Home L-Mount Panasonic Lumix S1: First impressions

Panasonic Lumix S1: First impressions

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The advent of the L-Mount Alliance has added a touch of spice to the Leica story. Worthy as the SL and TL/CL are, the L-mount system was in the doldrums before the LMA was born.

Now it has the capacity to move into the mainstream, although I am not certain how this will play out with Leica’s own (much more expensive) offerings. It could be that Panasonic and Sigma will be the main winners in this agreement.

I have been a fan of Panasonic cameras for the past few years, whether the GX8, G9 or the Leica-branded D-Lux. Now the company has entered the full-frame market and introduced the S1 and S1R, they are direct competitors with Leica’s full-frame mirrorless cameras, the SL and the soon-to-be-announced SL2. The L-Mount Alliance has brought all this about and it has completely changed the scene, especially for Leica fans. Choice is now here aplenty.

With the Lumix 24-105mm f/4

For the past couple of months, thanks to the LMA agreement, there has been a brand-new kid on the block. The Panasonic Lumix S1 is a direct competitor for the current Leica SL, with the advantage that it is five years younger and offers the world’s best electronic viewfinder, in-body stabilisation and a shed load of additional electronic gizmos to tempt the box tickers. It is also two-thirds of the price of the rather elderly SL, even taking into account the recent £1,300 “trade in” price adjustment, rather than the actual RRP of £4,500.

SL2 to come

With the new SL2 arriving in September, or perhaps even sooner, the picture will soon become clearer. Undoubtedly the SL2 will incorporate many of the features of the S1, including that viewfinder and in-body stabilisation. Despite protestations to the contrary, there is much in common between Leica’s SL and the new Lumix models. What it will not feature, if the pundits are to be believed, is a 24MP sensor. The SL2 will almost certainly be offered only with the Q2’s 47MP sensor and will therefore compete directly with the Panasonic Lumix S1R. The sensor may come from a different supplier (possibly) but features I expect to see close synergy between these two high-resolution cameras.

Doors to dazzle, Lumix 24-105mm f/4

If I am right, and Leica carelessly omit to offer a 24MP version of the SL2, then there are only two choices for those owners who love the SL but prefer to stick with the lower-density sensor for practical reasons. One is to keep the old SL – which everyone knows is a brilliant camera – or choose the Lumix S1. I’ve heard from quite a few readers who have already made this decision and have bought the Lumix. And Leica’s recent fiddling with the prices won’t have helped encourage them to wait another few months.

Despite my personal feelings about the SL/S1 in terms of size and weight (the S1 body is actually a bit heavier than that of the SL), I recognise that many readers don’t have these reservations. So when I got the opportunity to borrow an S1 with the kit zoom, the 24-105mm f/4, I was intrigued.

Strip away the branding and the similarities with the old Leica SL are obvious. While the S1 is slightly heavier than the SL, Panasonic’s engineers have done a great job in making handle better. The hard corners of the angular SL have gone in favour of a more rounded profile and an ergonomically excellent grip that makes the camera feel more stable. If this body had SL2 on the front, few Leica fans woiuld complain

On the day it arrived I took it out to meet some rather colourful cars – you know I like taking pictures of cars – and I did something I almost never do. I set the mode dial to iA, intelligent auto, and just snapped away like a tourist. The results looked good when that monster EVF reviewed the images, so I had few qualms. Back home, in Lightroom, I was even more impressed with the results.

S1: First impressions

My first impressions of the Panasonic Lumix S1 are uniformly positive. I can’t really fault it from an ergonomics point of view. It is built like a tank, just as well as the SL I would suggest (I await the bolts of retributory lightning), and the controls would please any professional. They are precise and perfectly weighted (that is, a little on the heavy side, a bit like the clutch on a 1928 Bentley tourer). There is little chance of inadvertent button presses that plague many cameras, including the S1’s little sister, the Panasonic Lumix G9. I will go into more detail on this when I get round to reviewing the camera. But I like this approach.

Not as aesthetically pleasing as the minimalist control layout of the SL, the S1 nevertheless offers a logical and relatively simple under interface. The prominent lock lever to the left of the eyepiece is a great idea, the joystick is ideally placed and all the controls, including the D-pad, are weighted carefully to avoid mistakes. The articulating screen is another feature which differentiates this camera from the SL and the traditional strap lugs area an improvement over the slots on the SL
Man chat: Lumix 24-105mm f/4

The most surprising impression, though, is that the S1 does not feel bigger or heavier than the SL. On the contrary, it feels more agile in the hands. Despite the extra 170g, it is much more comfortable to handle. I always had reservations about the SL’s uber-angular styling; those sharp edges could be uncomfortable in certain circumstances. The S1, on the other hand, is a decidedly shapely, if rather plumpes Mädchen and the substantial grip is designed for comfort rather than style. It feels more cuddly and handles brilliantly even with the 24-105mm.

