Panasonic S1H Review

editors-choice-badge

”Panasonic Digital SLM marks the dawn of new era hybrid capabilities.”

Introduction

Initially released fall 2019, Panasonic’s S1H is a camera aimed to be a revolution amongst the Cine industry and the dawn of a new area in DSLM capabilities. And it’s demanding price point surely suggests that and screams professional. But, considering that getting a comparable cinema camera at this price is virtually impossible, it now creates the possibility of competitive Cinema quality for those without the budget. Nevertheless, this camera has quite a grandiose aim and ambition to rival cameras easily 10x its price. Does it live up to such a standard? Or, instead, is this simply a beefed-up full-frame version of their acclaimed GH5s? Is this the camera to start a new lineage for the camera maker, and the Cine camera users have long awaited to replace their GH5? Let’s find out.

Panasonic-S1H-camera-specs

What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the Panasonic S1H?

Pros:

Image Quality

It features a similar 24.2MP sensor as the S1. However, unlike the S1, it maintains the Anti-Aliasing (AA) filter, reducing the presence of hideous moiré that would otherwise occur during video capture. From a photographic standpoint, the raw image quality and photos this camera delivers are virtually identical to the previously released S1, with only minor reductions in sharpness and fine details. However, the difference is not immediately apparent during real-world use.

Now, one profound improvement is the camera’s dynamic range, which Panasonic rates for an impressive 14 stops. The exciting thing here is that even when images are overexposed, clipping the highlights, the roll-off of the clipping is incredibly gradual and quite pleasing. It doesn’t experience the harsh and abrupt roll-off like other cameras in its class or its competition. Overall, while not its primary purpose, the photo quality is excellent.

It offers a continuous burst rate of 9 fps, though without autofocus. If you want to shoot with autofocus and tracking, you will have to do so at 6 fps. Although, the buffer depth is quite good at 60 RAW images before slowing or virtually unlimited JPEG.

Video Quality

As expected, Panasonic has stacked this camera with a wide array of video-centric features and capabilities. We will cover the most notable of these features below.

The camera uses the entirety of its sensor to capture video, which allows it to deliver 6K resolution natively. Though, it does so with a 2:3 ratio, not the more conventional 16:9 shape. While this is not unheard of in the cinema world, it does open the gate for more creative reframing options. In the standard mirrorless camera world, however, this is the first compact DSLM camera to produce 6K 24p and 5.9K 30p video. Not only that, but it also supports the slightly wider 17:9 aspect Cinema 4K (C4K) in 10-bit up to 60p. And when shooting 4K, it does so at 4:2:2 10-bit with an All-Ultra Codec, which delivers a bit rate of 400 Mbps. Of course, it also supports high frame recording in 1080p full HD. In this case, it can shoot up to 180p, albeit with a substantial crop or 132p at full sensor readout. Interestingly, the camera also captures audio and maintains autofocusing in this mode to ensure accurate tracking when shooting slow motion. These are not options available to previous Panasonic cameras, so it’s great to see them added here.

In total, it provides the broadest and most extensive selection of resolutions, crops, and codecs seen to date with a total of 52 different options. To top it off, in the spirit of the GH series, it also boasts unlimited video recording time.

The quality of the footage is uncanny and certainly industry-leading. The 6K resolution allows for unrivaled 4K or 1080p output when downsampled. Not only that, but shooting in its 6K resolution provides the most room for post-production cropping, reframing, or stabilization on any mirrorless camera available to date. And, surprisingly, even though this 6K footage is new to the market, there are no issues when scrubbing or editing the footage using Premiere Pro. In many respects, it functions identically as 4K footage in this regard. With that said, considering the minor color resolution lost by shooting 6K 4:2:0 vs. 4K 4:2:2, downsampling the 6K footage is the best way to shoot with this camera. Even if you don’t need the added wiggle room 6K offers, it will still provide better fine details than shooting 4K natively. Like the GH5, this camera also features All-I compression, which results in no loss in quality but reduces software load during post-production. Though the files produced from this compression are larger than other formats, it does reduce the workload burden considerably.

