Panasonic LUMIX S1 review: The low-light monster

The Panasonic Lumix DC-S1 is a great full-frame mirrorless camera with exceptional low light performance. But look out, it's big and heavy.

Editor's Choice Award

Update: The Panasonic LUMIX S1 has been selected as Videomaker’s Best Run-and-gun camera. See the rest of our recommendations.

The first question we had about the S1 is whether or not this camera is the full-frame version of the GH5? We also wanted to know how well it stands up against other full-frame mirrorless cameras already on the market. In this review, we’ll dig into these questions and more to discover the true value of the Panasonic Lumix S1.

The first question we had about the S1 is whether or not this camera is the full-frame version of the GH5? We also wanted to know how well it stands up against other full-frame mirrorless cameras already on the market. In this review, we’ll dig into these questions and more to discover the true value of the Panasonic Lumix S1.

Camera Overview

Priced at $2,500, the S1 is large for a mirrorless camera. In fact, its larger than all the other full-frame cameras on the market. However, with that larger size comes a long battery life and fantastic low-light performance.

Another very cool feature is the camera’s unlimited record time when shooting 4K at 24 and 30 frames per second. And if that wasn’t enough, Panasonic offers a $200 firmware upgrade that enables 10-bit internal capture and V-log.

Pansonic Lumix S1 review - front view with lens

Video recording options

Getting a bit deeper into the specifics, the LUMIX S1 has a 24.2 megapixel (MP) full-frame MOS sensor that allows it to shoot up to 8-bit 4:2:0 at 150Mbps in UHD 4K at 60fps. Additionally, it outputs 10-bit 4:2:2 HDR 4K via HDMI. Its 5.76m-Dot OLED electronic viewfinder is best-in-class by a mile. It offers a 3.2-inch triaxial tilt touch-screen and dual card slots with one XQD and one SD slot. Plus, it uses a contrast-detecting Autofocus system with 225 AF points. Lastly, the S1 offers sensor-shift image stabilization.

The camera can also capture an MP4 internally up to 4:2:0 10-Bit in UHD 4K at 23.976 and 29.97p in HVEC. However, the bit rate is limited to 72 megabits per second. For a larger bit rate, you have to step down to 8-bit 4:2:0 LongGOP MP4s, which can do 150 Mbps in 60p.

The top frame rate for the camera is 1080 HD at 180 frames per second. In this mode, the camera will automatically slow the footage down to 29.97 in camera for slow-mo playback. There is no audio captured during high-speed video mode, and as we said earlier it will only shoot in auto exposure.

Although the camera does not offer V-log without the paid upgrade, it does offer a hybrid log gamma when shooting in 10-bit. The picture profiles it does have are mostly common to other brands — vivid, natural and flat — or profiles found in other Panasonic cameras — for example, Like709, or Cinelike D and V.

Pansonic Lumix S1 review - front view of camera with sensor exposed

Perks and quirks of the Panasonic Lumix S1

Every camera has features that are great and others that miss the mark. In this section, we want to talk about the good and bad, so you can have a balanced understanding of the camera.

Perk: Amazing low light performance

Since Sony released the a7S, the video world has been waiting for another camera that can match its stellar low light performance. Doing an ISO ramp from ISO 100 while adjusting the shutter speed to counter the added light allows us to learn the ISO at which noise enters the picture, while keeping proper exposure. Noise begins at ISO 51,200 and only minimal noise at that. Any noise we saw could be easily removed with noise reduction. There was no color shifting in the noise and the grain of the noise is very small. If you require good low light performance in 4K, there is now a serious competitor to the Sony a7S II.

If you require good low light performance in 4K, there is now a serious competitor to the Sony a7S II.

Perk: Full frame 4k

Perk number two is that the camera shoots without a crop in 4K 30p and 24p. Now, along with Sony and Nikon, Panasonic has a mirrorless camera that shoots full frame 4K video. However, higher frame rates do suffer from some crop. The 1.5 times crop at higher frame rates crops the field of view about as much as an APS-C size sensor.

Perk: 4K 24 and 30 fps – no record limit time

For our next perk, the LUMIX S1 features unlimited recording in 4K at both 30p or 24p. This lack of record time limit is a first for a full frame camera. There is an exception, however. There is a record limit when shooting in 4K 60p — an acceptable tradeoff. 4k 60p is not found in any other hybrid mirrorless camera.

Perk: 5.76m-Dot OLED EVF!?!

