Gear review: Panasonic S1 + Sigma 150-600 f5-6.3 DG DN OS Sports for wildlife photography
I recently decided to extend my equipment from Pansonic Micro Four Third (MFT), moving up to Full Frame (FF) format. In this article, I am sharing my practical impression from the using the Panasonic S1 and the new Sigma 150-600 lens for L-mount for wildlife photography in the field.
You may have red from one of my previous articles, that I made a deliberate decision for choosing the Panasonic MFT system over the Sony FF system, mainly because of its size advantage, while still offering solid image quality. After having used the MFT gear for a year, I felt the desire of an upgrade to my system though and move to FF, mainly due to the light and image quality advantages, and to see how this will effect my wildlife photography and resulting images. Trigger for these considerations had been the announcement of the L-Mount native Sigma 150-600 f5-6.3 DG DN OS Sports Lens, which is a great fit for the Panasonic FF lineup.
I decided to stay with Panasonic cameras, because I really enjoyed the ease of use the MFT lineup offers, especially the G9, and appreciated to have the same operation patterns for my FF gear. A second reason was that I like the color science on the Panasonic cameras, which I wanted to maintain. Ultimately, my goal was not to replace my Panasonic MFT cameras, but have it extended, so at times when I would need ultimate image quality, I would chose the FF gear, but for times when portability is most important, I would use the MFT gear, and while changing cameras for different purposes, always having the same way of operating the different cameras.
There is no second thought (and no surprise) here that the size and weight difference between the the MFT and FF system is immediately visible and noticable.
The Sigma lense weighs in at arround 2kg (2100g), while the MFT Pana Leica 100400mm lense weighs arround 1kg (985g). The Panasonic S1 weighs arround 1kg (1017g), which is again significantly heavier than my Panasonic G9 MFT camera at 658g, and even more so compared with the GX9, weighing in at 450g (figures with batteries included). In total, the FF setup is weighing arround 3kg, while the MFT system weighs arround half of that.
This weight difference will mean that for extended hikes, I would rather bring my MFT system with me. At the same time, the S1, which is a rather huge camera even for FF standards, is providing quite a good balance with the big Sigma lense. I found it to be of no problem or concern to bring this combination with me, when going out for wildlife photography specifically.
There is no doubt (and once again, no surprise as well) that the additional weight and size of the FF combination, is also resulting in improved image quality. Besides having less reach at 600mm of the FF setup comared with the 800mm of the MFT zoom, when cropping to the identical picture section, the FF combo reveals more details, which is certainly due to the larger sensor, as well as higher Megapixel count, of 24M of the S1 vs. the 20M of the G9/GX9. The FF image quality is not only providing more details, but what I find even more important is the additional amount of Bokeh and background blur the combination provides, which is an important stylistic element in wildlife photography, in order to separate the subjects from the background. This ultimately gives the picture a more 3D-type of look, compared with the MFT image. The look the FF image creates to me is the biggest advantage of the larger combo.
Every day usability experiences and observations
As previously mentioned, besides its rather large size, the S1 paired with the Sigma lense are a well balanced combo, and I got used to wearing the duo for my wildlife trips.
I found the zoom range of 150-600mm to be quite versatile, and a good match to cover a large variety of focal ranges if paired with a 24-105 or similar lense.
I enjoyed also the macro shooting capabilities of the lense. At 180mm, the lens has its sweet spot of magnification, and you can get pretty close to subjects, at f5.3. This allowed for quite pleasing results, while certainly not at par with a macro focussed lens like a 100mm f2.8 or similar. The macro shooting capabilities of the lense are also one major advantage compared to e.g. the Sony 200-600m lense, which does not allow for close ups at its wide end.
While opportunities for macro shots are an advantage of the Sigma over the Sony lense, the Sony‘s biggest strength is its ability to zoom without extending the lense. While I got used to extending the lense to zoom, the unlock + zoom operation is taking a short moment, which may be crucial to capture a scene at times.
The S1, while large in size and heavy, offers nice ease of use, and very similar ways of operation, compared with the G9, which I welcomed a lot.
The autofocus capabilities of the Panasonic system are well known, for being not the greatest strength of the system. Indeed, the system cannot match with the focusing systems of its rivals. I still found it well capable to capture the shots in most of the scenes I was looking for. I usually photograph using the 1-spot focus mode. For action shots, like birds in flight, I tend to use the zone autofocus mode. While certainly not comparable to its rivals, as mentioned, I usually still get the shot I intend to get.
The biggest downside in every day use to me was that the lense has a certain amount of „wobble“ when attached to the camera bayonet, which goes beyond what I would expect. This is noticeable when e.g. zooming using the zoom ring, there is a bit of play, which to me impacts the quality perception and sturdiness of the combination.
Price wise, I find the system to provide great value for its money. I bought the S1 for a great deal, usually in autumn the manufacturers provide significant discounts. The Sigma lense itself is also few hundred euros cheaper than its greatest rival, the Sony 200-600mm lense. For L-Mount, it is without competition.
I am very glad I decided to extend my MFT gear with this FF combo. It definitely improves the results of my images, by adding higher amount of background seperation, better low light abilities and providing images with more depth and a 3D-type of look. I barely use my MFT combination for wildlife any more for these reasons, the increased image quality make up for the additional weight and size in my eyes. I am still planning to use the MFT zoom for extended hikes, where wildlife photography is not the intended main goal, as having a still very capable, but small lense in case of animal encounters.
The below images were taken with the reviewed combination. You will find many more added here to my portfolio and on Instagram going forward, so stay tuned.