Panasonic launches their dynamic new camera, the S1H, at an exclusive event in Sydney.
The perfect camera doesn’t exist. As I’ve said time and time again, there is no silver bullet. Cinematography and photography is a holistic art form. While technology and specifications enables the acquisition stage more efficiently, working within and knowing gear limitations in a tech centric day and age inevitably forces you to create skill sets. By identifying what these limitations are, your expectations become realistic.
Welcome to another instalment of New Gear. I have been on hiatus for a while with travel and work commitments, but it’s great to be back. In this article, I’m going through my thoughts on Panasonic’s newly released S1H.
Full disclosure: I was supplied a pre-production camera by Panasonic Australia and was also involved in the national launch. I have owned and gone through Sony, Canon and Fuji Mirrorless cameras, so it provided a terrific barometer and reference. In that time, I’ve done various jobs and utilised the camera in various settings. So, while I will provide some generic specs, easily found on a dozen online camera blog sites, the aim here is to provide an idea of how the S1H might apply itself in various scenarios.
It’s a new release and I’ve done some decent hours on the camera. My initial thought was that this is a unit I wished I had a long time ago. The features and options available in a product this size is simply astounding. Truth be told, I’ve been using the EVA1, GH5 and GH5s for a lot of commercial work, and while the S1H may seem like a mirrorless on steroids or a baby version of the EVA1, there’s no denying that the main appeal is its full frame spec’d sensor, plus in-body stabilisation. A bit more on that later.
For size, the camera is what you would expect when featured packed. The footprint is larger than the GH series and almost identical to the S1 and S1R. To a non-Panasonic user, this provides no clarity, so think the size of a full frame DSLR. It’s weighted well, feels chunky and robust in the hand, and sports an air vent for the internal fan, which makes the real estate slightly larger. Unlike the S1 and S1R, the S1H now incorporates an articulated screen, with a lower latch that allows you to orientate the screen away from the side ports, thus allowing for easier port access.
The physical body is littered with function and programmable buttons. Including the shutter button, the two additional red coloured coded video buttons allows users to button on record front and back in the event when the camera is positioned on a gimbal, jib, high or low.
Like all cameras these days, connectivity is a breeze, and almost a basic requirement with all your smart devices. While their GH series have been communicating with Image App, the S1H uses Panasonic’s Lumix Sync, which gives you everything from remote operation to setting and parameter changes.
The S1H sports a 24-mega pixel sensor with an optical low pass filter that will help with moiré and aliasing, while Panasonic claim, will provide a more filmic look to curb the ‘video’ look. As for read out speeds, the sensor will do 6K (5.9) at 24 in full-frame and only do 4K 60 in APS-C and not the full sensor width. Also, the colour matrix has been remapped to better match the Panasonic Varicam line.
At the time of the worldwide launch, there were reports of some clipping in the blue channel spectrum. During my experience lighting and shooting three different sets at the local launch, I didn’t encounter any of these issues. Since then, Panasonic have released firmware updates addressing colour or sensor anomalies that may have been evident. Remember, a lot of these cameras were pre-production units.
For media, Panasonic have opted with two SD card slots rather than the XQD and SD combo slots on the S1 and S1R. I feel the reason Panasonic have done this is to entice the consumer market and aspiring filmmakers. SD cards are more affordable and less convoluted, albeit, sacrificing data transfer rates and speed.
In terms of technology, there are recognisable similarities between the GH5 series cameras and the S1H. However, The S1H is a full-frame 24.2 Mega Pixel CMOS sensor, records up to 6K 24p in a 3:2 aspect at 4.2.0 10 Bit. We also have 5.9K at 30p in 16:9 and 5.4K in 3:2, finishing with 4K DCI & UHD 10-bit at 60p.
If the amount of resolution and recording combos confuse you, the camera has a terrific filtering option that lets you enter in the frame rates, resolution, codec, VFR and Log Gammas and it automatically filters out what results are available from the 26 options available in camera. This function is a great process of elimination and cuts down time in having to scroll through options. Once you select the preferred option, you can save these to a list. This will also quickly indicate if you can use the full sensor width or crop to an S35mm read out. Great especially if you don’t want to be scrolling menus and sub menus.
The menu system is definitely more intuitive compared to other brands. Like on many professional cameras, the quick select menu allows for rapid selection of various parameters; frames-per-second, shutter speeds, IRIS, resolution, timecode, card slots, mic levels, audio limiting, ISO, colour profiles and white balance, are all accessible via touch screen with the simple press of the display button! The best way to utilise this is in tandem with a on camera monitor or external electronic viewfinder. Having this quick select menu will speed up your operating time drastically.
