What's new and how it compares

The 47MP Panasonic S1R is designed primarily for stills and high-res work. However, while it's a more dedicated tool than the lower resolution, stills/video hybrid S1, the two cameras share identical user interfaces (both in terms of handing and software), and the bulk of their features.

Key Takeaways

  • New sensor, with multi-shot high res modes to boost captured resolution
  • L-mount bodies, joining a system being developed with Leica and Sigma
  • 'Dual IS 2' combines in in-body and any in-lens stabilization
  • HLG Photo mode opens door to natural-looking high-dynamic range stills for HDR displays

New sensor

The S1R uses a 47.3 Megapixel sensor. It's unusual in that it's a front-side illuminated design, which uses asymmetric microlenses and 'waveguides' to direct light into the pixel and deep photodiode design to more efficiently capture light. This sets it apart from the BSI approach (that puts the photosensitive area nearer the chip surface) used in high-res cameras from Sony and Nikon.

The S1R's sensor is not taking the BSI approach used in the high-res cameras from Sony and Nikon

However, while the structure of the chip may sound a little passé, it does feature the latest dual-gain design. This provides two different ways of reading out each pixel: one that tries to give the maximum possible dynamic range, and another that gives better noise performance for higher ISO settings.

In order to maximize resolution there's no optical low-pass filter but there is an anti-reflective coating to reduce ghosting and flare. All of the data captured by the sensor is run in parallel through the company's latest Venus engine.

ISO 100 | 1/80 sec | F5.6 | Panasonic Lumix S Pro 50mm F1.4
Photo by Carey Rose

The native ISO range on the S1R, is 100 - 25,600, which can be expanded to range from 50 to 51,200.

Lens system

The Panasonic S-series of cameras uses L-mount lenses which, up until now, were exclusive to the Leica SL. Leica calls its full-frame lenses 'SL', while APS-C lenses for crop sensors are known as 'TL'. At time of publication, eight full-frame Leica lenses are available: five primes and three zooms. Sigma is the third member of the L-mount Alliance and will initially sell L-mount versions of its existing (designed-for-DSLR) lenses.

'S Pro' lenses will be marked as 'certified by Leica'

Panasonic is launching a trio of lenses alongside the S1 and S1R. There's a 50mm F1.4 S Pro, 70-200mm F4 S Pro and 24-105mm F4 Macro OIS (which is also the kit lens). All three lenses are weather-sealed, and both of the 'S Pro' models have a clutch mechanism for quickly switching between Auto and Manual focus.

Interestingly, the two 'S Pro' lenses will be marked as 'certified by Leica,' which Panasonic says means their design and manufacture meet the standards achieved by the so-called 'Panaleica' lenses in the Micro Four Thirds system, but won't be branded as such to avoid confusion between them and Leica's own 'L-mount' optics.

Dual IS 2

The S1R has a 5-axis in-body image stabilization system. This acting alone can reduce shake by up to 5.5 stops, but if you attach a stabilized lens, such as the new 24-105mm F4 Macro OIS, that number rises to 6 stops (in controlled testing - actual performance will vary). That's because the two systems work in conjunction, with the lens's stabilizers adding additional correction for yaw and pitch motion.

It's a system first introduced in the GX8 and means that on-sensor IS can help provide correction for the large translational movements (handshake that shifts the camera up, down and side-to-side) that are prevalent when using wide-angle lenses. The greater potential travel of the in-lens IS unit can correct for the large pitch and yaw movements (handshake that rotates the camera's field of view up, down and side to side) of longer focal lengths.

ISO 200 | 1/125 sec | F8 | Panasonic Lumix S Pro 24-105mm F4
Photo by Carey Rose

Autofocus

The S1R uses the same Depth from Defocus AF system as Panasonic's Micro Four Thirds cameras, but with more processing power allowing a doubling of the system speed of up to 480 adjustments each second. DFD is contrast-detect based but uses an understanding of each lens's optical characteristics to work out where to drive the focus to.

We've tended to see better results from the depth-aware phase detection technology used by most of Panasonic's rivals, though DFD has been pretty good on Panasonic's Micro Four Thirds cameras. DFD does tend to 'flutter' just in front of and behind the plane of focus while focusing, which we found somewhat disconcerting when we reviewed the S1.

Panasonic claims that the S1R can focus in light levels as low as -6EV (essentially starlight) using its Low Light AF mode, which is triggered automatically and works by boosting the gain prior to focusing. In low-contrast situations (the company uses foggy/misty conditions as an example), the S1R cameras can focus down to -3EV with its standard AF mode.

AF Tracking now tracks whatever is under your focus point when you half-press and reverts to your original AF area when you release

The camera builds on the machine learning Panasonic used for subject recognition on the DC-G9. The camera's AF algorithms have been trained to detect human bodies as well as cats, dogs and birds, and will keep tracking them even if they turn their back to the camera. As you'd expect, the S1R can also detect faces and eyes, as well.

