Panasonic S1R: I Bought One
This is a lengthy post so beware all ye who shall enter here. Grab a glass of water and your reading goggles while I dive into my recent acquisition of the Panasonic S1R.
Where It All Started
Last year, Canon and Nikon decided to throw their cards on the table and enter into the mirrorless market with both producing full-frame camera offerings. Canon launched its EOS R camera along with a plethora of impressive lenses. Nikon took a double-sided approach releasing two cameras, the Nikon Z6 and Z7, each aimed at different sets of photographers. Sony and Fujifilm were already in the mirrorless game with Sony being the leader in the full-frame mirrorless arena and Fuji currently killing it in the APS-C mirrorless (and maybe even entry level medium format) arena.
I sat back and watched the announcements. I browsed rumor websites with updates about ever little feature of each camera. The Canon EOS R had an okay camera body, but incredible lenses. The Nikons had great cameras, yet okay lenses. What sort of bizzaro world of camera launches was I living in? How could both companies make such dumb oversights?
To add insult to injury both companies’ cameras had some sort of omission in terms of features. Canon had lackluster video features and one card slot. Nikon had one card slot and an adapter that only allows you to use their more recent “G” lenses with autofocus, totally removing their amazing “D” series lenses from the playing field for many. Additionally, the Nikon Z’s have seemingly done away with the ability to add a battery grip which would further improve the ergonomics in many ways. At least Canon got that right.
I sat back comfortably with my Nikon D850 and D750 DSLR’s and didn’t feel too bothered by all the recent developments. When I played around with the Z6 at Photoplus last year, I thought the system was promising, but not quite there. I understood the benefits of mirrorless, but there just wasn’t anything to tickle my fancy. However, my day-to-day, take everywhere camera is a Panasonic G9 and I always thought to myself, “If Panasonic would only launch a full frame camera similar to my G9, I’d switch in a heartbeat.”
But why switch? I mean if your current cameras are doing the job, why deal with the hassle of switching systems?
In my case it comes down to inspiration. I shot Canon for most of my career, then Nikon, then Sony, then back to Canon, then finally back to Nikon. Canon was my first girlfriend. I learned much of what I know with her. Nikon was a fling. The D800 came out and I had to see what all the fuss was about. Sony was a curiosity. They launched their a99 SLT camera and I was intrigued.
The a99 was FUN but actually had some durability issues (dials kept getting stuck over time). And Sony support was abysmal so I went back to old trusty Canon. Canon was safe. It was comfortable. But it was boring. The 5D Mark II and 5D Mark III were both stellar cameras upon release, but Canon showed no real innovation in years.
Nikon launched the D810 and I didn’t give it a second thought about switching. It was my workhorse for years and one of my favorite cameras of all-time. I shot 100 Faces with that camera.
When I got the D850 in August 2018, I liked it initially, but ending up feeling like it was more of the same. And for reason the files didn’t quite have the same magic the D810 files did. Maybe it’s something about the sensor tech, but it was something I noticed. Compare that to the little micro four-thirds Panasonic G9 I recently purchased around the same time and the experience was night and day. The G9 is just pure unadulterated fun to use. It was like the a99 but even better. Quick, responsive, lightweight, etc. I love it to death.
A New Challenger Appears
So as I was just about to just settle for more years with my trusty Nikons, Panasonic made an announcement.
Oh. My. God. They too were entering the fray.
Panasonic got balls and decided to compete with the major players beyond the world of micro four-thirds! *slow clap* They were coming out with two full-frame cameras, the S1 and S1R. Nikon wasn’t the only one who could launch two cameras! I read the spec sheet and nodded in approval. Even the visual mockups of the camera bodies looked decent. This was good. Great even. I was excited. Then they gave an estimated launch time.
The wind went out of my sails faster than a person running to the bathroom after an 8 hour car ride and no rest stops in-between. 2019? C’mon Panasonic! Surely you could make the 2018 window. Just in time for Christmas ya know?
No go. So, hanging my head in disappointment, I would have to wait.
Dating Other People
In the meantime, I decided to get out of my DSLR equipment while I could maximize their selling power. I sold the Nikons and was camera-less for a few days. The world was my oyster. I could buy into any system now.
I looked at all the specs and surprisingly choose the Canon EOS R to tide me over until the Panasonic’s launched. At first I was genuinely impressed with the Canon, but it was terrible in a usability sense. The touch bar felt like a gimmick, you couldn’t lock the focus point where you wanted it and I didn’t find the files all that great. They lacked crispness and the umph I was used to with my Nikons. My D750 had it beat by a mile. I will note that Canon’s adapter options were wayyy better than Nikon’s, so that’s a point to them.
Dismayed, I returned it and picked up the Nikon Z6.
