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Panasonic S1R and Leica SL2 (L-Mount) —  Potentially the Best 35mm Quality? Updated_v3

re: Panasonic S1R vs Other Cameras for Landscape — Transition Camera for Zeiss Otus/Zeiss Milvus 'glass'?

I have some interest in revisiting the Panasonic S1R along with its Lumix S Pro lenses that I hadn’t covered before. Ditto for the Leica SL2 and three exciting new primes (28mm, 35mm, 50mm).

Both cameras support multi-shot high-res mode, and both cameras apparently are free of PDAF pixels, so that their image quality could in theory be higher than the Nikon, Canon, Sony, Fujifilm mirrorless offerings. Particularly for monochrome conversions.

And with multi-shot high-res mode (when it can be used), nothing else in 35mm format can compete; it’s like ISO 6 image quality with 120MP resolution free of Bayer matrix artifacting.

UPDATE: Panasonic S1R is not free from artifacts in StdRes or HighRes shooting.

Either is a fairly compelling case for the landscape photographer. I’m now wondering whether the Panasonic S1R in multi-shot high-res mode might deliver images competitive with the Fujifilm GFX100S, but free of the Fujifilm white stripes problem.

See Horizontal Stripes in Blue Channel on Some Colors such as Sunflowers and Why Has Fujifilm Made No Effort Whatsoever to Deal with the Fujifilm GFX100S Horizontal White Stripes Problem?.

Cross-brand lens performance?

One would hope and reason that the L-Mount alliance would standardize on sensor cover glass thickness and characteristics, but is that a safe assumption, what with Leica possibly wanting better M-lens performance? A lens mount standard does not necessarily imply sensor characteristics that are the same. Deviation would be a fraud of sorts by the L-Mount alliance, since it would degrade the concept of interchangeable lenses. But it might well be so.

What I don’t know is whether Leica and Panasonic lens performance is degraded by being used on the other vendor’s camera eg Leica SL lenses on Panasonic, or Panasonic lenses on the Leica SL2. The same mount does not guarantee the same sensor cover glass thickness or micro lens array. Indeed, if the Leica SL2 is somehow optimized for (also) Leica M lenses, could that disturb performance for Panasonic lenses?

I much prefer the haptics of the Panasonic S1R over the Leica SL2 (and the price!), but what about this cross-brand performance concern.

The loaner quandary

The Leica gear is problematic to review because even by itself its sky-high pricing makes borrowing the camera and three lenses a $22K proposition. The Panasonic gear is much more manageable but ideally I’d have both so I can see how the two cameras compare. Kinda frustrating. Plus I’d really like to have primes and zooms for comparison all together.

Continues...

Roy P writes:

As you probably recall, I bought a Panasonic S1R when it first came out, took it to Alabama Hills, took a bunch of shots with it with M-mount lenses, mostly the Leica 50/2 APO Summicron-M and the Zeiss 35/1.4 Distagon ZM. The single-shot images were very good (using f/5.6), and the multi-shot was a bit iffy. I got some shots in my living room that compared very well with my Phase One IQ3/100 MP (at that time). But out in the field, there were a little less impressive, not sure why. At any rate, I’ve been studying the SL2 and SL versions of the M lenses, in particular the 28/2, 35/2, 50/1.4 and 50/2. These versions are all universally regarded as superior to their M-equivalents, and not too surprisingly – none of the M mount design constraints, no worries about size, etc., and designed from scratch for the L mount.

From what I’ve been able to learn, the SL2 + any of the Leica SL lens is a superior combination than a Panasonic S1R + the same lens. Apparently, the SL2 is not the same as the S1R with a different (dumbed down) packaging. Here are the differences, from what I can tell:

The SL2 is made better, with better precision. Presumably, that means everything lines up better and fits better, with less chances of the sensor plane being not perfectly orthogonal to the axis of the lens, etc.

