Is the the best mirrorless camera for filmmaking? The latest of the new three-strong line-up in the S Series, the Panasonic S1H (US$$3,999/UK£3,599, on sale 19 September) is a specialist model for video with an embarrassment of riches for filmmakers. Making movies using small-ish cameras with interchangeable lenses has been a bit of a trend since Panasonic’s video-first GH5 and GH5S Micro Four Thirds cameras appeared. The S1H tops them, but at a price.
Panasonic Lumix S1H: design
Panasonic Lumix S1H: design
The S1H’s design reflects its status as a pro-level video camera, so it does differ from the other two cameras in the Lumix S range; the S1 (an all-rounder) and the S1R (whose 47MP sensor makes it all about ultimate stills resolution for pro-photographers).
Panasonic’s stand at IFA 2019 had a ‘play area’ featuring a lot of its S and G Series of mirrorless cameras, and though it took us a while to find the only S1H on display, we did manage to get properly hands-on. It did feel heavy. The SH1 is basically a full-frame version of those GH Series cameras, which is an inevitable evolution, but in practice does hamper mobility somewhat.
The SH1 clocks-in at about 1.6kg. That’s considerably more than the GH5 (725g) and GH5S (660g), which it augments rather than replaces (it is rumored there’s even a GH6 imminent), but it’s also much heavier than the S1 and S1R, which weigh just 900g.
Perhaps it’s worth it. Design-wise there are some nice flourishes for vloggers as well as filmmakers. For example, there’s a big red record button on the front as well as tally lights on both sides to let both the operator and the presenter know that the S1H is recording. That’s a great idea, but the most obvious is the bigger 1.8-inch status display on its shoulder, which is twice the size of its sister cameras and holds a lot more information. It’s also got a slightly bigger grip than the S1 and S1R.
Panasonic Lumix S1H: features
The S1H is all about cinema-quality video. Its exhaustive and impressive specs aren’t replicated here, but know that it’s the first camera capable of 6K/24p 10-bit internal recording in the 3:2 aspect ratio, though largely that’s part of a mission to produce pin-sharp and edit-able 4K. Although it claims the same 24.2MP full frame CMOS sensor, the S1H actually hosts a completely different kind to the other S Series cameras. This one boasts ‘Dual Native ISO’, which is essentially designed to improve high ISO images. That will be crucial in low light.
One side of the S1H boasts two SD/SDHC/SDXC UHS-II card slots, both of which can be recorded to simultaneously for easy backups. No QXD card option here, as with the S1 and S1H... so no chance for upgrading to the new CFexpress card format which has debuted at IFA.
Panasonic Lumix S1H: performance
From handling the S1H we can tell you that despite being heavy, it’s reasonably easy to keep steady. That’s helped by some built-in image stabilzation. We also played with its 3.2-inch tilting LCD monitor, something that’s unique to the S1H and much more versatile and durable than those found on the S1 and S1R. Its articulating hinge, so often a weak point in cameras, seemed to us to be extra-sturdy and strong. What’s more, it’s attached to a plate that itself tilts, taking the LCD monitor clear of the camera, and more specifically, from its HDMI/USB-C/microphone/remote slots.
The LCD that rig supports is also much brighter than on the S1 and S1R, while the electronic viewfinder’s brightness and detail also impressed us. So did the S1H’s autofocus, which appeared to be very fast.
The S1H can record for an unlimited time. That’s a very useful feature indeed for filmmakers, but how can it do that without overheating, and on a 3,050mAh battery rated at two hours? Well, it’s not only possible to run the S1H from a portable battery via its USB-C connection, but either side of the LCD screen dock are vents for the intake and outflow of air. They serve a built-in cooling fan close to the S1H’s full-frame sensor.
In another corner of the exhibit the S1H was shown-off dressed to impress hosting a Sigma 24-35 T2.2 Full Frame Cinema Zoom lens, Wooden Camera’s S1 Advanced Accessory Kit, Zip Box Pro and Zip Focus, an Atmos Ninja V 4K HDF monitor (which the S1H will output to in RAW over HDMI, and a Sennheiser MKE directional microphone.
Panasonic Lumix S1H: early verdict
It’s good, but is it too good? Cinematographers with little regard for outlay are going to love the S1H. Reasonably mobile compared to ‘proper’ video cameras (though much heavier than its micro four thirds video-centric cameras), Panasonic’s latest has plenty of carefully thought-out design flourishes for filmmakers. Able to be charged off a battery while its fans keep it cool, this first full-frame cinema camera can in theory keep shooting in 6K forever. However, its peerless video prowess comes at a very high price.