Panasonic’s first full-frame cameras are here. The company, long tied closely to the Micro Four Thirds format, has partnered with Sigma and Leica to build cameras around Leica’s L-mount, starting with the Lumix DC-S1R ($ 3,699.99, body only), a 47MP high-resolution model, and its 24MP twin sibling, the S1 ($ 2,499.99). The S1R delivers superb image quality and excellent, stabilized 4K video, but you pay a premium for the camera, and it’s significantly heavier than competing models. As such, we still recommend the Sony a7R III as our Editors’ Choice for photographers looking for a high-resolution mirrorless camera.
Mirrorless, But Not Lightweight
The lines between SLRs and mirrorless cameras have blurred over the years as mirrorless models have become more and more capable. Today, high-end mirrorless cameras better SLRs in autofocus performance and coverage, and typically offer a better experience when capturing video.
From a physical standpoint, it’s clear that Panasonic took its design cues from SLRs. The S1R (and S1, their bodies are absolutely identical) is bigger than its competition. It measures 4.3 by 5.9 by 3.8 inches (HWD) and weighs 2.2 pounds with battery and memory loaded, but without a lens. Compare that with the Sony a7R III (3.8 by 5.0 by 2.9 inches, 1.5 pounds) and Nikon Z 7 (3.0 by 5.3 by 2.7 inches, 1.5 pounds), or even the D850 SLR (3.9 by 5.8 by 3.1 inches, 2.0 pounds) and it’s clear the S1R is a heavyweight.
Panasonic sells the S1R as a body only or with the Lumix S 24-105mm F4 zoom lens for $ 4,599.99. There is $ 300 savings there, as the 24-105mm costs $ 1,299.99 on its own. At launch, the only other Panasonic lenses available are the Lumix S Pro 70-200mm F4 for $ 1,699.99 and the Lumix S Pro 50mm F1.4 for $ 2,299.99.
Sigma plans on releasing many of its modern Global Vision lenses in L-mount, but they aren’t shipping yet. Leica has a good range of L-mount lenses, including the APO-Summicron 75mm f/2 ASPH., which I tested along with the Panasonic cameras, but, without exception, the lenses carry Leica price tags.
That said, the S1R isn’t heavy for no reason. The camera is very well built—you’d expect it given the price—and sealed against dust and moisture. The weather sealing did a fine job both on rainy days and when getting splashed with mist while photographing the Paterson Great Falls. The biggest challenge was keeping water droplets off of the lens glass.
Controls and Interface
I’m quick to complain about the S1R’s bulk, but despite its weight, it handles quite well. The body feels great in the hands and the grip is deep enough that it should balance well with big, long lenses when they start shipping. Right now telephoto options are limited, so the longest lens I was able to use to test was the 70-200mm F4.
There’s plenty of surface area for controls, and Panasonic makes good use of it. There are three buttons surrounding the lens mount—the lens release is the bottommost, with two function buttons sitting right under where my middle and ring fingers naturally rest when gripping the camera. You can set their functions to your liking; by default one controls exposure and depth of field preview, while the other magnifies a portion of the frame so you can be sure the autofocus system—or your manual focus skill—is accurate.
The other front panel control is the 1/2 toggle switch. It essentially gives you access to a second, completely customizable banks of settings. By default Mode 2 is silent shooting—turning off all audible beeps and switching from the mechanical to the fully electronic shutter. But we shouldn’t understate just how customizable the S1R’s controls are—almost every function button can be remapped, and there’s an intense level of flexibility in how on-screen menus work. If the S1R’s default controls don’t match your style, you can probably finagle them to be a better fit.
A standard Mode dial sits at the far left side of the top plate. It’s a locking design, the style that requires you to hold down the center post while turning, not unlike the child safety cap on a prescription bottle. It’s a benefit to prevent inadvertent settings changes, but I prefer dials that lock and unlock with a button press—your mileage may vary.
The Drive dial is nested at the bottom of mode dial. It turns comfortably—there’s no lock, but there is a protrusion to help you apply the torque needed to move from setting to setting. Options include Single, Continuous I, Continuous II, Interval, and Self-Timer. By default Continuous I fires the mechanical shutter at its top speed (9fps with fixed focus, 6fps with continuous), and Continuous II uses the electronic shutter to capture 6K photos at 30fps. When using the 6K function you’re using the camera’s video system, so Raw capture isn’t available, and the JPG output is around 18MP. The S1R can push to 60fps when capturing 8MP (4K) JPGs.