At 1,700g, together with this zoom lens, it is a bit of a lump, admitted. It’s more DSLR than mirrorless and anyone used to a professional DSLR would feel quite at home. I like it and I am less bothered by the weight than I was with the SL. Note that the SL and the equivalent 24-90mm SL zoom does actually weigh more than the Lumix rig — a 287g penalty no less.

Purple lights popular with the Chrysler beasts (Leica 35mm Summilux-TL)

The 5.7MP viewfinder is a blast. It is the best – by far – I have ever used. It even contrives to put the SL’s 4.4MP device into the shade. The king of viewfinders is dead, long live the king. It is so good that when using manual lenses it isn’t really necessary to bother with focus aids such as peaking or magnification. It’s that good.

Vintage Bentleys are ten a penny at Brooklands and this proud owner had to park with the hoi polloi in their serried ranks. No wonder he’s hiding…

Features to please

There are many smaller features to like about the S1. I am just discovering the extent of the toys and there is a delight at every turn.

Take USB-C charging, for instance. A charging pod is supplied but, unusually for such a heavyweight device (with a hefty 3050 mAh battery) you can also charge in-camera. USB-C is so much more convenient than the old USB mini. It’s an ambidextrous coupling, for a start, so there is no need to study the plug to make sure it’s the right way up. You just stick it in the hole and get on with it.

I am in love with this already. My iPad and my MacBook both use USB-C and travelling with the S1 will be no problem. Forget the charger and you you are immediately in business.

Then there is the customisable lock lever where you can choose which knobs and buttons to disable to preserve your settings. And, because it is a physical lever, you can release all the controls in a second. Leica please note, for you invariably get this wrong on all your digital cameras. Your buttons are as frisky as a young stallion.

I also like the traditional strap lugs which enable me to use all my favourite danglers (including Evris’s elasticated Rock n’ Roll which handles the weight of the camera with aplomb). I have a visceral hatred of those DSLR slots on the SL. When I think about it, this was one of my biggest beefs with the SL. Silly, I know, but true. Who would not buy a camera because the strap lugs are not the right shape? Me, perhaps, as always not short of prejudices.

And we shouldn’t overlook that excellent in-body stabilisation system. No doubt the SL2 will catch up but, in the meantime, you can enjoy one of the best IBIS systems there are. Combined with a stabilised lens (such as the 24-105mm zoom) and you gain a 6-stop advantage in low-light shooting.

Indoors and some nasty backlighting with the Lumix 24-105 f/4. This was a very contrasty shot with a dark foreground but there’s plenty of dynamic range to pull back detail from an otherwise unusable image

M-Mount lenses

Many readers buying the S1 will have M glass in mind. I haven’t yet experimented here, but I know from other reports that the SL is likely to be more suited to use with M lenses than any other mirrorless camera, including the S1. On the Lumix there is no lens recognition, of course, so no information in the exif data – other than focal length which can be set when a new lens is attached. It detects the lens and asks what focal length to choose.

More worrying is that there are no lens profiles to adjust any foibles, such as vignette or distortion, in camera. And the sensor coating is likely to be thinner than that employed by Leica, something which is said not to help M lenses.

None of these aspects are deal breakers, of course. Most are easily corrected in post-processing. Many users will not even notice, dare I add.

Of course, there is an ever-increasing range of lenses designed for the S1 (and SL, for that matter). These include all the current SL lenses, all the TL lenses and soon-to-be-announced pro Art lenses from Sigma. Plus, of course, the three Panasonic lenses already on sale. More to come.

If you own TL lenses you’ll be sure to try them on the S1. I managed to use the camera with the 35mm Summilux-TL which renders on the S1 as a 50mm, as it does on the CL or TL. It performed well and not surprisingly because it is perhaps my favourite TL lens. A point to bear in mind, though, is that APS-C lenses such as this one cover (in the biblical sense) just the central portion of a full-frame sensor. According to my calculations, this results in a 10.5MP image compared with the 24MP you get with a full-frame lens on the same camera.