It features full V-Log and V Gamut support, which combine to deliver an expanded color range that closely matches Panasonic’s Varicam and EVA-1 cinema cameras. With these profiles, Panasonic boasts an impressive 14+ stops dynamic range, outperforming the lower S series camera, and puts this camera directly in line with their flagship Varicam.

Low Light Performance

Low light performance is excellent, and, in many respects, class-leading. The redesigned sensor allows the camera to feature dual ISOs now. In this case, ISO 100 and ISO 640 when shooting in the standard picture profile or ISO 640 and ISO 4,000 when shooting in V-log. Overall, this addition delivers better low light high ISO performance during filming and with greater flexibility than the competition. For stills, the camera can easily provide usable images up to ISO 25,600, where images retain both details with only minimal color shifting. For videos, you can film with complete confidence as high as ISO 12,800. This type of performance and versatility is unheard of in the competition.

Focusing Performance

It features a 225-area Depth from Defocus (DFD) contrast-detection system. When shooting stills, the camera delivers quick, decisive, and accurate focus down to an industry-leading -6 EV. Of the camera available, this camera can focus on subjects in the darkest conditions we’ve seen to date. Even when focusing by candlelight proves to be both quick and reliable. For videos, the continuous autofocusing performance, with the latest firmware update, is vastly improved. It’s now accurate and dependable, closely matching that of Sony’s a7 Mark III. And the system delivers smooth and cinematic rack focusing between points, making it a very appealing option for video.

Battery Performance

Battery performance is incredible, especially considering the performance offered here. It uses the DMW-BLJ31 battery, which Panasonic rates for 400 shots per charge, or 1,150 if using the Power Save LVF mode. For video, users can expect over two hours of continuous recording on a single charge.

The camera also supports USB charging, allowing for indefinite power via USB battery bank.

Display & Viewfinder

It has a 3.2-inch free-angle TFT touchscreen LCD with a resolution of 2.33M dots. The articulation of this screen is unique, compared to the competition. It first pulls away from the body and then fully articulates. This change may seem minor, but it makes the screen far more useful when the camera is in a cage or rig setup. It also offers the standard tilting function as well, removing the need to articulate the screen when shooting stills. Overall, this screen delivers the best versatility to the widest user-base of any camera.

It features an enormous OLED Live Viewfinder with a class-leading resolution of 5.76M dots, 100% coverage of the imaging area, and a sizeable 0.78x magnification. The viewfinder also has a variable refresh rate, both 60 and 120 Hz are supported, which provide added realism when composing and also reduces viewfinder lag.

It also provides a 1.8-inch top deck status LCD, which displays essential shooting parameters based on the shooting mode in use. And, unlike the S1, it presents far more helpful video-centric features.

User Interface

The user interface and menus follow the same design and logical structure as the previous S series cameras. However, unlike its predecessors, they include an additional layer of icons for better clarification—a subtle but notable change.

The camera has a wealth of options in video codecs, frame rates, bit rates, and bit depths, making the menu quite intimidating at first glance. Thankfully, Panasonic has recognized this as a potential issue, and they’ve implemented a customizable My List for categorizing the video options. With this list, users can store frequency used video settings on a single, convenient page.

Physical Layout & Ergonomics

Physically, at first glance, it appears similar to other S series cameras. But, upon a further glance, it’s both a fair bit thicker and larger. In this case, it measures 151.0 x 114.2 x 110.4 mm and weighs in at 2.3 lbs body only. Saying it’s a small camera would be a lie, that’s for sure. But, don’t be fooled, Panasonic has distributed its hefty body well, and it feels surprisingly light for how large it looks. Overall, the design and build quality are nearly identical to the other S series, however. The button layout is strategic to provide excellent handling and easy access to dedicated video functions. The increase in size also lends the camera to improved ergonomics, better button feeling, and a slightly larger grip. The biggest giveaway is the inclusion of a dedicated fan on the camera’s left, which functions to cool the camera during a prolonged session. This fan allows the camera to record continuously at ambient temperatures upwards of 40°C without overheating. Users can also customize the fan’s speed between one of four options to determine at which points it triggers. Helpful.

