Is the LUMIX S1R really worth it?

Is the LUMIX S1R really worth it?

By: Chris Pepper

I found myself excited to unbox the Lumix S1R, a flagship camera which signals a new direction in the Lumix line up. So, I sit in my living room, with no distractions, and I unbox the beast.

First impressions, Lumix never fails to design a perfect box to house all those attachments, booklets and the camera. It makes you feel as if the gear is well cared for before it becomes your personal possession. I always carry around that black cloth that the camera is wrapped in for months and I treat my cameras like they are the most precious cargo. I pull out the camera, ahhhh the new smell.

First thoughts: it’s heavy, but this is not an unfamiliar feeling for me. For the past three years I have been immersed in the 4/3 line up, trying every body possible. The lightweight and compactness of the gear was a big selling feature for me. Prior to this I walked around with massive, bulky Nikons and huge prime lenses. Since I have big hands, it felt like home to hold a full body camera again. I look over the camera and try to feel if the button positions work for my hands. Am I stretching to reach a function? Can I find everything while looking through the viewfinder? I find for me that this full frame body is a large-scale version of the past models I shot with in the 4/3 line up so no big changes for me. If I looked at it from an outsider perspective, I would feel the ergonomics of the camera are something that can easily be adapted to. WB, ISO and exposure compensation all sitting on the top right side. All easy to use on the fly without taking your face away from the camera. The aperture and shutter dial are placed in an accessible position. Mode dials are well labeled on the left with the custom adjustments below easily maneuvered using your thumb.

First impressions out in the field with the camera

I set up the camera to capture a sunset. First though, before I shoot, I use the AF, set up to back button focus and I acquire my desired focus, then I re check it zoomed in in manual mode. Yes, it’s perfect! When I shoot landscapes with Lumix cameras or any camera for that fact, I like to use live view and manual focus. This way I can’t blame the camera for any autofocus errors and it’s all on me. I use the focus peaking so the area in focus is highlighted in blue. For low light images I really like the picture in picture function as it allows me to zoom right in on my subject to be sure of pinpoint accuracy. First, I notice the incredible screen resolution, the colours were so true to what I had set up to photograph. To my surprise once I loaded up the images to my laptop the colour was spot on to what I was viewing. I found as the sun was setting my hands easily navigated all the functions of the camera no problem. Here is my first image I was able to take with the S1R, a grandfather and granddaughter holding hands at Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse watching the sunset.

I set up my camera in front of a puddle to catch a reflection. As I set my tripod as low as it can go, I pull out the LCD screen on the camera for a better angle. This feature on Lumix cameras has been a selling feature for me from the start. It is a little different than most Lumix cameras as it does not swing out to the left and fully articulate. This one pulls out and swivels up and down and also swings out to the right if need be. My next image was taken in a blue hour – the scene turned out to be really blue with no clouds, so I decided to switch it to B&W.

The detail I was able to extract out of this sensor has been incredible. Dynamic range has also been great from ISO 80 to 800. As a landscape photographer, we should never need to go any higher than this unless we are shooting night sky images.

If you look at other reviews on this camera people have compared it against some of today’s industry leading cameras. The summary I keep reading is that this camera is nothing but a landscape and portrait monster. Although I have no other camera to do a side by side comparison with and charts that show off dynamic range fall off or ISO sensitivity, I can show you images this camera has produced. In a year, I usually have over 10 of the top cameras in our industry in my hands so real world testing is what excites me. Because let’s face it, the camera doesn’t take the picture – it’s the photographer. Let me show you a few more images from this night’s shoot with the S1R camera all taken with the 24-105 F4 kit lens.

Lumix has recently added a new feature to their cameras that creates the ability to make massive images. This feature is called high resolution mode. The mode basically takes images from different areas of the sensor combining 8 images into a large raw file. If you were shooting the largest aspect ratio possible with the S1R you could produce a file with 187MP. This makes the camera capable of capturing amazing dynamic resolution to the finest detail. For this image, I decided to save it as a much lower resolution at a small 75MP 😉

I feel a bit sorry for Lumix with the release of this camera. To me it’s a first-year product (and there is always stigma attached to first year products), but they nailed it! As a Lumix shooter, this camera ticked off so many boxes compared to many other camera brands that I have used. A friend stated to me that he feels “The S1R will be the Contax camera of the digital world” Amazing technology that many people will ignore because of its timing. I really hope enough people buy this product and they decide to support this line for many years. If you are a 4/3 shooter of the Lumix line you know that Lumix was one of the pioneers of mirrorless cameras many years ago. Between processors and what they have extracted out of the 4/3 sensor Panasonic has been amazing with their ever-growing technology expertise. To think what they can do with an S1R in two to five years is an incredible thought. This sensor currently ranks #4 in cameras under $50K – to me that equates an amazing first year release camera.

One of the things I love about Lumix is their constant updates and support for models used in the current market. Many cameras that photographers have purchased 3-5 years ago have two times the features now than when they were first bought. Another thing to mention is how they figure something out for one model and then pass it along in an update to the other models in the line. This creates great customer retention to their product line, but will the S1R be treated the same? I believe people who buy this camera will have great technical support over the years to come. The day before I returned the camera Lumix already announced the firmware update 1.2 for the S1 and S1R. This firmware will Improve the IBIS system, creating near and far shift AF for lenses to acquire focus even faster.

