It has been a year crammed full incredible releases for filmmakers, but the release of Panasonic S1H may just have topped the list of 2019’s filmmaking heavyweights.
We’ve been lucky enough to get our hands on one coupled with the sublime Lumix S Pro 50mm F/1.4 for this review, and being a fully fledged filmmaking camera what better way to test it out than on location in Cornwall, to shoot a short film with it.
Panasonic Lumix S1H Video Specs
Before we get into the shoot, it makes sense to look at the specs, and they are considerable in the S1H.
The 24.2MP Full Frame CMOS sensor & Venus Image Processor that Panasonic have used are capable of a myriad of resolutions, frame rates & bit depths. From a full frame 6k read out in 3:2 aspect to 5.9k in 16:9
If 6k isn’t your thing, don’t worry as you can internally record 10bit Cinema 4k at 60fps in a Super 35 crop or 4:2:2 10Bit 4k 30 in full frame. If you want some of that buttery smooth slow mo, you’ve got that too with 1080p at up to 180fps cropped or 144fps in full frame with audio.
In truth that is just small section of the video record options available, the list of what this camera can potentially do is so large that Panasonic had to include a filtering system on the menu… in total it’s 7 pages long!
The functionality for filmmakers doesn’t end there though. The S1H further proves it’s pro-level credentials by providing a massive 14 stops of dynamic range and offering up the full V-Log profile seen in Vari-Cam models such as EVA1. Anyone coming from the GH5 will know that this is a welcome step up that Panasonic have made.
This miniature cine-cam continues it’s impressive specs sheet with a host of internally de-squeezed anamorphic options. So if you’re lucky enough to be using an anamorphic lens, you can get the best out of this 6k sensor whilst still also using the in-body image stabilisation.
And talking of the IBIS, the S1H isn’t left lacking here either offering an incredible 6 stops of of stabilisation.
Using The Camera
As suggested by the specs, recording with the S1H, is definitely something that is far more involved than just a simple point & shoot affair. However this is made a whole lot easier with all the assist features Panasonic have crammed in.
Correctly exposing & grabbing focus is made a joy with the myriad of options available to you, in camera. The assist tools will all be familiar to experienced filmmakers, from focus peaking & focus zooming to 2 simultaneous Zebra meters. Vector Scoping for white balance & adjustable waveform metering are also present, essentially every tool you could want for getting the shot, is here making this a really complete feeling, filmmakers tool.
The actual handling of the camera is a really important consideration, especially considering that this is essentially a super portable cinema camera. It is really ergonomic, the 3.2 inch screen & menu is fantastic, bright & easy to use even in bright daylight conditions.
This is aided further by the articulation of the screen itself, being able to both tilt in it’s frame, for low shooting & also being able fully articulate out to the side to form a fully front facing monitor, especially helpful for those single shooters.
The always on, top display is also one my favourite additions to this camera, it’s both really convenient to use at a glance & also fully customisable, even allowing for easy metering of audio levels. It’s a really nice addition to make this camera even easier to use.
The only real criticism of actually using the S1H is how heavy the camera actually is. And it can’t be overstated, this is a REALLY heavy camera. I know that’s probably an odd criticism, but weighing in at over 1kg without a lens or battery it’s a camera that is tiring to use handheld, especially considering it’s smaller, handheld form factor.
The final considerations when using this camera are record times & battery life, and again the S1H doesn’t disappoint. The controllable fan cooling to the rear of the screen allow the camera to offer unlimited record time. This is only really curtailed by this size of your sd cards and the life of impressive 3,050 mAh battery, which is rated for up to 2 hours record time.
So moving on to the most important part and that’s the image that this 6k beast can render for you… and in truth it’s ridiculously good. By far this is the best looking camera that we’ve got our hands on this year, that not only lives up to its price tag, but also it’s credentials of being a miniature Vari-Cam.
Ordinarily I struggle to find justification for an image as big as 6k, but the depth and quality you get make it totally justified here. Now the 6k & 5.9k modes record in the h.265 codec, meaning they’re actually really efficient data wise at only 200mbps.
These modes give you huge scope for post production, be it reframing, added stabilising or just bit depth in order to really push colour grading hard. However it’s worth noting that a lot of computers will struggle with that h.265 compression when it comes to editing.
For me, the 4k options is where this camera really shines. As previously mentioned there’s so many variations of this, but in short a full frame 4:2:2 10bit 4k file is incredible to work with in post. The scope & depth for editing is almost endless and being compressed in h.264 make these 4k files a lot easier to edit with.
However it is worth noting, the files sizes & bit rates in 4k are huge at 400mbps. You will be burning through GB’s of footage really quickly & at that speed of data you’re going to need the SD cards to match.
Thankfully the S1H has 2 UHS ii compliant SD cards slots, and you will need them. We ended taking the plunge on some San Disk Extreme Pro V90 cards which at the time were one of the few available that were up to the task of coping with the 400mbps 4k recording.
S1H Low Light Performance
We already know, that being a full frame camera that the potential low-light performance is going to be great, but I was genuinely surprised at how clean the image actually is, in lower light situations.
This is because the S1H’s Sensor uses a Dual Native ISO system that switches noise circuitry dependant on the iso settings. The result, is truly impressive, low noise low light recording, even at higher ISO’s.
Lumix S1H’s Downsides
So, what is there not to like about the S1H. In truth very little! Now no camera is perfect, there will always be compromises to have, especially when so many features are crammed into this form factor.
There is a learning curve to be had with the S1H, especially if you’re looking at this as an upgrade to the GH5. For sure there’s a ton of similarities to that awesome Micro 4/3’s camera, but in truth this is far more akin the Vari-Cam than anything else. As such it takes a lot more heavy lifting to use and is definitely aimed at the pro level user. I guess that should be no surprise considering the hefty price point it sits at.
Functionality wise my only really criticisms would be from the DFD auto-focus system, which isn’t the best for speed & hunting. Also, once the camera is set roll the focus zooming is disabled. It’s certainly not a deal breaker, but is one of the few issues I could find here.
Really though, these issues aren’t anywhere significant enough to put me of totally falling in love the S1H.
S1H In Summary
It’s a rare thing to find a camera that is so perfect in so many ways, but when they do come along they often make such a huge leap forward that they change the filmmaking game for good. For 2019 The Panasonic S1H is certainly that camera & all filmmakers will absolutely love this 6k monster.
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