The camera's AF Tracking mode has been updated, too. It now tracks whatever is under the focus point when you half-press (or AF-On) and then reverts to your original AF area when you release. This is finally taking hold as the way cameras work across multiple brands.

ISO 100 | 1/160 sec | F2.8| Panasonic Lumix S Pro 50mm F1.4
Photo by Carey Rose

HLG Photo

One unusual feature of the Panasonics is the ability to capture still images using the Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG) gamma curve. HLG is a standardized Log curve and color response designed to be shown on compatible high-dynamic range televisions. These are TVs capable of brighter output and more subtle (10-bit) control over their color and brightness. They make it possible to display footage with a wide dynamic range in a way that looks natural (rather than 'HDR' that tries to squeeze a wide dynamic range into the limited output of a standard-DR monitor).

Panasonic is the first brand to produce 10-bit still images that can be played back on HDR TVs

Oddly, the S1R can't shoot HLG video footage, but can output HLG stills. The HSP file format is part of the ITU-R BT.2100 standard, which should mean they're reasonably well supported in the future.

For now there's no software that allows HSP files to be edited but this could be the beginning of an era of photography that takes us beyond the limitations of the basic sRGB JPEG (which typically contain around 8.5EV of dynamic range) and standard-DR displays, to let us show a more realistic version of the world.

High Res mode

Like the company's DC-G9 enthusiast Micro Four Thirds camera, the S1R offers a 'High Resolution mode'. By shifting the sensor eight times, the camera is essentially canceling out the Bayer color filter then offsetting and doing so again, thus increasing the pixel output by a factor of four.

The S1R's High Res shots (which are Raw files) are a whopping 187MP, with file sizes to match. These high-res Raw files cannot be processed in the camera.

There are two modes for high-res shooting, giving a choice over whether to average any movement (simulating the effect of a long exposure) or to cancel-out any motion. Both modes must be shot from a tripod to ensure the camera can precisely control the relationship between sensor and scene.

Other features

The S1R includes Panasonic's 6K and 4K Photo modes that essentially make it easy to grab high-res stills from the cameras' video streams.

6K Photo mode creates sequences of 18MP images, either in the 4:3 or 3:2 aspect ratio at 30 fps. Meanwhile the 4K Photo mode lets you capture 4:3, 3:2, 16:9 or 1:1 images of around 8MP at 60 or 30 fps. As with their video footage, the region from which 60 fps stills can be taken varies between the two cameras. And, since they're essentially shot as video, they'll be subject to whatever rolling shutter each camera exhibits.

How it compares

The S1R is priced at a premium, compared with very capable offerings from Sony and Nikon. For this money the Panasonic offers a more durable shutter mechanism and higher-res viewfinder. It also offers a high-res mode, which neither of the others does (the a7R III's multi-shot mode uses four shots to boost only chroma resolution by cancelling its Bayer filter), but the lack of any Log mode makes the video spec look a little weak, so we'll have to see what its 4K/60p footage looks like.

As the a7R IV has just come out, we'll be adding it into the comparison table in short order.

Similarly, the performance of the S1R's sensor will need close examination, given how good the chips in the Nikon and Sony are. And of course, a lot will come down to autofocus performance.

Panasonic S1R Nikon Z7 Sony a7R III
MSRP (body) $3699 $3299 $3199
Pixel count 47.3MP 45.7MP 42.4MP
Sensor tech CMOS BSI-CMOS BSI-CMOS
AF system Depth from Defocus
(Contrast Detection-based)
On-sensor PDAF On-sensor PDAF
Image stabilization 5-axis in-body + lens 5-axis in-body 5-axis in-body
Maximum frame rate 9 fps (AF-S)
6 fps (AF-C and live view)
9 fps (AE locked)
5.5 fps
10 fps
High Res mode Yes No Yes (Images combined off-camera)
Viewfinder
res / mag
5.76M dots
/ 0.78x
3.68M dots
/ 0.8x
3.68M dots
/ 0.78x
Rear screen 2.1M-dot two-way tilting touchscreen 2.1M-dot tilting touchscreen 1.44M-dot tilting touchscreen
Top-plate settings display Yes (LCD) Yes (OLED) No
Backlit buttons Yes No No
Video capture

UHD 4K 60p
(1.09x crop pixel-binned)

UHD 4K 30p
(Full width pixel-binned or oversampled APS-C)
UHD 4K 30p
(Full width pixel-binned or oversampled APS-C)
Log modes None 10-bit N-Log (HDMI only) S-Log 2 / 3 / HLG
8-bit
Memory cards 1 XQD + 1 SD Single XQD Dual SD
Battery life (CIPA) LCD/EVF 380 / 360* 400 / 330 650 / 530
USB-charging Yes Yes Yes
Shutter life rating 400k cycles 200k cycles 500k cycles
Dimensions 149 x 110 x 97 mm 134 x 101 x 68 mm 127 x 96 x 74 mm
Weight (CIPA) 1016 g** 675 g 657 g
* With SD card; battery life rated at 360/340 shots with XQD card
** With SD card: 4g more with XQD