The S1R doesn’t have a built-in flash, but it does have a hot shoe so you can mount an external one, centered on the top plate atop the EVF. To its right there’s a monochrome information LCD, with backlight, that shows exposure settings, battery life, memory card capacity, and file format. The backlight also illuminates a few buttons on the rear: Back, Delete, Display, Play, and Q. Backlit control buttons are a feature we’ve seen on higher-end SLRs, but this is the first mirrorless model to include them.
Other top controls include the On/Off switch, along with EV, ISO, and White Balance buttons—all three buttons are customizable. The shutter release sits at a slight angle atop the handgrip, and is joined by the front command dial. A second command dial is at the rear, protruding slightly outward so it rests near your right thumb.
Rear controls start at the top left corner. There, snug between the top of the LCD and left side of the EVF you get a Lock switch—you can set which basic functions it locks when engaged—and the Play button. Record is on the other side of the EVF, also snugly squeezed in between it and the rear display.
Panasonic groups a trio of focus controls together. The focus area selector is just to the right of Record. It’s a button, but is surrounded by a three-way switch that sets the camera to MF, AF-S, or AF-C mode. The AF-ON button is just to its right, and the eight-way focus selector joystick is just below them.
Also on the rear are Q, which brings up an on-screen control menu, a flat command dial with four directional presses and the Menu/Set button at its center, as well as the Back, Delete, and Display buttons. You can’t change the function of Back or Display, but the other rear buttons can be remapped to your liking.
The Q menu has a new look. In its default style it sizes down the live view frame, and groups its dozen customizable settings banks to the right of the frame. You can dive into the menu and set it to Mode 2, which is laid out in two rows of six items, more familiar to longtime Panasonic owners. But instead of acting as an overlay, the Mode 2 view doesn’t show the live feed at all. If you want to see your frame while adjusting settings via the Q screen, Mode 1 is the way to go.
The LCD is a 3.2-inch panel with touch support and a three-axis hinge. It’s a style we’ve seen from other manufacturers—Fujifilm has used it in several models. The LCD can tilt up or down so you can shoot at a lower or higher angle when working in landscape orientation, which is typical. It also swings out to the right side, which gives you an easier view of the LCD when capturing low-angle shots in portrait orientation. The display itself is very sharp. It sports a 2.1-million-dot resolution, offers wide viewing angles, and plenty of brightness. It’s one of the best you’ll find on any camera.
The same is true of the EVF. The big (0.78x magnification) OLED finder packs the most resolution of any we’ve seen to date, a staggering 5.76 million dots. It refreshes quickly—at your choice of 60 or 120fps, the latter helpful for keeping up with fast-moving subjects.
I viewed it side by side with the Nikon Z 6’s similar 0.8x OLED EVF. The Nikon isn’t as pixel-dense (3.69 million dots), but it doesn’t seem deficient in resolution. The differences are more in how the image is presented. The Panasonic shows a preview with high contrast and inky blacks, while the Z 6 opens up the shadows a little bit. I prefer the more natural view provided by the Z 6, but that’s purely personal preference. Along with the S1 and Z 7, Nikon and Panasonic’s full-frame mirrorless models offer the best EVFs I’ve used.
The S1R has one neat feature for eyeglass wearers. When the EVF is at its largest magnification, it can be a little tough to see the edges of the frame if spectacles are part of your accoutrement. The V.Mode button, on the right side of the EVF, offers two slightly smaller levels of EVF magnification. You can opt to use one if you struggle to see the edges of the frame.
I don’t think the full size is too big, even though I wear glasses full-time. I definitely had a little bit of trouble seeing the very outer edges of the frame with the EVF at full size, but opted to leave it. I prefer the slightly bigger view. But, depending on your personal working style, you may prefer one of the two smaller magnification options. The EVF has an eye sensor and offers diopter adjustment.
Power and Connectivity
The S1R is powered by a single battery, rated by CIPA to provide about 360 shots when using the rear LCD or 340 shots with the EVF. It’s in line with the Nikon Z 7 (400/330 shots), but can’t keep up with the Sony a7R III (650/530 shots).
