Hands on: Panasonic Lumix S1 review

An easy-to-use pro-level camera that’s fit for everyone

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Early Verdict

Panasonic may have taken its time launching a full-frame mirrorless cameras, but the new Lumix S1 can definitely hold its own. It’s rugged, well designed, easy to use and produces wonderfully sharp images with excellent color rendition. Its Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG) Photo Mode also adds natural-looking high dynamic range to stills, which looks fantastic when viewed on an HDR screen.

For

  • Best-in-class EVF
  • Solidly built with weather-sealing
  • Exceptional image stabilization
  • HLG Photo Mode
  • 4K video at 50/60fps
  • Near-perfect subject tracking autofocus
  • Easy-to-use menu system and control buttons

Against

  • Power switch awkwardly positioned
  • Bigger and heavier than some rivals
  • V-Log available as paid-for firmware update

Panasonic has taken its time announcing its first full-frame mirrorless cameras, entering the market a tad late. That time, though, has been well spent in making sure nearly everything about the Lumix S1 is perfect.

The S1 is the more affordable option in the duo of full-frame mirrorless cameras that Panasonic revealed earlier this year, and it’s a device aimed at the professional videographer. However, Panasonic’s intuitive design for the camera – both external controls and internal menu system – makes it an easy-to-use option for anyone.

There’s a lower-resolution 24MP sensor in the S1, as opposed to the 47MP sensor in the higher-end Lumix S1R. There’s quite a significant price difference between the two in compensation, too, but both cameras otherwise share the same body and autofocus (AF) system, and both can capture 4K video at up to 50/60fps.

A firmware update coming later in 2019 will further strengthen the Lumix S1’s video capabilities by adding Panasonic’s V-log mode and 4:2:2 10-bit recording, making it a serious contender for a videographer’s attention.

Image: TechRadar

Image: TechRadar

Panasonic Lumix S1: Key features

  • 24.2MP full-frame (35mm) CMOS sensor
  • Uses L-mount lenses
  • Dual IS (image stabilization) with up to 6 stops
  • Max ISO of 51200 but extended range of 50 – 204800
  • HLG Photo Mode

Panasonic has jumped in bed with lens-makers Sigma and Leica to form the L-mount alliance, meaning there’ll be a wide variety of lenses for this system. There are three L-mount Panasonic lenses to choose from at launch, but Sigma will soon be adding 11 new Art series lenses to the L-mount arsenal. 

Like most modern cameras, the Lumix S1 has a 5-axis image stabilization system built into the body. This alone is capable of reducing shake by up to 5.5 stops. However, add a lens with built-in stabilization (like the new Lumix S 24-105mm f/4) and the stabilization system gets bumped up to 6 stops. We did give this a test in low-light indoor conditions, shooting handheld at 0.5 seconds and 1 second, but came up with varying results – some shots were quite good, while others had some motion blur.

While the Lumix S1R’s low-light shooting can be extended up to ISO 51200, the S1’s native ISO caps out at 51200, but can be extended up to ISO 204800. 

A standout feature of the Lumix S series cameras is the ability to capture stills using the Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG) curve. This color response has been designed to help photographers take advantage of modern HDR screens, offering a higher dynamic range for more natural contrasts. These images are stored as HSP files, which utilize compressed 8K resolutions that make colors really pop on an HDR screen. Panasonic is currently the only camera-maker to offer this feature.

Another addition to the S series cameras is the option of choosing different Automatic White Balance (AWB) options. Alongside the standard AWB mode, there are two more options which produce either warmer (AWBw) images for portraiture, or cooler (AWBc) images best suited to street photography.

Panasonic Lumix S1: Build

  • Weather-sealed magnesium alloy body
  • Best EVF on the market
  • Dual-hinge 2.1M-dot touchscreen LCD display
  • Illuminated rear buttons
  • Dual memory card slots

Panasonic has designed the Lumix S1 to withstand the test of the harshest environments. A weather-sealed magnesium alloy body keeps dust, rain and snow out – something we can vouch for when, during our brief time with the camera, we got caught in a cold, heavy downpour and the camera was none the worse for it. It can withstand a temperature range of -10 degrees to 40 degrees Celsius. It’s also built for some seriously long-term use, with a shutter life of 400,000. 

