Panasonic S1 vs Sony A7SII. Who is the LOW LIGHT Champ?

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 HEREYou can find it at Cameraquest HERE. 

I have the Leica M mount version of this lens and I wrote about it HERE.

I am now using the 50 1.2 M mount on the Panasonic S1, and have the FE mount on the Sony A7SII. Let’s crank the ISO and take a walk at night to see how these cameras do in low light with a fast lens.

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. 

My thoughts..

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?


    • The MORE Pixels the smaller the pixel size and this is when low light suffers. Perfect examples are the Sony A7III vs A7RIII or the Panasonic S1 vs S1R. The higher MP cameras will always do worse in low light than the lower megapixel sensors. In basic language, Lower megapixel sensors have fatter (larger) pixels that can soak in more light. The Leica Q does better in low light than the Q2 as it has less MP. The same with the Nikon Z6 vs Z7. The higher MP Z7 suffers in low light compared to the Z6. This has been a fact of life since the creation of digital sensors. The reason the S1 excels here is because it is a four year newer and more advanced sensor.

  1. I purchased a used Sony A7SII for about US$1.4K and a 30 year old 35MM Leitz Summicron F/2 v4. (around $2K). The results I get shooting at night is simply amazing. I would prefer this over a new S1 and a Voigtlander 40mm F1.2. First of all my combination is cheaper and the results I get will be similar if not better. Best of all the Summicron will hold or increase in value to offset the little depreciation thats left on the A7SII. Am I doing something wrong?

    • Results will be no better on the A7III and that lens will work just as beautifully on the S1, but with a much nicer EVF experience which relates to easier focusing. It will also be a much more solid body with better weather sealing and battery life. Low light will be better on the S1 as well. The A7III is fantastic for the cost but the S1 is technically a better camera. The 5 Axis also works much better on the S1 over the Sony and controls are way less cramped. Both are wonderful, both will take a great image. All personal pref but technically the S1 is the superior camera. Artistically thats up to the artist as an artist can use any camera ; )

  2. Interesting Comparison Steve. But perhaps it would be more up to date if you would have choosen Sony A7iii. Due to sensor and pixelpitch it is also a good low light choice. I have really good indoor results with high iso and low noise. AF is superb. And sensor/Software is more modern. Of cause EVF is not so good.

    • I only chose the A7SII as it is still considered to be the best low light Sony camera. It bests the III for all out High ISO. So I wanted to compare it to the new kid on the block that’s also phenomenal in low light. Thank you.

  3. Steve.
    Great review of two cameras I’m not familiar with.
    So my question relates to the future. Neither Panasonic nor Sony offer a Professional Services equivalent to Nikon NPS let alone Canon CPS. And I know that Panasonic does not offer anything for their M43 gear in the way of future parts/repair promise. So doesn’t that impact a person’s buying decision? Not rental. Not review. Buying.
    P. S. I’m blessed with a local Olympus repair option but they too don’t offer a national pro services option.

    • Sony has a pro service now and it’s pretty nice actually. Panasonic doesn’t but I have never needed any kind of pro service, nor has any camera I owned ever broken down on me (just Leica RF’s needed adjustment and people pay 5 figures for a Leica and a Lens without pro service) in 25 years of shooting. If it did, I have a few backups while it gets repaired ; ) But I bought my S1, and it’s the best 35mm format camera I have ever owned. Love it.

  4. The S1 is lying about ISO by almost two stops vs the Sony. And from what I can remember from my old testing the Sony lied by over 1 stop to my light meter. So the S1 is just lying about it’s ISO. So by right it would have to be two stops better than the A7sII before it’s the better low light camera. Though colours are better IMHO on the S1.

  5. Hi Steve,
    thank you for this interesting comparison as well as für the S1 review a couple of days ago. Being a Leica/Nikon/Sony guy I have never really thought about Lumix before, but your enthusiastic description makes me feel interested in this camera.

    For some reasons I’m intending to leave the rangefinder section, sell my M9, but would like to keep some of my M lenses if I find an appropriate camera solution for it.

    When composing my images I feel disturbed by those coloured focus peaking lines in the finder and it nerves me to switch sharpness control on and off and on and off. I love the way how the Sony Alpha 7 s II performs with dedicated manual focus lenses like the new 21mm Voigtlander E. I have reported about it in my blog on Just a slight touch of the focus ring makes the life view zoom in for convenient focussing and a slight touch of the shutter release returns to overview mode. That’s very fast and precise. No additional loupe buttons required. Unfortunately the Sony doesn’t do with adapted M lenses. How does the S1 support manual focussing with M glass? Just buttons and focus peaking?

    Kind regards

    • Ive discussed this in my review and videos but you do not need peaking with the S1, and I would not recommend it with any camera as peaking is not very accurate, especially when using fast prime lenses. The EVF of the S1 is so big, clear and sharp you do not need any aids but if you want it, just push the joystick which is right where your thumb is and you have an expanded view on command. I prefer this to the auto mode of some cameras as sometimes I do not want that expanded view. It works just like the Leica SL does in that regard. Thanks.

  6. I would only want to take these kind of pictures if I were a zombie. Or maybe if I were the batman and lived in Gotham City.
    Or if I were a vampire. Hmmm… now I come to think about it, there are a lot of possibilities!
    When I buy my next camera I’ll wait for a stormy day walk into the camera store all covered in black and leaning over the counter, put on my best deep and low voice, and ask the terrified store assistant..”How – dark- does it go?” At that instant, there will be a flash of lightning.
    Just kidding.

