Over the last couple of days Panasonic treated a bunch of
tech writers, photographers and videographers to a bunch of picturesque
locations around Hobart. The purpose was to introduce us to the new Panasonic
Lumix S full frame cameras.
We covered the details of the cameras when they were announced back in February. See here. But in brief, there are two models. As seems to be the industry standard with full frame mirrorless cameras, the two differ primarily in resolution.
The “hero” product is the Lumix S1R. This one’s 35mm-film-sized sensor packs 47.3 megapixels. That works out to 8,368 by 5,584 pixels in roughly 3:2 aspect. A bunch of lower resolution modes are available. It is being introduced at $5,299, body only.
A recap of the Lumix S Series cameras
The “entry” level model is the Lumix S1. The sensor is the
same size, but the pixels are bigger for a resolution of 24.2 megapixels. The
biggest images are 6,000 by 4,000 pixels. It’s priced at $3,599. As a kit with
the Lumix S F4 24-105mm lens, they are priced respectively at $6,899 and $5,199.
That saves purchasers about $300 on buying the lens separately.
Both have the full set of Panasonic features, including 6K
modes. I was told that the S1 has a buffer big enough for 999 shots in a burst.
I imagine fewer images would fit in the buffer with RAW mode selected, or with
the higher resolution S1R images.
Both cameras are dust and splash resistant (it rained a bit
during some of the shoots, but none of the cameras seemed to mind) and it can
cope with cold down to -10 degrees C.
They both do UltraHD video recording, but the cheaper S1 is
the capability winner here. It can use the full sensor for recording up to UltraHD
30p. Later in the year there will be a for-purchase software upgrade that will
allow it to record the colour in higher 4:2:2 resolution (rather than the
standard 4:2:0) at up to 30p internally, and up to 60p via the HDMI output to
an external recorder.
There’s much, much more. Check out our earlier piece.
In the hand
Over a day and a half I was able to wield both cameras,
taking just short of 1,300 photos with the two of them.
I ended up with a lot more than 1,300 files, because for the
first 400-odd I had RAW mode also operating. That is photos were saved at the
highest quality JPEG setting and RAW, both. But then I heard from the Panasonic
people that these cameras use a new version of Panasonic’s flavour of RAW, and
that it’s not yet supported by the various photo editing packages (I use
Photoshop). That support should be appearing in the near future.
I’m going to refer to them both as Lumix S Series cameras
because, until it comes to editing work, where the higher resolution of the S1R
becomes apparent, they are identical in use.
The Lumix S Series cameras felt great in my hands. They
certainly didn’t feel at all heavy in my paws, even though I was expecting them
to. And even though they were mostly fitted with the Lumix S 24-105mm F4 lens,
which is itself pretty large. You can leave everything on automatic (“iA” on
the mode dial) and just point and shoot as well as the best compact. All you’ll
need is more room in your luggage to carry the thing.
(Although, to be fair, when I got back to my office after
the trip and picked up my GH4, it felt so very, very light).
When not in full auto mode, and even though I’m a long-time
Panasonic GH4 user, there were a few things that I had to get used to in order
to effectively use the camera. The first was my tendency to somehow lean on the
joy stick. This sits to the upper right of the rear monitor, and even though it’s
not in the way of anything, I still kept pushing it accidentally.
The main use of the joystick is to select the point of focus (it doesn’t change much if you’re using the focus-on-everything multi-point point mode. It kept ending up at bottom left, so auto focus would be trying to find something on the ground on which to focus, leaving my subjects fuzzy.
But there are ready solutions to that. First, there’s a very
handy “Lock” switch on the back. Flick that over and the manual settings are
locked in place. You can choose which settings this applies to.
Another solution was to simply press the joystick. This
returns the focal point to the centre of the screen. Press it again and it goes
to the previous spot. As you can imagine, you can toggle easily between the
centre and a chosen point.
A further solution forced me to place more trust in the
Lumix S Series cameras than the amount to which I’m accustomed. And that proved
to be a boon.