Unlike some of the competition out there, the S1 isn’t particularly small or light, but that’s partly on account of its massive 3,050mAh battery. With a card and the battery in the body, the camera weighs just over a kilo.

The size, though, makes it sit comfortably in the hand. Even with the new f/4 70-200mm telephoto lens fitted, it’s nicely balanced, with all the external controls within easy reach of your fingers.

The external setup is very intuitive and anyone who’s used the older G-series cameras will be instantly familiar with the S1.

Image: TechRadar

Image: TechRadar

On the top is a light-up panel with all the shooting information clearly displayed, with dedicated buttons for exposure compensation, white balance and ISO within easy reach of the index finger. Also conveniently placed on the rear is the AF button beside a joystick that, although occasionally hypersensitive, makes it very easy to find the right focus point. You can customize the speed of the AF point’s movement, and also what happens when you press the joystick inward – you can either reset the AF point, use it a Fn button, access the menu system, or just do nothing whatsoever. And all these buttons – on the top or on the rear – can be easily used without taking your eye away from the electronic viewfinder (EVF).

Speaking of the EVF, there’s nothing quite like it out there at the moment. Sporting a comfortable rounded eye cap, the EVF delivers a staggering 5.76 million dots of resolution with three levels of magnification – 0.78x, 0.74x and 0.7x – adjusted through a View Mode button on the side of the viewfinder chamber. The EVF can be set to refresh at 120fps or 60fps, with a lag as low as 0.005 seconds.

There’s an eye sensor beside the EVF which can be used to set the camera to go into sleep mode after a specified period of time once the eye has moved away. If set to just a few seconds, Panasonic claims it could triple the battery life – although we haven’t yet spent enough time with the camera to test this claim.

Image: TechRadar

Image: TechRadar

One feature that we liked was the lock switch on the top left-hand corner on the rear of the camera. This can be used to deactivate certain control points and, again, the choice of which lies with you. For example, you can choose to lock the dials in place or temporarily disable the rear display – something that comes in handy if you constantly find your nose touching the screen when using the EVF.

That rear display is a 2.1 million-dot touchscreen LCD with a dual-hinge design that we first saw on Fujifilm’s X-T2. The S1’s LCD can be tilted up or down when shooting in landscape mode, or can be turned upright for portrait orientation.

Another endearing feature of the S1 is its backlit buttons. Panasonic has definitely been listening to its users, many of whom may have struggled to find the controls during night shoots, and the illumination button for the top display can be configured to light up some of the main rear controls as well. 

While most of the controls feel perfectly placed, the power switch is an exception, having found its way to an awkward position just in front of the top display. Not only is it a rather small switch, we found we had to look for it each time we wanted to turn the camera on or off – it would take a while to build muscle memory to reach this one intuitively.

Panasonic Lumix S1: Handling and operations

  • Revised menu system
  • Extensive customization of controls
  • Saveable settings

A perfectly ergonomic setup is accompanied by a refreshed menu system. It’s chock full of features but extremely easy to navigate. There are multiple ways to get through the menu options – you can either use the touchscreen, the four-way directional buttons or the joystick  to find your way around... although the latter does feel a tad oversensitive.

Image: Panasonic

Image: Panasonic

The main menu options in the S1 are a rework on the structure found in the more recent GH cameras. Individual tabs have been broken down into easy-to-understand sections that are now indicated by icons as opposed to index pages – thus removing an entire level in the interface and speeding up the navigation.

Alongside the main menu, the Q.menu (or Quick menu that can be used to adjust photo styles, metering mode and image quality) has also been given a redesign. Secondary settings are now laid out in grids – users have the choice of a 3 x 4 grid of icons available beside a preview window, or a 6 x 2 setup covers the rear display with no image preview. The Q.menu also offers 12 different settings for video capture as well.

Image: Panasonic

Image: Panasonic

The Lumix S1, like most pro-level cameras, is highly customizable – like the main menu, the button configuration pane is also well structured, saving you time that you would have spent going through several options. 

