Image Quality

Out-of-camera JPEG.
ISO 100 | 1/160 sec | F4 | Panasonic Lumix S 24-105mm F4 @ 105mm.
Photo by Carey Rose

The Panasonic S1's 24MP sensor is impressive, whether shooting Raw or JPEG, low or high ISO. And its tripod-based high-resolution mode not only increases resolution to 96MP, it improves noise performance too.

Key takeaways:

  • Class-leading Raw image quality with high levels of detail capture and excellent high ISO noise performance.
  • Panasonic JPEGs display pleasing colors, well-judged sharpening, and intelligent noise reduction.
  • The S1's high-res mode provides both a resolution and a noise benefit.
  • The Leica APO-Summicron-SL 90mm F2 will be our standard studio testing lens moving forward for all SL-mount cameras, though the Lumix S Pro 50mm F1.4 compares favorably in terms of sharpness

Our test scene is designed to simulate a variety of textures, colors and detail types you'll encounter in the real world. It also has two illumination modes to see the effect of different lighting conditions.

Raw performance

At base ISO, the S1 appears to capture slightly-more fine detail than its 24MP peers throughout the scene, but this may be due our use of the very sharp Leica APO-Summicron-SL 90mm f/2. Still, the S1's detail capture is impressive. However it displays a bit more false color than the Z6 and EOS R, both of which uses an anti-aliasing filter, unlike the S1.

As the ISO starts to climb, the S1's noise levels are similar to the a7 III and Z6 and about a stop better than the EOS R. As we push further into high ISO territory, the S1 remains on par with its 24MP peers. In fact, across the board the S1 is among the best performing low light cameras in its class.

JPEG performance

The S1 offers the latest Panasonic JPEG color, first seen in the G9. Reds look nice and deep, not too far off from Canon's, and yellows avoid the greenish tint that's plagued Panasonic cameras of yore, though there's still some room for improvement there.

Default sharpening at low ISO is well-judged, although the classic stair-stepping we've seen in past Panasonic cameras unfortunately remains. And at higher ISO's the S1's noise reduction does a solid job of not blurring away fine detail, especially compared to the Z6 and EOS R. Sony's noise reduction remains the one to beat, preserving slightly more low contrast detail at high ISOs, while avoiding artifacts from the context-sensitive noise reduction.

High-resolution performance

The S1's high resolution mode creates a 96MP files by shifting the sensor 8 times. This creates an impressive amount of resolution (though is dependent on your subjects not moving too much. As part of this process the camera cancels-out the effect of the Bayer color filter, which should raise color resolution (though it's a little hard to tell, since the resolution is already so high, relative to our test targets).

Shooting and combining multiple shots also provides a significant noise benefit in addition to the resolution gain.

Exposure Latitude

Our exposure latitude test shows nothing terribly surprising (save for an errant hot pixel). The S1 shows slightly cleaner files than the a7 III when pushed to the extremes, and none of the banding that the Nikon Z cameras exhibit thanks to their on-sensor phase detection autofocus systems. The takeaway is that the S1's sensor is an extremely good performer.

ISO Invariance

As we've seen with other cameras that use similar sensors, our testing shows that the S1 isn't entirely ISO invariant, but this is largely because the sensor features the Aptina-style Dual Gain design that Sony Semiconductor has been using for the past few years. This sees the camera use a second higher gain circuit in its pixels to reduce noise from ISO 800 upwards (at the cost of some capacity for dynamic range), where the camera is essentially entirely ISO-invariant.

In short, this means that if you shoot Raw there's no advantage to increasing ISO above 800, for the same shutter speed and aperture, vs. brightening the Raw file yourself, which protects highlights for inclusion in post-processing. This way of working can afford you many stops of additional highlight detail, provided you have a post-processing workflow and you're alright with the dark image preview.