    • I use my cameras in dark situations (low light clubs) 85% of the time, so for some of us low light is important, and this post was specifically about low light results. My review goes in to other aspects. Thanks.

      • Hi Steve, please put in the group also the wonderful Nikon Z6: it is truly impressive at high ISO.

    • hi, the main part of my commercial work – some 95% – takes place in very low light situations as i am production photographer for opera houses and theatres in austria and switzerland.
      so steve’s reviews are very interesting for me, he tests and judges cameras in a very similar way as i would.
      thanks to steve. 🙂
      rgds herwig prammer

    • My review here which was posted last week has samples with the 15mm from Voigtlander. Does amazing with this lens. I have not tested it with others yet but will soon have the 21 1.8 Voigtlander here to test.

  7. Leica glass if bot used holds its value very well. It’s not really “expensive” because you can sell it back out at no loss. The Voigtlander lenses are very nice as well, i really like my 21 F4 color skopar alot. You can pick up used ones for very little money.

  8. No surprises here as the 7S III sensor is nearly 4 years old. I still think Panny is cooking the raw files with some noise reduction.

  9. I ordered the S1 which has not arrived. I am curious as to how it performs with Leica M lenses. I read your two recent reviews but did not see comments about specific leica as opposed to Voigtlander lenses. I intend to use the Leica adapter and am interested in your opinion on it also.

    • With Leica glass it will perform the same as it does with Voigtlander M lenses. Very good. You will not need the expensive Leica adapter with the S1 as it will do no better than a $20 adapter. The S1 will not read the 6 Bit code. I use a middle of the road option, the $200 Novoflex due to the nice fit and how well it is made, but the Leica one will be overkill with the S1. With the SL it is worth it as it will read the 6 Bit code and apply the corrections as the M10 does. As for Leica M lenses, I do not buy Leica glass anymore as I find they are overpriced and Voigtlander has really upped their game in the last year and a half. I love the character of the recent Voigtlander lenses like the 40 1.2 and 50 1.2 and even the older 35 1.2. Leica glass is beautiful, and I have owned a ton of Leica M lenses but these days other lenses can match Leica glass for much less.

      • Yess, this is a very fair comment Steve, glad to see this come from someone like you…Leica is definitely magic, but hey, there are other “magician” there that can cast different kind of wonder too 🙂

      • Really? I think that depends on what your parameters are.I’d be very interested to see side by side results where V lenses match the Leica ones in terms of color quality.
        I’ve found Voigtlanders to be all over the place in terms of color consistency and accuracy. But yes totally agree that Leica is overpriced (like all luxury brands though).Leica these days is a bit like Lamborghini. Looks impressive, beautifully made, has enough performance but often overtaken by that Mazda which you didn’t see coming in the rear view mirror. I still think the SL was something special on it’s introduction (and still is) but more because of it’s design than the performance.. I worry the next one will have a more ‘Japanese’ design. In which case, I’ll rush out and buy one.

        • You must be looking at the older Voigtlander lenses. Lenses made in the last two years are amazing. The 40 1.2 is a bargain, the 50 1.2 (not 1.1) is also wonderful. The 50 f/3.5 has the look of the 50 APO, and color of the 50 APO. The 35 f/2 has the Summicron V2 look and is magical. If Leica goes to Japanese design on the SL2, I will avoid it at all costs as then it will have no difference from the S1 or S1R which will be 1/3 the cost. But we will see, I think the SL2 will be coming this year for sure. Id guess end of the year though. Sep-Nov.

      • I’m sorry, Steve. I must disagree with your position. Leica lenses have a different look as compared to Voigtlander. The shadows and sharpness are clearly different. It would be interesting if you could do a head to head between the 1.2 50 Voigt M lens and Summilux 50 M. I would be surprised if they were the same. I’m not positing that one is better – just that one may play more to certain tastes than the other.

        • I did that once with the Nokton f/1.5 (latest version) and no one cold tell the difference. It was year ago so do not remember the post. But they were identical in almost every way. I used to be solid in the Leica lens camp but also am a realist and the lenses Voigtlander makes today, and even some of the older Zeiss Zm lenses are just as good as Leica glass. No longer do we have soft wide open performance, busy bokeh or off color. another fact is I have had two instances where a Leica lens broke on me (even a Noctilux, literally fell apart internally, aperture blades) and never had this happen with a Voigtlander. For the price difference, the differences are minimal and just that, differences, but I would not say “better” as what is better is subjective. Sharpness doesn’t make an image, the subject does. So for me, I am much happier paying $1000 vs $5000 for a lens with maybe 5% less sharpness. Leica lenses are beautiful but over the years they have priced them to where they are just a bit over the top. For example, I much prefer the rendering of the 40 1.2 from Voigtlander here:

          over the Leica 50 Lux here:

          One is $4000 and one is $1000. Both are built wonderfully and are small lenses.

          But again, personal preference. If one prefers the Leica glass and wants to pay the 75% more for them, then that is fantastic. I used to do it myself. ; )

          • When I was wealthy, the leica lenses were still a stretch. Now…
            Still, for the sake of semantics, i would encourage you to look closely at the shadow rendering on the Noktons vs the Lux. The leica skin tones give a much flatter look – almost like a little fill flash. The color contrast is slightly lower and the edge sharpness and contrast is a tad bit crisper. Is it worth the money? Ah, but is that the question?

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