Despite the quarantine period, we tested the new Panasonic Lumix S1H, mirrorless specialized in video recording loved by Netflix.
Those who have a few years on their shoulders will certainly remember the diatribe between analog and digital, film or sensor. Today the battle has definitely moved to other territories, the challenge is between reflex and mirrorless, with the former having inherited the use of the mirror from the classic analog reflex cameras, the latter that have instead inaugurated a new commercial category, eliminating the pentaprism and inserting the electronic sights. A too tempting opportunity for a manufacturer like Panasonic, which after the excellent Lumix G has well thought of making a leap forward and wink at the professionals.
Thus was born the Lumix S series, which today boasts the Lumix S1, the Lumix S1R and the new Lumix S1H, at the heart of our review. We are talking about three mirrorlesses with Full Frame sensor very different from each other, each born with a specific purpose. If the S1 is the all-rounder of the group, with its 23.2 megapixels, and the S1R is the 47.3-megapixel detail specialist, S1H was born to live on the film set, both for its technical characteristics (it is the first mirrorless also approved by Netflix for its video productions) and for its construction, in your hands, it will seem almost indestructible in fact. All this however leads to at least two compromises: the size and weight.
The mirrorless that is believed to be an SLR
Let’s start from the dimensions of the new Panasonic Lumix S1H. The Full Frame mirrorless cameras have arrived on the market, above all at the behest of Sony who led the way with the first A7, with a clear purpose: to make photographers forget the size and weight of the large professional SLR cameras. Free now from the mirror mechanism, the mirrorless are extremely smaller and more compact than the sisters with pentaprism in most cases, so much so as to seem “toys” or temporary forklifts.
Panasonic thought it well to overlook this aspect and offer professionals huge bodies: the S1H is 151 mm long, 110.4 mm wide and 114.2 mm high, for a total weight of 1,164 kg. For a quick comparison, the Sony A9 II flagship is 128.9mm long, 77.5mm wide and 96.4mm high for 678 grams of total weight.
Even if we talk about a movie set beast, carrying the S1H in a backpack or suitcase always makes itself felt, Panasonic will certainly have to review the size and weight with the new generations. But why on earth did the Japanese manufacturer choose the more cumbersome way?
During our test we obviously identified some key points that this mirrorless probably would not have had the same level in case of smaller dimensions: we think of the quality of the display, the detail of the electronic viewfinder, the fan that keeps temperatures at bay (eh yes , and the first Full Frame DSLM camera to have one), the numerous buttons in perfect reflex style and the large battery. Before getting to the heart of the S1H, or its sensor, we want to talk about the key factors just listed.
Elements of excellence
Let’s start from the rear display, a small 3.2 “TFT Touch LCD panel of excellent quality, which shows 2.33 million pixels. One of the best around, the real flagship of S1H is the LVF OLED viewfinder: here Panasonic has outdone itself, with an ultra defined display that shows 5.76 million pixels up to 120 fps (or 60 fps), with a declared lag of about 0.005 seconds, practically zero.
Difficult to explain in words the quality of this viewfinder, most likely the best on the market at the time of writing; precise in every situation, with an “exaggerated” level of detail, able to become your best ally within minutes.
In addition, the generous dimensions of the S1H’s body have allowed Panasonic to house the viewfinder in a “comfortable” position, which allows even those who wear glasses to see the entire surface without major problems – while on Sony professional mirrors, for example , the viewfinder appears closer, clearly visible only with the eye glued to the viewer.
S1H also offers a third LCD display, visible even in the dark thanks to special LED lights – with Panasonic showing that it has perfectly studied the best SLR cameras on the market.
A “more” now disappeared from the mirrorless of the competition that can however be useful in various situations, also if you come precisely from a high-end digital SLR with control display, the user experience will not change a iota with this new Lumix.
The same can be said for dials and buttons: S1H really does not lack anything, every key function can be changed on-the-go through a dedicated button or a ring, it will be difficult for you to recall the internal menu during a job to change some options. Once set, the S1H will always give you the right support. To start recording a movie, we then have two dedicated buttons available, red and clearly visible, one next to the classic shutter button, another on the front.
The S1H has nothing to envy from the competition even when it comes to connection interfaces: on board we find a USB-C 3.1 port, a 2.5 mm remote input, an input for microphone / external 3.5 mm audio device, a 3.5mm headphone output, an HDMI port with data transfer up to 4: 2: 2 10 bit and two SD card slots. And also Dual Band WiFi and Bluetooth 4.2 for wireless connections. Instead, the integrated GPS is absent, Unfortunately.
So we come to talk about the excellent battery in the package, a 7.4 V 3.050 mAh, 23 Wh, which promises about 400 images using the rear screen, 380 images with the “maximum power” viewfinder and 1,150 images with LVF in energy-saving mode.
On this front, perhaps better could be done, Sony with more compact batteries has now managed to reach (and sometimes even exceed) 600 shots, with the screens on the S1H, however, it is a fair price to pay, faultless. We are talking in any case of a “set use” machine, we have already said it, therefore to be combined with battery grips, additional batteries and so on, autonomy will probably be one of the last problems.
Among other things, on long working days, energy will also serve to fuel the fan inside the machine body, essential to keep the machine temperature “operational”.
