Few photographers truly need 40-plus megapixels, but when you want the most detail you can squeeze into a mirrorless camera body, the Panasonic Lumix S1R and Nikon Z 7 are two of the top choices (the third is the Sony A7R III, which we’ve also compared to the Z 7). Both models represent the first generation of each brand’s respective full-frame mirrorless offerings, and both feature sensors with resolutions that approach the 50-megapixel mark. They are also durable, built to handle the demands of a professional photography workflow, and surprisingly fast for such high-resolution cameras.
However, as similar as they are, each takes a unique approach to how it goes about achieving its goals. The Lumix is massive, the size and weight of a pro-level DSLR, while the Nikon maintains the smaller profile that mirrorless cameras are known for. The S1R is loaded with direct-access control and a huge grip, while the Nikon takes a more streamlined approach.
But if the S1R has something to brag about, it’s the 187MP high-resolution mode, something the Z 7 simply can’t touch. But don’t rule the Z 7 out just yet; it has some unique tricks of its own.
|Panasonic Lumix S1R
||Nikon Z 7
|Sensor||47.3-megapixel full-frame sensor||45.7-megapixel full-frame sensor|
|Burst speed||Up to 9 fps (6 with AF-C)||up to 9 fps (5.5 fps with live view)|
|Shutter speed||1/8,000 to 60 sec.||1/8,000 to 30 sec.|
|ISO||100-25,600 (50-51,200 expanded)||64-25,600 (32-102,400 expanded)|
|Autofocus||225-point contrast-detection DFD AF||493-point hybrid phase/contrast-detection AF|
|Image stabilization||5-axis sensor-shift stabilization||5-axis sensor-shift stabilization|
|Video||4K at 30 fps, 8-bit, HLG||4K at 30 fps, 10-bit N-Log via HDMI|
|Viewfinder||0.78x magnification, 5.7m-dot OLED||0.8x magnification, 3.69m-dot OLED|
|LCD||3.2-inch, 2.1m-dot tilting touchscreen||3.2-inch 2.1m-dot tilting touchscreen|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
|Battery||Li-ion rated at 360 shots||Li-ion rated at 330 shots|
|Dimensions (WxHxD)||5.87 x 4.33 x 3.82 inches||5.3 x 4 x 2.7 inches|
|Weight||35.8 ounces||20.7 ounces|
|Kit lens||Available body only or with 24-105mm f/4||Available body only or with a 24-70mm f/4|
|Price||$3,700 body-only||$3,400 body-only|
|Read more||Panasonic Lumix S1R Review||Nikon Z 7 Review|
With a difference of fewer than 2 megapixels between them, neither the S1R nor the Z 7 has a clear edge in resolution — at least, not in normal shooting modes. However, activate the S1R’s high-resolution mode and it will take eight images, using the sensor-shift stabilization system to move the sensor ever so slightly between each, and combine them into one ultra-high-resolution image with roughly 187 megapixels. Whoa.
High-resolution mode only works in some situations, however. For example, the camera needs to be locked down on a tripod, the subject needs to be perfectly still, and it won’t work with flash, which could make the feature useless for studio photographers. For landscapes, or studio shots using constant light, however, no other camera can touch it.
Where the Nikon has the edge is with its larger ISO range, which starts from a native ISO 64 and goes up to 25,600, or 102,400 when expanded. The S1R starts at ISO 100 and also tops out at 25,600, but can only be expanded one additional stop, to 51,200. For pixel peepers, it’s the base ISO setting that likely matters more, however, since this is where you’ll capture the most detail. In theory, the Z 7’s ISO 64 could produce slightly cleaner results, although, without lab testing, we expect the difference would be hard to spot.
Winner: Lumix S1R
While both cameras can shoot at 9 frames per second, each has different drawbacks at that speed. The Nikon Z 7 can’t display a live view image, forcing you to just 5.5 fps if you need it. The Lumix S1R has live view, but no continuous autofocus — you’ll need to drop to 6 fps if you need that. Keep in mind, neither of these cameras are advertised as sports photography machines in line with the Sony A9, but in high-speed situations, we feel the Nikon’s continuous autofocus is going to be more important than the Lumix’s live view at 9 fps. (See how the Nikon Z 7 compares to the Sony A9.)
Where the S1R has a clearer edge is with its larger image buffer. In testing, we captured 32 RAW files before the camera slowed down. By contrast, the Z 7’s buffer is good for about 23 RAWs. A plus for both cameras is that they use XQD cards, which help keep those buffers clear thanks to very fast transfer speeds.
This is one area where the two cameras diverge pretty dramatically, although not necessarily in a way that is apparent to the photographer. The Z 7 uses a 493-point phase-detection system that is both fast and impressively accurate in continuous mode. The S1R uses a contrast-detection system, split into 225 zones.
Normally, contrast detection is much slower than phase detection, but Panasonic takes a different approach to it with its proprietary Depth from Defocus (DFD) technology. This dramatically improves performance, and in our experience, it was usually as fast as phase-detection systems. It doesn’t always work, however, and we did have occasional issues with focus hunting. Continuous autofocus is also not quite up to par with phase detection systems, although face and eye-detection worked very well. It’s also impressively good in low light, with sensitivity down to -6 EV.
The Z 7 has decent face-tracking performance, but no eye-detection (that feature is coming soon via firmware update, but we have not tested it). It also isn’t as usable in low light, with native sensitivity to just -1 EV which can be expanded down to -4EV in a special low light AF mode, which slows down performance.
