Is the Panasonic Lumix DC-S1R right for you?

Is the Panasonic Lumix S1R right for you?

Our full review of the Panasonic S1R is live, and in it, we go in-depth to cover the camera’s image quality, handling, autofocus and more. In this article, we’re going to take a straightforward look at how well-suited it is for some popular photographic use cases. And with a camera as capable as the S1R, there’s a lot to dig into:

  • Landscape
  • Travel
  • Lifestyle and people
  • Family and moments
  • Weddings and events
  • Formal portraits
  • Candid and street
  • Sports and wildlife
  • Video work

Follow along as we take a closer look at what works well on the S1R for each of these types of photography, and what doesn’t.

Landscape photography

It should come as no surprise that the S1R is among our top picks for hardcore landscape shooters. After all, its sensor offers up a whopping 47MP of resolution, which should be enough on its own to satisfy most users. But, if for some reason you just want more, the S1R’s high-res mode gets you to a staggering 187MP. The S1R does this by using its moving its sensor to capture eight total frames, resulting in an image that has four times the standard resolution. Panasonic’s latest motion correction techniques are icing on the cake – they’re effective, and you can see a detailed look at them here.

Dynamic range is also an important consideration for landscape work, especially for those users photographing sunrises or sunsets. While the S1R’s sensor can’t quite match the absolute best full-framers in this area (which include Sony’s a7R series as well as Nikon’s D850), it’s a solid performer and will offer more than enough flexibility for most users.

The camera outputs very good JPEGs, and combined with in-camera Raw processing, you don’t need an editing rig to get good results

With those core considerations out of the way, let’s also take time to mention that the S1R is built extremely well, and both the camera body and the (very sharp) S-series lenses should stand up to the elements with ease. Battery life isn’t the best, but you can top up via the camera’s USB-C connection if you’re off the grid. The tilting screen makes for easy tripod work, and backlit buttons will help you out in the dark. Lastly, the camera outputs very good JPEGs, and combined with in-camera Raw processing, you don’t necessarily need an editing rig with you to get good results.

The biggest potential drawback to going on a wilderness hike with the S1R? Well, it’s pretty heavy, especially compared with its mirrorless peers. Whether that’s an issue is really up to you.

Landscape photo by Dale Baskin

Travel

As we stated in the previous section, the Lumix S1R is a bit of a bulky beast in the mirrorless world. So if you’re a world traveler that likes to travel light, well, you can probably stop reading now. However, if you’re the type of person for whom photography is the reason for your travels, or you’ve got a back-breaking history of carting a full-frame DSLR kit in your carry-on, well, the S1R has a lot to offer.

The S1R should handle whatever’s thrown at it – rain, dust, the occasional door frame, and so on

First of all, travel can be unpredictable, and the rugged nature of the S1R means it should handle whatever’s thrown at it – rain, dust, the occasional door frame, and so on. It outputs some seriously nice JPEG images, with great color, detail and noise reduction, so you can easily send those to your phone for instant sharing with your mates back home. You can also leave the wall charger with those mates back home, thanks to USB-C charging, and though the dual card slots are mis-matched, you can use one as a backup and thus forego a laptop and external hard drive if redundancy is a concern.

But what good is a camera without lenses? Thankfully, Panasonic’s 24-105mm F4 ‘kit’ zoom is a fantastic lens optically, and provides some great flexibility for all types of shooting. But – like the camera, it’s a bit bulky. You can always throw the newly announced Sigma 45mm F2.8 into your bag as well, if you want a lighter, more casual walk-around option.

Travel photo by Carey Rose

Lifestyle and people

Ah, lifestyle photography – the avid, influencing Instagrammer’s bread and butter. For taking polished photographs of people doing things, like reading what looks to be an empty diary next to a porcelain ocelot, the Lumix S1R is a worthy and full-featured option.

Of paramount importance here is connectivity, and the S1R’s wireless options work well. Plus, good JPEGs and in-camera Raw conversion mean you can easily get the results you want onto the internet in short order. Adding to the artsy appeal, the S1R’s full-frame sensor will allow for very shallow depth-of-field with the right lenses, if that’s your thing.

The S1R’s full-frame sensor allows for shallow depth-of-field with the right lenses,
if that’s your thing

But what good is all that if your images are out of focus? Well, not only does the S1R have lightning-quick single autofocus, but its Body/Face/Eye detection works well in continuous AF, and seems to minimize the distracting ‘wobble’ we see in the viewfinder when shooting in other autofocus area modes. Unfortunately, if you start to have too many detectable subjects in a scene, it can be awkward and frustrating to cycle between them.