To Nikon’s credit, the Z6/Z7 cameras are very well built. Small, light, great feature set. Their lens offerings weren’t all that impressive but I’ve heard overall good things amongst the photo community. I chose to buy their FTZ adapter and use my existing Nikon glass. No need to buy all new stuff if I would be switching to Panasonic in the future. And besides, Nikon’s G lenses are amazing.
Overall, my experience with the Z6 has been great. Although there are some annoyances. The viewfinder is nice, but you can’t hide all the unimportant information on the small screen which makes it a bit cluttered. I wish it would get out the way and let me see my picture. Having a joystick is nice (you hear that Canon), but being able to lock the focus point to prevent me from inadvertently moving it by tapping the joystick is nicer. I missed that small feature from my DSLR’s. Seems like a no-brainer that it would be on the Z cameras.
Being able to put a battery grip on it would also help the ergonomics considerably. The Canon feels much better in the hand due to the elongated grip. With the Nikon, I had to purchase an L-plate that extended the grip just enough to give it a surer fit in my hand. This also increased the weight. A minor annoyance, but bothersome nonetheless. Ergonomics matter and it seemed Nikon went for compactness versus a surer grip.
Black, boring boxes with no sense of aesthetics. The lenses are all black tubes. Just a hideous design. They feel good in the hand in terms of the materials, but they’re ugly to look at. Add the FTZ adapter and a G lens and you have one of the most 1 out of 10 looking camera bodies I’ve ever seen. I know that’s subjective, but Nikon could have done a bit better with the aesthetics. Cameras are just tools, but the tools you use can inspire you if you feel like a badass or you look cool while using them.
Think about the pair of cool shoes you wear when you go for a run. Nike makes you feel like a world class athlete in your sleek running shoes. The iPhone is a sexy piece of hardware that makes you want to show it off when you get it. The Nikon Z6/Z7 are bleh in the looks department. And as a result, just uninspiring for me.
But What About Sony or Fuji?
I’ll keep this short and sweet. In my opinion, Sony’s ergonomics are awful. The Nikon Z is just a minor quibble, but Sony’s is downright terrible. Tiny camera, giant lenses. Terrible customer support. Crappy menus.
However, at least they even have a battery grip. Damn you Nikon.
I loved the a99, but the a7 series I’m just not fond of. Mirrorless cameras don’t have to be small. The a99 was DSLR size but lightweight for the form factor. I honestly don’t mind a larger camera as long as the ergonomics are on point.
Fuji cameras are cool, but I left APS-C a loooong time ago and I’m not turning back. Ergonomics are also poor. Having to buy thumb-grips or additional grips to improve the handholding of the camera is annoying.
Their medium format options are interesting, but not leaps and bounds over current 35mm digital offerings. I’d be buying into a new, more expensive system that has even more expensive lenses and is slower and harder to focus in low light overall. That’s a no go for me.
It Finally Arrives
After days of research leading up to the release of the S line of cameras, I was still unsure. They looked amazing…on paper. Early impressions were positive, but these were things I just read online. I wanted a high megapixel camera so why not get the Z7? “No Jamiya, you wanted something different!” said my brain.
B&H finally got a demo model at their store and soon as I had a free day I went to test it out. Soon as I held it in my hand, it felt right. The buttons were where they should be and the grip was perfect. It felt solid, like a workhorse of a camera. It looked like a bigger G9, but with subtle refinements that I really appreciated coming from the Z6. And dear friends, there was a lock button. I didn’t notice this when I did my initial research. I placed my focus point where I wanted it, flipped the switch, and the focus point didn’t move whenever I pressed anything else like the rear joystick.
And the sound of the shutter was so satisfying! I was sold. I plunked down the money for the S1R a few days later.
Keep in mind, I hardly ever buy first generation products. There are usually growing pains and companies have to work out some of the initial kinks before the product hits its stride. But Panasonic has earned a lot of trust with me due to the stellar G9 and the effort they’ve been pouring into their cameras lately. I also like a good underdog and in the full-frame market, they’re the new kid on the block. There’s a lot of doubt cast on the Panasonics as if they’ll be duds compared to the other more established brands. I’m rooting for them and hope they do well. Competition is good for the industry.
My camera finally arrived and I was over the moon when I heard the UPS guy buzz my apartment. I grabbed the box, told him thank you and tore it open like a kid on Christmas morning.
The sheer beauty of this camera. Wow. What a sexy piece of hardware. And I loved the red accents. Panasonic really poured their heart and soul into this camera design. It really shows. Like it even has backlit buttons! C’mon now. That is amazing.
But all has not been great. *cue ominous music*
Failure to Launch
So I’ve hyped you up telling you my story about getting a Panasonic S1R. Heck I hyped myself up just reading it as I post this. But there has just been one thing missing with my new camera.
