to-6-stop 5-axis claimed capability. Panasonic says (and we quote): "making use of sophisticated technology, vibration measurements are taken not only from a gyrosensor but also using information from the CMOS itself and from an accelerometer sensor," which "works to eliminate the effects of a wide variety of camera movement types in both still and video photography." Lovely stuff.

Panasonic has thus far refused to comment on whether this was the company's own sensor - which suggests to us that it's not. The company has made Micro Four Thirds sensors for years, but it's most likely more business savvy to get another company to create the S1 and S1R sensor under specific request.

On the video front there will be up to 4K capture at 50/60fps, 4:2:0 8-bit direct to card (4:2:2 colour sampling can be put out through HDMI), making the Lumix S a strong player in the movie/videography department straight out of the gate. Gamma curves include industry standards such as Cinelike D/V and Like709, along with a 'flat mode' and HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma).

It'll get even stronger later in 2019 though as "Panasonic will provide a software key to unlock the option to record 4K 60/50p 4:2:2 10-bit via HDMI out and 30p/25p/24p in 4:2:2 10-bit internally".

Full pixel readout at 30p means no cropping, thus lenses retain their focal length for true full-frame depth of field and control possibilities (higher frame-rates will create an effective crop, however, by what factor we're yet to find out).

There's a 3.5mm mic socket and 3.5mm headphone socket built-in too. An optional mic adapter (the DMW-XLR1) can be attached to the hotshoe if you need to connect professional mics with XLR connections.

Lumix Pro: Worldwide support network

  • Free sign-up for one year for EU owners (purchase between 1 Feb and 31 March 2019)
  • Support for repairs and service in: USA & Canada / Japan / Europe
  • Lumix Pro applies to S1, S1R, G9 and GH5 cameras
  • Price structure and membership tiers TBC

The last part of the package is worldwide support. As Lumix S is targeted at pros, Panasonic is introducing Lumix Pro, a dedicated network for its users. European owners of an S1 or S1R (or G9, GH5) can receive free coverage for one year (assuming sign-up between 1 February and 31 March 2019).

This tiered system will offer different privileges and benefits depending on level, but the highest level will offer worldwide support in Europe, US, Canada and Japan. That could mean, for example, that if you break a lens while on a shoot in Tokyo despite being an American citizen then a phone call to Lumix Pro ought to get Panasonic to help.

Exact benefits per tier aren't detailed at this moment in time. But what's clear is that Panasonic is looking to run a system to rival or better Canon Professional Services (CPS) or Nikon Professional Services (NPS). The pros out there will know exactly what they'll want and what's worth paying for.

For more information, check out the official Panasonic Lumix Pro website.

What about the competition?

Well, 2018 through to 2019 really has been year of the full-frame mirrorless, so Panasonic knows it's got a lot of competition on its hands. Both the Canon EOS R and the Nikon Z have launched already, giving them a head start over the Panasonic's 2019 kick-off.

That said, Panasonic is 10 years into Lumix G, so it knows what it's doing. Pros are already using the GH5 and G9 and other cameras for both stills and movie work. Plus the Leica L alliance will mean more lenses are likely to appear in a shorter period of time than its competition. Plus, with no DSLR business of its own to cripple (something Canon is acutely aware of, almost nervous about), the Lumix S just slots into the top of the system, leaving Lumix G to continue doing its thing.

Maybe, just maybe, all that will be enough to hold people away from Canon, Nikon and Sony. From what we've seen and heard, the Lumix S1 and S1R are formidable mirrorless full-frame cameras.

This article was first published on 25 September 2018 and has been updated to reflect additional details released at CES 2019 and the Panasonic Imaging Seminar 2019.