Tech review: Panasonic Lumix S1
Panasonic's full-frame Lumix S1 is a pro-friendly, accomplished new mirrorless camera which looks to have an exciting future with lenses from Leica and Sigma. And yet it may be a heck of a hard sell.
I've had it for testing for three weeks. It's clear to me that this is the full-frame mirrorless camera that Canon and Nikon should have made. Its ergonomics are perfect for a professional shooter - the best of any serious mirrorless camera I've ever tried. Its 24-megapixel sensor performs brilliantly in low light. Its engine is super-fast. Its video prowess, borrowing from its superb GH series, is top of the range. Its battery life is relatively good. It's as weatherproof as they come. It has almost every conceivable feature you would want in a professional (or hobbyist) full-frame mirrorless camera, and the lens roadmap from itself and partners Sigma and Leica is very promising (the Leica lenses for Panasonic's smaller Micro Four Thirds cameras are astoundingly good).
The 24-105mm f4 Panasonic lens I got with my test kit was sharp and on par with the 24-105mm 'L' lenses I'm used to using from Canon.
In short, the S1 was a pleasure to shoot with, and I can easily imagine using it as a professional go-to camera for everything from press work to portraits, to landscapes, sport and wildlife.
And yet I'll be surprised if they sell many of these cameras. Panasonic finds itself starting in a distant fourth position in the full-frame mirrorless camera market. In an industry that's contracting by around 30pc a year, that's a tough place to be. It has just three lenses (24-105mm f4, 70-200mm f4 and 50mm f1.4) at launch and won't fill out to the minimum of 15 different focal lengths it really needs for at least another two to three years. By contrast, Sony now has over 50 native professional lenses, matching Canon and Nikon's old DSLR lens range, right up to a €14,000 600mm f4. And Sony, with its five-year lead on everyone else, is still catching up on the traditional duopoly of Canon and Nikon.
Against this, how will Panasonic really make it? Very slowly, I would imagine.
The five-axis in-body stabilisation (Ibis) means that I was able to shoot handheld as slow as one fifteenth of a second shutter speed, a real help in low light.
This is a rare thing that is way ahead of Canon (no Ibis) and Nikon (which has three-axis Ibis, but there have been technical problems with it). Only Sony's just-announced A7R4 really compares.
Its electronic viewfinder is the best on the market. Its button arrays and menus are relatively intuitive, far better than Sony's. The touchscreen display flips out in a hybrid sort of way, not enough to really be a blogging camera, but enough to let you shoot vertically up high or down low. It has both SD and XQD card slots, making it very attractive to videographers (due to the latter's faster speed). And the S1's image quality really is very, very good.