I don't like to get into the crazy technical details. I don't understand some of those complicated charts showing sensor quality and all that jazz. I also don’t shoot brick walls or colour charts. I know people really love looking and peeping deep down into the inner gizzards of a camera and it’s electronics but for me - what’s important is how it works as a tool of my trade.
I’ve been using two Canon Pro bodies for the last 4+ years. When I buy a new camera, it’s usually within a 4 to 5-year cycle. I get the new body, the ‘old’ body becomes my second/backup and then the old backup gets traded in. Ive been doing this for years and years. I’ve been with Canon all this time. For the geeks I use a 1DX and a 1DXii. They are solid, dependable and have never let me down. I also have a C100 mk2 I use for video stuff alongside the other cameras. I’m now hitting that 4 to 5 year window where I’ll be looking to refresh at least my main camera.
Rather fortunately I could look at two cameras that have entered the scene in the years since I last upgraded. I will not do a technical breakdown here. This is more of a brain dump of my thoughts as a professional photographer using the cameras in my work.
I look over the reviews online - that’s part and parcel of my research but I largely take them with a healthy pinch of salt. I see the test images. Sometimes they are nice, sometimes they are massively uninspiring and just not what I’d shoot, for fun or for a paid brief.
Let me say I have no prejudice towards any camera system. There really are no crap cameras out there anymore. If you are only looking at pro cameras, then you’ll be hard pushed to get one that’s terrible. It’s more likely to be user error than the camera.
So here I am - a bag load of Canon kit, and the logical move would be to keep it in the family. Second up would be; 'mirrorless what’s all the fuss about?’ Why are the big manufacturers pushing this out in a big way? Is it better than what I’ve been used to for years? Why do I need it, anyway?
I look at my Canon bodies in my bag and think ‘work’ I have to admit that I get little joy from them on a personal photographic level. I rarely take them out on personal work or trips. I use my Sony point-and-shoot and my Leica M10 for that. I seem them in my bag as a plumber would see a tool bag. They are solid, dependable and get the job done.
So I have to see my upgrades as how much potential value it adds to my business. Will the added features and performance aid me in being slicker, more efficient and offering me something I don't already have and ultimately will make me more money. I consider all this when I am about to invest. It’s a commercial decision.
Panasonic were keen to send me a Lumix S1R to have a play with. - and as a geek and lover of new toys it was a no-brainer to get one in my hands. They sent me an S1R with kit lens 24-105 f4. This is the big brother to the S1 - same camera but with different sensors. The ‘R’ probably stands for ‘resolution’ or something. There's tonnes of stuff online about it anyway and I don't really want to discuss the differences. The S1R pumps out 70mb Raw files.. it’s a monster and 47 megapixels. I do not understand what to do with that many.
It’s a beast. It looks the part. Feels solid. Professional and good. I had to wait an agonising 3 hours for the battery to charge but once it did I cracked open the user guide online and poured over it. Going through the insane amount of customisation and configurations to get it to a point where I vaguely knew what I was doing.
The camera arrived the day before I was due to shoot a huge event. I wasn’t prepared to put all my eggs in one basket so I packed it up with my existing cameras and planned to shoot on it when I could. I would be slinging 3 cameras around all day. I was cramming information from the user guide like I had an exam the next day.
I spent a while trying to set the S1R up like my Canons regarding the buttons and dials (to a point) I like to separate the focus from exposure etc on the shutter button. I wanted back button auto-focus (standard) and I spend ages trying to find out how to do it. My answer came from another reviewer who showed me where the menu setting was. Once I did it - boom. Done.
Then I was thinking ‘why’ am I trying to make it function like my current cameras. Perhaps I need to think a little differently. There're some features I didn’t know I needed because I’ve never had them, and actually I keep discovering them and I’ll be like ‘ohhh, that’s good’.
I then took the approach of not trying to customise everything from my sofa. By far the best thing is to get shooting and when you realise you need a feature - go find it THEN add it to a shortcut etc. It’s hard to know what you want because there’s an almost infinite amount of possibility to configure this thing. Once I was out shooting, I added things to the quick menu, etc.
One tip I have would be to set the lock switch to turn on and off the touch to focus, touch to shoot etc on the rear screen. This is because your nose WILL tap the screen when using the viewfinder. I used the lock switch so I can flick this on and off when I need to rather than going via menu settings.
Apart from my small fling with the Canon I’ve not really looked at a new camera for almost 5 years. Tech has changed, cameras have changed in terms of the techie science stuff. Better in low light and so on. Again - tonnes online to wade through but I’m back on the ‘how it faired in my job’ mantra.
I shot a long and tiring day the next day - 7am to 6pm and I have to say I was pretty pleased with the S1R. It was a good test. Multiple environments - mainly dimly lit rooms and people on stages but looking through the whole shoot I took about 1500 images - and 700 were on the Lumix. I didn’t think I used it that much! There were several times I left my harness with the Canon’s on and wandered around just with the Panny - it was nice to get rid of the other cameras for the sake of my back.
The S1R with that lens isn’t exactly light but it's a little lighter than what I’m used to. I’d expect a battery grip to bring the overall lens and body weight in line with the 1DXii et al.
I felt a little restricted that the lens was an f4. I could have used a slightly faster glass for some things - but it meant I was popping up the ISO too. I was shooting lots at ISO 8000 which is a level I rarely go to on my other cameras. The shots are more than useable. I tried the 12800 setting too, but it was a little hit and miss. Sure - they clean up well in Lightroom etc but I’m not sure I could get away with it for long. The grain isn’t as pleasing as Canon’s. They do however preserve more details but there’s more noise. It’s not magic - dark is dark and there will always be some trade-off.