Likewise, the SL lenses are also made with greater precision, although my experience with the S lenses makes me wonder how reliable the SL lenses are, and how they will last with use. But the SL lenses are a newer design, and maybe Leica has also improved the mechanical aspects of its lenses.

I read somewhere that the SL2 has a micro-lens array that is friendlier to M mount lenses, so M mount lenses on an SL2 perform better than they do on an S1R.

The SL2 has its own Leica Maestro III processor the firmware has a large Leica components that don’t exist in the SR1 (and vice versa). I think the SL2 + SL lenses is one optimized set, and the SR1 + Panasonic lenses is a different optimized set.

If the foregoing is true, it means any evaluation of the SL lenses on an S1R, even manually focused, could be impacted at least a little by both hardware (precision, alignment, micro lens array, processor) and firmware differences.

It also begs the question: exactly what does the L mount alliance buy whom? The concept of one big and happy family of cameras from Leica, Panasonic and perhaps Sigma one day, and lenses from Leica, Panasonic and Sigma, so I as the user can mix and match and put together an optimal solution for my use cases seems fundamentally flawed.

If I am budget-conscious and I plan to buy only the cheaper Panasonic lenses, I’m not likely to pay almost 2x the price to buy the Leica SL2. If I did buy the SL2, I’d not be likely to be shooting it with a Panasonic or Sigma lens. And if I love the Leica primes like the 50 Summilux or whatever, it doesn’t seem to make sense to punish Leica for pricing the SL2 so high by buying an SR1 – the SR1 could be quite underwhelming.

Speaking of Sigma, I thought there might be a Foveon L mount camera out by now, and clearly, there isn’t one. You’ve got to wonder if Sigma L lenses behave differently on Panasonic and Leica bodies.

It would be indeed very useful to compare the exact same Leica SL lenses on both the SL2 and the SR1.

DIGLLOYD: agreed that Leica SL2 vs Panasonic S1R comparo would be instructive. Though darn hard to be sure of focus matching—has to be done very carefully to be valid—intimidating proposition even for me with 12 years of experience doing it, because you’d be looking for nuances and a tiny focus difference would overwhelm the nuances.

As for Leica M lenses, they SUCK on the Leica M10R and Leica M10M—only 40 megapixels—see my work last December—pathetic outer-zone imaging performance, even the best of them struggling at f/8. It’s obvious they cannot perform well past a 24MP sensor. So why should they impress on the 47 megapixel Panasonic S1R or Leica SL2? If Leica cannot deliver the goods for M lenses on the M10R/M10M, it’s not a credible proposition that they will do better on the SL2. Unless they screwed the pooch with the M10R/M10M, which cannot be ruled out.

For that matter, micro lenses could be a compromise for M lenses on the SL2, meaning less than optimal for SL lenses—while highly unlikely, I don’t see how it can be dismissed out of hand. I’m just not going to make assumptions either way.

The SL primes are surely the best—mostly—but certainly not the 50/1.4 SL as a general purpose lens (gross focus shift and field curvature make it a nightmare for landscape use)! The 16-35 has flare problems and the 24-70/2.8 SL looks iffy. And the 28/2 APO has funky astigmatism that looks like it might be nasty for real images.

I'm skeptical that the SL2 is "made better". Panasonic is surely a far more efficient operation and willing to take far lower profit margins—the S1R could be made better than the SL2 for all we know. Leica’s history with camera reliability (M240 was a multi-year crash disaster) and failed sensors gives me serious pause on that idea. Furthermore, “made better” to the point of flange/sensor alignment tighter than 10-20 microns is not credible. It’s ludicrous to think that out of all the vendors with far more experience and volume and deep hardware experience that Leica has nailed it but Panasonic has not. All my Leica experience has been of quality control problems along with slow and poor service.

And can someone tell me why the Leica SL2 should be “made better” than the Leica S3 which costs 3X as much and with the Leica S system having a well deserved reputation for problems, and with the S lenses made of cheap plastic parts internally?

