Panasonic S1H Review
|Full model name:||Panasonic Lumix DC-S1H|
(35.6mm x 23.8mm)
|Viewfinder:||EVF / LCD|
|Native ISO:||100 - 51,200|
|Extended ISO:||50 - 204,800|
|Shutter:||1/8000 - 60 sec|
5.9 x 4.5 x 4.3 in.
(151 x 114 x 110 mm)
|Full specs:||Panasonic S1H specifications|
Panasonic S1H Review -- First Impressions
Preview posted: 08/27/2019
Panasonic has a long and rich history in the interchangeable-lens camera market. Way back in 2006 it joined Olympus' Four Thirds system with the Lumix L1 and, a year later, the L10. In 2008, it launched the first ever Micro Four Thirds camera, the Lumix G1, and over the following decade, it created literally dozens upon dozens of Micro Four Thirds models.
Hands-On with the Panasonic S1H
Amongst these many offerings, the Lumix GH-series in particular stands out. The Panasonic GH1 was the first Micro Four Thirds model with video capture capability, quickly became popular with indie filmmakers, and led to numerous followup models, each of which was even more razor-focused on cinematographers. (And that's a market the company has a lot of experience with thanks to its efforts in the pro video camera market.)
And then, early this year, Panasonic made the step from the much smaller sensor size used in its Micro Four Thirds cameras to 35mm full-frame, launching both the Lumix S1 and S1R cameras as part of the L-Mount Alliance in which it now partners with both Leica and Sigma.
Akin to a videocentric GH-series flagship, but with a full-frame sensor
Now, the Panasonic S1H finally joins the fray, after a development announcement at the end of May 2019. So where does it fit into the company's rapidly-expanding L-mount lineup? Well, it may not bear GH-series branding, but with the exception of its much larger sensor and Leica L lens mount, it's akin to a GH-series flagship.
Where the earlier S1 and S1R both courted photo enthusiasts, the S1H is clearly a video camera first and foremost. If videography is your primary concern and you're considering making the leap to the L-mount, this now represents Panasonic's top-of-the-line offering. If stills are more your thing, you'll want to consider the higher-res Panasonic S1R instead, while if you want to strike the middle ground between stills and video, the S1 will be your best bet.
A brand-new, dual native ISO imaging pipeline made with video in mind
At the heart of the Panasonic S1H, you'll find a full-frame image sensor with 24.2-megapixel resolution and an optical low-pass filter. That's the same pixel count as in the Panasonic S1, but it's not the same chip. The S1's sensor has a single native sensitivity, whereas the S1H's sensor has a dual native ISO design, even for stills. What this means is that every individual pixel on the sensor includes a choice of analog gain circuitry providing a choice of two different base sensitivities. These two sensitivities will thus provide the best signal to noise ratio before A/D conversion, and noise levels will climb and/or dynamic range will fall as you raise the ISO above the next-lowest native sensitivity rating.
The actual sensitivity range on offer depends on your choice of profile. Ordinarily, the S1H will offer a range of ISO 100 to 51,200 equivalents with native ISO at 100 and 640, expandable to a range of ISO 50-204,800. For V-Log footage, this changes to a range of ISO 640-51,200, expandable only at the lower end to ISO 320, and with native ISO at 640 and 4000. HLG video, meanwhile, spans ISO 400 to 51,200 and is expandable at the upper end only to ISO 204,800, while native ISO falls at ISO 400 and 2500. And finally, for Cinelike D2 and V2 footage, the standard range is ISO 200-51,200 equivalents expandable to ISO 100-204,800, with native ISO at 200 and 1250 equivalents.
Blazing-fast Venus Engine for 6K video and AI subject recognition
Output from the Lumix S1H's image sensor is handled by a Venus Engine image processor with some seriously impressive performance -- for video capture, at least. Still imaging performance is identical to that of the S1 and S1R, at nine frames per second when shooting with focus locked from the first frame, and six frames per second with AF adjustments between frames.
