Panasonic's new solidly built, professional-grade camera is a handful in more ways than one.
Yesterday, in Hollywood, I had the chance to get some hands-on time with the new full-frame Panasonic Lumix S1H mirrorless camera. And like it's micro four third's cousin, GH5S and other models before it, this latest entry into the mirrorless camera space is bound to be quite popular with the filmmakers, especially since Panasonic designed it specifically for them.
But if you're coming from a simpler interface like a Canon DSLR or Blackmagic Cameras, don't expect to hit the ground running with it. It'll take a bit of time to get the lay of the land.
I will say this. The Lumix S1H was built for filmmakers to have all the flexibility they need to shoot the image they want, and still display that Varicam look that Panasonic shooters are looking for. The filmmakers that Panasonic had on hand during the Lumix event couldn't' stop talking about how the S1H would make for a marvelous B camera, right alongside their Varicam setups, because it can provide similar features, like 6K 10-bit 4:2:2 color, Hybrid Log-Gamma HLG, and built-in anamorphic 4:3 modes. And they do so straight out of the box so you don't have to pick up several accessories to make it function well. Even in its bare-bones configuration, the S1H can capture a great image.
"The S1H opens up a cinematic palette, to achieve the look that you want at the budget you have." - Peter Hamblin
Australian filmmaker Peter Hamblin, for instance, loved the ability to shoot 6K in both full-frame and Super 35mm without having to change lenses, effectively giving shooters two lenses in one. In fact, most of the short films we saw combined both Super35 and full-frame modes and you really wouldn't know the difference.
Hamblin shot his short with a vintage 70s anamorphic lens from Japan, and it had this dated, gritty street look with some great fall off around the ends, just like a class film from that era.
After the press conference, we had a chance to get a little hands-on time with the S1H, and here are my thoughts.
Build Quality and Handling
The pre-production models of the Lumix S1H we were issued felt heavy but balanced. If I had Blackmagic's new 6K Pocket Cinema Camera right next to me, I would say that with the L-mount 24-70 F2.8 Lumix Pro lens attached, the S1H is twice the weight, by comparison. So if you're looking for a wedding camera, you better start pumping iron. This thing is a beast.
But that heft shows in the robust build quality of the Lumix S1H. This camera is made from metal, not a high impact plastic. And in that built quality, it definitely identifies as a professional's appliance, not an enthusiast's low-end rig used to maximize image quality at a cheaper price. You don't get that in the S1H. You get a real tank of a camera, designed for one major thing...professional-grade filmmaking.
However, if you're making the transition from a DSLR, like a Canon 5D Mk. IV, you're going to have a learning curve ahead of you. In the few hours we had to shoot some sample footage inside of Goya Studios, I would say 1/4 of that time was me getting to understand the basic layout of the camera buttons, including an old school lock for the function knob, and how the menu structure is laid out. You have to drill down a lot to adjust the settings, but there are also custom settings you can set.
For my money, on a set, I think I would prefer the intuitive menu layout of the Pocket Cinema Camera 6K. It's just plain easier to use. So, you’re going to want to spend some time learning the interface and shooting test shots before actually using it for real.
Stills and Video Recording
For shooting stills, the shutter has kind of a hair-trigger. On the Canon platform, you're used to pressing the shutter halfway down to lock focus, but if you do that with the S1H, you're going to fire off a dozen still shots before you know it. That's great if you're a sports photographer, but if you're just wanting to check focus, you have to have a light finger.
"I like to call the Lumix S1H the "Varicam Micro" because it’s a small camera that delivers everything a Varicam does." - David C. Smith
In recording video, well, the big red recording button is prominently placed behind the shutter and power buttons. It's separate and very easy to find. However, I think can be awkward to engage if you're going handheld simply because of its top-down position. You're going to end up with some camera movement at the beginning of your video clips until you get used to shooting with it. But once it's on, it's fairly easy to adjust using the adjustment wheel, plus zooming in. The zoom on the Lumix 28-70 is solid yet smooth, and focusing is extremely quick.
One negative I did learn about the S1H, is that it has the same Achilles heel as previous Panasonic mirrorless models, and that is the 7-9 frame latency when connecting to a monitor via HDMI. As DP David C. Smith put it, the greatest strength of the S1H is its form factor, but that can be its greatest weakness. Without the ability to connect your reference monitor via SDI, you're going to end up with that latency. His workaround is to simply rely on the pull out LCD screen for a real-time look.
All in all, I really enjoyed shooting on the Lumix S1H for the limited time I had it. It's solidly built, instantly reminding you that you're using a professional-grade cinema camera in a smaller form factor. But does that mean you're using a lower-end product? Definitely not.
The S1H is like putting a high-performance McClarren race car engine and drive train under the shell of a modern car. Kinda like the old IROC racing series. It has the look of the sporty streetcar, but when the light hits green, and that high-performance racing power kicks in, it's going to surprise you.
At the end of the day, if I'm a buying man, I think I'm investing my own money in the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K to make that next step, and renting the S1H until I'm more comfortable with it. And when you are, its' definitely taking you to the next level.