What's new and how it compares

The Panasonic S1 and S1R differ not only in terms of resolution but also in intent: the 47MP S1R is designed primarily for stills whereas the S1 is also pretty adept at video capture. They have a lot of features in common, though.

Key Takeaways

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

Two new sensors

The S1 and S1R use what Panasonic claims are newly designed full-frame sensors, with resolutions of 24.2 and 47.3 Megapixels, respectively. The S1R's sensor in particular has been designed to maximize the signal-to-noise ratio by using aspherical microlenses, a 'waveguide' to direct light into the pixel and deep photodiodes to more efficiently capture light. This sets it apart from the BSI approach (that puts the photosensitive area nearer the chip surface) used in the 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

In order to maximize resolution, neither of the sensors have optical low-pass filters, though they do have 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.

Photo taken with pre-production camera running firmware 0.7. Image quality not final. ISO 5000 | 1/15 sec | F4 | Panasonic Lumix S 24-105mm F4 @ 65mm.

Photo by Dan Bracaglia

The native ISO range on the lower-resolution S1 is 100 - 51,200, with the ability to expand to 50-204,800. On the S1R, those numbers are 100 - 25,600 and 50 - 51,200. We'll see what kind of dynamic range both of these sensors have when we get our hands on final production cameras. Both chips output 14-bit Raw, to retain the additional dynamic range they offer, compared with Panasonic's Micro Four Thirds models.

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 were available: five primes and three zooms. Sigma is the third member of the L-mount Alliance, though the company has yet to disclose exactly which lenses it will be releasing.

'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 S1 and S1R have 5-axis image stabilization built right into their bodies. Using this system alone, the cameras 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' 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.

Autofocus

The S1 and S1R use 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 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.

Photo shot on a pre-production camera running firmware 0.7. Image quality may not be final. ISO 100 | 1/640 sec | F5.6 | Panasonic Lumix S 24-105mm F4 @ 75mm

Photo by Dan Bracaglia

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 can be somewhat disconcerting. We'll put a moving bike in front of the S1/S1R soon to see how its AF system performs.

Panasonic claims that the S1/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 S1 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 S1/S1R build 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 S1/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.

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

Up until now, HLG has solely been used for video (it was developed as a broadcast standard), but Panasonic is the first brand to use it to produce 10-bit HDR still images that can be played back on compatible TVs. 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 S1 and S1R offer 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 S1's High Res shots (which are Raw files) are 96MP, while the S1R's come in a whopping 187MP, with file sizes to match. The Raw images can be converted to JPEGs right on the camera (but the cameras can't directly generate a JPEG).

The S1/S1R offer a choice over whether to average any movement (to simulate the effect of a long exposure) or to attempt to cancel-out and motion. Both modes must be shot from a tripod to ensure the camera can precisely control the relationship between sensor and scene.

Other features

Both cameras also feature an array of features that Panasonic has developed over its decade of making Micro Four Thirds cameras. These include the 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.

Panasonic Lumix S1: how it compares

With a list price of $2499, it's clear that Panasonic doesn't believe it needs to compete on price. It's also interesting to note that the S1 is the largest camera in this group, too.

And, while it doesn't offer the Raw video output that Nikon has planned for the Z6, it's the only one of this group to shoot 4K/60p (albeit from the APS-C crop of its sensor). That said, you have to pay extra if you want access to the camera's full V-Log function (though its HLG mode may act as a work-around for many situations).

The biggest point of difference is the Panasonic offers a higher resolution finder than any of its immediate peers and also makes greater claims for its expected shutter life:

Panasonic S1 Canon EOS R Nikon Z6 Sony a7 III
MSRP (body) $2499 $2299 $1999 $1999
Pixel count 24MP 30MP 25MP 24MP
Sensor tech CMOS CMOS BSI-CMOS BSI-CMOS
AF system Depth from Defocus
(Contrast Detection-based)

Dual Pixel
(On-sensor PDAF)

On-sensor PDAF On-sensor PDAF
Image stabilization 5-axis in-body + lens Lens only 5-axis 5-axis
Maximum frame rate 9 fps (AF-S)
6 fps (AF-C and live view)
8 fps (AF-S)
5 fps (AF-C)
12 fps
(12-bit Raw, AE locked)
10 fps
High Res mode Yes No No No
Viewfinder
res / mag
5.76M dots
/ 0.78x
3.68M dots
/ 0.76x
3.68M dots
/ 0.80x
2.36M dots / 0.78x
Rear screen 2.1M-dot two-way tilting touchscreen 2.1M-dot fully articulated touchscreen 2.1M-dot tilting touchscreen 921k-dot tilting touchscreen
Top-plate settings display Yes (LCD) Yes (OLED) Yes (OLED) None
Backlit buttons Yes No No No
Video capture

UHD 4K 30p
(full sensor)
UHD 4K 60p (1.5x crop)

UHD 4K 30p
(1.83x crop)
UHD 4K 30p
(full sensor)
UHD 4K 24o
(full sensor)
UHD 4K 30p
(1.2x Crop)
Log modes HLG 10-bit
(Optional 10-bit 4:2:2 V-Log)

C-Log
8-bit (internal)
10-bit (HDMI)
N-Log
10-bit (HDMI)
S-Log 2 / 3 / HLG
8-bit
Memory cards 1 XQD + 1 SD Single SD Single XQD Dual SD
Battery life (CIPA) LCD/EVF 400 / 380* 370 (LCD) 380 / 310 710 / 610
USB-charging Yes Yes Yes Yes
Shutter life rating 400k cycles 200k cycles 200k cycles 200k cycles
Dimensions 149 x 110 x 97 mm 136 x 98 x 84 mm 134 x 101 x 68 mm 127 x 96 x 74 mm
Weight (CIPA) 1017 g** 660 g 675 g 650 g
* With SD card: battery life rated at 380/360 shots with XQD card
** With SD card: 4g more with XQD

Panasonic Lumix S1R: how it compares

The S1R again is being sold at a premium, compared with the very capable offerings from Sony and Nikon. Again the S1R offers a more durable shutter mechanism and higher-res viewfinder. The Panasonic also offers a high-res mode with in-camera processing, which neither of the others does, 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.

Similarly, the performance of the S1R's sensor will need close examination, given how good the chips in the Nikon and Sony are. And again, 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