Rally is different than other forms of motorsport. Because the teams do not race on a circuit, photographers only get one chance per stage to capture the action. Once the car is past your position, they are gone, rallying on to the next stage in the event. Because of this, it is important that a camera be able to autofocus quickly and accurately.
I must admit I found the myriad number of ways to configure autofocus on the S1R confusing initially. With my DSLR I select single point autofocus, put the camera in AF-C mode, and go from there. Thankfully, Panasonic has an excellent online guidebook describing the various modes available on the S1R, and I felt pretty confident with the “1-Area +” setting, and “Scene Type 4” for AF-C, which is designed to provide a reasonable set of defaults for motor and action sport. The S1R’s “depth from defocus” autofocus worked very well.
Before I talk about the glass, I need to talk about the viewfinder. Each time I pick up a mirrorless camera from Panasonic they get better and better, and the viewfinder on the S1R is big, bright, and beautiful. More importantly, after using it for a while I barely noticed any lag, and that’s important for motorsport. Not knowing where your subject is when both it and the camera are moving can have disastrous results and I am happy to say that this wasn’t a problem with the S1R.
As for the lenses, let me state for the record that the 24-70 f/2.8 L-mount is a beautiful piece of glass. On stages where I was standing close to the action it allowed me to track cars completely through corners, nail panning shots, and reliably focused every time. Its hefty at 2.06 pounds, but still lighter than my trusty Nikon 24-70/2.8. It felt great in the hand, but the focal length ring is pretty tight. I didn’t have the lens long enough to tell if that loosens up over time.
I felt the same about the 70-200/2.8 L-mount. It’s a large lens – the 82mm front element and very beefy lens collar make it quite a bit heavier than my Nikon version, but the heft meant that it felt solid in my hand. I am used to carrying heavy lenses all day, so the weight was not a problem for me. It took some time to reverse the muscle memory Nikon made me learn when they flipped the position of the focus and zoom rings on their own offering, but everything felt very natural. The lens is very sharp and creates beautiful, crisp images when you nail focus with it.
All in all, I think the S1R is an excellent mirrorless camera and very much suited for rally and other forms of motorsport. If you’re thinking about making the switch away from DSLR, give it serious consideration.
Featured in this blog: