Panasonic S1 vs Sony A7SII. Who is the LOW LIGHT Champ?
By Steve Huff
So I have been loving the Panasonic S1 camera ever since it arrived into my hands. After a few weeks now, it has become my favorite 35mm digital camera of all time, nudging off even the Leica SL from that spot and anything else that stood in its way. The reason was pointed out in my review of the S1, which in case you missed it, is HERE.
But basically the form factor, the way it can use almost any lens via an adapter, the way it feels so good in the hand, the best in the world as of Aril 2019 EVF, the battery system, and even that the AF with native lenses is so much better than what Panasonic has done with cameras like the GH5 series, well, it’s an all out amazing camera in all of these regards. But for me, the big draw was the low light capability of the S1 (not the S1R). I knew when I was shooting it was at least as good as the camera that was known as the king of low light, the Sony A7SII. But I also thought it was better.
Seeing that I did not have a Sony A7SII on hand I rented one, and low and behold I also received a Voigtlander 50 1.2 in FE MOUNT at the same time to take a look at and review. Before I go on, let me say that the 50 1.2 FE mount is spectacular. Larger than the M mount (see in the title image above) but made for Sony cameras, and optimized for Sony cameras. If you want to add another fast 50 to your lens stable, or add the first one for your Sony, I can highly recommend without hesitation that you check out the new 50 1.2 FE MOUNT lens. You can find it on amazon HERE. You can find it at Cameraquest HERE.
ISO 4000 on each camera, and here I let each camera expose using their built in light meters. Since most of us shoot in this way (letting the camera meter) I wanted to see how each camera would do at various ISO’s in a real world scenario rather than matching the shutter speed. Because this is what you are going to get from each camera when using it.
Click each image to see the full size (slightly cropped) of each. When viewed at full size the S1 clearly wins this race, and not only in noise but color and tonality. Both shot at f/1.2. Of course the Sony now uses an aging 12MP sensor so I expect an A7SIII soon, and my guess is Sony will hit it out of the park when the III comes out. But the A7SII against the S1, well, the S1 at double the megapixels wins in this shot for me.
This next image is interesting as the Sony chose 1/1000s shutter speed and the S1 chose 1/320s shutter speed yet both were set to ISO 25,000. So is the S1 not really a true ISO 25,000? We know some cameras are off when it comes to High ISO but this is one more reason I wanted the cameras to meter on their own. Below I will do a controlled side by side using the same shutter speed and ISO on both cameras, at the end of these examples…to see what is going on.
Top image is from the S1 at 25k and 50 f1.2. Bottom image is the Sony A7SII at 25k and 50 1.2. Click for full size OOC images.
Next up is an extreme ISO 40,000 image. The top is the Panasonic and the bottom is the Sony. Click for the full size image of each. To me the tonality and noise level of the Panasonic wins again but it should, the Sony is rather old now and the S1 uses the latest sensor tech. But getting this kind of performance in a 24MP sensor is astonishing for those who like to shoot in low light. The Sony is exposing darker yet again at 1/500s while the S1 chose 1/125s. I think the Panasonic exposure looks better where the Sony underexposed by comparison.
Next up the Panasonic up top at ISO 3200, a more normal ISO and the bottom has the Sony at the same ISO. Both using a Voigtlander 50 1.2 lens wide open, the Sony using the new FE mount and the S1 using the Leica M mount (which is smaller). The Sony chose 1/160s and the Panasonic chose 1/125s so not too far off here in the exposure but the Sony is showing more detail at this exposure. I could bring out the shadows of the S1 file easily in processing but these are out of camera shots. I prefer the color of the S1 here, and it as more snap. Look at the red in the sign, the Sony has a yellow tinge to it where the S1 has solid reds. The blue of the S1 is more accurate as the Sony is making them look a little purple.
and now the S1 shot with the shadows pulled out to match the Sony file.
This one was shot at ISO 16,000 in the dead of night. Both cameras were able to make it somehow appear that there was a light here though there was not. These look more similar than different but the fact that the S1 gives us this kind of performance with a 24MP vs 12MP sensor is fantastic. Panasonic up top, Sony at the bottom. Both at f/1.2 with the fantastic Voigtlander lens.
The Sony A7SII was well loved by me in my review in November of 2015. Yep, it has been nearly four years since Sony released an update to this camera (yet I feel we may see something this September or October) and my guess is that when they do release an A7SIII it will knock our socks off and surpass what we see here and offer more than 12MP.
With that said, the Sony was always known for it’s video capabilities and was considered a video machine much more than a photo or still camera. Even so, I know of a few photo pros shooting concerts who still use the As7II and love it for it’s low light abilities.
As for handling, for me, the S1 wins all day long. It is an ergonomically near perfect camera for me (next to the Leica SL which I like in this way even more) and while many say it is too large, I say it is just right. Especially when using smaller adapted lenses. There was a time many years ago when cameras wanted to be tiny and small. Sony started this with the old NEX 3 and 5 back in the day, and then realized they were too small. Panasonic did it as well with their very 1st Micro 4/3 offerings as did Olympus with the very 1st PEN. Over time Mirrorless cameras started to get bigger, and the draw to them went from “smaller size” to “more features and better user experience” which I feel is the case with the S1 especially. Even though the S1 is larger it still feels slimmer in the hand than a big old DSLR. The controls are where you expect them to be, and I just can not say it enough, the EVF is a dream.
The Sony felt cramped in comparison and my hands felt as if they had to conform to the smaller size. Of course one could add the battery grip to the Sony and get a nicer feel, which is there as an option. But at the end of the day the S1 seems to give nicer IQ, better color, better tonality, more resolution, has 5 Axis IS that is super effective, has equal or less noise at extreme ISO, better battery, better EVF, better menu system and that EVF…wow.
The S1 comes in at $500 more than the four year old A7SII and both use a different mount of course. The Sony using the FE mount and the S1 using the Leica L mount.
Even though I prefer the S1 today, the Sony for being four years old holds its own and would still be preferred by many for video as it has more serious video specs out of the gate. The S1 will have a firmware update soon to upgrade it’s video (which is quite nice as is to be honest).
After doing this quick test, I am even more thrilled with my S1. I just enjoy everything about it, but remember, I use it with all adapted M mount lenses and not so much with the 24-105, which is a great lens though. ; )
One more ISO test and this time with both cameras set to the same shutter speed and ISO. Same lens and aperture as well. Let’s see how this goes…
Top image is from the S1 at 12800 ISO and set at 1/2000s which is how the Sony metered the scene. The Sony image, with the exact same settings is much brighter here which tells me the ISO ratings are different on each camera. Both used the 50 1.2 at 1.2 but the S1 here is underexposed using the same settings as the Sony. You can click the images for the full size OOC images. NR is off on both cameras.
To try and match the exposure of the Sony above I set the S1 to ISO 40,000. 1/2000s. Again both shot at f/1.2 with the 50mm so same aperture and shutter speed.
Hmmm. So what are your thoughts?