After months of teasing us with glimpses of its forthcoming full-frame mirrorless range, Panasonic has now lifted the lid on its S1 and S1R cameras.

It's a massive deal for the brand - which has been pushing its Micro Four Thirds system cameras, Lumix G, for over a decade - as the S series marks an entry into an entirely new and more pro-focused market.

So how does the Lumix S1 actually perform and can it hold off its mirrorless full-frame rivals - such as the Sony A7R III, Canon EOS R, and Nikon Z7 - despite being later to the game? We've been using the latest Lumix to find out.

Lens mount

  • Uses Leica L mount: Leica SL, TL, CL; Lumix S Pro; forthcoming Sigma lenses
  • Not compatible with Micro Four Thirds (MFT) lenses

First up, the all important lens mount. Which is actually the Leica L mount. Yep, you read that correctly: Panasonic, along with Sigma, has forged a lens alliance with the German brand, so all three will produce lenses for this fitting.

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Which is kind of exciting, as you could buy some great Leica glass for this Panasonic. At the same time, however, the design of this mount makes for a large lens design (if you've ever seen a Leica SL then you'll know what we mean). So the Lumix S1 is a big camera with big lenses - which might sound like a problem, but for most pros in the know they'll be content knowing it's easy to grab with one or two hands, comfortably, for long periods of time.

As for Micro Four Thirds? Panasonic will continue to push this format, but it's entirely unrelated to the S. It won't ever be possible to use MFT lenses with the S series due to the physical mount's design and the inevitable difference in lens coverage.

Design and features

  • 5.76m-dot OLED viewfinder, 0.78x magnification, 120fps refresh
  • 3.2-inch, 2.1m-dot LCD touchscreen, tri-adjustment bracket
  • Top display panel with illuminator
  • 1-2 switch (for two-form setup)
  • Joystick toggle control
  • 100% weather sealed
  • SD & XQD card slots

So we've established that it's a big ol' beast, but that's not to say the S1 isn't well designed. It's easy to use and, in many senses, feels like an upsized Lumix G9. Only it's better in every way (not least because the S1's shutter feels 'proper' without the click-happy over-response of the G9).

For starters the joystick on the rear makes it very easy to centralise the focus point or move it around with ease (although it's hyper-sensitive in menu settings, which is annoying). Up top there's a light-up panel with all the settings in clear view as and when needed, ahead of which are dedicated exposure comp, ISO and white balance buttons - it's even easy enough to make adjustments to these settings without removing your eye from the viewfinder, if that's how you're shooting.

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Like with the G9 there's also a '1-2 Switch' to the front, where it's possible to pre-assign settings in either mode, then quickly toggle between them with the flick of that switch. Those with established workflows will find this useful, especially in rapid pace environments where quickly changing up, say, the shutter speed along with the ISO and other image quality settings all in one becomes an essential time-saver.

The Lumix S1 also has the highest resolution viewfinder that we've ever seen in a camera. Its a large scale, with a comfortable and rounded eyecup, delivering a whopping 5.76 million dots of resolution. It's like strapping a Full HD telly to your eyeballs. There are three levels to the magnification if the 0.78x mag proves too large for you (we wear glasses, so the step-down option was useful for the most representative view for us) using the dedicated button just around from the eyecup.

The screen takes a leaf out of Fujifilm's book and adopts a tri-adjustment bracket so that it can be moved for waist-level or overhead work in both portrait and landscape orientations. However, the finder's eyecup gets in the way of a clear view, which is a shame, while we don't find the lever-like release to get the portrait orientation especially practical. Still, it's a robust solution for the 3.2-inch LCD screen.

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To the side the twin card slot is hidden behind another lever-like release. This needs to be dragged down while pulling the card cover to access the two slots available: one for SD (up to UHS-II), the other for XQD. We don't really know why Panasonic has pushed for the latter, maybe it's to try and tempt over those Nikon users, eh? We'd rather just have two SD slots, or the option to pick which cards the camera uses at purchase instead.

Performance

  • Autofocus capable to -6EV, sensor output at 480fps for 0.08s focus acquisition
  • Eye AF, Animal AF, for automatic tracking of subjects

Big body, big lenses, big performance too, right? Panasonic makes some considerable claims about the S1, including its autofocus system's capability down to -6EV.

Pocket-lintPanasonic Lumix S1 sample images image 5

We've found the AF setup to be lightning quick in good light and largely successful in low-light - although certain scenes in a very dark bar did cause the system to hunt for focus, while the built-in illuminator lamp didn't always highlight a subject as successfully as we'd like due to the lenses' scale. As a result some dark scenes are sometimes going to pose an issue (something the f/1.4 50mm lens might help with!).

Panasonic has long delivered a variety of modes for its focus system, the S1 picking up all those from the Lumix G9: there's automatic full-area focus, adjustable area focus over a variety of points, 1-area focus, 1-area+ focus (a larger second area keeps an eye out for moving subjects), along with Pinpoint AF (for single autofocus only, which zooms into 100 per cent for precision focus, which we think is great). All of these work well whether you're using the toggle control or prefer to tap, pinch-to-expand or drag a finger around the screen. It's very easy and very versatile.