Unlike other S series cameras, it features a secondary record button, which is helpful for direct access when in front of the camera.

It features tally lamps, one on the front, and one on the rear of the camera. These tally lamps indicate when the camera’s actively recording video and helps identify errors by flashing to alert the user. This is quite a rare feature for this class of camera.

Niche Features/Extras

Like the other S series cameras, this camera also uses the newly released L-Mount. Thankfully, it’s been some time since its initial release, and there are now several excellent adapters available to increase the lens selection for this camera. And now, both PL and EF adapters are available.

It features both 4K and 6K photo modes, which now boasts unlimited recording time as long as your battery or SD cards allow. These modes allow users to pull images from each mode. With 6K photo, it shoots at 30 fps and 4K photo up to 60 fps.

Panasonic promises a future update will deliver ProRes RAW recording via an external recorder, which would put this camera in yet another class. And, really, a class of its own at that point.

It inherits the Hi-Res shot mode, which stitches together multiple images using sensor-shift to create a 96MP RAW image in-camera.

It has built-in focus bracketing, customizable between 10 levels for up to 999 images.

Despite having an external fan for cooling, the camera retains full weather sealing.

It has dual SD cards.

It has a headphone input.

It has a microphone input.

It has a full-sized HDMI input.

Like the Panasonic GH5S, it too has a flash sync port. This port does two things. Firstly it functions as a standard port for direct connections to compatible flash units for triggering. And, secondly, it doubles to sync time code, which is helpful to synchronize footage between multiple cameras, as this is often tedious in post-production.

It features a USB-C port, for faster file transfer speeds of the newer format and charging, or continuous power, over USB via battery bank or DTAP.

For those who prefer recording directly through the camera, it has excellent preamps. The preamps are also quite sensitive and offer users outstanding customization for use with more sensitive microphones.

Like the GH series camera, it inherits exciting and helpful tools to assist users with focus and exposure. It features waveforms, which are also highly customizable to help meter the scene. It has vector-scopes to help refine and calibrate color when shooting. It has zebras, for exposure clipping indication. And the camera supports multiple simultaneous zebra displays, allowing users to monitor both highlights in the scene and skin for clipping. And, lastly, it features focus magnification and peeking to help nail manual focus.

It has in-camera image stabilization, which provides upwards of 6.0 stops of stabilization. Like previous Panasonic cameras, it can also take advantage of lenses that feature optical stabilization themselves to create Panasonic’s Dual IS technology. In this case, with compatible lenses, the system delivers 6.5 stops making the camera class-leading in this regard. With that, users can shoot exposures handheld at upwards of one second and easily get sharp images. The image stabilization in this camera makes it the ideal choice for the run and gun filmmaker. Interestingly, it even features a boost mode (Boost IS), which virtually turns the camera’s sensor into a monopod for maximum stabilization. This mode is quite aggressive. However, it works incredibly well to deliver stabilized footage eerily similar to recording on a tripod and is seriously impressive.

It features built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for wireless image transfer and remotely controlling the camera.

Cons:

Video Quality

A minor drawback is that the 6K mode on this camera only shoots 4:2:0 10-bit. Considering that a higher bit depth is what delivers more flexibility during post-production grading than subsampling, this is a fair trade-off. And the minor color resolution lost from the lower color subsampling is virtually indistinguishable when downscaled to 4K resolution.

Like many mirrorless cameras, it too suffers from rolling shutter, a disadvantage of its larger full-frame sensor. Rolling shutter is the most prevalent when shooting in 6K or 5.9K modes. But, thankfully, the camera has a super 35 (APS-C) crop mode, which considerably reduces the presence of rolling shutter.