It sounds worryingly miserly, but in practice the results are impressive. I suppose you do get bigger pixels, for instance, than you do with a crowded 24MP full-size APS-C sensor, and this can bring improved low-light performance and better dynamic range. Either way, the results from the Summilux are by no means shabby.

Another one for John Shingleton, Lumix 24-105mm f/4

Fun with TL glass

But why on earth would you want to use TL lenses and take that pixel hit? Well, the most pressing reason is if you already own a range of TL lenses. It’s fun, and they are there. More practically, though, TL lenses are all superb optically and they are incredibly light (thanks to the decision to forego stabilisation and other fripperies). Snap on the 55-135mm Vario-Elmar-TL and you have a superb and very light 85-200mm zoom.

But what of the native Panasonic Lumix zoom? This was my first outing with the 24-105mm standard offering. At the price (£1,299), and with its relatively low weight (680g without hood), expectations are not going to be high. we’ve had it drummed into us by Peter Karbe and others that you can’t have premium quality without size and weight.

Stealthy Chrysler: Lumix 24-105mm f/4

Tellingly, it is the only one of the three lenses launched with the S1/S1R that isn’t “approved by Leica”. Read what you like into that, but I would be surprised if it could match the Leica 24-90mm SL zoom. That particular beast weighs 1,140g and costs £3,700. I’m told they couldn’t make it a gram lighter or a pound cheaper without losing quality. As ever, you pays your money and you takes your choice. But the 24-105mm, even sans Leica imprimatur, ain’t half bad.

Leica 35mm Summilux-TL

Indeed, initial results are positive. While I doubt this lens will win any prizes, it is a sound, practical workhorse capable of producing impressive results. It matches the S1 perfectly in terms of balance and handling and offers a very useful focal length range which makes it suitable for both city architecture and portraits. It’s a good compromise between performance and weight. While I probably wouldn’t recommend it as a £1,299 stand-along buy, it does make sense when bundled with the S1 for a total cost of £2,999 (that’s £750 cheaper than the Leica lens without a camera, by the way). Don’t make the mistake of looking down your nose at this kit lens.

Monkey business

These are just first impressions, and the photographs are simply snapshots. A monkey could do equally well with a modern camera on iA I imagine, so I claim no credit for “photography”. I just led the Lumix to the water and it drank. It’s early days, but I look forward to trying the S1 with a variety of lenses over the next couple of weeks. (Note for pedants, I did use aperture priority with the Summilux, so had to ham up my monkey skills)

One thing is clear, though, this is a camera with more customisation and options than I have encountered before. While it is well thought out and can be used intuitively from the moment you take it out of the (impressive) box, you must prepare yourself for a learning curve. From what I’ve seen so far, though, time spent with the S1 will be well repaid in results. It is a very usable camera that has utterly surprised me.

The Lumix S1 is a prime example of what we can expect with the L-Mount Alliance. It is very early days, not much more than eight months since the agreement was announced, but already we have a far wider choice – a choice which will benefit Leica and all participants in the alliance.

Sorting the men from the boys, dear readers. Can you still do this? Lumix 24-105mm at 105mm. It’s why some of us need articulating screens or tilting viewfinders

The kit lens

Overall, I find myself very satisfied with this “not-recommended-by-Leica” Panasonic Lumix zoom. What do you think? Perhaps not as good as the Leica 24-90 SL zoom, but is it good enough at the price?

Bièvres Photo Fair

Manager Trevor Stevens (right) and Mark White at the London Camera Exchange branch in The Strand

This coming weekend (June 1/2, 2019) it is the Bièvres Photo Fair and I shall be travelling by train to Paris. If you plan to visit Bievres, please look me up and have a chat. As usual, I won’t be too far from the Red Dot Cameras crowd.

Panasonic Lumix S1 and 24-105mm f/4 zoom supplied by my friends at London Camera Exchange in The Strand, next to the Savoy. It’s a good place to chat with the knowledgeable staff before picking up a new Lumix S1 or S1R

8 COMMENTS

  1. That lens looks fine, Mike. It’s a kit lens in name, perhaps, but it seems a long long way from the normal consumer kits !

    I’ve seen samples online of the 50/1.4 and it looks spectacular. It may give the Leica L glass a serious run for its money on IQ, let alone price!

    But the expense of the new Pana kit is not insignificant in isolation. I’m not sure I could justify dropping $5k+ Australian on a body and ‘kit’ lens.