Lastly, it bears mentioning that between Panasonic, Sigma and Leica, there’s a robust lens lineup for the S1R for all types of looks – though most of those lenses cost a pretty penny.

Lifestyle and people photo by Dan Bracaglia

Family and moments

So, you’re looking for a camera to capture fleeting moments of family and friends, and are considering the Lumix S1R for the purpose. The good news is that there’s a lot going for the S1R here – the bad news is that there a few things working against it as well.

I remember sitting down for breakfast with a friend at the bar of Jake’s Cafe in Ritzville, WA, and plonking the S1R down on the counter. The waitress looked at it, said ‘whoa,’ and looked at me like I was crazy. The camera also took up about the same amount of counter space as my subsequent plate of buttery calories, so it mostly lived under the counter, carefully tucked between my feet.

Do you really need 47MP images of your friends chowing down on their eggs? Probably not.

Again, the main issue with the S1R comes down to its relatively large size and weight. Sure, it’s not a Nikon D5, but to most people, it may as well be. Capturing fleeting moments means having a camera with you, at the ready, all the time. And frankly, there will simply be days, moments and events where you just don’t want to lug it with you. Sad but true. Plus, do you need 47MP images of your friends chowing down on their eggs? Probably not.

But let’s say you have bigger biceps than I, and a bigger tolerance for the attention the S1R brings. You’ll be rewarded with a solid ‘Auto’ mode for handing the camera off to novice users or family members, solid face detection for one or two subjects, excellent low-light performance for indoor or evening shooting, and the best video quality of all the high-resolution mirrorless bodies currently out there. Plus, the S1R is incredibly responsive in general operation, so you won’t miss a moment because you’re waiting for the camera. So if you do want to carry an S1R with you, it’ll have no trouble helping you capture memories and moments with ease.

Family and moments photo by Carey Rose

Weddings and events

Fun (and obvious) fact, the above image isn’t of an actual event, but it is of an actual event venue. Anyway. For those hardened wedding shooters who are used to having two full-size DSLRs and F2.8 zooms, the Lumix S1R’s size and weight won’t be huge concerns (though someday, your spine will go into open revolt against you for all that you’ve done to it). But truthfully, the S1R has a lot to offer wedding and event shooters.

The weather-sealing is great for when someone inevitably dumps a beer onto you as the dance party heats up

First let’s touch on the handling (pun!). The camera’s large, deep grip is comfortable, and makes it easier to handle large, fast lenses. The incredible array of external controls means almost any setting is at your fingertips, without having to jump into menus – the layout of the autofocus switches and buttons is a particular strong point. Also, the weather-sealing and robust build are great for when someone inevitably dumps a beer onto you as the dance party heats up.

Image quality is, as we’ve covered, superb, so no issues there. The dual card slots are mis-matched, but allow for redundancy. The camera’s interface allows for easy switching between stills and video, and the faster-than-average 1/320th flash sync speed is welcome.

But for a lot of wedding and event shooters, 47MP of resolution simply won’t be necessary, and will devour hard drive space. First-party flash options are a bit limited, and the on-camera flash AF assist lamp is a bright LED which will distract (or simply blind) your subjects. Lastly, the burst rate of 6fps with autofocus might be too slow for some shooters and some moments, and occasionally, you’ll find a mis-focused shot mid-burst. But overall, if you want or need the resolution, the S1R is a solid option for this type of photography.

Photo of plants by Carey Rose

Formal portraits

Formal portraits, whether studio-based or in a more natural setting, are no problem for the Lumix S1R. First off, the image quality: The S1R gives you expansive resolution, options for very shallow depth-of-field, and excellent color (including skin tones) right out of camera. The fast 1/320th flash sync speed is a nice touch, and single AF is very fast and accurate. Face and eye detection are effective for single subjects as well.

Eye detection will occasionally choose to focus on eyelashes, and not the pupil

On the other hand, before you get too excited about the 187MP high-res mode for portraits, be aware that you cannot use traditional strobes with it – you’ll need to use constant lighting thanks to the camera’s electronic shutter. Also, eye detection will occasionally choose to focus on eyelashes, and not a subject’s pupil. This might seem nit-picky, but remember, 47MP of resolution. You will see the difference. Lastly, Panasonic’s own-brand flash system isn’t terribly fleshed-out, but third-party options are plentiful.

If you’re a portraitist looking for your next high-quality body, the S1R could be just right for you.