Our final perk is the amazing 5.76m-Dot OLED electronic viewfinder. The EVF on the S1 is far above the 3.69m-dot’s found on the Sony a7R III and Canon EOS R. Why does this matter? If you use an EVF when shooting video, you’ll immediately see how much smoother the EVF is when compared to any other hybrid mirrorless camera. You will also experience the benefits when shooting higher frame rates. We suspect this to be Sony’s new EVF and will likely see it in cameras from other manufacturers soon.

Pansonic Lumix S1 review - rear view of the Panasonic S1

Quirk: Auto exposure in high frame rates

The first quirk of the LUMIX S1 is that when shooting in high-speed mode, you must use auto exposure. This is a big flaw. When we were shooting in high-speed mode (shooting a band performing on a stage) the auto exposure chooses poorly. We found the camera tends to overexpose the faces of the players. To remedy this, we used exposure compensation to adjust the exposure so the faces were no longer overexposed. Exposure compensation is better than nothing, but without aperture control, choosing the amount of depth of field in your high frame rate recording is not possible.

Quirk: Limited screen articulation

Quirk number two: The S1 has a three-way articulating screen. For video shooters, being able to tilt in portrait framing is only beneficial for those shooting vertical video. Just like the Fujifilm X-T3, the third articulation is going to better used by photographers. We would have liked to see a fully articulating screen like in the GH5 and GH5s. It would be so exciting to have a full frame GH5.

The differences between the LUMIX S1 and S1R

From the outside, there is little to distinguish the S1 from S1R. The main difference between the two is the resolution of their sensors. The S1R has a 47.3 megapixel sensor to the 24.2 MP sensor found in the S1.

When it comes to video, the S1 has a better list of distinguishing features. First, the S1 has no record limit except when shooting 4K 60p. The S1R, on the other hand, has a 15-minute record limit in 4K 60p, 30p, 24p. There is no record time limit when shooting on either camera in full HD.

Finally, the S1 offers an external output of 4:2:2 10-bit in UHD 4K at 59.94p, but the S1R only gives you 8-bit 4:2:2.

Nikon D850, Pansonic Lumix S1 and Canon 5D Mark IV in a row showing comparable sizes

A Mirrorless camera that’s as big as a DSLR

The immediate response to seeing the S1 in real life is that it looks just as big as a DSLR — that’s because it is. The S1 is heavier than both the Canon 5D Mark IV and the Nikon D850. Compared to the other mirrorless cameras in its price range, it’s nearly a pound heavier than the Nikon Z6 and is still .80 pounds heavier than the Canon EOS R and the Sony A7 III. Outside of weight, the S1 is more than a half inch taller and at least .3 inches deeper and .5 inches wider than the other full-frame mirrorless cameras.

The thing is, it feels great in the hand. For those who want the latest camera tech in a DSLR sized housing, the S1 is the answer. In a world where tech is trying to be smaller and smaller, having the same size and feel of a DSLR is a nice change of pace. No need to worry if your pinky will fit on the grip or if there is enough grip for the camera to hang from your hand safely. That added size also allows for two different media card slots and a larger battery.

Nikon Z 6, Pansonic Lumix S1 and Canon EOS R in a row showing comparable sizes
Pansonic Lumix S1 review - camera tilted to show top panel and controls

Button location & selection

Everything you might want to find on the body of a camera, the LUMIX S1 has. Although many features are found in the menu, most of the controls you might need have a knob, dial, button or joystick. Add in that there is a touch screen that will allow for menu control and touch focus and the only issue we have with the S1’s controls is the on/off switch. Because of its design, we often left the camera on accidentally. It’s never fun to deplete your battery by accident, but after we grew accustomed to the switch, it was less of an issue.

Pansonic Lumix S1 review - rear view with display on

The touchscreen

The 3.2-inch 2.1m-dot triaxial tilt touchscreen is great to use. It has the same specs as the Canon EOS R and the Nikon Z6. However, it has more than double the dots of the monitor found on the Sony a7 III. We like that you can use the touchscreen for menu control navigation and selection as well as touch AF function. It has 6 levels of brightness above its standard setting, along with 6 levels below. When in full sun, the top level of +6 brightness plus the tilting function will be enough for most settings. We would have liked to see a fully articulating monitor, though it would have done one of two things if not both: raise the price and affect the cameras weather sealing.

Pansonic Lumix S1 review - accessing the menu

Menu navigation

The menu is very robust. Although there are many nested menus, it’s not difficult to navigate through the options. For example, to change the resolution, we go from a film camera icon, then into a film strip icon where to find the resolution options, the record file formats and high-speed video recording options. We had a similar experience looking for the format media option. A wrench icon led us to a media card icon that took us to the card format option. Despite the nested menu design, we were easily able to flip through the menu with a drag of the finger.