One current downfall of the camera is the lack of lens support. But that is not to be said it will stay that way forever. Lumix has decided to have a third party create many lenses for this L mount line up. Sigma, a company that was previously struggling in the market decided to create the Contemporary, Sport and Art series line up. This allowed many people to purchase lower priced lenses than their own camera brand offered. As well Sigma started to make lenses with customized properties to allow superior products through docking station programs for photographers to use. I bought one of the first Sport model lenses they made, the Sigma 120-300 f2.8 sport, still one of the sharpest lenses I have bought to date for a Nikon body. These lenses have made Sigma a great company who is gaining market share and now has capital to create more lenses for different brands. By the end of 2020 Lumix has promised 42 lenses for the L mount body between Lumix, Leica and Sigma. We already have existing L mount Leica lenses.

New Sigma lenses expected for lens support in the L mount lineup:

  • Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 DG DN Art (August 2019)
  • Sigma 14mm F1.8 DG HSM Art (2020)
  • Sigma 20mm F1.4 DG HSM Art (October 2019)
  • Sigma 24mm F1.4 DG HSM Art (October 2019)
  • Sigma 28mm F1.4 DG HSM Art (December 2019)
  • Sigma 35mm F1.2 DG DN Art (July 2019)
  • Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM Art (September 2019)
  • Sigma 40mm F1.4 DG HSM Art (December 2019)
  • Sigma 50mm F1.4 DG HSM Art (September 2019)
  • Sigma 70mm F2.8 DG Macro Art (2020)
  • Sigma 85mm F1.4 DG HSM Art (September 2019)
  • Sigma 105mm F1.4 DG HSM Art (December 2019)
  • Sigma 135mm F1.8 DG HSM Art (October 2019)
  • Sigma 45mm F2.8 DG DN Contemporary (July 2019)
  • Sigma has announced they will be creating the Canon EF and Sigma SA lens adapters to the L mount. This would be great for this Lumix L mount line up as the S1H will be targeted for 6k video users. Adapting all these lenses will allow this camera to hit the ground running with a huge line of lenses already used by videographers.

Panasonic/Lumix has already announced that they are offering the following L mount lenses:

  • 24-105mm F4 (Kit Lens in production)
  • 24-70mm F2.8
  • 70-200mm F4
  • 70-200mm F2.8
  • 16-35mm F4
  • DMW-STC144x teleconverter
  • DMW-STC200x teleconverter

Body specs

  • FULL FRAME SENSOR – 47.3-megapixel full-frame MOS sensor that provides a wide dynamic range and excellent performance at high sensitivity (ISO 25600 Max sensitivity)
  • 4K VIDEO – Up to 4K 60p recording plus 6K Photo functions and HLG Photo
  • 187MP HIGH RESOLUTION MODE – A sensor shift technology suitable for taking very high-resolution landscapes and fine art photos via tripod with an option for motion correction capability
  • LVF and MONITOR – 3.2” 2,100K-dot RGBW LCD monitor (3:2 aspect ratio) with triaxial tilt, plus large 5,760k-dot high-resolution OLED viewfinder.

Returning home

I still had this camera for a few days before I had to return it.  For some reason this camera gave me a drive to go out and shoot. Sometimes when you travel for a living you don’t want to shoot in your own backyard. But this camera made me want to go out and constantly shoot more and more. Here is an image of a father and a son on holidays down on our beach, they were enjoying the sunset.

Another image of a flower out in our garden while a visitor decided to photo bomb my image as I was taking it.

Final remarks

As mentioned, I believe many people will overlook this camera. I feel it is a superior camera that should be blowing the full frame market apart. Most will look to the competitor models that have new mirrorless lines and suffer through their years of trial and error to provide a superior product. New lines from Nikon and Canon have sucked the coffers dry – they both dropped their pro crop sensor lines, the D500 and 7DMKII in order to fund new mirrorless models. In my mind it is a huge downfall as these are people not looking to spend massive amounts of money on full frame cameras or prefer the crop sensor reach.

Lumix still supports their 4/3 line, creating telephoto lenses reaching 800mm. As well they have released more lenses for that 4/3 line. Not to mention their huge following for video work – they just released the Leica 10-25mm F1.7 de-clicked to help videographers achieve great results using the native lens line up. I don’t really think many people can nitpick about the S1R specs, the AF is fast for portrait and Landscape. I had no problems acquiring focus in low light or night shoots. The menu is very easy to find your way through, especially if you are a previous Lumix shooter. It uses many of the great functions the 4/3 line up has but uses a sensor on steroids in its place. I will be looking forward to the possibility of the telephoto lenses in the next few years to put this camera through its paces with wildlife. But for now, the gear has been returned back to Lumix, there is a great void in my heart. There is hope I will be using the S1R again very soon up in Yukon this September. I will be chasing northern lights, fall colours and wildlife as we drive around some of my favourite landscapes of Canada. So, keep your eyes peeled for my next blog with images from this trip.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog on the Lumix S1R

Chris Pepper