Panasonic Lumix S1 review

Panasonic's first-gen full-framer packs a punch

Panasonic S1 and Lumix S 24-105mm F4 Macro O.I.S.
Panasonic S1 and Lumix S 24-105mm F4 Macro O.I.S. Image Credit: TechRadar

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  • Superb, lifelike electronic viewfinder
  • Dense menu system benefits from new UI
  • Deep buffer depth

The Panasonic Lumix S1 is laden with countless options for adjusting this and customizing that, so it's probably just as well that Panasonic has refreshed the user interface from what we're familiar with. The company claims this is more systematic and easier to use than before, with the more frequently used functions more accessible. It's also great to find that you still also have the option to create you own collection of options under a customizable tab, together with the option to sort these in the order of your choosing.

This all does indeed work better than before; this is still a fairly dense menu system with perhaps a little too much squeezed into it, but thankfully, everything is spelled out quite clearly, and the Disp. button on the back plate is on hand if you need any function explaining and you don't have the manual to hand. One slight annoyance is that, occasionally, an option is greyed out and not available for selection, and while half the time the camera will tell you why this is, the other half of the time it won't.

Many further changes will please those coming from existing Panasonic models. The focal length now pops up on the display, which is useful with zoom lenses, and you can see the remaining battery charge as a percentage – you can even set the clock to the second, if such details are important to you. The Q Menu has also had a refresh, with all options now grouped together on the right-hand side of the display, rather than lining the top and bottom as on previous models. This results in a smaller preview of the scene, but makes adjusting a number of different options easier overall. Don't like it? A Mode 2 option readjusts this so that it takes over the whole display, at the expense of the image preview.

One smaller point on the spec sheet that sounds particularly impressive is the buffer depth; Panasonic claims the S1 can capture 90 raw frames without slowdown, and 999 JPEGs. With the fastest XQD and SDXC cards we could find in place – a Sony G-series 32GB XQD card and a Panasonic 64GB UHS-II SDXC card respectively – we managed to beat this first figure repeatedly, from a low figure of around 82 frames to a maximum 121. That's incredibly impressive, and streets ahead of some competitors. These are written to the card in around 12 seconds for raw files, and a little longer if you're shooting raw and JPEG, but what's great to find is that the camera can still be operated as this happens, rather than locking up until it's finished, as with some others.

You still get a live view of the scene as this happens, although there is a little lag, and both focus and exposure are locked to that of the first frame, so this won't be suitable for all kinds of action. Switch from the High to the Medium option, which captures at a lower 6fps, and a smooth feed is maintained, albeit with blackout between frames; switch to continuous focus and the live view is maintained fluidly at all burst shooting speeds, although the maximum speed is a slightly slower 6fps.

The Dual I.S. system also has a noticeable effect on keeping images sharp, and we managed to get acceptably sharp images at 1/3 and 1/4 sec when using the LUMIX S 24-105mm f/4L Macro OIS at its telephoto extreme, which equates to around 4.5-5 stops.

Image quality

  • Excellent detail and low noise
  • High Res 96MP mode works well
  • Lovely video quality but some AF issues

With the 24-105mm lens, the level of detail in images is very good, to the extent that moire begins to show in areas of fine repetitive detail. Certainly, once you stop down the lens to get better consistency across the frame, fine details are visible from the center right to edges and corners. 

Detail continues to be good as you increase the ISO setting, and it's good to see images captured at ISO6400 and 12,800 as clean and free from noise as they are. This is clearly a very good sensor, and it would be surprising if this wasn't to be included in subsequent cameras. 

There seem to be no issues with exposure, with images captured showing a good balance between highlights, midtones and shadows. There are a wide range of Photo Styles to suit every eventuality, and the various black and white options in particular should please those who switch between capturing everyday scenes and more dramatic ones. The Standard Photo Style produces pleasing results, although some may want to tweak this to give a more dynamic result. The Vivid Photo Style does a lovely job of giving natural subjects more saturated color, however, while staying faithful to the subject.

The camera is capable of very high-quality video footage, with excellent detail when shooting in 4K

The High Res shot mode claims to output 96MP images, and these do indeed open up with a resolution of 12,800 x 800. Detail is very good, although two things need to be considered. First, it's imperative that you use a sturdy tripod and take extra care over how you capture the image, as it's very easy to introduce slight blur. Second, while such images are output as raw files, and so require the same kind of sharpening and processing as any other raw file, you can't sharpen them quite as much as normal raw files without introducing a slight pattern, which is something we also found when using the similar Pixel Shift function on Pentax cameras.

Video has been an area of considerable focus for Panasonic in recent years, and the S1 certainly seems to have as much going for it as other models that have been readily accepted by videographers, such as the Nikon Z6 and Sony A7 III (and, of course, Panasonic's own GH line). It's not specified to the same standard as the GH5 and GH5S, but it's likely to appeal to a different type of user anyway.

In any case, the camera is capable of very high-quality video footage, with excellent detail when shooting in 4K and no artifacts to speak of. Some rolling shutter is visible when the camera is jerked suddenly, but otherwise the camera does well to minimize this. The image stabilization system also does well to keep things steady when you're handholding the camera, and audio quality is also perfectly respectable for a built-in microphone. 

Perhaps the main issue with video recording is with autofocus. There are no phase-detect AF pixels here, and this can show when the camera attempts to focus during recording. Sometimes it can move smoothly from one subject to another, but sometimes it overshoots the mark and jerks a little back and forth before finding the right point. Sometimes it's quite cautious, and moves very slowly from one subject to the next, and it can also be tricky to get it to focus on a subject against backlighting, or at least against a subject in the background that's more prominent. 

For those using the camera more seriously for video, the likelihood that they'll be using manual focus possibly makes this a non-issue, but this is one area where some of the S1's rivals are ahead right now.