  2. Leica made its reputation with the ‘Kleinfilm-Kamera’. Both the film and the camera were ‘klein’ because Herr Barnack found that carrying and using the cameras of the day were difficult chores for him. The design which he came up with over 100 years ago revolutionised photography and made Leica’s name a by-word for excellence in a small package.

    I have had perhaps 6 Lumix cameras over the past 12 years or so and they have all been excellent. My dealer pointed the S1 out to me recently and took it out of its glass case for me. It looked big and heavy and so it proved to be when I took it into my hands. I then thought about walking around with nearly 2 Kg of camera and lens in my arthritic hands and another chunky lens in a bag on my shoulder. Common sense prevailed and I handed the camera back to my dealer without trying any of the features. This is definitely is not a ‘Kleinfilm-Kamera’.

    Neither is the SL which has not interested me for precisely the same reasons. I did walk around Doha in about 40C of heat with a Nikon D3 and a 24-70 f2.8 zoom about 12 years ago, but I was younger and fitter then and still found it a chore. That is why I bought a Leica M8 soon afterwards.

    I was present when Peter Karbe talked about not being able to make lenses smaller due to the pursuit of perfection. My photos of his MTF charts and the lens he was illustrating appeared all around the world on Leica Rumors, but, ironically, I was not interested in the lens myself, because of its size, whatever about the perfection aspects. My own photographic motto is the closing line of ‘Some Like It Hot’.

    I would agree, though, that whatever size the next generation SL might be, that Leica should produce a ‘Kleinsensor-Kamera’ version of it. You are right about 24Mp probably being a ‘sweet spot’ and, for now, I cannot think of any reason why an amateur photographer would need more. I am saying this having used cameras with 36 and 45 Mp myself.

    Finally, there is the issue about how long into the future we will continue to use the format of the 35mm SLR with interchangeable lens style of system for digital cameras. It would seem to me that with digital EVFs we have taken but a tiny step on the road to what is possible with digital technology. There must surely be some truly disruptive photographic technology lurking around the corner with perhaps a rebirth of the ‘Kleinfilm-Kamera’ concept, other than on a smartphone.

    William

  3. I have the S1R and the crop factor for the TL lenses is around 20mp – and the viewfinder is excellent. Im not inclined to give it up in favor of an SL2 whenever it comes despite my affection for Leica. I have not noticed any of the vignette problems with M or R lenses – nor have I – an architectural often indoor photographer — noticed any real drop in low light ability from the higher 47mp. So while I don’t recommend it as a carry around travel light camera (!) it certainly is a real beast of a semi-pro shooter – the evf and the stability is really good. Which doesn’t rule out my picking up a well-priced SL as a second camera – the best of both worlds.

  4. Mike – apologies — I should have said how good your S1 pics have come out — and that I agree with all your positive comments on the S1 – which would naturally go for the S1R too – same size and mostly same operating system. Im in Paris this weekend – but won’t be able to make to for the fair – if you pass through give me a shout.

  5. Mike – apologies — I should have said how good your S1 pics have come out — and that I agree with all your positive comments on the S1 – which would naturally go for the S1R too – same size and mostly same operating system. Im in Paris this weekend – but won’t be able to make to for the fair – if you pass through give me a shout.

    • Thanks, Tony. I was pleased with the results from the camera and lens. This was the first time since I owned the SL and 24-90 that I had done an event like this with a pro camera with no compromise on size or capabilities. While I probably wouldn’t want to carry this rig around as an everyday camera, it really does make sense for events such as this — especially since my car was round the corner and I didn’t have to lug the Billingham around town on my back.

  6. The rumoured replacement for the Leica SL 601 is the SL2 and it appears that Leica Camera AG is discounting and thus ‘remaindering’ existing SL 601 stocks to make way for the new camera. But, Panasonic is attacking two markets with its new FF L mount cameras. The S1 is geared for videographers’ needs and S1R is the pro quality ‘stills’ camera. Surely Leica Camera AG is also interested in catering for videographers’ needs? If so, would it make sense for Leica to also introduce two new FF mirrorless ICL cameras? Is it therefore possible that maybe an SL2 and and SL2R could be announced in the near future?

    • I agree, Dunk. But it isn’t only videographers who prefer the 24MP sensor. Many believe it is adequate for still photography and so do not want the complications of 47MP. The new M11 will also have a 40MP+ sensor and, again, there will be a temptation to stick with the M10.

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