As we’ll see shortly, one of the photo opportunities was
photographing a female model. When I came to that, I decided to give the
automatic body and face detection auto focus function a whirl. I’m now a
convert. Were I to own a Lumix S Series camera, I’d be using this much of the
time. It always managed to identify either her whole body or, if it was turned
the right way, her face. And it provided a very sure focus.
On top of that, I invoked Panasonic’s AF+MF mode in the menu
(you have to look hard, it’s buried a long way down and is off by default).
That let’s you manually tweak the focus while holding the shutter release at a
half press. (You can also use the joystick in auto detection mode to do things
like choose which eye on the identified face, or which face amongst several,
that you want the camera to focus on.)
AF+MF worked much better than it does on my GH4 for one
reason: the focus ring on the lens was smooth and light in turning. (Most of the
lenses I have for the GH4 have quite stiff focus rings, which discourages their
use.) I would have liked a slightly heavier shutter release button with a touch
more travel, but it didn’t take long to learn the precise holding position.
The other thing that stood out in using the Lumix S Series
cameras was the electronic viewfinder. Panasonic notes that they have the
highest resolution of any on the market, at 5.7 megapixels. I confess I was a
little dismissive of this, thinking the 3+ megapixels offered by several rivals
to be more than adequate. Until, anyway, I put the camera to my eye.
Although you can’t perceive the pixels on the lower
resolution viewfinders, it seems that they still manage to be not quite as
sharp as this one. It was sharp, with brilliant detail. It uses OLED
technology, and the colour presentation was rich. The only weakness (I’m
comparing here to perfection, not to other cameras, which all share this
weakness) is that in bright scenes, the darker elements of the screen often
crush into black. That might be the display, or it might be my all-too-human
eye responding to the high overall brightness of the image.
The fold-out screen on the Lumix S Series cameras might not be as versatile as the swing-out on of the GH cameras, but it’s good enough for most purposes. Here I was able to get the camera right down on the floor to capture the model. I intentionally framed it to capture more of the background, going for a dramatic look. That sandstone is an internal wall – cut into the earth – of the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart. If you haven’t been, it’s well worth visiting and paying the entrance fee (it’s privately owned) to see the astonishing internal structure, quite aside from the artworks.
Despite the intentional distance from the subject, when I
crop down to the model’s face she remains detailed and sharp. That’s thanks to
the auto face detection of the camera. Note, this is with the S1, so the lower
resolution 24 megapixel model. The camera selected a 1/25th of a second shutter
speed and an ISO of 1600 for this one. I selected an aperture of f/4.
A different lens
At one point I was able to briefly get ahold of the new f/1.4 50mm prime lens. It’s designed specifically for the Lumix S Series cameras. I think of 50mm lenses as small. This one wasn’t, being just about the same size as the zoom lens. And it costs $3,599. I was interested in low light performance, so I shot a barrel out in the dark. I chose f/1.4 and let the camera choose the rest of the settings. It went for a 1/50th of a second shutter speed and wound the ISO all the way up to 25,600. That’s a ridiculously high speed for a sensor, and should crush the image quality with grain, or processing artefacts from the attempt to remove the grain.
But in fact the picture was quite presentable:
Especially on the front where the focus had settled, the
image was sharp and clear. There was processed grain closer to the edges where
the shadow was stronger and the wood was further from the plane of focus, but
it was well controlled.
And here are a few more photos, back with the zoom lens. All
but the first were shot with the Lumix S1R camera. In every case, the colour
balance and detail is simply first class.
JPEG photos at the highest quality setting (and why would you choose a lower one?) were around 9MB to 12MB for the Lumix S1 and 18 to 22MB for the Lumix S1R. I didn’t take any RAW shots with the latter. With the S1, RAW shots consumed about 35MB. There should be plenty of room in either camera because they each have two card slots, one for SDXC with UHS-II bus support and one for XQD.
The initial two cameras in the Panasonic Lumix S Series
range were a delight to use, and both produced images of extraordinarily high
quality. No photographer from half a dozen years ago would have dreamt that such
pictures could be produces by a digital camera that was within financial reach
of the enthusiastic amateur.
Panasonic’s website for the Lumix S Series cameras is here.