With the release of the Lumix S1H, Panasonic has essentially done the camera release equivalent of a mic drop. Priced at $3,999, the new Panasonic S1H is a 6K full-frame beast of a low budget filmmaking camera supporting internal recording at 6K (5952 x 3968) 10-bit 4:2:0, 4K (4096 x 2160) 10-bit 4:2:2 and 4K at 60fps with an image to boast about. Oh, and it also earned its way onto Netflix’s cherished approved camera list. Note: It’s the cheapest and only mirrorless camera on that list too — looking at your Blackmagic and Sony.
Panasonic is and has been one of the most dominant forces in the low budget filmmaking scene, specifically with their mirrorless GH cameras starting with the GH2 back in 2012. Since then, the GH3, the GH4 and now the GH5 have been staples in low-budget productions despite being a mere micro-four-thirds system in a world chocked full of Super-35 and Full-frame sensors. This is because Panasonic is often ahead of the curve in adding those higher-end filmmaking features in small modestly priced cameras.
The Panasonic Lumix S1H is a filmmaking monster of a camera whose spec sheet reads like a low budget filmmaker’s wish list of dreamy features —albeit with some odd aspects. Despite being shrewdly disguised as a photography camera, the Panasonic Lumix S1H IS A FILMMAKING CAMERA, and a great one at that. Priced just shy of $4,000, this is on the higher end of what many consider low budget cameras; however, it is a bit cheaper than other cameras with similar specs. Though, before you scuttle off to drop four thousand simoleons on just the body, there are some aspects and downsides you really must know.
On paper, the Panasonic Lumix S1H is phenomenal. Seriously. The camera boasts a full-frame dual ISO sensor capable of shooting 6K open gate (4:3) at 10-bit, unfortunately at 4:2:0 color space. That, though, is not what will get any experienced cinematographer excited. What is exciting is the fact that the full-frame sensor produces a beautiful, clean 4K 10-bit 4:2:2 400mbps image that is oversampled from that 6K sensor. Yes, 6K is a great headline, but unless you are shooting videos for your YouTube channel or weddings with the intent of reframing later, the 6K at 4:2:0 isn’t the excitement inducing headline many noobs may think it is.
Resolution isn’t everything, and you don’t need 6k. Hollywood isn’t finishing films in 6K, period. In fact, it’s not uncommon for a movie to even be finished somewhere in the neighborhood of 2.5K. The overwhelming majority of digital cinema projection (DCP) is around 2K. Also, in my experience as a visual effects supervisor for features, 6K is either largely reserved for VFX plates or with the intent of reframing later. Really, the excitement here is the oversampling of that 6K sensor to a 10-bit 4:2:2 4K image. This is because you’re utilizing more photosites per pixel. Without diving too far down the science of CMOS sensors, the debayering pattern isn’t a 1:1 ratio for each color so a 6k sensor shooting at “6K” isn’t actually 6K in resolution. However, when you take all those photosites on that 6K sensor and oversample to 4K you get a much more attractive footage and a more accurate representation of your resolution.
The bit depth and color sampling are a major selling point of the camera; the S1H is one of only a few cameras in this price range that records internally at 10-bit, the Panasonic GH5 and the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K being the other two. This isn’t an article explaining bit depth just know that 10-bit refers to the amount of information about the image the camera is recording. Most DSLR/mirrorless cameras record at 8-bit or two to the eighth power while 10-bit is two the tenth power. That means four times the amount of RGB information. To learn more check out our video explaining bit depth.
Now, about that 4:2:2 color sampling, again only a couple of other cameras in this price range are able to record 4:2:2 internally; most others record at 4:2:0 with the ability to output 4:2:2. If you are doing any color grading, keying or other visual effects work this something really, really important to you. While we will chat about the image quality later, it becomes very apparent in Hybrid Log what a difference the 4:2:2 color sampling makes since you can switch between 4:2:2 and 4:2:0.
Now keep in mind that all that groovy 10-bit 4:2:2 awesomeness is NOT available in all resolutions and frame rates, and buddy, you got a lot of options with it comes to resolution and frame rates. There’s a total of 30 different resolution/frame rate/compression/sensor size options — plus variations in recording modes and gamma curves. Oh yeah, like several of the Sony Alpha cameras you have the ability to switch between a full-frame sensor and a crop sensor in 4K and HD resolutions.
