The Panasonic Lumix S1R treads a familiar camera path. Like Sony and Nikon, Panasonic has produced two externally identical cameras but with two different resolutions and price points.
The Panasonic Lumix S1 has a 24MP sensor and is priced to appeal to enthusiast photographers (and professional videographers), while the Lumix S1R has a 47MP CMOS sensor, which is the highest resolution yet offered in a full frame mirrorless camera, if only by a small margin.
Panasonic Lumix S1R: features
As if that wasn’t enough, these cameras also offer a multi-shot High Resolution mode which combines eight images captured with a series of minute sensor shifts to produce super-high resolution image well beyond the sensor’s native resolution.
On the S1R this means huge 187-megapixel photos that exceed the pixel count of even the most powerful medium format cameras – though it relies on static subjects and with the camera mounted on a tripod, so you could only use this for certain types of subject.
This high resolution mode is made possible by Panasonic’s 5-axis in-body stabilisation system, which offers 5.5 stops of shake compensation on its own but up to 6 stops of shake compensation when used with one of Panasonic’s new image-stabilised lenses.
We were able to try out the S1R with the first three lenses to be released, including the 24-105mm standard zoom, 50mm f/1/4 and 70-200mm f/4 telephoto zoom.
Other headline features include the ability to shoot 4K video at up to 60/50fps for the first time in a full frame mirrorless model, the world’s highest resolution electronic viewfinder, with 5,760 million dots, and a continuous shooting speed of 9fps.
Though if there is a chink in the S1R’s armor it’s here. That 9fps frame rate is achieved only with the AF locked on the first frame.
With continuous autofocus the frame rate drops to 6fps, and while the S1R also has a 6K Photo mode that can capture 18-megapixel images at 30fps, it’s not quite the same thing as a regular full-resolution continuous shooting mode.
Panasonic Lumix S1R: build and handling
Panasonic has taken a pretty uncompromising approach to the S1R’s build quality, with a magnesium alloy construction and weather sealing that makes it dust and moisture resistant and ‘freeze-proof’ down to -10 degrees.
It goes further in a number of respects, however. The electronic viewfinder’s resolution is on a whole new level, for a start. It’s not just superbly sharp, contrasty and saturated, it’s also remarkably lag-free.
We’re used to electronic displays blurring and ‘smearing’ with fast camera movements, especially in low light, but Panasonic does seem to have raised the bar here and this perhaps the closest we’ve yet come to a genuine ‘optical’ viewfinder look.
The screen on the back of the camera deserves some special praise too. Its resolution of 2,100k dots means it’s exceptionally sharp, but it also has a clever triaxial tilt mechanism that allows for sideways movement as well as up and down, so this is a tilting screen you can also use with the camera held vertically.
It’s interesting that Panasonic chose this mechanism rather than the regular flip-out vari-angle screens used on some of its Micro Four Thirds models, but this was done to offer maximum robustness and durability – we were shown how it was possible to hold the camera by gripping the fold-out screen alone.
This sense of strength and durability is everywhere. Inside, the S1R has a shutter with a life expectancy of 400,000 shots, and on the outside it has really firm, positive controls – and lots of them.
It’s great to get a dedicated drive mode dial and a dual-function focus dial for setting both the focus mode and selecting the focus area. There’s also a focus lever/joysticks for setting the focus point and a lock lever to prevent unintentional adjustments while handling the camera.
The only issue we had was with the sensitivity of the touch-screen display – it’s very easy to inadvertently set the focus point near the bottom left corner of the frame when your nose touches the screen during shooting.
This is a common problem with cameras that offer touch-focus control and the S1R is by no means alone – if it’s too annoying, you can always deactivate the touch control.
Panasonic Lumix S1R: performance
As with the Panasonic Lumix S1, we found there was a tendency for the focus to hunt in tricky artificial lighting, but we should make allowances for the fact that these were pre-production cameras and we were shooting in pretty unusual conditions.
Otherwise, the autofocus was fast, positive and accurate – and the Eye AF system is particularly impressive.
In this mode, the camera automatically identifies faces in the scene with a rectangular marquee – if there’s more than one, it will usually select the face nearest the camera, but you can change the face selected using the focus lever.
When a face is detected, the AF system will pick out the subject’s eyes with a set of crosshairs – again, you can choose which eye is selected using the focus lever.
The Eye AF crosshairs are not especially easy to recognise at first, but once you know what you’re looking for this system is very quick, effective and accurate.
If you’re taking pictures of people with a high-resolution full frame camera and fast lenses used at wide apertures, then a fast and accurate Eye AF system could really improve your success rate of sharp shots.
Panasonic Lumix S1R: early verdict
As with the Lumix S1 also being demonstrated, the S1R we tried was a pre-production model so the images we captured may not be representative of the quality of the final version.
Even so, they looked very sharp, very well exposed and showed saturated but natural-looking colours.
We look forward to inspecting the image quality in depth when we get our hands on a finished production camera, but if our first experience is anything to go by the image quality of the Lumix S1R could prove very special.
Panasonic has arrived in the full frame mirrorless market quite late with the Lumix S1 and S1R, but these cameras feel like very well-made, robust and well thought out cameras that were perhaps worth the wait.
Hands on: Panasonic S1 review