A vertical battery grip, the DMW-BGS1 ($ 349.99), is available as an add-on; it holds one extra battery and includes additional controls for use when holding the camera in portrait orientation. It’s also compatible with the S1. The grip doesn’t ship with an extra DMW-BLJ31 battery—it sells separately for $ 89.99.
There are two ways to charge the battery. The simple one, in camera via USB-C, will also let you provide power continuously, a big benefit for studio and time-lapse work. There’s also an external battery charger, but it’s an odd one. It comes in two pieces, one with a battery cradle and a USB-C port, while a second is a small transformer with USB-C on one side and a standard non-polarized AC plug connection on the other. Both the power cable and a USB-C cable are included, but the configuration is odd enough to call out. For what it’s worth, I skipped using the charger and opted to top off the battery directly via its USB-C port and a MacBook Pro charger.
Physical connections include the standard hot shoe and PC sync flash socket, the latter on the front plate. The bulk of connections are on the left side—2.5mm remote, 3.5mm headphone and microphone, HDMI, and USB-C.
There are dual memory card slots. The primary slot supports XQD memory while the secondary slot uses the more common SD format. The XQD slot will receive support for the faster CFExpress format, which uses the same form factor, via a future firmware update. The SD slot supports all of the latest formats and UHS-II speed.
Wi-Fi has long been a standard camera feature, and it’s included here, along with Bluetooth to make the pairing process a smooth one. Once you connect the camera to your Android or iOS device you’ll be able to control it remotely (complete with a view from the lens) via your phone and transfer images. The Panasonic Image App, a free download, is required.
Panasonic is going against the grain with its choice of autofocus technology. Most mirrorless cameras use a mix of on-sensor phase and contrast detection, but Panasonic relies solely on contrast detection. It is dubbed DFD—short for Depth From Defocus—and uses the amount of blur in frame to make it speedier than typical contrast systems.
If you’re used to an SLR, or a mirrorless camera with phase detection, you may find the DFD experience offputting. When the focus system is engaged, the lens drives slightly past the point of focus and then returns. It’s a minor thing when working in AF-S, but if you opt to use the camera in AF-C you’ll experience a wobbling effect as your frame constantly shifts in and out of focus as focus is active. Couple this with a general loss of quality to the live feed—giving the entire preview a soft look—and it’s simply not as pleasant to use for tracking action as other cameras.
Which is a shame, because the S1R’s autofocus system is loaded with advanced subject recognition features. It also offers several shapes and sizes of flexible spots for more control over manual focus area selection. When left to its own devices it can identify people and animals—it was quick to identify ducks and geese—and supports face and eye detection for humans and pets.
For manual selection, the standard flexible spot is available, in varying sizes, and can be moved about by dragging your finger across the rear LCD or by moving the eight-way joystick around. Panasonic also offers an oval pattern, or a horizontal or vertical strip, all with adjustable coverage size.
A subject tracking mode is also available. It shows as a small green crosshair over a subject, and when it identifies a subject for tracking a green box expands around it and follows the subject as it moves around the frame. It works well when it works, but I found it to be inconsistent in practice. At times it would have no problems selecting a subject, and at others it wouldn’t pick it up at all.
In terms of speed, the S1R acquires focus in a scant 0.05-second in bright light, though it can slow to 0.4-second in dim conditions. Start-up time is about a second, speedy for a mirrorless camera.
With continuous focus the camera tops out at 6fps, versus 10fps for the 42MP Sony a7R III and 9fps for the 45.6MP Nikon Z 7. The S1R is able to go a bit faster, 9.5fps in our tests, with focus locked in for the burst.
Focus accuracy during bursts is very good, but not perfect. It aced our lab tests, netting almost every shot of a burst in crisp focus, even as the target moved away from and toward the lens. In the field, I noticed more frequent misfocused shots during bursts, but they were surrounded by plenty of keepers.
The S1 offers identical performance. The difference is in how long they can shoot. The S1R’s sensor is higher resolution, and its files are bigger. Still, its shooting buffer manages 37 Raw+JPG, 42 Raw, or 54 JPGs at the top 9.5fps capture rate. (Compare this with 75, 124, and unlimited capture with the S1.)