But where the earlier cameras were limited to "just" 4K video capture at up to 60 frames per second for as long as 30 minutes, the S1H is capable of recording full-frame video at up to 6K resolution with a 3:2 aspect ratio at a rate of 24 frames per second. And it will do so for as long as you want to keep recording, with no 30-minute limits in sight at an ambient temperature of up to 40°C (104°F)!
As in the S1 and S1R, the S1H includes two still image burst-mode settings which can be configured independently. You can opt for either high, medium or low capture speeds, or can shoot in either 4K Photo mode at 30 / 60 fps, or 6K Photo mode at 30 fps. In 4K Photo mode, each individual frame recorded can be extracted at 8.3-megapixel resolution, while in 6K Photo mode individual frames have 18-megapixel resolution. And to help get the best results in these video-to-still modes, the S1H can both correct for rolling shutter, and also reduce noise levels by comparing multiple frames when performing noise reduction.
A brand-new, fan-cooled body allows unlimited video recording, even for 6K!
The way in which the new performance benchmark and the lack of a recording time limit have been achieved is really interesting. With so much data to process for extended periods, there's a lot of heat to extract from the camera body. Panasonic's solution, borrowed from the professional video camera market, is a dust-and-splash resistant, low-vibration cooling system with an internal fan and radiator system that extracts heat from within the camera body and then expels warm air out of vents on the left side of the camera body.
This system is said to operate as quietly -- or perhaps, even more so -- than the fanless Lumix G9 camera, by way of comparison. It includes a choice of two automatically-controlled operating speeds, plus normal, slow and off settings.
All the video speeds and feeds you need to read
We've a lot to discuss on the video front, and we'll come to much of it further down the page. Before we go any further, though, we want to hit the basics in terms of video capture.
As well as its aforementioned full-frame 6K video at up to 24 fps with a 3:2 aspect ratio, the Panasonic S1H can also record 5.9K video with a 16:9 aspect ratio and 24 or 25 fps frame rates, plus 5.4K 3:2-aspect ratio footage at 25 or 29.97 fps.
Drop the resolution to either consumer 4K or Cinema 4K, and you can record full-frame, 10-bit 4:2:2 video at frame rates of 24, 25 or 29.97 frames per second. And if you enable a Super 35mm crop, you can also record 10-bit, 4:2:0 footage at either 59.94 or 50 frames per second.
And if you pare the resolution all the way down to Full HD, you'll get access to any of the aforementioned framerates for 10-bit, 4:2:2 content. At Full HD, 4:2:2 10-bit video uses 200Mbps All-I compression, while at higher resolutions it's still All-I, but at 400Mbps.
On top of all of the above, the S1H can also record 4:3 anamorphic footage at consumer 4K resolution with capture rates of 24, 25, 29.97, 48 or 50 fps. It also provides for high frame-rate video at 48fps for 4K or Full HD, and either 100 or 120 fps for Full HD only. You can also shoot variable frame-rate video at up to 50 fps for anamorphic 4K, 60 fps for consumer or Cinema 4K, and 180 fps for Full HD.
A solid magnesium-alloy body with dust/splash-resistance and freezeproofing
We'll come back to video again in a minute, but first we want to explore the Panasonic S1H's die-cast magnesium alloy body further. While it looks quite similar indeed to those of the S1 and S1R, and its control layout is also very similar, it's actually a new design which differs in more ways than just the new active cooling system we mentioned previously. It should be pretty durable, as well; Panasonic tells us that it used computer-aided engineering impact analysis based on knowledge learned since the design of the GH3 to simulate impacts and iterate upon and strengthen the chassis design before going to the prototype phase. And importantly, these analyses were performed not just with the body itself, but with a lens attached to the mount.
As well as being very solid, the S1H's body is also said to be both freezeproof to 14°F (-10°C), using similar technology to the Lumix GH5, which was successfully used on Antarctic expeditions. And while it isn't fully sealed, it is said to be both splash and dust-resistant thanks to tight panel gaps which make it harder for dust particles and water spray to get into the camera body in the first place.