We often hear how this type of technology is created for the average consumer and not professionals, but this kind of attitude strikes me as arrogant and complacent. The benefits far outweigh the negative connotations. To have a full-frame sensor with in-body internal stabilisation is few and far between. The results mean you are able to get shots handheld with an aesthetic movement never possible before. The IBIS is also extremely important when using ‘passive’ manual or cinema lenses with no electronic stabilisation.
The system offers tremendous benefits to manual and more esoteric lenses. One of my favourite features, previously offered in the GH series, is the ability to dial in stabilisation for whatever focal length lens is mounted to the camera. This meant I could use my old manual Russian Helios 58mm 44-2 and still achieve some decent stabilised shots.
Panasonic’s image stabilisation also wears other hats. The Boost IS is incredibly useful when you need to ‘lock off’ a shot, and, the anamorphic IS modes caters up to five aspect ratios from 1.30, 1.33, 1.5, 1.8 and 2.0 x squeeze! Impressive!
And on the topic of anamorphic shooting, the S1H takes all the features in inherent in their Lumix GH5 and GH5s, and provides a ton of options conducive to shooting, monitoring and playback. Anamorphic modes start at super 35mm, 3328×2496 (4:3) aspect, from 100Mbps to 200 Mbps, from 25 to 50p in both ALL-I and LongGOP, with VFR and Hyper Log Gamma options.
Speaking of Anamorphic and lenses in general, the L-mount lens ecosystem may deter many prospective and potential users. But with the alliance forged between Leica, Sigma and Panasonic, the roadmap and selection of upcoming lenses soon to be released is impressive. I had concerns to start with, but with Sigma’s MC-21 and MC-11 adapter, I was able to adapt EF and PL lenses. In fact, there are so many third party companies offering adapter solutions, it won’t be long before you could use any lens mount on the S1H.
Like the GH5 and GH5s, I’m glad Panasonic kept their focus transitions feature for this full-frame beast. With any native electronic lens, this option allows you to program in focus marks from three transition points, includes five transition speeds from super-slow to super-high, three memory banks and two transition wait times.
Now obviously for any serious focus puller, you can raise eyebrows all you want but for the purpose of any production requirement, shooting low-profile or using this function as a B-camera or ‘automated’ camera isn’t such a bad idea.
On the topic of focus, Panasonic have copped a lot of criticism for their autofocus. Frankly, I don’t know what all the fuss is about. If you are using this camera on a low budget film as an A-camera or as a B-Camera on a high-end feature, chances of using autofocus is minimal. Unless you are shooting run and gun, or operating as a single camera in a documentary style scenario, yes, autofocus could optimise your shooting experience significantly. If there are misappropriated gripes users have, it’s this whole autofocus thing. People, this is where the consumer convenience ideal is creeping into what justified and prioritised camera functions and feature sets should really be. Having uber fast autofocus is truly the least of my worries.
Panasonic have done extremely well with their Dual Native ISO technology on their Varicam line of professional camera and then adopting it to their Lumix line of consumer cameras. It’s not surprising that they have implemented the same options on the S1H.
I’m surprised that despite the inclusion of this, the higher native ISOs still portray some notable amount of noise in their images. I’m hoping this will be fixed in some later firmware updates, however let’s be fair here folks. Personally, I feel shooting LOG or having a camera overheat will always induce some level of noise. I think the notion of having high ISO capacity and performing cameras have increased expectations that we can all just crank the ‘dial’ in low light and get stunning bright images. Seriously, until one camera brand started brandishing the ISO ‘revolution’, we all started getting lazy; users forget a camera’s limitations and the majority of us just forget how to light!
I find people pick on one shortcoming and then write the whole camera off. On the Panasonic EVA1 it was the proprietary electronic viewfinder, now on the S1H, it’s the noise. Regardless, as I said, there’s no silver bullet. The guiltiest perpetrators will tell you it’s the not the camera but what you do with it. Which brings me to my final thoughts on this camera.
For what it is, the S1H is a camera that other brand fan boys would love to hate. It’s certainly not perfect but when you consider what we all wanted in camera this size, this unit packs a punch. For me, the actual useful features embedded in this camera is compelling, and is incredibly bang for your buck. Also, now with the RAW output compatibility of the camera and Atomos external recorders, it’s just one of many reasons why it might just be a one stop shop for Panasonic. Not forgetting that the S1H has now made the list as a Netflix approved camera, bravo Panasonic, bravo!
If looks and client expectations don’t matter much, and you need something small just to get the job done, this might be a wonderful head start, a solid B-camera or a terrific transition to bigger things.
Clinton Harn is a cinematographer, filmmaker, producer and ongoing contributor to Australian Cinematographer Magazine.