Panasonic’s First Full-Frame Mirrorless Cameras Are Big Expensive Beasts

Panasonic’s First Full-Frame Mirrorless Cameras Are Big Expensive Beasts

First, it was the Nikon Z7, then came the Canon EOS-R, and now Panasonic is officially joining the ranks of full-frame mirrorless camera makers with its brand new Lumix S cameras.

However, because Panasonic already had a fair bit of expertise with mirrorless systems thanks to cams like the Lumix GH5S and others, its path to full-frame is a bit different than its DSLR-making cohorts. So, on the new $3,499 24.2- MP Lumix S1 and the $5,199 47.3-MP Lumix S1R, Panasonic went hard to created a big, beastly new camera line aimed at pros, and then packed them full of pretty much every feature anyone might want.

From the moment you pick up a Lumix S1 or S1R, their heft and size signal that they aren’t your average digital camera. In fact, me and pretty much everyone else I watched handle the camera let out an audible “umph” at first touch. But once you get past its 1kg, you begin to appreciate how thoughtfully each button was placed across its magnesium-alloy weather-sealed body.

Because the Lumix S cameras are designed for pros, not only are the S1 and S1R certified to function down to 14 degrees Fahrenheit, Panasonic went out of its way to provide dedicated buttons for almost every major setting, and even made sure to use differently shaped buttons so you know which one is which just by feel alone. Of course, there are still a number of programmable buttons and customisable settings, but by default, almost everything is already at your fingertips. Even the new control stick feels faster and offers eight directions of movement instead of four like you get on some older cameras.

And inside its menus, Panasonic has revamped its UI to show additional stats like battery life in percentages, and even a separate metric showing battery degradation. Panasonic also made it possible to save photo and video settings independently, so you don’t have to worry about constantly switching between various colour profiles depending on what you’re doing.

One of the most impressive features on the new Lumix S cameras is its new 5.7-million dot OLED EVF, which Panasonic is calling a “Real View Finder.” From just a short time with it, it looks like the best EVF on the market, and even sharper and more detailed than what you get on Nikon and Canon’s new mirrorless cams. And like on previous G-series cameras, there’s also a tri-axial rear touchscreen that measures 8cm across. Sadly, for all the deep-pocketed vloggers out there, the rear display doesn’t flip completely around.

But the real achievement on the S1 and S1R are their new sensors. By combining in-body image stabilisation rated up to six stops, more precise gyro sensors, and a new Venus Engine image processor, Panasonic’s new camera should be on an entirely different level than anything the company has made before.

Another advantage of designing a new camera system from the ground up is that it allows Panasonic to increase the speed at which internal components communicate with each other. On its earlier Micro Four Thirds cameras, the lens and sensor bounced signals back and forth at 240 frames per second, but on the S1/S1R, Panasonic claims to have increased that to 480 fps. That, Panasonic claims, helps augment the camera’s autofocus to deliver focus speeds as little as 0.08 seconds—a far cry from the miserable speeds of the GH5—which often hunts to focus. And thanks to enhanced subject tracking that works on eyes as well as most four-legged animals, the S1/S1R should have an easier time tracking things as they move across the frame too.

Meanwhile, in another jab at Nikon and Canon’s new full-frame efforts, both the S1 and S1R offer dual card slots. There’s a traditional SD card slot, but for best performance, there’s also an XQD card slot that Panasonic says will also support the CFexpress format whenever the protocol gets finalised. On the S1R, the camera’s RAW image buffer is 40 pictures, while the lower-res sensor on the S1 means it gets a larger 90 pic buffer.

Panasonic even made a new battery for the Lumix S line, which at 3,050 mAh, offers almost 65 per cent more capacity than the 1,860 mAh batteries used in Panasonic G-series cams. But that bigger battery is powering a lot of camera, which is why the CIPA-rating for battery life only stands at around 360-380 shots depending on the specific camera. Panasonic did stress that users shouldn’t be surprised if they get a lot more than that on a single charge.

There are quite a few functions and features Panasonic baked into the Lumix S line, which are frankly too numerous (and potentially niche) to list out here, but I’ll give the most important ones a shot. First is a High-Resolution mode that shoots eight pics in a row, and then composites them together to create a final image with quadruple the resolution, either 96-MP or 187-MP depending on the camera.

There’s also anti-flicker detection that should help prevent unwanted banding when shooting under LED lights, full 4K/60 FPS video recording, variable aspect ratios that can be set to 2:1 or an extra-wide 65:24 ratio, flat colour profiles when shooting photos and videos, and what Panasonic is calling I.S. Status scope, which is an overlay that shows you how much the camera is shaking in real time. There’s even a new highlight-weighted metering mode and two new auto-white balance modes to help capture more natural looking skin tones under a variety of lights.

That said, Panasonic’s new pro-grade cameras aren’t perfect. Its continuous shooting speeds of 9 FPS (or 6 FPS with continuous AF) is just average for a high-end camera. But what’s even stranger is that for some reason, unlike the Nikon Z6, the 24-MP Lumix S1 crops down to APS-C while shooting video. The S1R gets a full sensor readout. However, Panasonic says that due to its slightly better low-light sensitivity and features like V-Log and HEVC recording (which the S1R doesn’t get), the S1 should be the better camera for dedicated videographers. Meanwhile, the S1R is being billed as a no-compromise camera focused on delivering excellent photo and video capture.

Of course, a new high-end camera body isn’t much without some quality glass. So alongside the launch of its Lumix S cameras, Panasonic is offering three new L-Mount lenses. There’s a $1,799 f/4 24-105mm zoom, a $2,399 f/4 70-200mm zoom, and a $3,499 f/1.4 50mm prime that Panasonic is touting as a reference grade lens. That’s not a ton to start, but Pansonic already has a road map of future lenses, and with Sigma and Leica serving as the other two members of the L-Mount Alliance, there should be more glass available for the S1 and S1R soon.

Unfortunately, while I couldn’t take any sample photos with Panasonic’s new cameras, my initial impression is that these cameras feel big and brawny in a way that even Sony’s most expensive mirrorless cams don’t. When Nikon and Canon launched their first full-frame mirrorless camera, both companies shied away from slapping the pro-grade tag on them, probably in fear of the comparisons that might ensue.

But Panasonic has no such hesitation, and between a big new sensor, an upgraded image processor, and what feels like one the hardiest, most well-designed bodies in the category, the new S1, and especially the new S1R really planting flags in the full-frame mirrorless market.

Check back for more info, and hopefully image samples, from the Lumix S1 and Lumix S1R as we get closer to their launch, which is slated for sometime this March.

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