L-mount lens compatibility with a rapidly-increasing (and very broad) lens lineup
As with the S1 and S1R before it, the Panasonic S1H's front deck sports a Leica L lens mount which can accept not only Leica's (admittedly very expensive) SL lenses and Panasonic's own Lumix S lenses, but also Sigma's L-mount lens lineup as well. Right now, the three companies together offer 12 L-mount lenses with 12 more lenses and two teleconverters due to ship in the near future. And you can also mount even more lenses via Leica's M-mount, PL-mount, R-mount and S-mount adapters. And Chinese lens manufacturer Kipon might not be an Alliance partner, but it nevertheless offers five native L-mount lenses at the current time.
And that number is going to increase very quickly indeed, with the three L-Mount Alliance companies together promising an additional 16 lenses by the end of 2020, which will take the total to at least 40 native-mount lenses on offer. On top of that, Sigma is also planning two mount adapters that will allow the use of Canon EF and Sigma SA-mount lenses, which will vastly increase the number of lenses you'll have access to.
And while we said "by the end of 2020" in the previous paragraph, many of these lenses are actually slated to ship by the end of this year. (We just don't yet know exactly how many.) Two more lenses apiece are expected from Leica and Panasonic this year, and a dozen of Sigma's lenses too, but Leica has quite a few more models where no guidance has yet been given on availability.
Improved in-camera stabilization, and even better Dual IS too
L-mount shooters have three options available when it comes to image stabilization: In-body, In-lens, or a combination of the two, and the Panasonic S1H supports all three types.
The S1H's image sensor is mounted on an uprated sensor shift mechanism about twice the weight of those in Panasonic's Micro Four Thirds cameras, featuring four larger voice coil motors for better responsiveness and accuracy. And the system is now capable of a six-stop corrective strength, a half-stop more than in the S1 and S1R.
On top of this, some of Panasonic's lenses will include optical stabilization, as well. When this is the case, the two systems can work in concert with each other as part of the company's Dual I.S. 2 system, and together they can achieve up to a 6.5-stop corrective strength. For third-party lenses, meanwhile, you can select either the in-body sensor shift stabilization or the lens' own image stabilization, if provided.
Redesigned power, backlight and focus controls
Returning to the outside of its body, the Panasonic Lumix S1H sports a very familiar control layout, but with some tweaks since the S1 and S1R. Like its siblings, it's been designed with variations in button shape, size and feel to help make it easy to operate by feel alone, without having to remove your eye from the viewfinder.
As with its predecessors, there are still twin control dials, one embedded near the top of the front grip, and the other sitting atop its right shoulder. There's also a control dial around the menu / set button on the rear deck, and an eight-way joystick control near the top-right corner of the rear display. And some of the controls can illuminate along with the top-deck status display, which we'll come back to momentarily.
What's new is that Panasonic has changed the power, backlight and focus controls for better operability and to help free up space on the top deck. In place of the separate power and LCD backlight controls of the S1 and S1R, the S1H sports a new combined power / backlight switch encircling the shutter button. Turning it one click clockwise from the off position will switch the camera on, and you can tap it further to the backlight position to briefly enable the aforementioned status LCD and button backlights. Panasonic has also redesigned the focus mode lever and its internal AF button so that they're less chunky and recessed further into body, with labeling angled to be seen from the rear of the camera, rather than the top.
There are movie-friendly hardware tweaks, too
And befitting its position as a video-centric camera first and foremost, the S1H's body also gets some more tweaks specifically aimed at video capture. Most obviously of all, the movie record button has jumped from the rear deck to the top deck. It's bright red for easy visibility, and sits much closer to the still image shutter button on the handgrip, and it's joined by a new secondary movie button (also red) on the lower left corner of the front of the camera body.