Photo of Dan ‘I don’t like having my picture taken’ Bracaglia taken by Carey Rose

Candid and street

There are two key requirements for a camera to be good for street photography. The first is responsiveness – you need the camera to react at a moment’s notice, when the light’s just right, before your subject exits your composition. The second is subtlety, as you don’t necessarily want to call too much attention to yourself. Now, you only get one guess as to which of these the S1R falls short at.

Bingo – the S1R is big, with a lens lineup that is also almost universally big. When you carry the S1R around, people will look at you and think, “that person must be a photographer,” or “that person’s camera must take really great pictures,” or “that person is a creep.” It is a camera that will get you noticed, whether you want the attention or not.

The S1R will reward you with responsive operation

But if you’re in a big crowd, or a big city, you may yet be able to blend in despite the S1R’s imposing presence. In this case, the S1R will reward you with responsive operation, settings you can check on the top LCD, a touchscreen that tilts so you can shoot from the hip, and an option for a fully-silent electronic shutter. The connectivity will help you send a file off to a subject should you wish, and the weather-sealing means you don’t have to cut your photo walk short if the weather takes a turn.

Candid and street photo by Carey Rose

Sports and wildlife

The Lumix S1R isn’t our first choice for shooting sports and action, but that doesn’t mean the camera can’t do it. First of all, the 47MP of resolution may simply be overkill for most action shooters – but on the other hand, that gives you cropping flexibility in post. The grip makes it easy to handle big telephoto lenses (and Panasonic’s own 70-200mm F2.8 S Pro lens is coming soon), and the external controls make it easy to react to changing scenarios. If you choose to use the XQD card slot as your primary storage option, the buffer is deep, and for those on tight deadlines, the excellent out-of-camera JPEGs are sure to please.

Count on some images mid-burst to be slightly front-or-back-focused

But 6fps burst shooting with autofocus just looks awfully slow in this day and age, especially for capturing peak-action moments. The experience of using the S1R’s big, beautiful viewfinder is marred by a distracting ‘wobble’ and resolution drop when using continuous autofocus – which you’ll be using a lot when shooting sports. Also, count on some of those images mid-burst to be just slightly front-or-back-focused. It probably won’t matter for a thousand-pixel-wide web display, but if you’re the official team photographer shooting images for archival or print purposes, this may be a concern.

In all, you absolutely can shoot sports and action with the S1R (after all, you can shoot sports with an ancient Speed Graphic if you’re David Burnett). But if this is your main photographic calling, there are simply better options out there, and for a lot less money.

Sports and action photo by Carey Rose

Video

There are no bones about it, the S1R is the least video-capable of Panasonic’s new S-series full-frame cameras. But happily, our testing shows it to be the most video capable of the current crop of high-resolution mirrorless cameras. There’s something to be said for that.

Feature-wise, the S1R can shoot up to 4K/60p video, as well as 180fps high speed Full HD footage. There are a ton of customization options for separating settings between stills and video, and the in-body image stabilizer will smooth out your handheld clips. Body / face detection is the most effective way to track focus on people in video, the audio pre-amp is of good quality, and the camera shoots far longer than you’d expect on a single battery charge.

No other high-resolution camera body on the market can touch the S1R’s video quality and feature set

But being based around a high-res sensor, there are some compromises that had to be made in the Lumix S1R. 4K capture comes with a minimum 1.09x crop, which admittedly isn’t too bad. Cropping in further to Super35 will give you the absolute best 4K quality, but that’s quite a crop depending on your lenses. Generic autofocus ‘tracking’ is unreliable at best, and unlike the cheaper S1, there are no options for HLG or 10-bit capture.

But let’s say that high-resolution stills are your top priority, and you may occasionally need to do some video on the side. In this situation, the S1R is easily recommendable – no other high-resolution camera body on the market can touch its video quality and feature set.

The wrap

And that’s a wrap! If it isn’t obvious, the Lumix S1R is a camera we really enjoyed reviewing and using – even if it’s a bit of a bear to lug around. Our only real reservations concern its autofocus system and burst speeds – in this day and age of 10fps high-resolution competitors with hybrid AF systems, the S1R isn’t a great fit for those that need to shoot lots of sports and peak action. But for other professional photographers that want a serious, versatile, high-resolution tool, the S1R is easy to recommend.

To get all the nitty-gritty details on the S1R and its features and capabilities, check out our full review. Lastly, do you own an S1R? What do you like to photograph with it? What do you think of the camera overall? Let us know in the comments!

Read our full review of the Panasonic Lumix DC-S1R

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