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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
These are just first impressions, and the photographs are simply snapshots. A monkey could do equally well with a modern camera on
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.
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
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.