Pansonic Lumix S1 review - detail of menu

Shoot assists

The LUMIX S1 has the typical shoot assists you would expect from a hybrid mirrorless camera. Its focus peaking tool allows you to change the highlight color and strength. We did notice that when using the focus multiplier tool, the peaking went away — you can’t use both at the same time. We typically use peaking or a focus multiplier, not both at once, but some may prefer having both on together.

As for exposure assist, there are two stages of zebras offered with the ability to change what percentage white triggers the stripes. That said, the camera also offers a histogram with the handy option to choose where the histogram appears on the monitor. This is so helpful when you want to use the histogram without interfering with your framing. Finally, the audio meters can be turned on and off to suit your needs.

Pansonic Lumix S1 review - three-quater rear view of camera with card slots open

Media

The LUMIX S1 has both an XQD slot and SDXC II card slot with three different record modes that take advantage of this dual-card setup. The first option is called relay record. In this mode, the camera will automatically switch to the other media card when the first card is full. The next mode is backup record, which will record the same photo and video to both cards. Lastly, there is allocation record. This lets you set which card the photo or video is captured to.

Most S1 shooters will choose to go with just one media type and in that case, these record modes won’t be of much use. As much as we like the performance of XQD, SDXC II is cheaper. we found an SDXC II 64 gigabytes card for just $18. The same size XQD card will set you back $130. This is mostly because there are very few brands making XQD and many making SDXC II. If you choose XQD, not all recording modes will work; the S1 can only record to an SD card when shooting in AVCHD.

Pansonic Lumix S1 review - menu

via GIPHY

Rolling Shutter

The rolling shutter effect is when vertical lines bend because of the way most cameras capture the image — from top to bottom and left to right of the sensor. Rolling shutter will be a problem when shooting from a fast-moving object or during fast panning. Action sequences will be the most sensitive type of shooting for rolling shutter. The camera does have a rolling shutter, though it doesn’t suffer much from its effects. The rolling shutter performance is better than average in both 4K and HD.

Image stabilization

Happily, the LUMIX S1 offers sensor stabilization. What Lumix dubs Sensor-Shift Stabilization provides 5 axes of stabilization. Thus, regardless of the lens you use, you will have stabilization. If the lens has optical stabilization, the camera will yield the axis the lens offers for the best performance possible. When shooting with a telephoto lens the stabilization is invaluable. Many prime lenses typically don’t offer IS, but with sensor-shift stabilization, this isn’t a concern. We were very happy with the image stabilization performance. The corrections made by the stabilization look natural.

Panasonic Lumix S PRO 50mm f/1.4

Lenses used for review

We shot two of the three lenses Panasonic offers for the L-mount on the S1: the Panasonic Lumix S PRO 50mm f/1.4 and S 24-105mm f/4 Macro O.I.S. The mount is a Leica mount, so there are other lenses available outside of the Panasonic brand. Additionally, Sigma has announced 11 L Series of Primes along with an adapter the MC-21 that will allow for Canon E mount lenses to be used with the L mount.

Our preferred lens of the two is the S PRO 50mm f/1.4. Although when we were testing the camera with this lens, the lens and its firmware were pre-production versions. First off, the lens is big. However, it looks very nice and is equally nice to use. We enjoyed its push-pull focus ring that allowed you to quickly engage AF from manual focus or the other way around. The lens costs $2,300 and doesn’t offer any optical image stabilization.

Pansonic S 24-105mm f/4 Macro O.I.S

The kit lens for the LUMIX S1 is the Panasonic LUMIX S 24-105mm f/4 Macro O.I.S. By itself it costs $1,300, but if you buy the lens as a kit with the body, it’s just $900 more. The lens is a great focal length for most shooting situations, and f/4 is not an issue because the camera shoots at high ISOs with little to no noise. It’s also a macro lens and offers O.I.S. The lens looks great and matches the bigger size of the camera body. The last lens available from Panasonic is the Lumix S PRO 70-200mm f/4 O.I.S. for $1,700. Sadly, we did not get a chance to test this lens.

Autofocus

We tested the autofocus performance with both the 50mm and 24-105mm but had issues with the pre-production firmware on the 50mm. We wanted to see how well the AF worked when at f/1.4 with a shallow depth of field, but it didn’t perform as expected. However, considering we were at a very shallow DOF, it did an ok job. We tested face detect and spot focus with the 50mm and found that spot did a better job keeping our subject in focus.