There’s a total of 30 different resolution/frame rate/compression/sensor size options — plus variations in recording modes and gamma curves.
Now, we’re not going to list all the options right here but here are the most notable: As stated before the top resolution is 6K but, that’s compressed at 4:2:0, not ideal or something you would want to use in a professional situation. You may also record full-frame 5.9K (30p, 24p) 10-Bit 4:2:0, 5.4K (24p) 10Bit 4:2:0, then 4K in full-frame and crop sensor in 10-bit 4:2:2 at 24fps and 30fps, you can also overcrank at 48fps and 60fps in 4K at 4:2:0 and in HD 120fps at 10-bit 4:2:0. There is no shortage of options and we will dive into how all those look in the image section of this article.
Baby’s got back
The S1H is one thick brick of a camera. It’s large and heavy, but that’s a good thing. While many mirrorless/DSLR cameras feel like cheap plastic in your hands, the Panasonic S1H feels like the four-thousand-dollars the body costs. The increased size actually contributes to a more stable image when going handheld. In my experience with the camera, I had a lot fewer of those little micro shakes that have become commonplace with DSLR/Mirror shooting without a rig. The size of the body isn’t a design choice. There is a large vent on the left side of the camera as well as a smaller one on the right. Inside the body, there’s a super quiet fan likely needed due to the 400mbs this thing is processing for that gorgeous 10bit 4:2:2 image. Several of my industry friends have said that the body is somewhat reminiscent of a RED DSMC body. This is probably because the large square black body is accented with large red record button.
This tank-like body comes with a wonderful 3.2-inch touchscreen LCD that rotates and swivels around to the front so you can use the camera selfie-style. However, the S1H is a bit of overkill for your standard vlogger. The LCD screen is great; even in bright daylight you can easily see what you’re shooting and the touch screen is responsive and a pleasure to use. The OLED EVF is also really terrific. The bright 10,0000:1 makes pulling focus super easy. The top of the camera also features a 1.8-inch monochrome LCD panel for quick reference for all your settings. This actually came in super handy as I like to turn off the settings display on the main LCD panel when shooting.
The locations of the buttons on the camera are pretty standard, as someone who hasn’t used a Panasonic stills camera for a couple of years, this felt very intuitive and familiar. There is a large red record button on top and another on the front of the camera for some reason. Yet, neither is located where any of my fingers comfortably land. This isn’t a big gripe as it’s pretty simple to move my finger over to hit record, it’s just not ideal. All your basic camera functions are easily accessible through the many buttons on the back. Aperture, shutter speed, ISO, white balance and focus all have their own buttons.
The menu on the Panasonic S1H is pretty good considering there is a lot buried therein. It did not take me very long to understand and become very comfortable with the organization and hierarchy of the menu. It made sense and was easy to use. I had no issues trying to find the setting I was in search of. However, the focus settings were a little different, which took some getting used. I had to use a specific shortcut button to switch between different autofocus settings, which actually became super handy once I figured that out.
One thing I absolutely loved about using the camera was how quick it turns on. I know this is a weird small note, but many cameras such as the Sony Alpha series take a while to boot up. The S1H turns on and is available to use almost instantly, ensuring I am less likely to miss a moment when run-and-gunning it.
The Panasonic S1H has all the standard mirrorless connections we have come to expect, including a 3.5mm headphone jack, a 3.5mm microphone input, a USB Type C connection you can actually charge the battery through and a FULL-SIZE HDMI port. While it’s not a BNC connection that comes standard all professional cameras sans DSLR/Mirrorless cameras, the full-size HDMI is a welcome compromise. Those tiny HDMI ports most DSLR/Mirrorless cameras come with are infuriating.
Like many DSLR/Mirrorless cameras that came before it, the Panasonic S1H stores its oversized DMW-BLJ31 battery in the grip via the bottom of the camera. These run about $90, are super large and a bit heavy. I am not complaining though, as the battery run time on the S1H is pretty great. I had to change out batteries about every 90 minutes to two hours of use. Way better than the Blackmagic Pocket Camera or any Sony Cameras.
