In many ways, the Panasonic S1R is the best mirrorless camera on the market right now (at least of the full-frame variety). It has the most advanced features you’ll find today – everything from sensor-shift mode to illuminated rear buttons – and an excellent 47 megapixel sensor. So, why don’t I highly recommend it?
Two main reasons: price and weight. Add in a third – lenses – if the current crop of L-mount compatible Sigma glass doesn’t work for your needs, because pretty much every other compatible lens for the L mount is extremely expensive.
At $3700 body only, the S1R is not a cheap camera by any means. It costs far more than the Nikon Z7 ($2700 with current discounts), and it even costs more than the recently-released Sony A7R IV ($3500). Unfortunately, that’s not going to win Panasonic a lot of converts.
Even if you find a good deal and price isn’t an issue, weight might be. The S1R is 1016 grams (2.24 pounds), making it heavier than all its mirrorless competitors by a fair margin. The Nikon Z7 is 675 grams, the Canon EOS R is 660 grams, and the Sony A7R IV is 665 grams. Light weight is not the only benefit of mirrorless, and some photographers may even appreciate the Panasonic’s heft. But for many of us, it’s certainly not a positive, especially with such high-quality competitors that do manage to minimize weight.
The good news is that two of these three issues – price and lenses – will be fixed in the long run, at least to some degree. Price is obvious; eventually, to keep pace with its competitors, Panasonic is going to lower the price of the S1R (and S1). And, of course, used and refurbished prices will march downward over time. It may not be too long before you can get a like-new S1R in the $2500 range. (I’m already seeing some below $3000.)
As for lenses, Sigma is already filling out their lineup of lenses to work with the L Mount. We’re already at the point that many needs are met, although lightweight lenses and inexpensive telephotos remain a pretty clear weak point. Still, in time, the lens lineup for the Panasonic S1R will grow and encompass pretty much every common need.
That leaves weight. The S1R is a heavy camera, and that won’t change. Even the lenses for the S1R (current and, seemingly, future) are heavy. Other than a handful of Sigma’s “Contemporary” lenses, the L-mount glass for at least the next few years look like they’ll be heavy – though, also, almost universally high in quality.
Here’s how I’d sum up the S1R’s pros and cons:
- Excellent quality 47 megapixel sensor
- Sensor-shift mode produces insanely detailed 187 megapixel photos
- Professional control layout including three dials and a joystick
- Dual card slots – one SD, one XQD
- Fast, accurate autofocus system with eye AF
- Single-point AF-S autofocus works extremely well even in ultra low light conditions
- Dual-direction tilting rear LCD
- Tank-like build quality and good weatherproofing
- Large, substantial grip
- Illuminated rear buttons
- 4K 60p video
- High quality 5.76-million dot EVF
- Extreme customizability, from C1/C2/C3 on the mode dial to many programmable buttons
- Effective IBIS which works in tandem with lens-based image stabilization
- Sharp, high quality 24-105mm f/4 kit zoom
- Expensive at $3700 body only, $4600 with kit lens
- Large and heavy, especially for a mirrorless camera
- Most current lenses are heavy and/or expensive; if the well-priced ones don’t work for your needs, the price of an S1R system can get out of hand
- Camera can get quite warm when used for extended periods of time, potentially increasing number of hot pixels over years of use
- Complex operation; not a beginner camera at all
- “Tracking” AF mode sometimes refuses to engage at all in low light environments, even on fairly high-contrast subjects
- AF-C switches to AF-S in moderately low light conditions
- Manual focus does not let you magnify more than 6x, making maximum accuracy somewhat difficult
- In-camera image review only allows 8x magnification of standard RAW images, with an unnecessarily pixelated view
- 9 FPS shooting locks focus; 6 FPS is the fastest you can shoot with continuous focus and auto exposure
- Cannot shoot continuous bursts with external flash – only single images
- Sensor shift doesn’t work with shutter speeds longer than 1 second
That’s a long list of both pros and cons. And it’s what makes this camera fairly tricky to analyze. In many ways, it’s the best full-frame mirrorless camera you can get at the moment. It has more features than even the Sony A7R IV – and higher resolution than anything from Nikon or Canon.
Yet – I can’t recommend it, unless you really know what you’re getting into. The price, weight, and lack of lightweight or inexpensive lenses really make this a specialized camera system, not something I think most photographers should have at the top of their list.
I do love the thought that Panasonic put into the S1R, and I’m excited about their full-frame mirrorless system overall. If they trim down the price and fill out the lens lineup, I think enough people would look past the S1R’s weight and size (or even see it as a positive) and get this camera in a heartbeat.
But we’re not there yet. If you like the look of the S1R based on what I’ve said, I recommend instead that you get the standard Panasonic S1. It has almost exactly the same feature set, build quality, and everything else, but it sells for a more palatable $2500 (body only). If you’re good with 24 megapixels – plus a 96-megapixel high-resolution mode – that’s the much more reasonable buy.
You can purchase the S1R (and S1) from the links below to B&H:
I hope you found this review to be useful! If you have any questions or comments about the Panasonic S1R or S system in general, please let me know in the comments section on the final page of this review.
- Build Quality
- Focus Speed and Accuracy
- Image Stabilization
- Battery Life
- Image Quality
- High ISO Performance
- Size and Weight
- Movie Recording Features
- Dynamic Range
- Ease of Use
Photography Life Overall Rating
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