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Review of the Panasonic Lumix S1, 24 megapixels of happiness in a shielded housing

Guest Mikel Kallio

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Guest Mikel Kallio

Review of the Panasonic Lumix S1 - Panasonic had the great idea to design its Lumix S1 in the same body as its flagship the S1R. When we say the same case, it's not an exaggeration: apart from the mention "R" on the outside, nothing changes. Nothing except the S1R's 47 Mpix CMOS sensor which gives way to a 24 Mpix model. A sensor with a more classic definition and which is less demanding. Without a low-pass filter, it produces images that are certainly less sharp, but almost devoid of moiré effects. And not only does the loss of image definition save image processing time, but in addition the high resolution mode it incorporates still offers comfortable image definition.

If you've read our Lumix S1R review,handling and behavior of the S1 are in all points similar. And if you've gone all the way, you also know that the only real complaint we have with the S1R is its price. Still displayed at $ 4479, the $ 1452 difference with the S1 is difficult to justify, especially in the face of what the competition offers - the fall in the price of the Alpha A7R Mark III has particularly hurt. Conversely, with a public price of $ 3026, the Lumix S1 is much more accessible. It remains in the zone of the devices "purchasable", in particular by the photojournalists, generally not very fortunate. Reporters, photojournalists and other documentary photographers in the field who have every reason to be seduced by its unique characteristic in the field of hybrids: resistance largely at the level of professional SLRs.


Super ergonomic, super resistant ... and super heavy

Take our comments and analyzes concerning the ergonomics of the S1R, replace this reference with “S1” and the results will be the same here. In summary, the Lumix S1R is a bunker among full-frame sensor hybrids . A machine whose controls smack of old-fashioned reflexes. All in a reinforced - and heavy - body like a tank. Beware of the smallest hands: coupled with the 24-70 mm f / 2.8, the S1 can be tiring to handle over too long shooting periods (1.95 kilo anyway!).

The equipment is maximum: from the swivel touch screen mounted on a ball joint, through the liquid crystal screen placed on the top of the hood, to the multiple buttons, levers, wheels, etc. The S1 has all - absolutely all - of the controls you could ever need on a daily basis without having to dig into menus. An advantage for those who like physical controls, preferring to trust physical automation rather than software control - even if it is still possible, thanks to the rear controls and the touch screen.

To this is added a (almost) exhaustive equipment, from the mechanical stabilization of the sensor (cuckoo Canon!) Via a competition electronic viewfinder which displays 5.7 Mpix. Or the full-sensor 4K30 video modes (4K60p with x1.5 cropping) as well as the mandatory sockets (full-format HDMI, etc.). In terms of technology and equipment, it is difficult to fault Panasonic on the S1 and S1R. The only complaints: the DFD autofocus limited to contrast detection (the absence of phase correlation seems to be explained by patent concerns) and the average battery endurance despite its imposing size (400 shots according to CIPA standard tests).


Image quality: 24 Mpix of pleasure

If Panasonic does not have the background of the old brands in the segment, the "youngest" of the world of photography has learned very quickly. The eleven years that have passed after the launch of the Lumix G1 at the Cologne photokina in 2008 have enabled Panasonic to gain sufficient control over the Micro 4/3 in all areas (read our article " Lumix G1: ten years afterwards, return to the first mirrorless camera in history ").

And the result of these years of experiments in hybrids is there. The S1 offers absolutely no weakness in terms of image quality. The default color rendering in JPEG is good, the balance between reducing moiré effects and maintaining a good level of sharpness. Very good work!

Image rendering is smoother - more natural? - as the ultra punchy shots that come out of cameras such as the S1R and other Nikon D850 , thanks (or fault, depending on needs and points of view) to the absence of a low-pass filter which softens the contours of the photosites which they are indeed square.

The lenses with which we tested the S1 (24-105mm f / 4, 70-200mm f / 4 and 24-70mm f / 2.8) offer performances that range from very good to excellent. Even if they are, of course, a bit bulky and heavy - the flip side of the extreme solidity that emerges from them. These optics take full advantage of the intrinsic qualities of the sensor, which responds perfectly over a wide ISO range.

At ISO 8,000 at 105mm f / 4, the (false) beard of this statue is perfectly drawn, the colors remain true. Same observation at 10,000 ISO on these alcoves representing Buddha, rich in detail (and sharpness) in the area of sharpness, all with flat red areas which are certainly smooth, but with details that have a preserved chromatic consistency.