The media for the Panasonic S1H is pretty simple; it takes standard SD cards. That’s it. Personally I really like that — SD cards are very cheap, super easy to find and I have tons laying around from other cameras. Now, because of the high data rates, if you are recording 10-bit 4:2:2 4K video at 400 mbps you will obviously need a very fast card. We tested the camera with a Sony TOUGH Series UHS-II 64GB cards and had zero problems. Currently, these cards will run you about $110. Still not too bad. A 64GB card yielded us about 42 minutes of 4K 10-bit 4:2:2 video or about an hour and 24 minutes of 6K 4:2:0 video.
The lens mount is one of those quirky features about this camera I am not thrilled about. In fact, I am darn right incensed about it. While the big brother to the S1H, the EVA1, features a standard Canon EF mount they for some reason decided to put a Leica L mount on it. That makes the Panasonic S1H a much less desirable B camera for those of us who use the EVA1 as it will require you to either buy adapters or all new lenses.
The biggest downside, though, is that there isn’t a vast market of lenses and virtually no secondary used market for this relatively new mount. Had Panasonic chose to put a Canon EF (like the EVA1), or even the PL mount, the S1H would be a near perfect camera for the price. However, they chose not to do that for some reason. Yes, I know Sigma is planning on releasing a bunch of new Leica L series lenses. It’s not the same as having decades worth of lenses on the market. Also, it’s only Leica and Panasonic S1 cameras that even use that mount. Panasonic, you hit a home-run in nearly every other way with this camera. Using this seemingly random mount is similar to Thomas Keller serving up a Hot Pocket at one of his famed restaurants in Napa County. It makes little sense and is a little frustrating.
Panasonic provides a lot of standard and not so standard tools to help you nail your shots. These include focus peaking, which has options to control not just the amount but what color you want; you have ten different color options. You have aspect ratio guides, which are especially helpful when shooting open gate. Not common on Mirrorless cameras these days is a tally light for the front and rear of the camera. You also have a waveform or vectorscope monitor you can reposition anywhere on the LCD display. That’s in addition to color bars, a 1khz tone test, VLog view assist and display LUTs. It’s almost like Panasonic is going after professional DPs…
Since this is technically a stills camera, you have all kinds of wonderful autofocus settings that will help you get autofocus when shooting stills. However, since this is a publication about video production and the S1H is obviously a filmmaking camera, we will just address the touch focus and focus tracking.
The touch focus works pretty well; just tap the spot on the LCD screen you want it to focus on and it will snap focus to it. I don’t think it’s very smooth so I would never use it when racking focus on a shoot, but it’s a neat feature. A lot of people have been talking about the focus tracking — whether it’s the spot focus or their face/eye body detection tracking — but, after some basic tests, I have come to the conclusion that it is a neat tool but nowhere near the quality I would need to keep focus on a professional shoot.
I did the Panasonic S1H tests in bright daylight where I had a subject walk slowly towards and away from the camera, starting with a close up of her face then going to a very wide shot. The camera did horribly. It was slow to track and keep up with the movement. I like that Panasonic is working on this feature. However, it’s nowhere near the tests I have been seeing come out on Sony’s new FX9. That being said, I cannot think of a single time I have used autofocus on a professional set, so to some degree, this is all a moot point.
This is what everyone is talking about and for good reason. I love the image out of this camera. It is far and above the best image from any mirrorless camera on the market. Netflix seems to think so, too; it is the only one on their approved camera list. Across most of the gamma curves, the colors are realistic and the images are naturally sharp and clean. It’s not until you start going into higher ISOs that noise even becomes a problem. This is true even in higher frame rates. When shooting in 4:2:2 ALL-I, I found the footage to be robust, dynamic and very accepting of heavy color grades. This is especially true in VLog and Hybrid Log.
Panasonic claims that the S1H is capable of capturing 14 stops of dynamic range. After some testing with fancy charts, it would seem Panasonic’s marketing department isn’t just blowing smoke. Depending on the gamma curve and the ISO, we saw dynamic range as high as 15 in some instances. There are some serious quirks about this camera, but the image quality isn’t one of them. The footage this camera produces continues to stun us
High Speed: As stated above the camera is capable of recording up to 120fps in HD and 60fps in 4K. Now, this is not in 4:2:2, so the color and compression is not great. However, the image was clean, sharp and definitely usable. While the 120fps is fun in specific circumstances, the 60fps in HD allows you to record in 4:2:2 and there is a serious quality difference.