Panasonic has also added tally lamps to both the front and rear of the camera body. If you're not familiar with these, they're commonplace on professional movie cameras and simply illuminate red during recording. There's one just right of the flash sync terminal for your on-screen talent, and a second one just to the right of and below the viewfinder for the rest of the crew to see, and you can optionally choose to have only one or the other of these lamps function, or to disable them both altogether.
Another really nice touch for video shooters, where subject distance from the sensor plane may be measured before the shoot starts, is that the neck strap eyelets on both sides of the camera now line up with the sensor plane, and there are reference marks on both left and right sides of the camera body indicating this. All you need to do is hook your tape measure to a strap eyelet and you're good to go!
Oh, and the tripod mount socket has an anti-rotation pin adjacent to it, to help lock the camera orientation better during video capture.
A new high-res, context-sensitive status display with dual-stage backlight
Doubtless one of the reasons Panasonic decided to combine its power and backlight controls with the shutter button assembly was to clear more space on the top deck, and in turn the reason for that was to fit in a new top-deck status display. And what a beauty it is, with a 1.8-inch diagonal -- we can remember when the main displays on most digicams were smaller than this -- and a fairly high 287 x 214 pixel resolution.
Similar to an e-paper screen it's monochrome-only and has a reflective design which doesn't need a backlight so long as there's sufficient ambient light, so it has very low power consumption. The specific technology used here, though, is known as MiP or Memory-in-Pixel, and to our understanding its main advantages are better performance (e-paper screens tend to be very slow), as well as better tolerance of temperature and shocks.
Precisely what's shown on this screen varies with camera mode, but includes all of the power, storage and exposure basics you'd expect, plus the ability to do things like show stereo audio levels during movie capture, or to switch between dark text on a light background or vice versa. There's also a backlight which, as mentioned previously, is triggered by the new switch encircling the power button, and which has a two-step brightness adjustment.
Same great EVF, but a new rear-panel display and some interesting GUI tweaks
Moving to the rear deck, the superb electronic viewfinder may be unchanged from the S1 and S1R, but the tilting touch-screen now has a new display and articulation mechanism, both of which we'll come to in a moment.
First of all, though, let's recap the viewfinder. It's still based around a 3:2 aspect Organic LED display with an exceptionally high resolution of 5.76 million dots, and has a high default magnification of 0.78x (optionally, 0.7x or 0.74x) with a 21mm eyepoint. And as before, it has five lens elements in five groups, three of them optical glass types, and the rearmost including a water-repellent coating. It's also superbly swift, with a manufacturer-claimed lag time of just 0.005 seconds, and a user-selectable refresh rate of 120 or 60 frames per second.
Returning to the touch-screen display, it still has a 3.2-inch diagonal, but the dot count has increased just slightly from 2,100k to 2,330k-dots, indicating it's a new panel. It has a 3:2 aspect ratio, and is overlaid with a capacitive touch-sensitive layer like that on your smartphone, which can be used to select subjects for autofocus, to change the AF point size by using a pinch-zoom gesture, or to trip the shutter as soon as an AF cycle completes. It can also act as a touchpad for focus point adjustment while framing images through the electronic viewfinder, rather than on the LCD itself.
This seems as good a point as any to mention that Panasonic has also worked on its on-screen GUI, for example adding a percentage display of remaining battery life, improving menu layouts, adding an on-screen focal length indication, allowing the clock to be set right to the second, and even providing video-centric features like the ability to display shutter angle rather than shutter speed, or a dB gain value rather than an ISO sensitivity.
The updated tilting touchscreen boasts a cool new trick
What's particularly unique about the Lumix S1H's rear LCD, though, is the articulation mechanism on which it's mounted. Gone is the already-unusual triaxial tilt design of the S1 and S1R, which could tilt downwards, upwards or to the right. In its place is a side-mounted tilt/swivel screen with an extra trick, aimed at solving an issue with tilt/swivel displays that may not have occurred to you before. (We have to admit, it hadn't occurred to us, either.)
