Image quality

Image captured using the S1R's high-resolution mode. Processed in Adobe Camera Raw, and an unsharp mask applied in Photoshop at 0.6 radius, 200%. Click-through for the full (56MB, 187MP) JPEG.
Panasonic S Pro 50mm F1.4 | ISO 100 | 1/60 sec | F11

The Panasonic S1R's 47MP sensor is a good performer, though not class-leading in every respect. But couple it with a great JPEG engine and a solid high-resolution mode, and you have a very versatile, high-resolution camera body for a variety of uses.

Key takeaways:

  • Great image quality in Raw, with good detail capture, though noisier than peers
  • Lower dynamic range and noise reduction at lowest ISOs can hamper image quality
  • Just like the lower-resolution S1, the S1R's JPEGs show pleasing colors, well-judged sharpening and noise reduction
  • The 187MP high-resolution mode shows a truly impressive amount of detail, with effective motion correction and a noise benefit

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 low ISO values, the S1R appears to capture just slightly more fine detail than its directly comparable peers. This is similar to what we saw with the S1R's lower megapixel cousin, the S1, against that camera's peers - something that is perhaps partially attributable to the excellent Leica APO-Summicron-SL 90mm f/2 used as much as its slightly higher pixel count. In any case, there is an abundance of detail all over the scene, and all cameras show an abundance of false color in some areas as well.

We mentioned earlier in the review that the sensor in the S1R uses a 'dual gain' design for greater dynamic range at low ISO values and better noise performance at higher ISO values, but crank the ISO all the way up to 12,800 and you can see the Nikon and Sony cameras showing visibly less noise than the Panasonic (the Pentax also looks awfully clean, but it is applying noise reduction to its Raw files). This discrepancy between the Panasonic and the Nikon and Sony cameras only grows with increasing ISO values.

JPEG performance

Switching over to JPEG, and we see the Panasonic S1R comes with the company's latest JPEG color behavior in its 'Standard' profile, and we find it pleasing overall. Reds are deep, yellows have lost much of the greenish tinge that plagued Panasonics of yore, and the greens are a touch warmer than the Sony.

Sharpening at low ISO values appears reasonably well-judged - it may lack some of the 'bite' of the Nikon, especially, but pay attention to the legibility on the smallest line of text. JPEGs don't extract quite as much fine detail as the Sony, but more so than the Nikon. Unfortunately, the Panasonic still exhibits some 'stair stepping' along curved and diagonal lines at high-contrast borders - though bear in mind that we're looking at 47MP at 100%, which is perhaps not a typical use-case for most practical purposes.

Looking at noise reduction, the S1R does a good job, showing less luminance noise than the Nikon or Sony. In terms of fine detail, the S1R perhaps bests the Nikon, but the Sony still does the best of the bunch in retaining some semblance of fine detail in low-contrast situations.

High resolution performance

By virtue of being able to shift its sensor eight times to a very fine degree, the S1R can produce files that measure in at an impressive 187MP. As with the S1R's JPEGs, you can see the high-res files are visibly softer compared to other high-resolution offerings, but this isn't the whole story. The S1R is doing an excellent job of correctly rendering details in the scene that other cameras struggle with, as they show false color even at these high resolutions. But the Panasonic still shows some aliasing in the color resolution targets. And as you might expect, there is also a noise benefit when you use the multi-frame high-resolution mode relative to single frames.

It's worth mentioning that this high-resolution mode uses an electronic shutter, and as such, is not compatible with strobes. You'll want to use LED lights or another source of constant illumination if you're doing studio or product work.

High resolution sharpening

It's also worth noting that using a different sharpening recipe than our studio scene standard gives the S1R a bit more crispness when you're working at the full 187MP resolution. For this, we used a sharpening radius of 0.6 at 200%, compared to 0.6 at 100% that we usually use. Further sharpening may crisp the image up even further.

On the other hand, when you downsize the S1R's 187MP files to the 100MP of its peers, either method of sharpening compares awfully well to the more expensive medium format options. To be fair, though, the Phase One image was processed through Capture One, and so has non-standard sharpening applied as well.

Motion correction

But of course, when you're taking eight separate frames and combining them, it can be difficult to deal with motion in a given scene unless you're shooting purely still-life subjects in a studio. But Panasonic has worked on a motion correction system in the S1R (and S1) that gives some interesting results.

Mode 1 is designed to show a flow of motion but, as you can see, it ends up showing this motion as a series of steps, so won't suit every subject (a longer shutter speed than the 1/100 sec used in these examples would help). Mode 2 does an impressive job of cancelling-out the motion between frames, but with slightly lower resolution and occasional color errors, especially in areas where movement has been corrected.

Dynamic range

We know that the Panasonic S1R's sensor is very similar to that in the Leica Q2 (although that camera has an apparent base ISO of 50, compared to the S1R's base of ISO 100), and so we would expect (and in fact we see) similar performance. In other words, the 47MP sensor performs very well, but falls short of its class-leading peers (by approximately 1 EV). As you can see in our ISO invariance test, there will be an increase in noise if you use a low ISO and push the exposure, versus exposing at a higher ISO from the get-go. This suggests the camera is adding a noticeable amount of noise to the images (which is then diminished by amplification at high ISO settings). Unlike the Leica, Panasonic is applying noise reduction to its Raws up to ISO 200, which can soften detail in deep shadows (note how low contrast detail sharpens up once you reach ISO 400).

Now on to exposure latitude, in which we use the camera's base ISO and try brightening increasingly dark exposures to see how much noise is being added in the deep shadows. Here, you can see the Panasonic S1R is adding a bit more noise to its files than the Nikon D850 does. But when you compare the S1R against its own high-res mode, and then downsample to a more sensible size, you get a noise benefit. Of course, you can get this noise benefit with any other camera as well if you combine eight shots in software after the fact, but that the Panasonic does this in-camera makes the whole process somewhat easier and gives a detail capture boost.