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Panasonic S1R: Size and Ergonomics

 
Large and in charge.

Large and in charge.

 

When the Panasonic S1 and S1R were announced one of the immediate reactions I saw from the photo community was concerns about the size of the camera. When mirrorless cameras first hit the market years ago, one of the big selling points was the size of the camera. “No mirror, so it’s smaller!”, was the sentiment. Over the years as mirrorless cameras have matured and different systems added an abundance of lens options, things have shifted quite a bit. 

Sony has added many lens to their Alpha line, but many of their G Master lenses are akin to your standard DSLR camera lens. With the small size of the camera in relation to the large lens, ergonomics and handling come into question. And of course, the bigger question if mirrorless still has the size advantage over DSLRs.

Looking at the recent offerings from Canon, Nikon, and Panasonic, it seems like all three companies considered ergonomics quite intensely before releasing their system to the market. Canon has a nice large grip on the EOS R and EOS RP. Nikon has a modest grip. A tad too small for me, but workable. And Panasonic has a large hefty grip to go along with the larger camera body.

Why I Don’t Mind Large Cameras

Personally, I’ve never had an issue with large cameras. Cameras are just tools and you select the appropriate tool for the job. If I need a take anywhere, fit in my pocket sort of camera, I’d get a Ricoh GR. If I need ultimate image quality, I’d grab a Phase One XF with IQ back; a large, heavy, and slow system. For my day-to-day work, I love the size and handling of a DSLR. Especially when it comes to mounting larger lenses like your 70-200 zooms or any of Sigma’s Art Prime lenses from 85mm to 135mm. Heavy lenses do well paired with a camera with some heft to it to counterbalance the large size. For me, it makes it easy to handhold and get stable, sharp photographs.

The Sony a99 had DSLR ergonomics with mirrorless tech and that’s what I loved about it. The size and weight were perfect for me. It didn’t need to be tiny because I’m not carrying it everywhere I go, just using it for client work. Out of the recent mirrorless offerings, the Panasonic S series fits the bill for me.

Just slightly heavier, but overall smaller than a D850. Works for me!  Thanks Camera Size.

Just slightly heavier, but overall smaller than a D850. Works for me! Thanks Camera Size.

Yes, it’s a little heavy, but not unbearable. It’s larger than both the Nikon Z’s and Canon EOS R. It’s closer to the Nikon D850 in terms of both size and weight. I didn’t mind that camera at all so why would this one bother me? These are workhorse cameras aimed at professionals. And, if you want something small, Sony and Nikon have you covered. There’s something for everyone, so no need to rag on Panasonic for the size of the camera. They chose ergonomics, image stabilization and an abundance of pro features over diminutive size. I’m sure this also helps the camera from overheating under stressful load.

Large cameras don’t bother me. Your needs may differ.

Compared to the Nikon Z6

The Nikon’s smaller and lighter, but I prefer the grip and ergonomics of the S1R.

The Nikon’s smaller and lighter, but I prefer the grip and ergonomics of the S1R.

To illustrate the size difference here are a few pics of both my S1R and Nikon Z6. The Nikon is definitely smaller even with the L Plate attached. I like the small size, but it does hurt the usability in some areas. The rear of the camera seems a bit cramped, but it’s not too much of an issue.

Panasonic S1R with grip and Nikon Z6 with L-Plate.

Panasonic S1R with grip and Nikon Z6 with L-Plate.

Looking at the rear of both cameras I prefer the button placement of the S1R. There’s plenty of space for everything and the memory card slot is not built into the area where the thumb rests. Instead it’s on the side of the camera as is the common placement for most cameras (the Canon EOS R also has this design). Why Nikon placed it below the thumb rest area boggles me. No telling if repeated use will damage the memory card door on the Z camera.

Rear of the Panasonic S1R and Nikon Z6. I like the button placement and spacing better on the S1R.

Rear of the Panasonic S1R and Nikon Z6. I like the button placement and spacing better on the S1R.

The Panasonic S1R has a rear wheel with direction pad. The Nikon just has the direction pad in the shape of a circle. It took me a minute to realize the S1R is an actual wheel and I can also press down in the direction I want. I was so used to the function of the Nikon dial and used it like that for days. Imagine my surprise discovering there’s a wheel function that speeds up navigating menus.

I have the DMV-EC6 Eyecup for my S1R. It protrudes quite a bit from the camera, but feels comfortable and gives me a clear view of the EVF. The default round eyecup is fine and I prefer it to the Z’s. However, you can get an aftermarket eyecup for the Z series that provides similar functionality to the Panasonic one. I’m not a big fan of the eyecups that flare out to the side like this one, but it’s the only option at the moment. I’d prefer a round eyecup like the Nikon DK-19. That’s the best of all worlds in my opinion.

Panasonic S1R God tier camera design. Nikon “that’ll do” nonchalant design.

Panasonic S1R God tier camera design. Nikon “that’ll do” nonchalant design.

Moving to the very left of the S1R there’s the lock switch. With it, I can lock my focus point or any other functions of the camera. There’s no such function on the Z6 that I could find.

I also picked up the Panasonic DMW-BGS1 battery grip. The grip is pure quality and improves the ergonomics. Typically I prefer to use a grip, but to be honest, after getting the Panasonic Lumix S PRO 50mm f/1.4, I actually prefer the camera WITHOUT the grip. The long size of the lens paired with the regular body of the camera minus the grip feels better and balanced. The grip adds unnecessary extra weight in my opinion. But at least there’s the option if you want it! There’s no grip option for the Nikon Z cameras...yet. Canon and Sony both have grips for their cameras.

Lastly, looking at the cameras side-by-side without the grip on the S1R they’re pretty comparable. The advantage the S1R has is not needing an L-Plate to improve the ergonomics. It just feels right in the hand from the minute you take it out of the box. Buying an L-Plate for the Nikon Z series adds another $50-$100 to your camera purchase which continues to raise the price. Not to say that the Panasonics are less expensive, but it’s something to consider.

Overall, I’m very pleased with the size and ergonomics of the Panasonic S1R. The Nikon is good, but Panasonic really nailed it with the design. If Nikon would have made the Z camera a little taller and lightweight similar to the EOS R body, I’m not sure I would have committed to the Panasonic. They’ll probably get it right on the next generation of Z cameras. For now, I’m firmly in the Panasonic camp.

And happily so.

Oh, before I go. I just got the Panasonic Lumix S PRO 50mm f/1.4 lens and will be posting sample images and my impressions of it later this week. Stay tuned!

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