Since tilt/swivel screens, by design, flip out only a short distance past the end of the camera body, and have a swivel positioned on the vertical center of the display, when you turn them the screen itself will come pretty close to touching the side of the camera body, describing a radius of about half the screen height as it does. That means a lot of the side of most tilt/swivel cameras has to be left featureless, or any features which sit within that circle may be inaccessible (or prevent use of the LCD swivel, depending upon how you look at things.)
What Panasonic has done is to attach the base of the tilt/swivel mechanism not to the camera body itself, but to a secondary articulation mechanism which itself swings out from a top-mounted hinge, allowing the LCD to be moved further from the rear of the camera. The result is that you can swivel the screen to its full extent without fear of blocking or getting hung up on any of the cable connections -- or, for that matter, blocking the air vents -- on the left side of the camera body.
Autofocus is largely the same as in the S1 and S1R
Moving on to the autofocus department, the Panasonic S1H is pretty similar to that of the S1 and S1R. It still operates at 480 frames per second using Depth from Defocus technology, and still has a manufacturer-claimed focus lock time of just 0.08 seconds. As before, it is said to function all the way down to -6EV (allowing focusing in starlight alone), and even with a 10% low-contrast subject (say, in mist or fog) has a lower limit of -3EV.
And it still includes a AI / deep learning-based subject recognition system, too. This can identify and focus on human faces (including eye AF), and human bodies (even if facing away from the camera). It also works with three kinds of animals -- canidae (ie. dogs, wolves, foxes, and other dog-like mammals), felidae (ie. domestic cats, lions, tigers and other cat species), and birds.
One new AF feature of note, however, is that the AF On button can now be programmed to function as a distance-based subject selection mechanism. You can either set it to Near Shift or Far Shift modes, and it will then give priority to subjects which match your preferred criterion when determining focus.
Same shutter specs, but a better shutter unit behind them
Although shutter specifications in the S1H are unchanged from those of the S1 and S1R, including a 1/8,000-second top speed, a 400,000-frame shutter life and X-sync at 1/320-second with reduced flash power, we understand that the shutter mechanism itself has been refined. It's said to have both a higher curtain speed for better stability, and an increase in rigidity to enable that greater speed. Rigidity has been improved with greater use of metal parts, plus a new design for the rear curtain drive lever and buffer.
Much higher still image resolution on tap for relatively static subjects
Although its sensor resolution of 24.2 megapixels trails the 47.3 megapixel sensor of the S1R by quite some way, you can still get a good bit higher resolution than the megapixel rating might suggest so long as your subject is predominantly static. Just as in the S1 and S1R, the Lumix S1H offers a multi-shot high-resolution mode which takes eight pictures in sequence, subtly shifting the sensor-shift image stabilization mechanism between shots.
The camera has to be tripod-mounted, but the result is a much higher-resolution 96-megapixel image created entirely in-camera. And your subject doesn't have to be perfectly still, just mostly so. The S1H can be configured to detect areas of motion within the frame while merging images, and it will simply revert to a single frame's worth of data in these areas.
Also retained from the S1R is an HLG Photo mode, which can record a full-resolution or 4K-resolution, color or monochrome image with 4:3, 3:2, 16:9 or 1:1 aspect ratio, either alongside a JPEG, raw or raw+JPEG capture. It uses a special .HSP file type (with the initials standing for HDR Still Photo), and compresses the tonal range to allow greater dynamic range than could otherwise be recorded. The result can then be viewed on HDR-compatible displays via HDMI from the camera, or via USB to Panasonic displays supporting HSP playback, although in either case you can't view at greater than 4K resolution.
Lots more video-oriented changes and additions, too
As we near the end of this preview, we want to revisit video for some more features that didn't fit in seamlessly elsewhere. First of all, you'll find a choice of photo styles for video including V-Log (without the need for any separately-purchased license key), Cinelike D2 and V2, Like709 with knee control, and Hybrid Log Gamma (Like2100) for HDR.