Pushing to ISO 12,800 in this zoomed-out night scene, the various tiles in the coating appear clearly and cleanly. Best of all, in this temple interior scene in Taipei, the nature of the colors is perfectly respected and the digital noise level is very well contained, even at ISO 12,800. We can clearly push ISO 25,600 for extreme shots.


Fast autofocus, good burst, but perfectible tracking

Panasonic is the last of the Mohicans in terms of autofocus since the Japanese manufacturer is the only one to rely on unique contrast detection. Through a technology called DFD, Panasonic manages to offer an excellent score on the autofocus side, at the level of what all the competition offers. A competition which relies on a “hybrid” autofocus combining contrast detection and phase detection (or correlation).

In simple autofocus, the Panasonic DFD does an excellent job: the waste rate is very low, the passage from one focusing distance to another (mini vs infinite) is again very fast. As for the character tracking, it is quite satisfactory when the right mode is selected.

But while it behaves well on objects with fairly straightforward trajectories, it got lost a bit to flying birds - while yours truly was perfectly sober. 

Panasonic has done wonders with its DFD based on simple contrast detection. But to titillate Sony or Fujifilm, it will be necessary to either further improve its DFD score. Or integrate - one day? - a hybrid autofocus with phase detection pixels on the sensor. Reporters should have no complaints about AF, but let's face it, Panasonic doesn't yet have the autofocus - or optical range - capable of making its mark in sports photography.


Video: an almost perfect technical sheet

The Lumix S1 has such a rich video part that it deserves an independent test on its own. Even more than the S1R, limited by the necessarily longer reading time of its better-defined sensor, the S1 and its 24 Mpix sensor offer a much better balance of photo and video parts. Take a deep breath: possibility to use Hybrid Log gamma to facilitate post production calibration, 4K 24/25 / 30p modes without cropping (6K capture for 4K encoding), 4K 50p / 60p mode (with cropping x1, 5), no recording time limit, 4K HFR 48 fps mode, avalanche of Full HD modes including 150 fps or even 180 fps modes, etc.

Better yet, real filmmakers can pay 199 euros for unlocking advanced video modes, such as internal recording in 4K 30p UHD in 4: 2: 2 10 bit at 150 Mbit / s, Full HD 60p 4: 2: 2 10 bit at 100 Mbit / s, etc. As well as video options allowing the support of V-Log profiles which facilitates work in heterogeneous environment with Varicam (from Panasonic, of course) or sound options such as 24bit / 96KHz audio capture using the module optional external DMW-XLR1. “Classic” photographers who are occasional videographers will already be thrilled with the basics - as will more advanced users.

The video data sheet of this S1 is therefore almost perfect. Almost, because in our opinion the 4K60p mode would have benefited from not imposing cropping. And it would have been better if Panasonic had incorporated all the refinements of the paid software update. If the approach is not scandalous, we would have preferred that Panasonic - which has put the package everywhere elsewhere - found a deal able to "offer" these functions to all. This would have given an even greater attractiveness to his nascent system.


Future-oriented components and equipment

While the physical resistance is easy to perceive when you take the case in your hands, its durability goes beyond simple shielding. It also takes the form of a choice of components and technologies made to last. This goes, for example, also by the definition of the electronic viewfinder. Many “old” hybrid cameras look “old” when you put your eye in the viewfinder - think of the Sony A7 Mark II for example, mechanically stabilized, generally good, but with dated aim. By choosing to put more money on the table to offer not the most balanced component, but the top-of-the-range model, Panasonic has made sure that the feeling of aiming in 4 or 5 years does not appear. obsolete. And it matters.

Other future-oriented choices: the slot duo for SDXC and XQD memory cards. On the one hand, the SD format is the most widely used in the world. The cards are found everywhere, which makes it easy to troubleshoot in the event of a problem. And since the location is UHS-II standard, the fastest SD cards are compatible with professional work (sustained bursts, video production). Next to it, the XQD slot is not only faster and more efficient today, but it will be even better tomorrow. Compatible with the CFexpress standard, it will support even faster memory cards. The on-board buffer memory limits de facto a little the progress that can be expected in burst depth, but this is already a good point.

As for the choice of connectors, the full-format HDMI socket, more resistant to multiple connections than the mini and micro HDMI versions, through the USB-C 3.1 socket which allows both direct charging and connected shoot with power supply. real time, it makes perceive the work of Panasonic. A manufacturer who has made a technological “carpet” for its first generation of boxes so that they last a long time. And we thank him for it.


