Three and a half weeks with the full frame mirrorless Lumix S1 Camera
Story telling. That’s what my reason is for picking up a camera. As a photojournalist, a street photographer, a portrait photographer, a commercial photographer, my need for a camera is to capture the essence, subtlety and feel of my subject, tell their story at that moment.
The Lumix S1 has been with me for over three weeks and I found myself not shooting with anything else. The birth of a new system for Panasonic Lumix, and the start of a fresh new camera system. Yet the camera feels completely accomplished. My prototype camera, with pre-production early firmware, behaved impeccably, never letting me down. It didn’t matter the subject matter, the level of light , the speed, the cold; it just worked.
To sum up, in a nutshell, the S1 is extremely impressive. The quality is just stunning, in every aspect; image quality, camera handling, system design and build quality.
The ergonomics are spot on. The camera just fits and within minutes I was already taking pictures. The button layout, joystick positioning, the placing of the AF button on the back (something crucial for my way of working) is spot on. One superb new feature for this Lumix is the lock button at the back, which can lock the rear buttons. Anyone who runs around with their cameras knows how easy it is to inadvertently find they have set the camera to monochrome HDR mode with bracketing on long exposure! The menu system is also a joy to use; its very well thought out, laid out and the design behind it means there is very little need for referring to the manual.
The build quality and finishing on the camera and lens are sublime. This is definitely a premium, high end camera. One made for serious, daily use, in all sorts of environments. Most professional photographers refer to their cameras as tools; they are the beginning of the journey as it’s only the photograph that matters. These tools are expected to work in all sorts of conditions and never fail; ever. I have a feeling the philosophy behind the design and build of the S Series is going to fit that bill fully. The camera and lenses just inspire confidence in every respect.
I was initially a bit worried at having one camera battery during my testing; I made sure to always pack two USB battery power banks (one wonderful aspect of the top end Lumix cameras is USB charging, which is not only a great convenience when home, but is an indispensible feature for when in the field). It turns out, even with the camera set to sleep after 10 minutes and leaving the camera on constantly, I was managing to still have around 50% battery after close to 1000 photos. All this, in relatively cold conditions.
For most of my initial test period of three weeks, I only had the Lumix S Series 24-105mm f4.0 lens. I’m definitely a fan of faster aperture prime lenses, as I tend to shoot in very low and difficult light. With the lens and body stabilization, married to astonishing high ISO performance meant that I was never really left wanting a faster lens. I didn’t miss any shots. Having said that, I had heard many great things about the S Series 50mm f1.4, so couldn’t wait to make some photographs using that.
One thing that can’t be denied is that the S 50mm definitely has presence. It’s a big and heavy lens. Initially, I was disappointed with the size and weight. I had wished for a smaller lens. Within 15 minutes of having it on the S1, I had shot a couple of test shots under some arches of a member of the Japanese team from Panasonic; the quality was stunning. The sharpness, tonal rendition, shadow and highlight detail, soft falloff of the background. This lens completely impressed. It has character and perfection at the same time. After seeing the results, the size no longer became an issue and the lens almost never came off my camera during three days of shooting with it at Panasonic’s launch event for the S Series in Barcelona, Spain. As a nice icing on the cake, the 50mm is also certified by Leica.
The S 24-105mm also definitely impressed me. I have to admit to being a bit of a lens snob; I’m used to shooting with Leica, Leica DG, Zeiss and in earlier years, Angeniuex lenses. I was absolutely bowled over. Not only is this lens sharp, it’s perfectly contrasty and has a phenomenal tonal range. It dealt with shooting in low light or having bright lights without issue. Build quality and feel of the controls match the craftsmanship of the camera.
One thing that has surprised me completely is the level of subtlety I’ve been able to photograph with the S1 and the new S Series lenses. Darker scenes with very subtle gradation and tonal differentiation have been rendered perfectly. The shadow detail and highlight detail have been amazing, even when the same image has had both extremes. It’s also worth pointing out the auto white balance (AWB) worked extremely well, in all but the very mixed and extreme extreme artificial light. I’ve managed to get this level of subtle micro detail and tonal differentiation using a raw converter which is new to me; whilst Silkypix worked and it was a joy to be able to shoot and process raw files on a preproduction prototype camera, I can’t wait for when my preferred imaging software, Adobe’s Lightroom, supports the raw file from the S1. Using software I know intimately is sure to bring a bigger smile to my face when I’m processing images shot on the S1 and extracting even more detail, character and subtlety.
Alongside my eagerness, with almost childlike enthusiasm, to shoot with the S Series 50mm f1.4, I’m was also super impatient to shoot with the larger megapixel cousin, the S1R. In every aspect, the cameras look and behave identically. It’s the sensor and some settings which differ (mainly the highest ISOs and certain video functionality). I only had the S1R for a few hours during the launch event, so my impressions are based on a brief encounter, which left me breathless at the results this camera produces. The size and detail of the images are simply mind blowing, producing a 47.3mp image, which in high resolution mode produces a mid blowing 187mp image. This is truly top end medium format territory, in a smaller and much more dynamic package.
Unique in the full frame market, is the union of Panasonic Lumix and Leica, two camera manufacturers, collaborating around the L Mount, along with Sigma (which I would assume will bring some of their superb ART lenses in the L Mount). This is great news for the Lumix S Series as well as the existing Leica SL community. Panasonic Lumix’s three lenses (24-105mm f4.0, 50mm f1.4 and 70-200mm f4.0) joining an already available portfolio of Leica SL lenses. By 2020, Panasonic Lumix is due to release a further seven lenses.
It’s a truly remarkable to be so enthused about a new camera system after 30 years of professional photography. My excitement for this system reminds me of when I picked up my first SLR, 34 years ago. Roll on March 2019, when these will be available in the shops!
Alongside the S Series, Lumix Pro service has also been rolled out to support professional photographers: https://lumixpro.panasonic.com/
To see an album of test images, please visit my Flickr album Panasonic Lumix S1 and S1R
I also have an album of product shots and comparisons: Lumix S1 Camera Comparison Shots
Once final production cameras are available, I will be writing a full review. In the meantime, do keep an eye on my Instagram where I will be sharing more images.