As well as a waveform monitor (again, without a license like you need on the Lumix S1), the Panasonic S1H also includes a vectorscope display, synchro scan for reduced flicker, a 31-point black level Master Pedestal adjustment and Rec Run / Free Run timecode support. (There's a TC In/Out terminal and BNC conversion cable bundled.)
Other changes in the video department include a new luminance spot meter, finer-grained adjustments for zebra striping and an option for a secondary zebra striping overlay displayed simultaneously, and one-minute segmented recording. Sound can now be muted in-camera or the gain level adjusted, too.
You can also filter video options in-camera by frame rate, resolution, codec, variable frame rate and hybrid log gamma options, so you can more quickly find the video config you're seeking. (And frequently-used combinations can be saved for even quicker recall.) And time-lapse videos can also now be shot and created entirely in-camera at up to 4K resolution and including support for Like709, although if you want to create 6K time-lapses you'll need to use your PC for the processing.
Oh, and we mentioned the variable frame-rate video options earlier, but to recap quickly, the S1H can yield anything from a 30x quick-motion effect to a 7.5x slow-motion effect, depending on your choice of capture and output resolution and frame rates. Unusually compared to more consumer-oriented cameras, high frame-rate (ie. slow-motion) video can also be recorded complete with sound.
And finally, we've been told the color matrix of the S1H was completely remapped to match Panasonic's VariCam (won’t be identical, but extremely close), and that Panasonic is developing 4K 50/60p 10-bit RAW recording capability via HDMI with Atomos.
Power, storage, wireless and connectivity, USB power supply / charging
The Panasonic S1H offers dual card slots on which to store images, but where the S1 and S1R offered one SD card slot and one XQD card slot apiece, the S1H instead opts for dual SD card slots. They're both super-speedy UHS-II slots compatible with the highest-capacity SDXC card types, and you can opt either to have data recorded to both slots simultaneously (which is less problematic when they are both the same type and speed), to switch between card slots automatically as each card fills (and even hot swap cards during video recording), or to store photos to one card and videos to the other. And as well as a card access lamp to warn you when data is being written, an audio alarm can optionally sound if the flash card or battery compartment doors are opened while the camera is in use.
Power comes courtesy of a 7.4-volt, 3,050mAh battery pack which can recharge in around two hours, either in a standalone charger or in-camera via the bundled USB 3.1 Type-C cable. As well as being able to charge batteries in-camera, you can also power the camera via the USB cable, or even charge and power the camera both at the same time, so long as your charger can provide more than 27 watts of power at 9 volts.
Battery life is CIPA-rated at 400 shots with the LCD monitor or 380 with the EVF, though there's a Power Save EVF mode that's rated at up to 1,050 shots. No word yet on battery life figures for video modes. The S1H is compatible with the same optional DMW-BGS1 battery grip as the S1 and S1R, which accepts one battery in addition to the one in the body, roughly doubling battery life.
Wired connectivity includes a Type-A HDMI port with bundled cable lock (which can now also output sound), a USB 3.1 Gen1 Type-C port, a remote port, 3.5mm microphone and headphone jacks (the mic jack also supports line input), and a flash sync socket which doubles as a time-code in/out terminal with bundled BNC conversion cable. The optional DMW-XLR1 accessory can be used to provide XLR audio inputs, as well as high-res 24-bit sound recording at 48 or 96kHz.
As well as its wired communications options, the Lumix S1H also includes both high-speed 5GHz 802.11ac Wi-Fi connectivity -- retroactively known these days as Wi-Fi 5 -- and low-power Bluetooth 4.2 connectivity. You can control the camera remotely via Wi-Fi using the Lumix Sync app for Android or iOS devices, or alternatively via a wired USB connection using the Lumix Tether app for Windows or Mac.
Panasonic S1H price and availability
The Panasonic Lumix S1H is expected to go on sale in the US market from September 2019, priced at around US$4,000 body-only. Release dates in other markets may vary.