While the built-in fan works well in its Auto setting to cool the camera, the caveat, the internal microphone picks up its noise during longer recordings. But, to be fair, those looking seriously at this camera will use external audio devices, so this shouldn’t be an issue.

Focusing Performance

It lacks any ability to check focus when filming.

Is this a good beginner camera?

No. This is certainly not a beginner’s camera, and it’s also not at a price point that would even make sense for a beginner. It’s Panasonic’s premium flagship and the most expensive camera they offer, outside of their cinema line. For those starting out or even beginning filmmakers, this is not a recommended purchase. Consider Panasonic’s: S1, GH5, or G9 cameras instead.

What are the best lenses & bundles for the Panasonic S1H?

Lens Adapters:

Sigma MC-21 Adapter (Sigma EF-Mount Lenses to Leica L)

General Photography:

Panasonic Lumix S Pro 24-70mm F2.8
Panasonic LUMIX S 24-105mm F4

Specifically for Landscape Photography:

Panasonic Lumix S Pro 16-35mm F4 Wide Zoom Lens

Specifically for Portrait Photography:

Panasonic LUMIX S PRO 50mm F1.4
Panasonic LUMIX S PRO 70-200mm F2.8

Extra Batteries:

LUMIX DMW-BLJ31 Lithium-ion Battery

SD Cards:

Sony TOUGH-G series SDXC UHS-II Card 64GB

Is the Panasonic S1H a good camera for you?

Possibly.

It makes an excellent choice for the run and gun videographer, with its superior 4K quality and class-leading image stabilization. Though, it’s worth noting that this camera will take some time to familiarize yourself with if coming from a traditional SLR camera or mirrorless filmmaking background. Users initially not familiar with full-fledged video cameras will have a steep learning curve.

It makes an excellent alternative or b camera for large scale production. And it makes the perfect camera for small scale productions where using the $20,000+ cinema cameras isn’t practical.

It makes an excellent choice for previous Panasonic users, especially those looking for an upgrade for their GH series cameras. You will be immediately familiar with the user interface, menus, design, and navigating this camera. If you take every good feature from the GH5 and couple that with the video-centric functionality of the GH5S in a full-frame body, then you ultimately have this camera. In the GH lineup, you had to make a distinct choice whether you wanted the better low light and cleaner shadows from the GH5S, or the image stabilization of the GH5. Tough choice. Thankfully, that choice is no longer necessary with this camera. And, instead, we get the best from both cameras. In many regards, this camera is essentially a full-frame GH5S that now belongs to the S lineup as their cinematic oriented variant.

While its predecessor, the S1, was already an excellent camera for aspiring video shooters, it lacked advanced video features when compared to the GH series cameras. However, with the release of this new camera, all of these features return. While other camera manufacturers offer excellent 4K cameras, Panasonic has clearly shown its prowess as the industry-leader and experts in mirrorless. Instead of a less is more approach, Panasonic does the opposite, and that strategy has paid dividends here. Of the options to date, no other camera offers the performance in both stills and video combined. And it’s single-handedly the best hybrid camera released, ever. The camera GH5 users prayed for has finally arrived, and now, in full-frame.

Overview
  • Image Quality
  • Video Quality
  • Focusing Performance
  • Low Light Performance
  • Dynamic Range
  • Battery Performance
  • Display & Viewfinder
  • User Interface
  • Physical Layout & Ergonomics
4.9

Summary

The Panasonic S1H doesn’t compete with other DSLM or mirrorless cameras. It has no competition there. Instead, it competes directly with the $20,000+ cinema cameras. This isn’t your typical B camera to these more expensive productions. Instead, this camera aims to be your only camera. It’s a full-frame 6K powerhouse and a compact run & gun shooter that will ultimately revolutionize the cinema industry.