We then switched to the 24-105mm, which had the final firmware on it, and the performance was much better. Using face detection, the lens did a good job of keeping focus, even when changing subjects with multiple subjects in the frame at a time. Is it good enough to use all the time? Maybe not, but with a deeper depth of field and a wide lens, it can deliver a good outcome.

Pansonic Lumix S1 review - camera with battery removed

Battery life, overheating and cost

The battery for the S1 is much larger than that of any other mirrorless camera. However, its size didn’t lead to a significant increase in battery life. Shooting at UHD 4K 60p at 150 Mbps with the screen against the body of the camera, we saw the battery last 2 hours 5 minutes with no overheating. If you have high-capacity media, you might have to stop recording around the 2-hour mark. Additional batteries cost $90.

collection of relevant camera from Panasonic, Sony, Nikon and Canon

Marketplace

Panasonic, Sony, Canon and Nikon all now offer a full-frame mirrorless camera that can capture 4K. All but Canon can capture full-frame 4K, but I digress — this is a review of the S1. We see the S1 competing with Sony a7 III, Canon EOS R and the Nikon Z6. First off, the S1 is the most expensive at $2,500 with the EOS R coming up second at $2,300 with the Nikon and Sony coming up at the bottom for $2,000.

The a7 III is the only other camera to offer more than one media card slot, but both slots are SD. The Canon is the only camera missing in-body image stabilization and the Sony is the only one not to offer 10-bit out its HDMI. Out of the four, if you need low light performance and like a bulkier camera, the S1 is for you. Otherwise, look to the Nikon Z6, our current pick for the best all-around mirrorless camera.

Final thoughts and recommendations

The larger size and weight of the S1 might turn some people off. For others, however, it’s what they have been craving in a mirrorless camera. For us, we didn’t mind the extra size and found the camera to be nice to use. More importantly, the S1 captures a nice looking image. We love that it has two card slots, but the fact that they use different types of media is unfortunate. The low light performance was stellar and very surprising — we were not expecting it to compete with Sony’s a7S II. We wish the S1 offered exposure control when shooting in high-speed video mode and had a fully articulating screen.

Is the Panasonic S1 worth $500 more than our current favorite, the Nikon Z6? That depends on whether you need the added low light performance and like the added size and weight. We were really impressed with the S1 and think it’s a great camera.

STRENGTHS:

  • Low light performance
  • Face-detect AF

WEAKNESSES:

  • Larger weight and size
  • Auto exposure in high speed video

RECOMMENDED USES:

  • Narrative Filmmaking
  • Documentary Filmmaking and Journalism
  • Marketing Video Production
  • Online Video Production

PRICE: $2500

TECH SPECS:

  • Lens Mount: Leica L
  • Camera Format: Full-Frame
  • Pixels Effective: 24.2 Megapixel
  • Sensor Type / Size: MOS, 35.6 x 23.8 mm
  • Movies: AVCHD, AVC/H.264, HEVC/H.265, MP4
  • Audio: AAC, Dolby Digital 2ch, Linear PCM
  • Memory Card Type: XQD, SD, SDHC, SDXC
  • Image Stabilization: Sensor-Shift, 5-Way
  • Video Format
    • 3840 x 2160p at 59.94 fps (150 Mb/s MP4 via H.264)
    • 3840 x 2160p at 23.98/29.97 fps (100 Mb/s MP4 via H.264)
    • 3840 x 2160p at 23.98/29.97 fps (72 Mb/s MP4 via H.265)
    • 1920 x 1080p at 59.94 fps (28 Mb/s MP4 via H.264)
    • 1920 x 1080p at 29.97 fps (20 Mb/s MP4 via H.264)
    • 1920 x 1080p at 59.94 fps (28 Mb/s AVCHD)
    • 1920 x 1080p at 29.97 fps (24 Mb/s AVCHD)
    • 1920 x 1080i at 59.94 fps (24, 17 Mb/s AVCHD)
  • Autofocus Points: Contrast Detection: 225
  • Viewfinder Pixel Count: 5,760,000
  • Display Screen: 3.2″ Rear Touchscreen Tilting LCD (2,100,000)
  • Connectivity: 1/8″ Headphone, 1/8″ Microphone, 2.5mm Sub-mini (2-Ring), HDMI A (Full Size), USB 3.0, USB Type-C, X-Sync Socket
  • Wi-Fi Capable: Yes
  • Battery: 1 x DMW-BLJ31 Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery Pack, 7.2 VDC, 3100 mAh

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