High Resolution, High Quality
The S1R’s 47.3MP image sensor is among the highest resolution available in the 35mm format. Nikon uses a 45.6MP sensor in its Z 7 and D850, Sony has the 42MP a7R III, and Canon has the 50MP EOS 5DS R.
With the exception of the 5DS R—which is showing its age—the S1R’s competition doesn’t just offer a slew of pixels. Modern sensors also perform well at very high ISO sensitivity and produce Raw images with plenty of dynamic range. The S1R performs right up there with the best of its competition.
Its JPG output controls image noise through ISO 12800, and while there’s a little bit of smudging of fine lines, detail shines through. At lower settings detail is very strong and noise isn’t a concern. At ISO 25600 the JPG output takes a noticeable hit and details are blurred at the top ISO 51200 setting.
In addition to standard JPG capture, the S1R can capture JPGs with wider dynamic range using an HLG profile. If you’re planning on viewing photos on an HDR television, or simply want to capture an image with more detail in both the highlights and shadows, without having to deal with Raw processing, turning on the HLG capture is an easy way to do it.
Of course, many photographers shopping at this price point will turn the settings to Raw and not look back. The S1R’s sensor offers plenty of flexibility when opening shadows and reigning in highlights, and shows strong detail through ISO 6400. Noise is noticeable at ISO 12800, but lines are still pretty crisp. Grain is bigger and rougher at ISO 25600, and it all but overtakes the image at ISO 51200. This is in line with other modern high-resolution full-frame sensors.
In addition to standard 47.3MP image capture, the S1R has a multi-shot mode. It leverages the image stabilization system, shifting the sensor on a pixel level and combining multiple exposures into a 187MP image—in your choice of Raw, JPG, or both formats. This is most useful for static subjects, and certainly requires a sturdy tripod or camera support to utilize effectively.
Serious Video Chops
Panasonic has been a leading name in video quality for a long time, and it reinforces its reputation with the S1R. The camera records internally at 8-bit 4:2:0 quality with H.264 compression. It can roll 4K footage at 60fps at 150Mbps, and manages 100Mbps at 24 or 30fps. The footage is cropped, but only slightly—by a factor of 1.09x. Of course, because the sensor is stabilized, all of the video is stabilized too.
You can also record at 1080p at 30fps (20Mbps) or 60fps (28Mbps). Slow-motion is also an option, but you need to switch the Mode dial to the dedicated video position. You can roll 1080p at 180fps with some cropping or at 120fps using the full sensor width.
External recording is an option too. The S1R outputs a clean 4:2:2 8-bit signal over HDMI, which makes it competitive with other high-resolution-sensor models. But it does lag behind 24MP sensors in some ways. For example, the Panasonic S1 supports 10-bit output over HDMI, and more advanced H.265 (HEVC) compression for internal recording.
A Bit Bigger, A Bit More Expensive
The Panasonic Lumix DC-S1R is a little bit, well, more, than its two closest competitors, the Nikon Z 7 and the Sony a7R III. Its body is bigger all around, its sensor has a few more pixels, and it costs a few hundred dollars more.
For more money, we typically want to see more performance, and in some ways the S1R excels. It has a high-resolution multi-shot mode (included in the a7R III, but absent from the Z 7), offers an excellent EVF and generally solid ergonomics, and has two no-compromise memory card slots.
In many other areas it matches its competitors. Though there’s one big caveat, and that’s the autofocus experience. The S1R simply can’t track as effectively or shoot as quickly as the a7R III or Z 7. Many will find 6fps ample, but the shooting experience when working in AF-C is distracting. It takes you out of the moment.
The heft of the body—there aren’t a lot of lightweight lenses available, either—is a real concern. Mirrorless cameras have fewer moving parts and generally smaller builds than SLRs, and enjoy a little bit of weight savings as a rule of thumb. But the S1R is heavier than both the Nikon D850 and the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, both of which include flapping mirrors and optical viewfinders.
And the cost is a concern. The $ 3,700 asking price is more than the Nikon ($ 3,400) or Sony ($ 3,200) alternatives. A paucity of affordable lenses compounds matters, though that’s sure to be addressed as Sigma has announced plans to release some lower-cost lenses in L-mount. All this makes the system a little tough to recommend at this early point in its life, despite how incredibly capable the S1R is. We continue to recommend the Sony a7R III and Nikon D850 to customers shopping for a high-resolution full-frame camera.