Based in the Surrey Hills a few miles from Reigate, Rachel has been a full time professional family and wedding lifestyle photographer for three years now, although she’s always had a passion for shooting pictures. A qualified member of the BIPP, she’s also actively studying for further qualifications with both the SWPP and MPA and is currently being mentored by portrait professional Paul Wilkinson. Her approach to a session is very uncontrived and relaxed and she’s aiming to produce images that have an informal feel.

In for the first of a new set of articles that celebrates Panasonic’s new S series loan scheme we sent lifestyle portrait photographer Rachel Thornhill out on a shoot with the S1 and 50mm f/1.4.

If you’re on the lookout for a professional system to buy into or might be considering a move across to an alternative brand then it can be a frustrating experience ensuring you’re making the right choice, especially since the consequences of a wrong call can be financially disastrous. Getting a demo at a trade show or in a retail outlet only gets you so far and what you really need to do is to have some serious time to play with the kit to see if it’s likely to suit your long term needs.

This is why the recent move by the more forward thinking manufacturers to offer professionals a free loan of kit over an extended period has been so inspired. Panasonic, for example, is offering qualifying photographers the chance to shoot with either an S1 or S1R plus lenses for a two week period, which is long enough to get to grips with the product and to really get a feel for what it can offer.

ABOVE: 50mm, 1/250sec, f/2.8, ISO 100. Lifestyle family portraits are one of Rachel’s key areas and she was able to produce results with the Panasonic Lumix S1 and 50mm that she was really happy with. (click images to open in lightbox)

We’re tapping into this promotion by seeing what professionals in a number of different genres can do with the kit, and our first case study is Surrey-based lifestyle photographer Rachel Thornhill, who took the Lumix S1 and 50mm f/1.4 out on a series of commercial shoots with families and children.

“My regular kit is a full frame DSLR, usually used in tandem with a 70-200mm f/2.8,” says Rachel. “I’ve been a full time professional photographer for three years now and when I was looking to make the step up to being full time I was very much looking at working with the brands I was familiar with. I still found it difficult to make a choice though, since I was given very limited time to try out kit in a retail situation, and obviously you only get a taste for what it can do in that situation. In the end a good friend loaned me his camera and I was able to use this for a month or so and this convinced me to buy.”

Moving systems and stepping across from a DSLR to a mirrorless full frame model such as the Panasonic S1 involved a learning curve, and it was one that took Rachel a few days to get her head around. She also needed to adapt to the fact that, unlike some other rival full frame mirrorless models, the S1 and its sister the S1R are similar in bulk and weight to a DSLR professional model, so they feel sturdy and solid in the hands but aren’t being presented as a lightweight or compact option.

“Initially it was a little bit of a shock, being easily the same weight as my usual camera and lens, which I didn’t expect from a mirrorless” Rachel reports. “I wasn’t sure how I would get on with the kit at first. If I had been trying it out at a show or in a shop I might have made my decision there and then and probably would have walked away, but because I had time to get to know the camera I was able to familiarise myself with it.

“And my opinion changed considerably! For me it’s crucial to be in tune with my kit since I need to be able to use it automatically and not be thinking about the technicalities so I can focus on the expressions of my subjects. Obviously I couldn’t really do this at first with the S1 and it took me a while to get used to the idea of using the LCD panel rather than the viewfinder to compose my images, but after a day or so I was much more confident.

I ended up appreciating the overall view that looking through the screen gave me since it meant that I could take in the whole scene and notice more when certain elements might be distracting.”

LEFT: 50mm, 1/800dec, at f/4, ISO 100. Getting down to the same level as a child will add a more personal touch. Looking down from a height can appear intimidating.

Rachel also had a few initial issues with the 50mm f/1.4, taking a short while to figure out how to engage the AF since it’s a pull back/pull forward setting and different to the switch system on her DSLR optics, but ultimately she used it on both AF and manual settings.

“For me AF with focus points is the way I prefer to go,” she says, “since I’m photographing a lot of children and they don’t tend to be static for too long! So the AF is useful since it’s really fast and with the S1 I could set focal points on the touch screen to make sure that the eyes were pin sharp. Using the lens on its manual setting I found the focus assist system, where a blue outline indicates when focus has been achieved, to be really useful, and this speeded things up a lot.”

RIGHT: 50mm, 1/250sec, f/1.4, ISO 100. Giving children an activity to do, such as where Ben was asked to throw some dandalion ‘fairies’ over brother Ben can add life to a shot, and Rachel opted for minimum depth of field..

Commercial Shoots

Once she felt confident enough with the kit Rachel took it along with her on a commercial shoot with regular clients, a family of four with a lively three-year-old and a three-month old baby, and her expectation was that the S1 would be the B-camera during the session. However, it didn’t work out that way, and she surprised herself by using the Panasonic more than her standard kit.

“For me there were a lot of things to like about it,” she says, “but it is undeniably quite different to what I’m used to. I’d liken it to changing from a more manual car to one that offers computerised features and where more is being done for you and, as a professional, that can be a very useful timesaver.

I also couldn’t believe how sharp the results were: absolutely every detail just stood out and it was almost like a move from HD up to UHD.

“There are two ways to look at this since sometimes too much sharpness can be a little unflattering, especially if you’re dealing with ordinary people and not top models, and you do tend to notice every stray element, such as a loose hair across the face or a tiny blemish. However, you can obviously always dial back in post and while you can take detail out of a shot you can’t add it in, and so I would prefer to have it.”

ABOVE: 50mm, 1/60sec, at f/3.2, ISO 100. “Flowers were chosen as a backdrop for this portrait of Freya. I wanted to see how close I could place her to her background while keeping it unsharp,” says Rachel “the answer was very!”

And Rachel’s verdict after her two-week play with the Panasonic kit? “I think the loan scheme is a terrific idea. It’s exactly what you need if you’re going to make an informed decision about whether to invest in one particular brand. For me I was initially hesitant because of the lack of familiarity but was ultimately won over by what it had to offer.

“I could see myself going down the mirrorless route at some stage and this would be a very good option. In fact, if I was to have to go out on a professional shoot right now armed with the S1 and the 50mm f/1.4 I would be happy to do that and confident about getting good results. I’m rather surprised myself about that.”

More information:

RIGHT: 50mm, 1/164sec, f/2, ISO 100. For portraits where her subject was standing still for a moment Rachel was able to use manual focusing, using focus assist to achieve highly accurate results.

Try it Yourself!

Panasonic is offering professional photographers and videographers the opportunity to try out the S-Series cameras and lenses for themselves for up to a two-week period free of charge, so perfect to use on a professional job or a personal project.

The LUMIX S1 and S1R will be available to loan on the scheme, as well as a choice of S Series lenses: 24-105mm standard zoom lens, 70-200mm telephoto zoom lens or 50mm fixed focal length lens. LUMIX S1 samples will contain the new SFU2 firmware programme, unlocking the full video capabilities of the camera for testing. The SIGMA MC21 converter will also be available as part of the scheme.

To sign up for a loan, visit  here. Terms and conditions apply.

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