Panasonic S Series: What Every Underwater Photographer Should Know

Notable features and lens additions to the new Panasonic S series scheduled to come out early 2019
By Nirupam Nigam

This year’s theme in the world of photography is undeniably full-frame mirrorless. Although the idea took half a decade to catch on after Leica and Sony’s initial releases, full-frame mirrorless cameras are now spearheading the evolution of photographic technology. In the past year we’ve seen announcements from Nikon and Canon releasing their first flagship full-frame mirrorless options in an effort to compete with Sony’s ever-evolving alpha cameras. Late last year, Panasonic announced its entry in an increasingly competitive field with the new Panasonic Lumix S Series. And now, the Panasonic S1 and S1R are just around the corner! 

 

The Panasonic S1 and S1R are available now at Bluewater Photo for pre-order!

The S-series Niche

Mirrorless systems have a history of being the bridge between amateur and professional photographers. A first step into a world of interchangeable lenses for a budding photographer, or a step down to a more compact and portable system for a seasoned professional. The Panasonic S series is different. This is Panasonic’s attempt to introduce a new flagship model of professional camera. One of the first indications of this is the price. The Panasonic S1 body will be retailing for a steep $2,499.99 and the Panasonic S1R body will be $3,699.99. The second indication is Panasonic’s marketing theme for the S-series – “Through the Eyes of Professionals,” featuring many seasoned professionals thrilled over the prospects of the series. But will the promised goods be enough to woo everyone else? And most importantly, will S-series be a worthy competitor in underwater photography? 

Notable S-Series Features

World’s First 4k 60p Full-Frame video!

This is a big deal for Underwater Videographers. The Panasonic GH5 and G9 have long held the titles for best mirrorless cameras for underwater videography. They were made to target people shooting video featuring 4K at 60P and bitrates to 400mb/s. The results are really phenomenal. Click here to see an example. 

Now Panasonic is bringing this video capability to its S-series and pairing it with a full-frame sensor. As the world’s first full-frame systems to shoot 4K at 60p, there is no doubt that the Panasonic S1 and Panasonic S1R cameras will be the best underwater video systems of the year (among compact, mirrorless, and DSLR cameras).

 

Dual Image Stabilization

The Panasonic S-series will be equipped with dual image stabilization – a combination of in-body image stabilization (IBIS) and lens-based optical stabilization. Again, this is carried over from the G9. Excellent image stabilization will be a real godsend for low light performance by allowing photographers to shoot at lower ISOs with slower shutters. Now that this image stabilization is being combined with a full-frame sensor that already has high performance at high ISOs, the camera is free to be pushed to the limits of low-light capability.

 

Dual Card Slots

Panasonic is equipping their S-series with one XQD and on SD slot. This is a must for underwater videographers shooting 4K and pelagic photographers shooting in burst. It’s also where Nikon has attracted criticism for only offering a single card slot. 

 

High Resolution Mode

Like the new Olympus OM-D E-M1X, the S-series is introducing a new multi-shot high resolution mode (presumably hand-held). In this mode, the camera will take eight images with small sensor shifts to be stitched together to create an extremely high-resolution image. This is made possible by its dual image stabilization system and will presumably be possible hand held.

 

Contrast-based Autofocus

In many ways, Panasonic is sticking to the tried-and-true in their S-series as can be seen in video performance and image stabilization. However, this also holds true for their autofocus which remains a contrast-based autofocus system. Although Panasonic is proud of contrast-based autofocus efficacy in its micro four thirds systems, it remains to be seen if it is enough to stand up to the phase detection autofocus systems spearheaded by competition. Sony is making particularly notable strides with its phase detection autofocus in the Sony A7R III. This could present an issue for many underwater photographers who rely on quick autofocus as the use of manual focus is restricted underwater. Only time will tell if Panasonic can truly keep up with their competitors when it comes to autofocus.  

 

A Low Resolution and High-Resolution Model

Panasonic is modeling the Nikon Z Series (Z6/Z7), with its release of two flagship models defined by resolution. The Panasonic Lumix S1 is expected to have a 24 megapixel sensor whereas the S1R is expected to have a 47 megapixel sensor. Accordingly, the S1 has a 96 megapixel high res mode and the S1R has a whopping 187 megapixel high res mode. Beyond that, there are relatively few differences. 

 

The L Mount Lenses: a partnership to topple Sony’s Empire

Sony has the distinct advantage of a variety of lenses available for use (especially underwater) with its full-frame mirrorless system. Though these lenses were slow to develop, they have proved effective underwater with the Sony 16-35mm f/4 and the Sony 90mm f/2.8. Nikon and Canon have been slow to develop good underwater lenses on their full-frame systems which is a real hinderance for underwater photographers.

 

…..In comes Panasonic's announcement of a groundbreaking partnership with Leika and Sima! 

Instantly introducing many new options for underwater photographers, Panasonic has decided to announce an alliance with Leica and Sigma. The Lumix S Series will incorporate Leica’s previously established L Mount. This will open the Lumix S1 and S1R up to all established Leica SL lenses and ultimately Sigma’s expanding and diverse mirrorless lens line-up.

 

Three New Panasonic S Series Lenses Released

Panasonic has announced the release of three new S series lenses, along with the release of the S1R and S1 cameras:

  • 50mm f/1.4 prime
  • 25-105mm standard zoom f/4
  • 70-200mm telephoto zoom (aperture not yet released)

These, along with the previously established Leica L Mount series, provide a wide range of focal lengths covering nearly all top-side imagery. With the adaption of the Leica L mount, the S Series will also be compatible with some already established lenses that are great for wide-angle underwater photography, such as the Leica 18mm f/2.8 and the Leica 16-35mm f/3.5-4.5.

 

Ten New Panasonic S Series Lenses by 2020

Panasonic has also announced that by 2020 they will release eight additional lenses for the Lumix S1R and S1 cameras, bringing the total S Series Panasonic Lens options to ten. The specifications for these lenses have yet to be released but with Sigma’s involvement, they seem quite promising.

 

Fourteen New Sigma S Series Lenses in 2019

To compete with the multitude of Sony E Mount lenses that were released last year, Sigma has promised 14 new L Mount lenses in 2019 to add to the arsenal of lens options for the Lumix S1R and S1 systems. Furthermore, they will provide lens adapters for the Canon EF and Sigma SA mount lenses. In total, with the release of the new Panasonic lenses, Sigma lenses and the already established Leica lenses, there will soon be an arsenal of glass at your fingertips for the Panasonic S Series shooters.

 

A video from the L Mount Partnership

 

 

Panasonic Lumix S Series for Underwater Photography and Videography

The release of the Panasonic Lumix S series may well put Panasonic at the top of professional grade full-frame mirrorless systems. Certainly, there are already many advantages to the Panasonic over its competitors including lens selection, dual image stabilization, a high res mode, dual card slots, and 4k 60p video. Great image stabilization is a must for underwater photographers who shoot in low light conditions with a lot of movement. If dual image stabilization enables the high res mode to be used in underwater environments, then the high-res mode might have serious implications for the artform. Dual card slots will be a great feature for videographers and pelagic underwater photographers who often shoot in burst modes. The additional space and the ability to shoot high performance cards will be welcomed. The only reservation I have about this series is the continued use of contrast based autofocus. A quick autofocus is imperative for underwater photographers who have restricted use of manual focus, work in low light conditions, and are constantly in a state of 3D movement. Sony, Nikon, and Canon all do well with their innovative phase detection autofocus. Although Panasonic has been confident in its mirrorless autofocus performance in the past, it might be time to rethink their autofocus when switching to full-frame. However, with the S-series not officially out, it is impossible to tell how the autofocus performance truly compares to its competitors. The only thing we can do is wait and see. 

And finally video….. The Panasonic Lumix S Series is a no brainer for underwater videography. It really doesn’t get better than this. The S-series introduces the first 4K 60p video in a full-frame camera. Shooting in 60p is essential in an underwater environment with a lot of 3D movement as it enables the videographer to slow down video in post processing and still retain a fluid image. However, capturing 4k video in 60p requires a ton of processing power. Something that hasn’t been accomplished in a full-frame system until now. I can’t wait to see the amazing results produced from this system. 

 

 

 

The Panasonic S1 and S1R are available now at Bluewater Photo for pre-order!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nirupam Nigam is a dedicated underwater photographer and fisheries scientist. While growing up in Los Angeles he fell in love with the ocean and pursued underwater photography in the local Channel Islands. He received degrees in Aquatic and Fisheries Science and General Biology, as well as a minor in Arctic Studies, at the University of Washington. Now he works as a fisheries observer on boats in the Bering Sea and North Pacific. When he is not at sea, he is traveling with his fiancee and taking photos. 

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