Though the Panasonic Lumix S1R remains a dark-horse contender among its full frame mirrorless competitors, I believe Panasonic made a strong entry into the market that is still worth considering over the more established and up-to-date competition. Check out this article to learn about some interesting features that the S1R has to offer for landscape photographers.
Overview and Image Quality
Though it was announced in early 2019, nearly three years ago, the Panasonic Lumix S1R still deserves to be a top consideration for landscape photographers, especially when considering a ratio of dollars to image quality. Because the camera has not been as popular as its competitors, it can frequently be found on popular online used camera retailers for well under $2,000. Regardless of the decline in popularity, the S1R remains a strong competitor. The full frame sensor offers a stunning 47.3 megapixels, which remains within the benchmark range for high-megapixel full frame sensors. There are full frame cameras with higher megapixel counts, such as the Sony a7R IV, which offers 61 megapixels, but landscape photographers who are interested in astro and Milky Way photography should keep in mind that more megapixels usually translates to higher noise levels when shooting at high ISOs.
Though dedicated astrophotographers will achieve better high-ISO noise performance with lower megapixel cameras such as the Panasonic S1 or the Sony A7 III, the S1R is still a strong performer for night sky images, and for most landscape photographers who are interested in printing their images, the extra megapixels are likely worth it. In fact, DXO Mark, the popular camera quality testing website, awarded the S1R's sensor with a score of 100, and it remains at the top of the ranking charts nearly three years after release, alongside the Sony A7R III and the Nikon Z7 II. In terms of image quality, the S1R's sensor can easily compete with its competitors from Nikon, Canon, and Sony, even though all three companies have since released newer models.
Camera Body Features
Panasonic put some TLC into the development of the S1 and the S1R, as exhibited by several features that dedicated stills photographers, and landscape photographers, in particular, will appreciate them, despite their lack of marketing or attention from popular cameras review sites. Along with a multitude of fully customizable function buttons and robust weather-sealing, this camera has one feature that really sets it apart: the triaxial tilt screen. While the majority of cameras these days utilize either a standard tilting screen (only tilts up in landscape orientation) or the somewhat controversial "selfie screen" (useful for bloggers and videographers), the S1R features a three-way tilting screen, which is identical in function to the screens available on certain popular Fujifilm cameras. This screen allows you to tilt upward while in landscape or portrait orientation. For landscape photographers who often find themselves low to the ground with a vertical composition, this screen is an incredibly convenient feature. Once you've used it, it is very difficult to go back to anything else.
The S1R also features a much more accurate manual mode exposure preview than its competitors, because it uses shutter speed to generate the preview rather than gain. Most cameras will just take the image and apply gain until the exposure preview matches the exposure value of the settings you have dialed in. In application, you won't notice a difference using faster shutter speeds, but with long exposures, you will actually get an accurate preview (with some lag), whereas other cameras can't apply enough gain to the preview to accurately simulate the exposure. This saves you from shooting test images or running calculations when working with long exposures. The lag can take some getting used to, but there is a default button assigned to toggle off the exposure preview briefly while composing, so the lag isn't an issue.
The S1R's sensor does not utilize an optical low-pass/anti-aliasing filter or an on-sensor phase-detect auto-focus (PDAF) array. For essentially any other style of photographer, including videographers, these are significant reasons to opt out of this camera system, and this is likely why it hasn't been as popular as its competitors. The anti-aliasing filter helps prevent moiré patterns in clothing, but opting to exclude the AA filter ultimately improves overall sensor resolution and sharpness of the finest details, which is a good thing for landscape photographers. PDAF improves the speed and accuracy of a camera's autofocus, especially in AF-C mode and while shooting video. However, the on-sensor AF array also has the potential to create a strong grid-pattern of flaring that some of you may have come across when shooting directly into the sun. This is not an uncommon issue for landscape photographers who like to include a strong light source in their images, so the lack of PDAF is quite welcome.
As a testament to the fact that Panasonic went the extra mile in developing their full frame mirrorless line, there are a few features that will appeal strongly to astrophotographers and anyone else who frequently finds themselves taking pictures in the dark, such as backlit buttons, "Night Mode," 20X manual focus zoom, and "Live View Boost."
"Night Mode" is a helpful setting that allows you to shift your LCD and EVF screens to a monochromatic red tone, which allows you to use your camera screen without ruining your eye's adaptation to the dark. "Live View Boost" allows you to apply heavy gain to your LCD preview, effectively brightening the image, which is incredibly useful for composing a foreground in the dark without the need for bright lights or test exposures. Finally, the 20X manual focus zoom allows you to punch in incredibly close to a bright star to make focusing your night-sky exposures quite simple.
Available L Mount Lenses
Though the native L mount lens selection was limited at the time of release, there are now 13 native Panasonic L mount lenses, with an additional 36 lenses available through Sigma and Leica, including several options from ultra-wide to super-telephoto. For this article, I have paired the S1R with Panasonic's own Lumix S PRO 16-35mm f/4 Lens. This lens, with its beautiful, robust build quality and excellent sharpness throughout the frame and aperture range, makes an excellent tool for any landscape photographer. It also accepts circular filters on the front of the lens, which makes it easy to use the best circular filter systems available, such as the Kase Wolverine Magnetic Filter Kit.
Native Lens Features
When shooting with native Lumix lenses, the S1R offers several useful, well-thought-out features. Both their lens hoods and the camera's hot-shoe cover have a locking mechanism that requires you to press a button release to remove them, which is a relief for landscape photographers who are frequently on the move, as both of these accessories are notorious for falling off and getting lost in transit.
Panasonic's native lenses feature the option to enable "non-linear focus", which means that while manually focusing, the "throw" of the focus ring varies based on the speed of rotation. When you turn the focus ring quickly, the focus point moves quickly, but when you need to fine-tune your focus, rotating slowly allows you to more precisely dial in the focus point. This is particularly useful for focusing on stars and for focus-stacking an image to maximize depth of field.
A great feature of Panasonic's premium S-Pro lens lineup is the inclusion of a manual focus clutch, which is a mechanism built into the focus ring that allows you to switch into manual focus while revealing a traditional distance scale on the lens barrel. Aside from being a convenient way to switch to manual focus, this feature is simply a pleasure to use for those who enjoy the actual process of photography. Drag the slider below to better see how the focus clutch works.
Aside from the other issues I've mentioned above, the most likely reason that Panasonic's full frame mirrorless cameras haven't been as popular is their pricing at the time of launch. The S1R originally sold for $3,699, which was a bit steep compared to the Nikon Z7 ($3,400) or the Sony a7R IV ($3,500). There seem to be many valid reasons for photographers and videographers in general to avoid the S1R and the S1, but for dedicated landscape photographers, it seems there really isn't any downside. Perhaps the community has avoided this camera system simply because it's less popular, and most people don't have the time or energy to dive deep into a comparison with other systems. Regardless, given the current used market for the S1R, where it can regularly be found for less than half of the original retail price, this camera should absolutely be a strong consideration for anyone looking to upgrade their landscape photography setup.
If you are interested in learning more about the S1R, check out this hands-on preview with the Panasonic S1R.