The fan designed by Panasonic is certainly one of the great pros of this machine, it allows potentially unlimited recording times in any condition, without creating excessively annoying background noises. Speaking of noises, the shot produced by the S1H is almost nil, almost imperceptible, very close to the levels of the Leica flagships. Even the best Sony have “Silent shooting” options that must be activated, in S1H the silence is the default.
The insertion of a physical fan, however, forced the manufacturer to a rather strange, pompous body design, which ruins the back of the S1H (of course tastes are tastes eh, maybe someone will like it …), nothing to do with the younger sisters S1 and S1R. The air intakes push the rear display backwards compared to the rest of the body, we also did not like the solution that Panasonic has designed for orient the rear display, set in a plastic frame that is not very intuitive and mammoth.
The only positive aspect of this design choice is the possibility to close the screen “on itself”, in order to protect it from possible bumps and scratches. In our opinion, the rest of the mechanism is all to be reviewed.
Thus we approach the perhaps most juicy part of our test. We have already said that the S1H has a solid, solid body, with controls everywhere (but still neatly arranged) and an excellent workmanship display, but what does all this have to support?
Well an excellent quality image sensor, a 35mm (35.6mm x 23.8mm) CMOS that produces 24.20 effective megapixel photos with sRGB or AdobeRGB profile. (Below we didn’t have the wrong camera but it is a photo taken with the S1H, as well as that of the lens and the Three Towers of Citylife)
On the photographic front, the S1H will not make you cry out to the miracle, especially if you come from a reflex or mirrorless camera of the latest generation from 38 Megapixels and beyond. Static photography is not the strong point of this machine, despite the fact that the RAWs produced are in any case of good quality.
There S1H is a movie or television set beast, without ifs and buts. It is in fact capable of recording up to C4K / 4K 60p / 50p 4: 2: 0 10 bit and C4K / 4K 30p / 25p / 24p 4: 2: 2 10 bit, in addition to the 6K / 24p 4: 2: 0 10 bit in 3: 2 format (useful only for any subsequent cuts) and 5.9K 30p / 25p / 24p 4: 2: 0 10 bit in 16: 9. If your goal is to record movies up to 10p 60p, the S1H becomes an almost obligatory choice when compared to direct competition.
Thanks to ISO Dual Native technology the machine is also able to reduce image noise regardless of the sensitivity level – which the S1H can safely handle automatically.
The Venus Engine processor can go up to maximum ISO 51200 / extended ISO 204800 with minimal noise at all times. The lockdown period due to the Coronavirus has unfortunately limited us a lot in testing the machine, but we can assure you excellent videos even in difficult light conditions, with a wide dynamic range that leaves great room for maneuver in the post-production phase. The S1H offers full compatibility VariCam Look Cinema, with the beauty of 14+ stops and the V-Log and V-Gamut profiles already installed in the camera.
Almost superfluous to add – at this point – how a similar monster supports the Super mode 35 mm for all filmmakers who can’t do without it. Nor should we forget that one of the best strokes of genius had by Panasonic for its new Lumix S is to have teamed up with Leica to take advantage of the Leica L Mount graft, which makes S1H compatible with some of the best optics around.
For our test we used a 50mm F1.4 and a 24-70mm F2.8 from Panasonic’s S Pro series, and already with these lenses the results are excellent, with Leica lenses we can climb a few more steps in terms of detail and softness of the blur.
To be reviewed
We only have one note to make, a detail that just didn’t go down there. S1H offers a continuous fire DFD (Depth From Focus) in the recording phase, however, we still found it very immature, a system too slow in achieving the desired goal, sometimes even inaccurate. A ground on which Panasonic has yet to improve and quickly, as well as the calculation of exposure in real time, which is also not very precise, unable to adapt better in some situations during the recording phase; functions in which Sony professional mirrorless cameras are much more tested. A Sony A7R III put in the same conditions as the S1H managed to focus on the desired objects in a more precise and infinitely faster way, perfectly reading the streets illuminated by the street lamps for example (in this case the S1H in automatic mode preferred to overexpose badly the scene).
Focus continues (which on paper with the S1H is also possible by fixing the point on the eyes of an animal, a function that we have unfortunately not tried due to the quarantine), the size and weight of this Panasonic Lumix S1H essentially represent the only flaws that the Japanese manufacturer will have to file soon.
If for the size and weight you will have to wait for a future generation, maybe you can also intervene on the software via focus with a firmware update. maybe.
With the new Lumix S1H, Panasonic winks at professionals in the video field, bringing to the market a real tank from a film or television set. It is the first mirrorless with integrated fan for potentially unlimited recording times, even if this detail has increased dimensions and weight. The air intakes did not even help in obtaining a graceful and pleasant design, moreover the strengths of this S1H are definitely other. The rear display and above all the OLED viewfinder are at the top of the category, difficult to find better than other mirrorless ones, moreover the compatibility with Leica L-Mount lenses opens up a very high quality optical park to which other machines can only aspire through adapter, with all the necessary problems. But what is the aspect for which it is really worth buying this S1H? Certainly its sensor for video production, with cinema level formats also approved by Netflix, an excellent dynamic range, professional logs already pre-installed. What we will have in our hands will be a set beast able to record unlimited images of the highest quality, but beware of the sublime photographs and the price – which should rightly discourage amateur users. Let’s talk about 3,990 euros VAT included.