This is a tough one to call. The Z 7 has the more reliable autofocus for high-speed shooting, at least in good lighting, but the S1R has better low-light performance and, for now, eye detection.
This is another area where the Z 7 and S1R diverge, although both have some similar elements. For example, both accept fast XQD cards — and each will be updated to support even faster CFexpress cards in the near future. Both also have 3.2-inch LCD touchscreens that can tilt up and down. Both have large, center-mounted electronic viewfinders, top LCD information displays, and beefy, ergonomic hand grips.
But where the Z 7 is smaller and lighter than the closest competing DSLR, the S1R is actually larger and heavier. With the battery loaded, it weighs over 2 pounds — big by any standard, but absolutely massive for a mirrorless camera. The Z 7, by contrast, weighs just 1.3 pounds. There is almost a pound of weight difference between these two models.
The S1R puts that weight to work, however. It is fully weather sealed, built like a tank, and absolutely plastered in buttons, dials, and switches. It has one of the best control layouts of any camera we’ve ever tested — mirrorless or DSLR — and you can customize it to your heart’s content. The electronic viewfinder boasts the highest resolution in the class (or any class) with 5.7 million pixels. That’s a couple million more than the Z 7’s.
But the Z 7 is svelte by comparison, which will undoubtedly be a huge bonus to many potential customers. And it still has a very good control layout and great build quality, with professional weather sealing that rivals Nikon DSLRs. As is so often the case, which design works better for you comes down to personal preference. If you don’t want to lug around the weight of a DSLR, the Z 7 is the better choice. But if you want the most control and best EVF, the S1R can’t be beat.
The Z 7 was Nikon’s first stab at sensor-shift stabilization, and the company did a remarkable job with it considering that. However, Panasonic has been incorporating such stabilization systems into its cameras for years now (albeit, not full-frame models) and its experience gives it a slight edge here. The Z 7’s stabilization is rated for 5 stops of shake reduction, where the S1R’s is good for 6 — or 6.5 when combined with an optically stabilized lens.
Winner: Lumix S1R
Panasonic is well known as a video company. Its GH series of Micro Four Thirds cameras continues to present us with some of the best video cameras you can buy, but the Lumix S1R isn’t really targeting that same audience. In fact, even within the S series, the S1R falls behind the less-expensive Lumix S1 when it comes to video.
That’s not to say it isn’t capable; it can shoot 4K resolution at up to 60 fps, something other full-frame cameras can do (save its sister camera, the S1). However, that’s really its only edge, and all 4K video is recorded from a slightly cropped region of the sensor and without oversampling, so quality won’t stack up to some other cameras.
Nikon — a company that has never made a dedicated video camera, mind you — pulled out all the stops when it designed the video modes for the Z series. The Z 7 can shoot both full-width 4K and oversampled Super 35 4K (which crops from an APS-C-sized area), giving you a choice between a wider perspective or maximum detail.
But the Z 7’s real benefits come in when you attach an external recorder to it, such as an Atomos Ninja V. Here, it can output 10-bit 4:2:2 video over HDMI and apply the N-Log flat color profile. These are decidedly high-end features that casual videographers won’t want to touch, but it means better dynamic range and detail, with more robust files that can be manipulated in post. What’s more, a coming firmware update will allow full RAW video output from the Z 7, which can be saved in the new ProRes RAW format on compatible recorders.
Winner: Nikon Z 7
Neither of these cameras have particularly strong batteries. Well, actually, the Lumix S1R has a massive 3,050mAh battery, but the camera draws so much power (likely thanks to that high-resolution EVF) that it only ekes out 360 exposures per charge. The Z 7 manages nearly that much, 330 shots, from its lower-capacity battery. Those numbers are basically near enough that it makes no difference — how you use the camera will easily get you a hundred or more additional exposures per charge over the official ratings.
However, perhaps because its engineers realized how much power the S1R was going to consume, Panasonic built in a special Power Save Live View Finder (LVF) Shooting mode, which somewhat mimics how a DSLR manages power. In this mode, the camera will go to sleep after a short time, but will leave some functions active, like the EVF eye sensor and shutter button. Battery life is stated as over 1,000 exposures in this mode.
Winner: Lumix S1R
As both the S series and Z series are new systems, neither has a broad range of native lenses available yet. However, Nikon DSLR owners can adapt their existing lenses to the Z 7 and maintain full compatibility. The S1R, while new for Panasonic, is built on the Leica L mount, which already has a collection of lenses that are fully compatible (if expensive — they’re made by Leica, after all). Additionally, Sigma has also signed on to develop L-mount lenses, with 11 of their acclaimed Art-series lenses currently on the way. As of this moment, Nikon is ahead — but things will look a lot different over the next twelve months. This one is too close to call, but it’s a good idea to check if a system has any particular lenses you want before you buy into it.
Picking an overall winner
The Panasonic Lumix S1R is a higher-end camera than the Z 7, and carries with it a higher price of $3,700 compared to $3,400. It is built specifically for the working professional photographer, with a heavy, durable construction that may be a bit too much for most people. Its 187MP high-resolution mode is also not something the average photographer needs, but it is super cool and shows that Panasonic is going the extra mile with its tech.
When it comes down to image quality, both cameras are equally capable over the majority of shooting situations. The S1R may have an edge in low light thanks to its more sensitive autofocus, while the Z 7 will have the edge for action and video thanks to better continuous autofocus. Current Nikon DSLR owners will appreciate being able to use their F-mount lenses on the Z 7, but those not yet entrenched in a brand may prefer the options presented by a three-company alliance making lenses for the S1R. As always, there are tradeoffs to either choice, but both are very capable machines.
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