I agree that Leica could have optimized the SL2 for the Leica SL lenses. But I am also skeptical that an SL lens would perform worse on the Panasonic S1R. But if/when I review the SL lenses, I’ll do so on the SL2, just in case.

As for "If I did buy the SL2, I’d not be likely to be shooting it with a Panasonic lens..." I completely agree on the brand-matching proclivity of Leica buyers. OTOH, the Panasonic LUMIX S PRO 50/1.4 is a far better behaved lens than the Leica 50/1.4 (field curvature and focus shift nastiness). And lenses like the Leica 24-90 suck.

I am not aware of any actual evidence to support these speculations either way.

Ergonomics — I liked the S1R buttons and operation a lot. But the original Leica SL design sucked big time, and while the SL2 looks better it still has some concerning layout issues that do not look either efficient to use, or good in dim lighting. The S1R has a tiltable rear LCD, whereas the SL2 has an immovable rear LCD.

Nick C writes:

Photography-related, I caught your recent article on revisiting S1R. Let me tell you my story with it. I purchased one in late 2019 when BH had the "refurbished" fire sale at half price and of course it turned out to be brand new. I am enjoying the photographing experience more so than with any other camera in recent memory.

Size is right, buttons easy to find and actuate, and as long as ISO is kept at 100, one heck of a performer. In-camera focus stacking and multi-shot high res are fantastic.

However, careful with lenses. I went through no less than five (5!) copies of the made-in-Japan 24-70 f2.8 before finding a great copy; three were soft at 70 wide open and one was sharp but somehow decentered; nothing was sharp on one side. The 5th one is finally stellar and am taking it to my grave with me. On the other hand, the 70-200 f2.8, made in China, was perfect on the first copy. Razor sharp and even-planed. 

DIGLLOYD: zoom lenses are subject to wide variation, and all brands have such issues. Even with primes you might have to go through 10 samples to get a top-notch one (e.g., Sigma FE 35/1.2 DG DN Art). For example, Canon has problems too; the first sample of the Canon RF 28-70mm f/2L was great, the 2nd sample had problems. Ditto for Sony.

Roy P responds:

Having owned the Leica S2 and S-006, I totally agree that the camera controls and haptics of the Panasonic S1R are far superior to the Leica SL2. The SL2 doesn’t even have a dedicated rear AF-On button, so you would have to reprogram the joystick(!) I suppose as a rear AF button.

Also, if I remember right, the S1R has an articulating LCD that allows you to view from the top, either for waist-level or ground-level photography. Knowing Leica, the LCD on the SL2 is probably fixed – do you know if that’s in fact the case?

The main thing is, the SL2 has Leica’s own processor, so whatever fudging they do, it’s optimized for their own lenses. Obviously, you can process the raw images from S1R + Leica SL lenses, but perhaps you have to discover your own lens-specific presets?

Also agree on the high volume production experience that Panasonic has vs. Leica. If Leica is getting the SL2 contract manufactured by Panasonic, maybe the construction would be solid. But if they’re making them in Germany in one of their own production shops, then you would have to wonder how well it will hold up over time with serious usage.

DIGLLOYD: the Panasonic S1R has a tiltable rear LCD whereas the Leica SL2 has an immovable rear LCD.

Both cameras have such small unit volume that it might be hard to discover relative reliability. But the S1R struck me as exceptionally solid and well built when I reviewed it. I'm sure the Leica SL2 will feel the same, but of course it's the innards and firmware that end up mattering.

Exactly what could the SL2 can do for image capture better than the S1R, aside from compensation for Leica M lenses? Yeah, the S1R could do correction for LACA and distortion and vignetting... all negatives if done to the raw file in-camera. But perhaps it could do more for SL2 lenses or something I am not thinking about (such as compensation for focus shift with AF, which I doubt it does). So I’m hard-pressed to see what secret sauce the SL2 could add other than perhaps fine-tuning color to some Leica proclivity.

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