I don’t have any lenses. *facepalm*
At time of my purchase, the Panasonic Lumix S Pro 50mm f/1.4 was sold out everywhere. I didn’t want the 24-105 zoom lens. I’m f/2.8 or nothing with zooms. And Sigma’s MC-21 EF to L Mount adapter wouldn’t release until the end of April. It was April 9th when I got my camera and the wait has been grueling.
In the meantime I’m using my Z6 for client work (groan).
I have a Nikon to L Mount adapter, but find using it a bit cumbersome. It’s a “dumb” adapter so you lose both autofocus and metering which makes the shooting experience more annoying than fun.
But the Sigma adapter just launched in Japan on April 19 and should land here in a few days. The anticipation is killing me! Once I receive it I’m shooting like a madman.
Which brings me to the only issue I have with Panasonic as of this writing.
The Panasonic S Launch Was Mishandled
I have never seen such a pitiful marketing effort than what Panasonic has done. These cameras are incredible, but they didn’t have everything ready by launch. The Sigma adapter should have been ready on day one. Heck their should also be a Nikon to L Mount version to give users even more options. There’s no on camera flash or wireless shutter release. There’s no 85mm lens for portraits! C’mon Panasonic, get your head in the game!
If you’re the underdog and being counted out by the industry, come out swinging!
Their initial lens lineup is competent. The 50mm f/1.4 is stunning, but very expensive. That will probably not be an option for many users. An entry/mid-level lens lineup would have helped alleviate this. See Nikon’s Z or Canon’s initial lineup. A few affordable primes that make it easy for customers to get started with the cameras would have been perfect. Canon and Nikon both have this along with some pro lenses. Nikon just launched their 24-70 f/2.8S. Canon had one ready at launch. f/2.8 Panasonic. 2.8!
Also the Panasonic promo videos featuring their Lumix Ambassadors were very run of the mill corporate marketing jive. Calming music, guy/girl walking around with a camera, “It really helps me do all the things I wanna do.” Blah, blah, blah. Tell me about the features and show them in use dammit! Make it exciting! High energy music and some young photographer killing it with all this great tech at their disposal. Look at this video they released with one of their ambassadors.
What did I just watch? I’m sure Bertrand is a nice guy, but 1 minute of him talking about being excited for the camera and not actually USING the camera is a waste of everyone’s time. That’s good for a short video on your Instagram, not to promote a company’s new flagship camera line. There were many more like this very video and I found it all lazy.
Ohhhh! And then you had all these Youtubers and tech sites releasing videos using the camera. Video titles and headlines would read “Hands-On Review of the Panasonic S1R” or something along those lines. Click the video and it’s some idiot walking around reading off the spec sheet(stuff we already know) and not really putting the camera through its paces. And then to top it off, they would end almost every video with a disclaimer.
“This isn’t the final production hardware and I couldn’t process RAW files, but trust me, the images are beautiful.”
Get the fu***** out of here.
What a waste of time. And it almost seemed like no one was sure if the cameras would be any good at all, even Panasonic. It kinda felt like they were being monitored by Panasonic to say favorable things about the camera. Doesn’t really make me feel too secure about making a purchase to say the least.
If you look up Fuji’s videos featuring their GFX50s camera, they do an excellent job of showing professionals use their cameras and explaining how the features of the camera benefit their unique way of working. Please Panasonic, learn from that. Canon also has great high-energy marketing that should be used as an example.
Nikon’s marketing has been terrible for years, but I digress.
There was one video by filmmaker Griffin Hammond that I felt did the S series justice. See below.
Kudos to Panasonic for this one, but overall their promotion was lackluster.
What else? Hmmm…
I think the price on both models should be dropped by $250. Be more aggressive Panasonic. Break into the market and let the other guys know you mean business. Are they worth the asking price? For me, yes. But for many, when you compare the Panasonics to other offerings by the competition it’s a tough choice. I could easily see someone picking Sony or Canon due to familiarity alone. Not to mention Sony stuffs a crapload of features in their cameras as well.
It all could have been handled a bit better to get these cameras flying off the shelves.
Panasonic, give me a call, I’d love to help you spread the word on how amazing your cameras are. I believe in you guys. I got some tips for you. Free of charge. Just overnight me a Sigma MC-21 adapter.
Good Things on The Horizon
Now that it’s almost the end of April and that Sigma adapter will be coming any day now.
*checks email for shipping notice - nothing*
I’m excited to use the S1R and really invest into the S series. I plan to pick up the Panasonic Lumix S Pro 50mm f/1.4 once I get all my monies together. I have the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art to tide me over until Panasonic comes out with their own version in the future.
I even have a ton of shoots lined up for May so I can put this camera to the test. I rarely like to discuss gear, but over the next few months I’ll be writing about my experience with the S series to show you why I believe Panasonic is not to be taken lightly in the camera world. Stay tuned.
Now where is that shipping notice for the Sigma adapter…
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