This is an ongoing Panasonic Lumix S1 review and comparison from a Sony photographer. I will be updating this as I go with current thoughts and experiences while using the new system.
My full time professional photography career started 19 years ago as a Nikon shooter for stills, and Panasonic Lumix for video. Nikon never quite figured out the video thing, so I used Panasonic GH3, GH4 and GH5’s for video projects.
When the Sony A9 was announced back in 2017, I decided to make the switch to Sony. The Sony mirrorless full frame cameras would allow me to sell off my Nikon D810 and D5 as well as alllllllllll the fancy glass I had accumulated over the years. Selling off my Panasonic Lumix cameras and lenses was also a possibility. It was going to be amazing to use one camera system for all of my photo and video needs. The Sony A7Riii would give me the high-res capabilities I needed for commercial work as well as studio portraits while the Sony A9 would give me a super fast camera that was great in low light for events. Other than shooting the Kentucky Derby each year, I do not really have any “sports” needs for my camera gear.
I’ve shot all of my work exclusively with Sony gear for the past two years. Here is a list of my current equipment:
- Sony•16-35 G Master
- Sony•24-70 G Master
- Sony•70-200 G Master
- Sony•100-400 G Master
- Sony•24 G Master
- Sony/Zeiss•50 1.4
- Sony•85 G Master
- Canon•17MM TiltShift Lens with Sigma MC-11 Adapter
As you can see, I have all of the latest and greatest Sony gear. Switching to mirrorless has been enjoyable. Constantly find myself shooting in a totally different style because of the live view. Rarely do I hold the camera up to my eye.
But… Why do I always feel like I am fighting Sony’s user interface. It seems like there are a lot of extra button presses involved to do just about everything on the Sony cameras. I have tried several different button configurations as well as custom functions. None seem to cut it for me. To further complicate things, all of this button pressing has been severely slowed down with the recent A9 v5.0 firmware upgrade. My A9 has a HUGE lag time anytime a button is pressed or a mode is changed. This results in missed shots. I’m guessing that the Sony A9 doesn’t have the needed processing power to run all of their fancy-schmancy continuous autofocus programs after the firmware update.
Another thing that has always bothered me was the physical size and feel of the Sony cameras. Some days I will have a camera in my hand for 18 hours. If you design gorgeous pro lenses that are heavy, and use them on a small camera body, the balance in your hand is over quicker than a knife fight in a phone booth. If you notice in the photo above, I have been using the Sony battery grips with a Really Right Stuff L Bracket to add more weight and heft to the diminutive Sony camera bodies. You’re thinking, “Why add weight to a small camera”. It’s simple, BALANCE! The cameras no longer hurt my wrists after a long day of shooting. Adding weight to the camera body ha moved the fulcrum closer to my hand which results in better balance. Science, yo!
Since switching to Sony, skin tones have been a HUGE problem for me. During portrait work I have yet to obtain GOOD skin tones out of any Sony camera. I’ve tried Capture One, Lightroom and Photoshop. Various color profiles have been tested. In camera settings etc… I am just not happy with the skin tones. Sony cameras also do not seem to mix ambient light with strobes or flash very well. It just doesn’t do it for me like any of my Nikon gear did. I’ve used Profoto as well as Flashpoint strobes with the same lackluster results.
When Panasonic announced the new S1 and S1R cameras, I was instantly interested. As mentioned before, I’ve bee a Lumix fan for awhile. I preordered the S1 kit that included the 24-105 F4 lens. I also ordered the battery grip, 50 F1.4 and 70-200 F4.
As soon as I unboxed the camera and held it, I knew I would like the design. It just feels RIGHT in my large hands. It balances the lenses perfectly. The button layout is the best I’ve seen on any camera, including my Nikon D5. Everything is right where you’d expect it. Check out the focus adjustment button and dial. It works like a champ!
The Panasonic Lumix S1 in my opinion is the only professionally built mirrorless camera on the market currently. Yeah, that’s a pretty bold statement isn’t it? I’m sure I’ll have some folks bitching about this statement. The Sony cameras have ZERO weather sealing. Honestly, after holding the Lumix S1, the Sony Alpha bodies just feel like toys.
I have never been more “On the Fence” than I am currently with this decision.
Do I stay with the Sony camera system or ditch it entirely for the new kid? I have been weighing the pros and cons for weeks now. My head just keeps going back to ergonomics and usability. LOVE that the S1 and S1R are the exact same camera bodies with the exact same buttons and menus. These will take the place of my Sony A9 and A7Riii which DO NOT have the same button layout or menus. Image sharpness and contrast are close in my opinion. Color rendition on both RAW and JPEG files is BY FAR better on the Lumix cameras. The advantage goes to the Lumix in regards to high ISO. Absolutely more detail and color at high ISO with the Lumix.
Battery life… The Lumix is a power hog! The S1 gobbles up battery power quicker than Biggie Smalls could consume cheese eggs and Welches grape. Sony cameras are getting twice the snaps per battery charge with the new “Z” series batteries.
While the “kit lens” for the Lumix S1 is simply amazing, it is only an F4 lens. Currently there are no F2.8 lenses to be had for this system. Panasonic’s camera lens roadmap shows the “trinity” of lenses being announced later this year. The 16-35 F4, 24-70 F2.8 and 70-200 F2.8 SHOULD BE available later this year. Sigma will also have a ton of prime lenses in the native L Mount within the next month. The Sigma MC-21 adapter will be shipping in the US any day now. This will allow me to use my Canon tilt shift lens with the Lumix.
Have I mentioned the viewfinder yet? OH MY FUCKING GOD! The EVF is simply AMAZING! It really is like looking through the viewfinder of an SLR. For the first time ever, with a mirrorless camera, you can check critical focus! Simply amazing. I’m guessing other manufacturers will have to follow. Looking through the viewfinder of the Sony cameras has always been a miserable experience. My LCD and viewfinder have never matched. Yes, I have adjusted all possible menu settings to try to fix this.
The “PROS” as I see them for switching to the Lumix S1 from Sony:
- Viewfinder and screen resolution
- Camera build quality
- button layout and usability
- High ISO performance
- 6 stop body stabilization
- Faster overall camera performance
- Skin tones and color overall
- Flash and strobe experience
- No more crazy flash hot shoe with fragile electrical connections
The “PROS” for staying with Sony:
- Lens availability
- Battery life
- Tech support
- Autofocus system
- Widely available and adopted system
- I won’t have to sell $50k worth of gear
- No shutter blackout during silent shutter shooting
Sony is rumored to be announcing the A9ii this September, further complicating my decision. Will this be Sony’s first REAL pro build quality camera or will it have the same ergonomics of previous models? Are we even sure this camera will become available any time soon? Keep in mind, the A7siii STILL hasn’t surfaced. Sony Alpha Rumors is normally spot on, but who knows…