It is for some time now that Panasonic is moving in a parallel direction by bringing to the market a photo orientated camera first and a few months later on, a video-oriented sibling (on the Micro Four Third entrance we could see this done with the Panasonic G9/GH5/GH5s). Now the same procedure is being repeated with the Panasonic S1 and S1H. That is why I was not surprised to see that some “filmmaking” key elements were missing from the S1 when it was intruded. It was just a question of time (and price) till a mirrorless “video orientated” camera, namely the S1H, would appear.
When I first had the chance to enjoy with the S1H it had been around the time when Blackmagic Design launched their BMPCC 6K so, of program, my attention (and the interest of the audience too) went it to this direction. Then emerged the SIGMA fp. This camera is just about to be officially launched (observe our full review by clicking here), but now it is time to put the Panasonic S1H into the spotlight and let me tell you, it deserves our complete attention as the camera is so versatile and packed with features that one might be a bit confused when attempting to use it… So, right here, in a nutshell, some of its highlights: a HUGE variety of resolutions, frame rates, and data rates to pick from (Up to 6K). 3:2 Full Body sensor optimized for anamorphic work, dual SD cards recording, fabulous EVF, great 5 axis IBIS (In Body Stabilisation System), an internal enthusiast to combat overheating issues, “unlimited” recording period, dual ISO and very capable lowlight recording and more. True, the camera is weighty to run with but extremely comfortable to hold – more on that afterward.
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If you look carefully, you will notice that one feature is certainly lacking from my glorying list and this is ‘Auto Focus efficiency’. Like with additional Panasonic mirrorless camera models, become it MFT or full-frame sensor, Panasonic choose to implement Contrast detection AF and the results are very noticeable especially when trying to follow moving objects. This is very unfortunate as the camera could do probably better if it was equipped with Phase Detection Auto Focus system. Right now, some will argue that a “proper” filming camera does not rely on AF so why to bother, but my estimation is extremely solid. Auto Concentrate technology is normally progressing fast. Up to the point when accuracy and reliability can be trusted, so this feature is becoming extremely important for the independent One Man Band (documentary) operator who is functioning solo in the field.
Panasonic S1H – Usability
As I wrote earlier, the camera is large but comfortable to work with. But actually on second thought what really makes it heavy is Panasonic very own L-Mount zoom lenses… I was using the 24-105mm f4 for filming the above story and I sensed that the lens is a little bit limiting me. I really felt restricted by carrying out camera movements, and on top, f/4 leaves a lot to be desired (even on such lowlight king camera). In favor of Panasonic, I must write that they probably noticed that as well and created the 24-70mm f/2.8 lens that will of training course help when filming in lowlight situations. Unfortunately during the time of conducting this review, this brand-new lens had not been optically ready so I could not test it together with the camera. I would like to spend an extra minute and talk about L-Mount lenses. It is a bit of a “chicken/egg” thing: even more L-mount camera users, more incentives to develop new lenses; not enough attractive modestly priced lenses, many will consider if to buy L-mount cameras. And while on the subject of buying a camera, when you buy one, usually the inclination will be to buy a lens with the same amount to go with it. I do feel that the current offerings from people of the L-Mount alliance like Panasonic, SIGMA and Leica are either limited or expensive. What I would love to see are smaller and faster lenses that can accommodate both the Panasonic S1H/S1 and SIGMA fp cameras. For now, I’m hooked on trying to use some older Canon FD lenses alongside the excellent KIPON L-Mount to FD adapter.
Other than that, you get a refined Panasonic camera menu (a la Varicam camera style) which for some might be simpler to navigate. Lastly, the “joystick” at the back of the camera. Man, I tell you, this little knob and I are totally not good friends… Much to sensitive to my taste. The good thing is, I was told by Panasonic that its’ sensitivity can be adjusted. Now I should only find where is this option hiding in the menu.
Panasonic S1H – Picture Quality
When tests the camera I was debating with myself which of the two new highlighted features I will check, the 6K resolution or its anamorphic capabilities. For now, I opted for the 6K quality, but I’m eager to shoot a short documentary with it together with an anamorphic lens or at least a suitable anamorphic adapter. In this regard, it is worthy of mentioning that filming in 6K can leave a bit to be desired as ALL Intra, 400 Mbps and 4:2:2 color sampling are not supported in this filming mode. Those high specs goodies are reserved for filming in 4K DCI and downwards. (Please head to Panasonic’s official link to explore the mind-blowing different resolution/frame/data prices the S1H can offer).
Today, when reviewing the Panasonic S1, we were saying that the picture quality is very great but somehow it lacks “Mojo” (not easy to explain. Maybe the simplest way to describe it is by using the words “identity/charm”). So how does the Panasonic S1H perform in this respect? Well, in all honesty, the footage is clean, nice and have A LOT going for it, but to me personally, footage looks-wise, it is very similar to Panasonic S1. Call me crazy, but somehow it had been not so easy to grade Panasonic’s S1H V-Log image. Just to be clear here, I’m NOT a colorist. I’m a cameraman who’s painting his work and most of the time I find Panasonic’s epidermis tones tonality to end up being much too red (actually after applying the official rec 709 LUT was taken from right here). And yes, Davinci Resolve can of course help in fixing the issue, but I really wish to know and understand if it is my eyesight which sees enhanced red or, this is the reality.
The S1H got hyped up a long time before we also knew what the specifications were going to be.
Whether you like Panasonic’s tease strategy or not, that is the way they now seem to market their products. Announce a camera and then try and build up hype by not giving everything apart. They did the same thing with the EVA1, S1, and S1R.
So will the S1H live up to the hype? Well, yes and no. There is a lot to like about the S1H and its hard to be too essential of a sub $4,000 USD camera that may shoot open gate, 6K, 4K full-body at up to 30p internally in 4:2:2 10-bit with this form aspect and size. In stating all that, the camera is usually far from perfect and just like any camera it provides its flaws.
Companies will always seriously promote and tout all the good things about their camera and they will try and gloss over any flaws or problems. That’s just marketing. I, however, wanted to give you honest and open responses about every aspect of the S1H. If you are likely to spend your hard-earned money on a camera then you need to know all of the positives and the negatives.
I like the form factor, build quality, and a lot of the features the S1H has to offer. The onboard EVF and LCD screens are the best I have seen on any mirrorless camera.
I don’t like the reality you can’t punch in and verify focus while your recording is definitely absurd on a $4,000 USD camera.
Despite these issues, the overall usability of the S1H is pretty good. It’s probably the best hybrid mirrorless camera I’ve used. It really is a camera you can just shoot without having to turn it into a frankenrig.
The image quality is good, but it does have its limitations. In saying that, I personally believe the images coming out of the S1H are the best I have noticed from a mirrorless hybrid. Once the camera gets the ability to record in ProRes RAW it will add further versatility.
At $4,000 USD, it’s certainly not going to appeal to everyone and lots of shooters will have a hard time justifying purchasing the camera when various other capable options are available for half the price.
The S1H is the first mirrorless hybrid I would comfortably want to use with no external monitor or monitor/recorder. The overall user experience may be the best I have experienced with any hybrid mirrorless camera.
Despite its flaws, I think Panasonic has established the bar fairly high for what you should expect out of a high-end full-frame mirrorless camera. In my opinion, it now sits on top of the throne as the king of mirrorless hybrids as far as video is concerned. How long it stays right now there remains to be seen.