That’s not all you can customize, though, as the behavior of the buttons can also be configured to suit your shooting needs. For example, the well-positioned ISO, WB and Exposure Comp buttons will work by either pressing down and turning the control dial or by just pressing and then turning – meaning both Nikon and Canon users will find it easy if they decide to make a switch. There are more button customization options other than these – Panasonic has definitely given a lot of thought to designing the new interface.

Those who do tend to customize their cameras will be glad to know that the S1 configurations can be saved to the memory card, making it super convenient to set up again in case customizations are lost during a firmware update.

Panasonic Lumix S1: Autofocus and performance

  • DFD autofocus system
  • Eye AF
  • AI-powered animal recognition

Taking a leaf out of its G-series book, Panasonic has brought over its Depth from Defocus (DFD) autofocus system to the S-series cameras – most competing camera companies are using phase detection or hybrid autofocus systems. Despite this, possibly controversial, decision, we found that the AF system was lightning fast in most conditions. Only under very low-light conditions did the S1 take a while to locate the subject. We tried shooting in a dark room and the S1’s illuminator lamp struggled to highlight a View-Finder lying on a pile of coffee-table books when using the f/4 24-105mm L-mount lens. We think the f/1.4 50mm prime should be able to handle this type of shot, although we weren’t able to test that particular lense in this scenario.

Like the Lumix G9, the S1 also has a variety of autofocus modes, all of which work whether you use the toggle control or the touchscreen. Swapping one for another is super easy.

Image: TechRadar

Image: TechRadar

The biggest selling point for the S1 would be its Eye AF, which can easily rival Sony’s system. There’s a dedicated button for this, which is conveniently located to the right of the lens on the front of the camera body, just where your middle finger sits. The Eye AF is very responsive and picks up the pupil of the subject’s eye very quickly and stays locked on. We got the opportunity to photograph a model at a bar setting and the S1 had no problem locking onto an eye, even while she was twirling.

The S1 is also able to recognize animals and lock on to their faces as well. Panasonic has included what it calls Advanced AI Technology that is able to recognize animals, even when they’re moving fast, and lock onto their eye as a focal point. Panasonic has told us that the system can recognize “most common types of animals”. We were lucky enough to spend some time with horses, and the S1, with the 24-105mm lens, performed smoothly, locking onto an eye of the animal. The camera also picked up multiple subjects during this shoot, keeping both the jockey and the horse in focus as they moved across a paddock.

We had hoped that the S1 would have a higher burst speed than the S1R on account of having a lower number of pixels to process, but both cameras top off at 9fps with the focus locked at the first frame. When using continuous autofocus, that drops to 6fps. On a single burst, the S1 can shoot over 90 RAW images and 999 JPEGs as compared to a measly 40 RAW and 50 JPEGs that the S1R can manage.

During our time with the Lumix S1, we got to shoot varied setups – from fashion to wedding, outdoor and animals – and through all of them it was very easy to adjust exposure on the fly. The combination of the external setup, the easy menu system and near-perfect autofocus made the camera a joy to use, producing excellent results each time.

Panasonic Lumix S1: Image quality

We spent a day and a half with the Lumix S1 and got to try all three lenses during that time in different situations. While we were able to shoot in both RAW and JPEG, we’re unable to judge any RAW files at the moment as camera companies only unlock that type of file after the camera has become available in the market. We’ll talk about it in more detail in our full review but we can tell you that JPEGs straight out of camera are wonderfully sharp with excellent color rendition. 

In low-light conditions, the camera has superb noise performance even at ISO 10000. 

It should be noted that both S-series snappers can convert RAW files into JPEGs in-camera, with the ability to do some basic post-processing as well.

The impressive IS system also goes a long way in making sure handheld shots with shutter speeds of up to 1 second are also quite good but, as we mentioned earlier, we didn’t get to try that outdoors in bright sunlight, just in a dark setting indoors and in that environment we got only a few decent shots.

We did take some photos using the HLG Photo Mode and the results on the little rear display were wonderfully vibrant. We haven’t yet had the opportunity to view them on an HDR monitor or TV, but something tells us we won’t be disappointed.

We didn’t get to try the High Resolution Mode for this hands-on – as we didn’t have a tripod – so that’s something we’ll discuss more in our full review, along with digging into the finer points of image quality and performance. For now, you can take a look at some of the sample images we were able to take and judge for yourself.

Image 1 of 10

Lumix S1 with S 24-105mm f/4; ISO 6400, 81mm, 1/250 sec at f/4 | Image: TechRadar

Lumix S1 with S 24-105mm f/4; ISO 6400, 81mm, 1/250 sec at f/4 | Image: TechRadar
Image 2 of 10

Lumix S1 with S 24-105mm f/4; ISO 100, 105mm, 1/20 sec at f/4 | Image: TechRadar

Lumix S1 with S 24-105mm f/4; ISO 100, 105mm, 1/20 sec at f/4 | Image: TechRadar
Image 3 of 10

Lumix S1 with S 24-105mm f/4; ISO 100, 105mm, 1/640 sec at f/6.3| Image: TechRadar

Lumix S1 with S 24-105mm f/4; ISO 100, 105mm, 1/640 sec at f/6.3| Image: TechRadar
Image 4 of 10

Lumix S1 with S 70-200 f/4; ISO 10000, 122mm, 1/400 sec at 1f/4 | Image: TechRadar

Lumix S1 with S 70-200 f/4; ISO 10000, 122mm, 1/400 sec at 1f/4 | Image: TechRadar
Image 5 of 10

Lumix S1 with S 24-105mm f/4; ISO 100, 25mm, 1/125 sec at f/4.5 | Image: TechRadar

Lumix S1 with S 24-105mm f/4; ISO 100, 25mm, 1/125 sec at f/4.5 | Image: TechRadar
Image 6 of 10

Lumix S1 with S 24-105mm f/4; ISO 100, 70mm, 1/40 sec at f/4 | Image: TechRadar

Lumix S1 with S 24-105mm f/4; ISO 100, 70mm, 1/40 sec at f/4 | Image: TechRadar
Image 7 of 10

Lumix S1 with S 70-200mm f/4; ISO 8000, 92mm, 1/250 sec at f/4 | Image: TechRadar

Lumix S1 with S 70-200mm f/4; ISO 8000, 92mm, 1/250 sec at f/4 | Image: TechRadar
Image 8 of 10

Lumix S1 with S 24-105mm f/4; ISO 400, 53mm, 1/200 sec at f/5.6 | Image: Techradar

Lumix S1 with S 24-105mm f/4; ISO 400, 53mm, 1/200 sec at f/5.6 | Image: Techradar
Image 9 of 10

Lumix S1 with S 24-105mm f/4; ISO 100, 105mm, 1/500 sec at f/5.6 | Image: TechRadar

Lumix S1 with S 24-105mm f/4; ISO 100, 105mm, 1/500 sec at f/5.6 | Image: TechRadar
Image 10 of 10

Lumix S1 with S 24-105mm f/4; ISO 100, 105mm, 1/800 sec at f/4 | Image: TechRadar

Lumix S1 with S 24-105mm f/4; ISO 100, 105mm, 1/800 sec at f/4 | Image: TechRadar

The S1 was built for the working videographer and boasts 4K/60p shooting from an APS-C crop of its sensor, or can shoot 4K at 30p if you want to use the full width. 4K 4:2:0 8-bit footage can be recorded straight to the SD/XQD card, but 4K 4:2:2 10-bit will be a paid upgrade that will come later this year. We didn’t have time to shoot extensive video with the during our initial testing, but we’ll include a full assessment in our final review.

Early verdict

We may have spent only a day and a half with the Lumix S1, but that was enough to tell us that Panasonic has created a near-perfect snapper that has the potential to be one of the best full-frame mirrorless options in the market. 

The well-designed controls (both hardware and software) make the S1 a joy to use. Judging from the JPEGs we captured during our time with the camera, the S1 is a formidable full-frame offering that might find some G-series medium-format users converting. Moreover, with access to high quality Leica lenses, Panasonic may well find a whole new audience looking for top-notch quality in both stills and video.

What is a hands on review?

Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.