Initial impressions

Richard Butler

It's clear looking at the S1/R alongside competitors like Nikon's Z7 that Panasonic believes its cameras are compelling enough that they don't need to compete by being small.

Panasonic has taken a rather different approach to the other camera makers, when it comes to full-frame mirrorless. Perhaps because it already makes a 'mirrorless means small' system or perhaps because its really small GM mirrorless cameras didn't sell, it's made a pair of cameras that are pretty much the same size as full-frame DSLRs.

We're sure this will prompt plenty of 'what's the point of mirrorless, if it's just as big?' comments, but we suspect Panasonic's logic is: 'this is the size of camera that customers want, so let's not get hung-up on which technology it uses.'

The S1 and S1R should offer the same image quality as DSLRs so why should they have to compete on size?

Ultimately, the S1 and S1R should offer the same image quality as DSLRs (and are much better-suited to shooting video), so why should they have to compete on size, just to stand out?

There are some small cameras with excellent ergonomics, but the easiest way of giving pro-levels of control and making a camera that's comfortable to handle for hours is to mimic the size and form that pro-level DSLRs have settled on. The result is a design with a big grip, plenty of well-spaced controls and room for a honking great battery.

The S1/S1R relationship is directly comparable to that of the a7/a7R series cameras

In most other respects, though, the S1 and S1R follow the same 'do you need the resolution or would you rather have a more flexible, do-everything camera' pattern that Nikon offers with its Z6/Z7 combination and Sony established with its a7/a7R pairing. As with those other brands, it's the less expensive model we think looks more appealing, especially for anyone with an interest in video.

But there's one other area in which Panasonic duo differ from most other full-frame mirrorless models: the absence of on-sensor phase detection. On-sensor phase detection is the technology that has allowed mirrorless cameras to catch and, in many respects, overtake DSLRs when it comes to autofocus.

Like its Micro Four Thirds models, the S1s depend on the company's Depth-from-Defocus AF system. All the Lumix S lenses are designed to run as part of a system running at 480 frames per second.

Panasonic, instead, is relying on its Depth-from-Defocus system, which attempts to assess which direction it needs to focus in by interpreting the out-of-focus areas of the image, based on an understanding of the way each lens renders defocus. This, combined with machine-learned subject information and system that refreshes 480 times per second is Panasonic's alternative approach. If nothing else, it eliminates any risk of banding and striping.

How well the AF performs is likely to define how the Panasonics end up being seen

We're pleased to see that Panasonic has applied the 'track the thing I'm pointing at, then revert to my chosen AF point' logic for its AF tracking: no extra button pressing to confirm or cancel. We've found this is the quickest and easiest way to work.

How well the AF actually performs, along with the quality of the lens lineup, is likely to define whether the Panasonics end up seen as worthy competitors or unfortunate also-rans in what's likely to be one of the most important parts of the camera market.