IF YOU’RE TYPICAL OF MANY modern professional image makers and are shooting both stills and video there’s an ever-growing band of hybrid mirrorless and DSLR cameras designed just for you, from all the big players. But if you’re really serious about having the very best you can buy that’s definitely more orientated more towards serious filmmaking then it’s the Panasonic S1H that outperforms them all. After all, that’s what it was designed to do.

For moviemaking, the chunky flagship Panasonic has specs that the latest rivals from Sony, Canon, Nikon, Sigma and Leica simply can’t match. The S1H has 6K resolution, 4:2:2 10-bit internal recording, 180fps super slow-motion, Dual Native ISO, V-Log for 14 stops of dynamic range, waveforms, vectorscopes, peaking, zebras, LUT support, timecode in/out, shutter angle adjustment, 4K time lapse, audio level monitoring and lots more. Like Raw video output in Apple ProRes Raw and built-in anamorphic de-squeeze.

And there is no limit on recording time, because Panasonic has fitted a cooling fan inside the body and a USB-C socket means you can power it up from an  external source so you don’t need to worry about the battery going down. And hot-swappable twin memory cards mean you can keep shooting for as long as you have space.

No other hybrid model on the market comes close in terms of video spec, and if you have a bagful of Leica-fit L lenses and can handle autofocus that isn’t quite up there with the latest all-singing hybrid on-sensor phase detect of some rivals, then the S1H has your name all over it.

Especially as the build quality is easily up to pro use, the menu system easy to understand and operate and the ergonomics are as good as anything else on the market. If you want a 6K full frame mirrorless camera for shooting video, and demand no time restrictions on your shooting, the Panasonic Lumix S1H is your camera. There have even been full-blown Hollywood movies shot on the S1H, thanks to its anamorphic capabilities and incredible low-light performance.

Not a True Hybrid

However, the typical professional image maker isn’t shooting blockbusters and instead wants a camera that can perform just as well shooting stills as it can recording video. The stark reality is that most people don’t have a bagful of legacy Leica L-fit lenses and most professionals rely on fast and precise autofocus for the majority of stills shooting. And with a 24.2-megapixel sensor with an optical low-pass filter, the specs suggest the S1H won’t be able to compete with other cameras from the Panasonic range in pure stills performance.

Of course, few professionals rely on just one body and to have the S1H as the main video camera and backup stills machine alongside a Panasonic S1 or S1R as the main stills camera could be one option, if you can afford it. The £1999 Lumix S1 has the same 24.2-megapixel resolution as the S1H but no Optical Low Pass Filter so it’s slightly sharper, albeit at the risk of more moire, but is a great all-rounder. And the 47.3-megapixel £2799 S1R is one of the highest-resolution full-frame cameras you can buy, ideal for cropping in or producing huge prints with loads of dynamic range – especially if you’re working in a situation where the light is good.

All three Panasonic S-series cameras max out the frame rate at 9fps when in AFS or manual focus, which drops to 6fps in AFC, and 5fps in Live View, using the electronic shutter. The cameras may look the same, but the S1H is marginally bigger in every dimension due to the fan. And, while the S1 and S1R use one SD card and one XQD card, the S1H uses a pair of SD cards which are more plentiful, cheaper and it just seems to make more sense. Both SD slots are rated at the same fast speed, which allows 4:2:2 10-bit internal video recording. For Raw video you need to export to an external Atomos recorder.

But if you’re happy with 24.2-megapixel  stills resolution, which in reality can still produce huge prints, then the S1H offers major benefits in terms of low light performance. It seems 24 megapixels is the sweet spot for full-frame cameras, balancing resolution with low noise at high ISO. On the S1, no lowpass filter gives slightly more sharpness than the OLPF fitted to the S1H but you would have to pixel peep in order to really see the difference. And it’s much better to have no moire than to be retouching the horrid pattering on a bride’s dress shot with a camera that has no low-pass filter.

Low Light Mastery

The S1 gives incredible low-light performance and the S1H takes this on even further, as it has Dual Native ISO settings with a maximum ISO of 51,200. The system works by having two ‘base’ ISO settings, by reading the information from the sensor in two different ways. It’s almost like there are two different sensors in the camera, one that’s optimised for normal shooting and the other one for low light.

For stills and normal video shooting, these are ISO 100 and 640. When the ISO creeps up, the sensor switches to another circuit to use the higher base ISO. It means that the S1H is even better than the S1 in low light. The images are incredibly sharp, with a natural look and definitely lacking in noise, when used for video or stills.

And when it comes to high speed video shooting the S1H wins hands-down, thanks to its twin fast frame rate modes. Variable Frame Rate records video in 4K at 60fps and HD at 180fps, but the AF and audio input is disabled. Playback is in slow-motion so you can see what it’s going to look like as soon as you review it. High Frame Rate mode allows you to set frames at up to 120fps, but the autofocus still works and audio is recorded. And full manual control is available in fast frame rates, unlike the S1 and S1R models which are auto only. That can be a deal-breaker for using the S1 or S1R for slow-motion video shooting.

All three cameras stick to contrast detect AF, with face/eye detection technology and Panasonic’s own Depth By Defocus technology. Panasonic says the reason it sticks to this is because it’s very precise and also because on-sensor phase detection uses some pixels for focusing, and hence if they went

down this route there would be a reduction in absolute image quality. That may be true, and the S1H does produce very detail-rich images.

But in use, the camera is just not as snappy and reliable when acquiring focus. It’s very precise when there’s enough contrast, and it’s fair to say that the AF system has been improved hugely thanks to a recent firmware update. And in reality the autofocus isn’t an issue for many filmmakers who love manual focusing or are using the AF to nail focus on interview subjects or general scenes. But for stills of anything fast-moving or tricky, it’s just not as instant as the phase-detect of some of its rivals.

The camera does offer 5-axis in-body Image Stabilisation and, if used with Panasonic’s own S-series lenses, which feature a 2-axis Optical Image Stabiliser, there’s a claimed 6.5-stop improvement. As all the S-series camera use the Leica L-Mount system there isn’t a vast amount of dedicated Panasonic L-mount glass yet and what’s out there is pricey. But there is already a range of adapters to let you fit Canon EF mount and pretty much anything else, while Sigma has a full range of glass ready to go at more affordable prices.

In use, the S1H uses a bright 5760K OLED display, dual-tilting screen and records audio via a standard microphone socket, although Panasonic’s current DMW-XLR1 microphone adapter fits in the hot shoe and has XLR inputs. The touchscreen is good for menu settings and the EVF very impressive and has two refresh rates, 60  and 120fps.

Most of the commonly-used settings have dedicated controls that are well positioned. In fact, for a very modern camera the handling and ergonomics of the Panasonics are relatively traditional, as is its chunky size. This is a camera designed from the ground up for professionals and it looks and feels like the true pro kit it really is.

More information: / www.panasonic.com

Verdict

Unless you need the incredible resolution of the S1R, then choosing a new full-frame Panasonic mirrorless comes down to the S1 and S1H. In use as a stills camera, the S1 has a smidge of an edge when it comes to ultimate resolution, but only marginally. Everywhere else, the S1H matches it or handsomely outperforms it.

The S1H is better at control of noise thanks to its Dual Native ISO feature and, as a filmmaking machine, is vastly superior, especially when shooting slow-motion or going for the ultimate quality. But of course, it’s also slightly bigger and does cost significantly more. You do get a lot more for your money, though.

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