Rolling shutter: Yeah, it’s a problem.
As you would expect on a camera with a rolling shutter, there are rolling shutter issues. However, the effects are particularly pronounced on the S1H. The one shining exception is when shooting full-frame HD, where surprisingly it’s quite good and not too noticeable. In any version of 6K, 5.9K, 5.4K and 4K, whether its full-frame, super-35, 4:3, 16:9, 17:9 or any compression, the image becomes very jelly-like with any semi quick movement side to side. This is a real disappointment and something you have to think about when shooting on this camera.
You have a few gamma options when shooting on the Panasonic S1H, ranging from a series of picture profiles including the terrific like709, you also get Vlog, Panasonic’s logarithmic gamma curve and HybridLog which is a 10-bit HDR supported log gamma designed to look great on both SDR and HDR displays. I experienced bright vivid colors and rich blacks when shooting in HLG. This was my favorite option as I didn’t lose much in the way of dynamic range and had much more attractive colors than Vlog. Granted Vlog grades very easily and it’s not hard to get a rich attractive image with just a little bit of work. It’s certainly easier to grade than Slog as I noticed little to no major shifts in color.
Because HLG is 10-bit, you cannot use it in all formats, it’s only available in 10-bit options. However, the quality varies dramatically between the 4:2:2 and 4:2:0 settings as you would expect. Again, if you are doing any color or VFX shoot 4:2:2.
While this is one of the more expensive cameras in this price range it also has the best image. I would seriously pit the S1H up against cameras well outsides its price range such as the Sony FS7 II, the Canon C300 Mark II or any Blackmagic camera. It is definitely frustrating that Panasonic is using the Leica L mount on their S series cameras and I really wish they chose to go with something more standard; it is a very unfortunate workaround.
Even with the weird choice of lens mount and the severe rolling shutter issues, the Panasonic S1H is a camera I would happily use on a professional project. As this review comes to a close, I am coming to the sad realization that I will have to hand this camera back to Panasonic. Seriously, in order to get an image of this quality out of another camera, you will have to spend a lot more money than the $4000 price tag.
SUMMARY: The new Panasonic S1H is a beast of a camera capable of shooting 6K 10-bit 4:2:0, 4K 10-bit 4:2:2 and 4K at 60fps. These specs along with an impressive dynamic range give this low budget filmmaking camera an image to boast about.
- Exceptional image quality
- 10-bit 4:2:2 4K
- 14+ stops of dynamic range
- Uses less common L-mount
- Noticeable rolling shutter
- Documentary Filmmaking and Journalism
- Corporate and Event Videography
- Marketing Video Production
- Lens Mount: Leica L
- Camera Format: Full-Frame (1x Crop Factor)
- Pixels: Actual: 25.28 Megapixel, Effective: 24.2 Megapixel
- Maximum Resolution: 6000 x 4000
- Aspect Ratio: 1:1, 2:1, 3:2, 4:3, 16:9, 65:24
- Sensor Type: CMOS
- Sensor Size: 35.6 x 23.8 mm
- Image File Format: JPEG, RAW
- Bit Depth: 14-Bit
- Image Stabilization: Sensor-Shift, 5-Axis
- Exposure Control
- ISO Sensitivity: Auto, 100 to 51200 (Extended: 50 to 204800)
- Shutter Speed:
- Mechanical Shutter: 1/8000 to 60 Second, 0 to 30 Minute in Bulb Mode