The big new mode is Eye AF, set to rival Sony's similar feature (something the A6400 will get ahead of an April A9 update). Switch this on and it automatically recognises a subject, drawing a white box around them. For faces it'll lock in to the eyes for precision focus without you needing to do much more than direct your subject. We shot some models on a test shoot and the mode worked flawlessly - quickly acquiring focus and producing sublime sharp results. There's even an Animal Detection on/off option within this mode, should you be shooting non-human subjects (we didn't get to test this out).

Pocket-lintPanasonic Lumix S1 sample images image 16

Overall, then, the Lumix S1 responds fast, acquires focus fast, has a wide breadth of autofocus modes, and copes pretty well in low-light too. Will it be enough to draw those away from Sony and DSLR systems with established continuous tracking modes? Eye AF alone might be enough, it's mighty impressive, although the odd slip-up in low-light is a minor shortcoming.

Image Quality

  • Sensor-based image stabilisation: 6-stop 'Dual Stabilisation' (for both stills and videos)
  • All-new 24.3-megapixel full-frame sensor and Venus Engine
  • Standard ISO sensitivity up to 51,200
  • High Resolution Photo (96MP)

We've shot all kinds of scenes with the S1 - from flash-sync (up to an impressive 1/320th sec), to natural sunlight and interior lamps of varying colour temperatures - and it's coped well with the variety. A little underexposure isn't uncommon, though, but exposure compensation is easy to adjust on the fly as needed.

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So what of the quality from this brand new 24-million-pixel sensor? Right now, as this is a pre-production sample, we're unable to give conclusive assertions. Needless to say, however, that early signs are very good indeed - especially the sharpness in portraits where Eye AF has been used.

Our smattering of pictures here gives a little taster of what the S1 will offer, with our full review nearer the 18 March release being the time when we can take a deeper dive. Considering all these shots have been taken using the 24-105mm kit lens, however, goes to show that even the 'entry' lens delivers on the sharpness - from sections of grapefruit on a table, to Tiki cocktails and beyond - with yet more impressive optics to come later down the line.

The sensor also offers ISO sensitivity up to 51,200 as standard (Auto ISO caps at ISO 6400, however) and even at these five-figure settings the results are decent. Shooting whiskey bottles and cocktails that looked like actual woodland mushrooms in near darkness at ISO 16,000 was proof enough for us.

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Then there's the impressive 6-stop-capable image stabilisation system. This is sensor based, offering a 5-axis stabilisation system, that's highly effective. Pair it with the OIS (optical image stabilisation) in the S Pro lenses to date and, well, you've got a supremely stable platform for shooting subjects in both stills and video mode. Even the 47-megapixel S1R offers this system, which will be particularly useful for that higher resolution sensor.

That stabilisation system can also be used for High Resolution Photo when you've got the camera mounted to a tripod. This moves the sensor a pixel distance in four directions, one after the other, acquiring multiple shots into one giant 96-megapixel image that's great for studio work. It won't work well in handheld unless the shutter speed is very fast and you've got very steady hands, but it's not designed for this use anyway.

Video features

  • 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

The other area that many prospective buyers will be interested in is the video functionality of the S1. With uncropped full pixel read-out available for 4K resolution at up to 30fps, that means no focal length adjustment for the lenses to function the same in stills and video. Should you want to shoot at 50/60fps then there's a 1.5x crop factor (S1 only, the S1R is 1.09x with pixel binning - but it's hardly a videographer's camera by compare), which may bring its own potential benefits.

High-end users are well catered for, too, with 4K 4:2:0 8-bit footage recorded straight to SD/XQD card. If you want clean HDMI out at 4K 4:2:2 10-bit then an update will follow post launch - but it is coming, Panasonic assures, not wanting to miss out on the video market. There are a glut of gamma curve options too, with Cinelike D/V, Like709 and a 'flat mode' offered for those who want untouched output for better grading.

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A 3.5mm headphones jack and 3.5mm microphone jack also feature, while the camera's hotshoe can be used for an XLR adapter accessory (the DMW-XLR1, sold separately). That all adds up to a highly video-capable camera.

There's also HLG Photo (Hybrid Log Gamma), which we didn't get the opportunity to play with, but which is designed for digital display only. Shooting in this high range format means peak highlights and shadow details can be adjusted for output on HDR displays.

Join our club: Lumix Pro

  • Free Lumix Pro support network sign-up for one year for EU owners (purchase 1 Feb to 31 March 2019)

With a new camera system comes a new professional services network, called Lumix Pro. This tiered system will offer different privileges and benefits depending on level selected, with the highest level offering 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. Not an essential for all users, but a sensible push into the pro market for Panasonic.

First Impressions

The Panasonic Lumix S1 is a formidable full-frame offering that's packed with features and potential. Its only real problems? That lens mount makes for massive optics and the system is years later to the game than Sony. The window to high-quality Leica lenses might be enough to entice in a whole new audience seeking top-notch quality for stills and video though.

Being able to pull upon decades of imaging experience, from what we've seen so far there's no doubt that the S1 delivers on its promise of quality - something that might even get Lumix G users to bite into the full-frame apple. This S1 really is a full-frame feast to tantalise the senses - one that's hard to criticise given its overall capabilities, rather it's the surrounding competition that will mount pressure on this new and very capable system.

The Lumix S1 will be released on 18 March 2019, priced £2,299.99 body only and £2,999.99 with the 24-105mm f/4 lens.


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