The Panasonic S1R’s specifications suggest a camera that excels in image quality – and, in practice, that holds true. The S1R isn’t quite perfect in terms of image quality, but it’s on the upper end of things without a doubt.
High ISO Performance
First up, let’s take a look at the Panasonic S1R’s high ISO performance, from ISO 800 to the maximum of 51,200. The following are extreme 100% crops. Click to see the full-size 1216 x 912 pixel version:
Not bad at all! These results will be more meaningful in context – the next page of this review compares the S1R’s performance to that of the Sony A7R IV and Nikon Z7. Still, it should be pretty clear that the S1R’s photos are usable even up to a very high ISO. I personally would use up to ISO 12,800 with this camera in a pinch, no worries.
In fact, that’s exactly what I did when I took the photo below in an ultra-low light environment. This image is straight out of camera, with no editing of any kind, including noise reduction or cropping. You can see that even ISO 12,800 looks awesome at web resolution. Click to see full size, and you’ll be able to see how sharp it is:
Here’s a 100% crop of the chef’s face to show noise up close. Click to see the full-size 1463 x 1097 pixel crop:
For ISO 12,800 with no noise reduction at all, this is very impressive!
The Panasonic S1R has decent dynamic range, but it’s not the best I’ve ever seen. Too much shadow recovery introduces a moderate amount of noise, which is not unexpected. More of a problem is that shadows and colors start to look relatively flat with extreme shadow recovery. Here’s an example, only mildly cropped, which I underexposed by five stops and then recovered in Lightroom:
You can probably tell that the shadows are flat and the colors are a bit shifted, as if I applied a mild Instagram filter to this shot. The differences will be even clearer on the next page of this review (Camera Comparisons) where I show how the Sony A7R IV and Nikon Z7 captured the same scene.
That said, the S1R’s performance is far from awful in the dynamic range department. A bit of post-processing can give the dark regions their “punchiness” back, and it doesn’t take much noise reduction before things start to look all right again.
I certainly don’t have any reservations against using the S1R in high-contrast scenes, whether landscapes, portraits, or anything else. It’s not quite state-of-the-art in terms of dynamic range, but you won’t even notice in the field unless you severely mess up your exposure.
Sensor Shift Mode
One of the most exciting features on the Panasonic S1R is the sensor shift mode to capture ultra-high resolution 187 megapixel images with full RGB data per pixel.
This mode does come with a few limitations. First, it only works when your shutter speed is 1 second or faster, and your ISO is 3200 or below. The shutter speed limit means you’ll have a hard time using sensor shift for anything later than blue hour photography.
Beyond the shutter speed limit, if your camera platform isn’t totally stable, or if something in your scene moves too much during the shot, it will be blurry (like using a long exposure). That’s true regardless of the shutter speed your camera is actually set at.
Also – the high resolution sensor shift mode produces uncompressed RAW files. These weigh in at a whopping 345 MB or so per image, compared to a much more tame 70 MB for the S1R’s regular RAW images. You need quite a computer in order to edit them without significant rendering delays. Still, given the quality you get, I wouldn’t really count this as a huge negative. If you get this camera, you probably already know what you’re getting into!
The last limitation is that it takes a while for the S1R to capture a sensor-shift image, even when you optimize your settings for speed (turning “Shutter Delay” off and using a fast shutter speed). At 1/100 second shutter speed, it consistently took my S1R around 14 seconds to capture a single sensor-shift image in Mode 1, and around 18 seconds in Mode 2.
Speaking of Modes 1 and 2, what is the difference between them? Panasonic says of Mode 1 that “motion blur appears as afterimage in the picture.” Of Mode 2, Panasonic says “an afterimage of motion blur is minimized.”
I used both modes in a row to photograph a scene with moving objects. Here’s an extreme, 100% crop of each one:
I’ve got to give Panasonic credit. The two modes do exactly what they say, both with fairly good results. Mode 1 is akin to using a longer shutter speed, while Mode 2 attempts to eliminate any sort of blur at all.
Which one looks better? To me, it’s Mode 1. As good a job as Panasonic attempted to do freezing motion in Mode 2, they didn’t get everything right. The wave pattern around the boat looks a bit… Photoshopped. I’m impressed that Panasonic did as good a job as they did, but the long-exposure-esque look of the first has a more natural vibe to me.
The only question remaining is whether or not it’s worth using the sensor shift mode in the first place. How does the detail compare to a non-shifted image? Here’s a comparison below.
High Resolution Mode, 100% crop:
Regular Mode, Upsampled to 187 Megapixels with Bicubic Smoother, 100% crop:
As you can see, the benefits of sensor shift mode are quite clear!
Of course, keep in mind that the crops above mimic a pretty gigantic print – about 11.5 feet wide, assuming the images are 6 inches on your computer monitor. If you tend to display small prints or only show your work online, I doubt you’ll find the benefits of sensor shift mode particularly useful. (The good news is that you can record a regular, non-shifted RAW side by side with the shifted version, so you don’t have to worry about motion ruining an image with no backup.)
One last minor issue with the sensor shift mode is that you are more likely than usual to see hot pixels in the shifted image. That’s because software like Lightroom eliminates hot pixels automatically, but sensor shifting makes a hot pixel take up more space in your image. So, Lightroom is less likely to catch it. Not a big deal, but I wanted to mention it.
Even with the limitations I’ve mentioned, the high resolution sensor shift mode on the S1R is pretty awesome. I found myself using it frequently in good-to-moderate lighting conditions, and now I have some insanely high resolution images that I can’t wait to print big. It’s not an everyday feature, but for winning shots, high resolution mode is a great touch.
Kit Lens Quality
The Panasonic 24-105mm f/4 zoom sold with the 1R is extremely sharp and high quality. It’s in line with the Nikon Z 24-70mm f/4 and Canon RF 24-105mm f/4 – two of the sharpest kit lenses I’ve ever seen.
How sharp is it? We haven’t done lab testing yet, but here’s a real-world sample photo taken at f/5 (uncropped):
And here’s a 100% crop from the extreme bottom-left corner of this image – a 1439 x 960 pixel excerpt from a 47 megapixel original. I brightened it slightly so you can see the details more clearly. Click to see full size:
If that’s not good enough for you from a kit zoom, I don’t know what is!
The one negative I’d note about the Panasonic 24-105mm f/4 is that it has a decent bit of flare – more than I get on the Nikon Z kit lens (the 24-70mm f/4 S) by comparison. Here’s a typical example, where the sun is actually fairly blocked by the tree:
You can also see from this sample that the starburst effect on the Panasonic 24-105mm f/4 exists, but is not particularly strong or distinct. This is shot at f/11, where a number of lenses today have much clearer starburst effects.
At the end of the day, this is an excellent kit lens. That’s always good news, but even more so in Panasonic’s case; at least at the time of this review’s publication, you don’t have many other options for an L-mount midrange zoom.
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