- Electronic Front Curtain Shutter: 1/2000 to 60 Second, 0 to 30 Minute in Bulb Mode
- Electronic Shutter: 1/8000 to 60 Second, 0 to 60 Second in Bulb Mode, 1/16000 to 1/125 Second in Movie Mode
- Continuous Shooting: Up to 9 fps at 24.2 MP for up to 60 Exposures (Raw), Up to 9 fps at 24.2 MP for up to 999 Exposures (JPEG), Up to 30 fps at 18 MP, Up to 60 fps at 8 MP
- Interval Recording: Yes
- Recording Modes:
- MOV/H.265 4:2:0 10-Bit:
- 6K 3:2 (5952 x 3968) at 23.976p/24.00p [200 Mb/s]
- 5.4K 3:2 (5376 x 3584) at 25p/29.97p [200 Mb/s]
- 5.9K (5888 x 3312) at 23.976p/24.00p/25p/29.97p [200 Mb/s]
- DCI 4K (4096 x 2160) at 47.95p/48.00p/50p/59.94p [200 Mb/s]
- UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) at 47.95p/48.00p/50p/59.94p [200 Mb/s]
- 4K Anamorphic (3328 x 2496) at 47.95p/48.00p/50p [200 Mb/s]
- Full HD (1920 x 1080) at 47.95p/48.00p/100p/119.88p [100 to 150 Mb/s]
- MOV/H.264 4:2:2 10-Bit:
- DCI 4K (4096 x 2160) at 23.976p/24.00p/25p/29.97p [150 to 400 Mb/s]
- UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) at 23.976p/24.00p/25p/29.97p [150 to 400 Mb/s]
- 4K Anamorphic (3328 x 2496) at 23.976p/24.00p/25p/29.97p [150 to 400 Mb/s]
- Full HD (1920 x 1080) at 23.976p/24.00p/25p/29.97p/50i/50p/59.94i/59.94p [50 to 200 Mb/s]
- MOV/H.264 4:2:0 8-Bit:
- DCI 4K (4096 x 2160) at 23.976p/24.00p/25p/29.97p/50p/59.94p [100 to 150 Mb/s]
- UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) at 23.976p/24.00p/25p/29.97p/50p/59.94p [100 to 150 Mb/s]
- 4K Anamorphic (3328 x 2496) at 23.976p/24.00p/25p/29.97p/50p [100 to 150 Mb/s]
- Full HD (1920 x 1080) at 23.976p/24.00p/25p/29.97p/50p/59.94p [100 Mb/s]
- MP4/H.265 4:2:0 10-Bit
- UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) at 23.976p/25p/29.97p/50p/59.94p [72 to 100 Mb/s]
- MP4/H.264 4:2:0 8-Bit
- UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) at 23.976p/25p/29.97p/50p/59.94p [100 Mb/s]
- Full HD (1920 x 1080) at 23.976p/25p/29.97p/50p/59.94p [20 to 28 Mb/s]
- AVCHD 4:2:0 8-Bit
- Full HD (1920 x 1080) at 23.976p/50i/50p/59.94i/59.94p [17 to 28 Mb/s]
- MOV/H.265 4:2:0 10-Bit:
- External Recording Modes 4:2:2 10-Bit:
- DCI 4K (4096 x 2160) up to 24.00p/50p/59.94p
- UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) up to 24.00p/50p/59.94p
- Video Encoding: NTSC/PAL
- Audio Recording: Built-In Microphone (Stereo), External Microphone Input (Stereo)
- Recording Modes:
- Focus Type: Auto and Manual Focus
- Focus Mode: Continuous-Servo AF (C), Manual Focus (M), Single-Servo AF (S)
- Autofocus Points: Contrast Detection: 225
- Autofocus Sensitivity: -6 to +20 EV
- Viewfinder and Monitor
- Viewfinder Type: Electronic (OLED)
- Viewfinder Resolution: 5,760,000 Dot
- Viewfinder Eye Point: 21 mm
- Viewfinder Coverage: 100%
- Viewfinder Magnification: Approx. 0.78x
- Diopter Adjustment: -4 to +2
- Monitor Size: 3.2″
- Monitor Resolution: 2,330,000 Dot
- Monitor Type: Free-Angle Tilting Touchscreen LCD
- Memory Card Slot: Dual Slot: SD/SDHC/SDXC (UHS-II)
- Connectivity: USB Type-C (USB 3.1), 3.5mm Microphone, 3.5mm Headphone, HDMI A (Full Size), X-Sync Socket, 2.5mm Sub-Mini
- Wireless: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi
- GPS: No
- Operating Temperature: 14 to 104°F / -10 to 40°C
- Operating Humidity: 10 to 80%
- Battery: 1 x DMW-BLJ31 Rechargeable Lithium-Ion, 7.4 VDC, 3050 mAh (Approx. 400 Shots)
- Dimensions (W x H x D): 5.94 x 4.5 x 4.35″ / 151 x 114.2 x 110.4 mm
- Weight: 2.56 lb / 1164 g (Body with Battery and Memory)