A few months ago Sony had the full-frame mirrorless camera scene to itself, but now it can barely move for new rivals – first Canon and Nikon rode into town on the EOS R and Z Series, and now Panasonic’s made it a true bun fight with its new S1 and S1R.
Panasonic’s arrival in this pro-friendly category is perhaps the least likely, because for ten years it’s been making cameras that sport the smaller Four Thirds sensor.
This sensor has its own advantages, particularly in size, speed and price, which has ensured the arrival of no less than 30 new Panasonic G cameras.
So why the move to full-frame with the Panasonic S1 and S1R? In a word, choice. Panasonic says that both the new S series and its current G series will continue to co-exist, with the latter aimed at a broader, more enthusiast audience, while the S series caters for professionals.
Both of Panasonic’s new models will have the same body design, but the S1R will feature a 47-megapixel sensor, while the S1 will be equipped with a 24-megapixel sensor.
So far, it’s just a development announcement, but I was lucky enough to see a (non-working) development model which shows how the S cameras will look and feel.
With a features list that also includes weather-sealing, dual image stabilisation, two memory card slots and 4K video recording at 60p, it’s fair to say they could yet hold their own in a fiercely competitive space…
Panasonic S1R – Design and handling
While Nikon has made every effort to shrink down its camera design for the recently announced Z6 and Z7, Panasonic has gone the other way and made the S1 and S1R big, bold and chunky.
The prototype I saw was fitted with a prototype 50mm lens, and it certainly has a weight and heft that is likely to appeal to professional photographers.
Replete with a wide number of dials and buttons, there should be a quick way to access most key settings, as well as a quick menu to group certain settings together. The prototype model we saw didn’t switch on, but it seems relatively likely that the camera will operate in a similar way to its more advanced G series cameras, such as the Panasonic G9.
In fact, you can think of the S1 as like a beefed up G9 – it looks and feels a lot like one, with a DSLR-like shape and design, including a centralised viewfinder on the top plate.
Again, we’ve not been able to look through the camera’s viewfinder, but we’re told it has a higher resolution than those found on the Nikon Z series and the Canon EOS R camera – so hopefully it’ll be as fantastic in use as that sounds.
The S1 and S1R’s screen is tiltable on three axes – this wasn’t working on the prototype, but it works in a similar way to the G9’s pivoting display, which is great for composing from awkward angles like at ground level.
Panasonic S1R – Features
All of the specifications in Panasonic’s S1 and S1R “development announcement” are not completely confirmed, but it has some very interesting features that should appeal to both pro photographers and videographers.
The higher resolution S1R is being targeted at stills photographers, while the lower resolution S1 is more likely appeal to video shooters. One such feature that is likely to appeal to the latter is 4K video recording at 60p – which is a first for the full-frame market.
Unlike both Nikon and Canon, Panasonic has opted to include two memory card slots in the S1 and S1R. For the first time, the company is adopting the XQD format, which will sit alongside an SD card slot. XQD cards facilitate fast shooting speeds, so it will be interesting to see how well equipped the S1 and S1R are for fast frame rates.
Gearing this towards pros means making the camera able to withstand some serious abuse – as such, it is weather sealed and also promises to work in extremely cold locations, which could be useful for wildlife photographers and the like.
Panasonic S1R – Lenses
As the Lumix S1 and S1R have been designed as part of an alliance with Leica and Sigma, the system as a whole gives you a lot more choice at launch than most new systems.
At launch, Panasonic will be making three new native Lumix S lenses available – a 24-105mm, 70-200mm and a 50mm f/1.4. Aperture values for the zoom lenses have yet to be confirmed.
On top of that, there are several Leica SL and TL lenses which can also be used with the new system – that is, if you’re willing to pay the high prices that Leica commands.
Perhaps more of interest is Sigma’s involvement. The optics company has also worked in the partnership and will be making a number of lenses available for the S series in 2019. This makes the system very credible from launch – and it’s also thought that adapters will allow other manufacturer lenses to be used with the system too.
Panasonic S1R – First Impressions
It’s been quite a whirlwind in the full-frame mirrorless market of late – in the space of a few weeks, we’ve gone from having just one major player in the market (Sony) to four (Sony, Nikon, Canon and Panasonic).
Rather than concentrating on making everything super small (a la Sony), Panasonic has made the S1 and S1R stand out by collaborating with other manufacturers in the market to make a much more holistic system, right from launch.
There are other reasons why the S series might have particular appeal to pros. Put the heavier, chunkier S1 and S1R side by side with the Nikon Z7 and the difference in size is very obvious. Both of Panasonic’s cameras also have a secondary memory card slot and the ability to capture 60p video in 4K.
Still, Panasonic’s biggest challenge is likely to be convincing these pros that Lumix is the brand for them. It is already well-liked and respected in the video arena, but in the stills market, the G series is generally regarded as something for amateur enthusiasts.
We’re excited to see full working production models of the S1 and S1R just as soon as they become available before their “early 2019” launch – watch this space.