I also was amazed how quiet the system was. May sound stupid to some but I’ve suddenly become conscious of how loud the shutter on my other cameras is when I’m in a quiet room or a theatre etc. SO loud and it’s really not helping my paranoia when people look at you as soon as you fire a shutter. Sure there’s ‘quiet’ mode on the Canons but it’s the same noise - but split up so you can muffle half of it by moving the camera down and letting the mirror reset.
On the S1R - there is no mirror (see: mirrorless!) so there’s a tiny mechanical noise - which I like. Otherwise there’s no feedback someone has taken the shot. There’s a fully silent ‘electronic’ shutter which is pure silent and freaked me out because there is NO haptic feedback. I think this was one of those ‘wow’ moments, especially using mirrorless for the first time professionally. Panasonic could do what Apple do and have a little haptic feedback in the shutter button that makes it feel like I have pressed the shutter. It would be a nice touch.
I liked the autofocus modes. There’s one that locks onto people and then their faces, and their eyes. The camera puts a cross hair on them which reminded me of those movies when they are tracking someone on camera. Cool. I was a sniper!
The other controls are brilliantly laid out. Flicking between shoot modes without taking your eyes away from the viewfinder. THAT viewfinder is utterly gorgeous. I have seen nothing so clear. It really is like looking out onto the actual world - it could be an SLR it’s that clear but has all the natty overlays, etc. I usually see ‘rainbow’ effects with LCD screens and projectors but not with this - it IS stunning. Not a deal breaker but you won't see a clearer more delicious image in an OLED viewfinder.
I realised that the tilting screen is not a gimmick. I wasn’t shooting with the camera away from my eye for much but when I did how lovely it was to take some lower level shots without breaking my neck to see through the viewfinder.
The big event over and it was back to base to check out the files. Holy moly they are huge. The plus side is that I can crop them in so my 105mm lens will get me a little more reach. I wish I could have tried a longer lens for the stage shots. Cropping is great, but I’d rather have the lens that would do the zoom rather than in edit. With the crops came some grain. A longer lens won’t.
It was nice to have the flexibility of shooting at higher ISO’s. I would love to have had a couple more lenses, but it’s so new they’re not available yet. As with all new stuff it will take a while but will it be worth the wait?
Panasonic are part of the ‘L’ lens alliance which means there’s a new player in town. They’re in bed with Sigma and Leica at the moment with other manufacturers set to join. This means that ALL L mounts will have to pass the test of compatibility and should work on all L mount cameras perfectly. At the moment Leica have L mount glass - but as you can imagine it’s expensive. Panasonic have announce what looks like a beautiful 50mm lens and I am hoping to have a play with this soon.
I didn’t think how the file sizes will impact my workflow - and I think it’s worth pointing out that there will be a performance hit on your computer to varying degrees. These files are massive. Gorgeous but massive. Don't forget that your hard drive space will get eaten up faster too.
Job edited and uploaded.. my export settings for the S1R images needed to be tweaked because my other cameras are outputting files of 4 or 5Mb but the new files at the same setting are 13 or 14Mb. This makes the upload slower and the download slower for the client. Worth considering if you NEED the high res files. If not, then you might have another notch in the S1 bedpost with a smaller full frame sensor (and cheaper too!)
So far, so good. A pleasant experience of using it over the course of a full day.
You can charge the battery whilst it’s in the camera. Ideally I’d always take a second battery, but I didn’t have one so between shooting opportunities, I plugged it into a power bank thing I used to charge my phone. It kept it topped up nicely. I guess if you had to - you could keep it plugged in and the battery pack in your pocket whilst shooting.
It also meant I could pull the files straight into my iPad Pro via the USB-C. I didn’t edit stuff on my device this time, but it works. The iPad can see the RAW files - and pulls them in no problem leaving them in Lightroom mobile for editing.
Over the following few days I took the camera out and about with me. Pushing it to see how it coped.
It’s very early days in the lifespan of this model. It’s the first full frame Panasonic have launched but
It’s a great camera. Really great. I saw nothing that would put me off.
Would I buy one now? I need to figure out the lens situation. At the moment that appears to be the stumbling block. There’ are adapters to add other manufacturers lenses etc, but I’ve never had much fun using adapters and I think it will impact the autofocus performance.
One thing which is an absolute killer implementation is the image stabilisation. It’s incredible. It’s both in the lens AND the camera body. I was hand-holding at such slow speeds and there is NO wobble or blur in the images. There’s no mirror slapping up and down to cause vibrations but still.. shooting handheld at 1/15 and zoomed into 100mm is pretty special. Not so useful for moving subjects but it’ can’t defy the laws of physics.
Next up I will see how the video mode fairs and perhaps look at it alongside the S1 which is more aimed at the video professional and looking at the roadmap of features this is firmly in place by Panasonic.
I can seem myself using an S1 and S1R - but do I need those massive image files? Unlikely for what I shoot. The crop factor is great but I think I’d take the better low light and more pro video performance of the S1. On saying that all the tests (that I don't understand) show the S1R having an incredible sensor.. but I know that because I’ve tested it in real life and not on a lab bench.
I will keep hold of the camera for a little while and see how it fairs in different environments. I prefer to use it on actual client briefs rather than abstract personal wanderings.
It’s more than likely I’ll following up on this over the coming weeks so if you have questions - ping me a message and I’ll try to answer them next time.