Complementary to Micro 4/3
When Panasonic announced the first hybrid in history (the Lumix G1) at the end of 2008, the Japanese company highlighted the compactness and portability of its system compared to reflex ecosystems. Not too dogmatic, Panasonic has also developed larger size boxes like the excellent Lumix G9 , but it is especially boxes such as the Lumix GX80 or Lumix GX9 that appeal to users. Much smaller devices, which allow you to take advantage of a good sensor and an interchangeable optical system.

Did Panasonic betray himself? Not really if we look at the situation from the point of view of the brand: the Micro 4/3 better meets the compactness needs of the general public, the full format allows Panasonic to respond to the market trend which is becoming more and more niche , more and more turned towards the pros looking for larger sensors. Two sizes of sensors, two very complementary philosophies ... Much more than the classic APS-C and full-frame duos which, when piloted by Canon, Nikon or Sony, have always led to APS- optics ranges. C much poorer than those of full-frame cameras. As the Micro 4/3 does not risk swallowing up the full format in terms of pure image quality, Panasonic can offer “family” optics at affordable prices, while developing quality optics for photographers looking for compactness. Photographers ready to lose a bit in definition and ISO range, but not in optical quality.


Facing the A7 Mark III: it is worth its $ 484 more

Sold between $ 2421 and $ 3026, the king of full-frame cameras is called Sony Alpha A7 Mark III . A light, compact, efficient case. In short, formidable ... but the Lumix S1 has more than the answer and is superior in certain areas, especially in that of equipment.

In addition to a more solid body, richer in controls, the very quality of the components (excluding sensor) is a good cut above what its enemy from Sony offers. The OLED viewfinder is twice as well defined and twice as fast (5.67 Mpix at 120 Hz against 2.36 Mpix at 60Hz for the A7M3), its adjustable screen is twice as well defined (2.1 Mpix against 0, 9 Mpix for the A7M3) and its build quality and general resistance are of a different caliber. Added to this is the superior LCD screen reflex style absent from all Sony cameras, a richer and more powerful video mode and a shutter that allows longer exposures.

Less adventurous, the Sony A7 Mark III has for him greater compactness and lightness, a slightly better burst, an autofocus a notch above (especially the eye tracking, formidable) and better battery endurance. In short: the $ 484 difference between the two boxes are clearly justified. Backpackers will jump on the Lumix S1, urbanites will prefer the lighter format of the Sony.


The S1 more interesting than the S1R

One thousand two hundred euros separate the Lumix S1 from its brother the S1R previously tested. A justified deviation? Not really in our opinion, because the only strength of the S1R is the super image definition, the S1 being equivalent or even better in many areas (low light, video, burst). And its 24 Mpix files are already so good that the switch to 47 Mpix (or 187 on a tripod in multishoot mode) is only justified for very precise uses - very important cropping, large format prints.

When we found the price of the S1R too high, especially taking into account the competition from Sony's A7R Mark III and A7R Mark IV , the S1 shows an excellent quality / performance / price ratio. Although in the high end of the 2421-3026 us dollar range, it more than holds its place.

Finally, we must add that its "handicap" of the "tank" format offers hybrids the first real family (S1 and S1R) of full-format hybrid cameras whose feel and real resistances are at the level of field SLRs such as 5Ds. Canon's Mark IV or Nikon D850 . Sony has demonstrated technological superiority with its Alpha A7s, Nikon has demonstrated fabulous new optical formulas (the 35mm f / 1.8 S and 50mm f / 1.8 S are marvels of optical quality / size ratio) and Panasonic brings here the "all weather" design that was lacking in this new generation of devices. It remains for the Panasonic-Leica-Sigma trio to develop not only a rich optical system, but also a modern one.







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Guest Kimberly Ryder

The Lumix S1 is a real success, the kind of device that takes the competition forward. When it took Sony three generations of full-frame cameras to go back to smaller cameras, Panasonic immediately set foot in the process by offering a model designed to withstand all the violence of field photography. All this while making (almost) no technological compromises and integrating the best components available. If it is necessary to accept its "tank" side, its Swiss knife character capable of going from photo to broadcast videoin a jiffy makes it an ideal case especially for reporters. However, it remains for Panasonic and its acolytes Leica and Sigma to develop an optical fleet richer in references. Both in terms of angular covers, as in terms of formats (pancakes, light models, etc.).

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Guest Oliver Matos

Much cheaper than its big brother the S1R, the Lumix S1 from Panasonic offers top-notch technical specifications and performance. And above all, it is the only mirrorless camera to match pro SLRs in terms of robustness.

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