Yesterday, while half of us techno-journalists were getting hands-on with the Panasonic LUMIX S1H, in order to write their first impressions, the other half was watching a series of short films to show off the capabilities of Panasonic's new full-frame mirrorless cinema camera. I say "cinema camera" because that's the quality of the imagery that this new camera delivers. So much so, that one director called it the "Varicam Micro."

And while I had a steep learning curve with the camera while shooting some brief test footage, these four masters of the Lumix platform squeezed every ounce of performance out of this new camera. And the proof is in these short films. 

Maintaining a Cinematic Look

The first film we saw was called In Hope of Nothing, which was directed by South African director Peter Hamblin. The film takes a look at a pair of down and out filmmakers, who are estranged brothers, with one looking to give his Hollywood Dream one more try. Hamblin shot the film using a vintage 70s Japanese anamorphic lens to give it a dated, gritty look that you would expect from a disappointing life on the "Boulevard of Broken Dreams."

Hamblin added that the S1H is a lightweight rig, contrasted by its larger and heavier Varicom cousins. He also said it performed really well with a series of photo lenses while maintaining a cinematic look. "(The S1H) is a perfect tool for young, aspiring filmmakers, Hamblin added. "It opens up a cinematic palette, to achieve the look that you want at the budget you have."

After my hands-on experience with the camera, I'm not so sure I agree with him on it being a great tool for new filmmakers. This is a higher performance mirrorless camera, and to cut your teeth on it is like learning to drive in a Ferrari. Sure, it's cool, sure it's fast, but it might be too much for a beginner to handle, especially for the price. But in the experienced hands of a DP like Hamblin, it's definitely a great camera.

Director Peter Hamblin with the Panasonic S1HDirector Peter Hamblin with the Panasonic S1HCredit: Panasonic

"The Varicam Micro"

Experienced DP David C. Smith is the one who coined the nickname "Varicam Micro" for the S1H, saying that the overall look of the footage is seamless when intermixed with other models in the Varicam line. Shooting his boxing short Live Your Play, Smith concluded that the S1H would make a solid B or C camera on a professional set because it offers all the same tools and features of the Varicam, but in the smaller form factor. "It can handle holding highlights and detail on both sides of the dynamic range spectrum really well," Smith said. "It's clearly the mirrorless cinema camera we've been waiting for."

But while he thinks that smaller form factor is its greatest strength, he also admits that it's also its weakness when it comes to attaching a monitor to the S1H via HDMI. There is a noticeable 7-9 frame latency, a limitation that is largely due to the state of HDMI, not the S1H. Smith gets around this limitation by simply viewing the footage in the pull-out touchscreen LCD. Panasonic doesn't try to hide this either, as one executive said that they are working to improve the HDMI connection. So look for a future firmware update. 

Screen_shot_2019-08-28_at_2DP David C. SmithCredit: Panasonic

Creative Use of Dynamic Range

Perhaps the finest example of how well the S1H handles the extreme ends of its 14 stops of dynamic range came from Los Angeles based filmmaker Carissa Dorson, who made Alive, a film about a laundromat worker who copes with her the lonely drone of life through dance. The film is sad and dramatic, and the dance is very artistic. Dorson shot the film using the Panasonic S1H, Atlas anamorphic lenses, all while mounted to a DJI Ronin 2 handheld gimbal, and the camera movement is buttery without being betrayed by rolling shutter.

But what impressed me the most was how much detail you could pick up in bright ambient light and in the darkness of the bar's shadows. You could really catch the fine weave of a window screen while focusing on the dancer looking out the window, and catch the herringbone brick in the dark night as she danced. It's a very impressive example of how a camera can use dynamic range.

Carissa Dorson with the Panasonic S1HDP Carissa Dorson with the Panasonic S1HCredit: Panasonic

Using Sensor Crop to Your Advantage

The most emotional short of the day came at the end thanks to the cinematographer who got his start on YouTube. Jacob Schwarz and his wife created a space opera in about 7 minutes, which is as compelling as Christopher Nolan's InterstellarKepler-138 is the story of a young astronaut who grows up with a single father who is blind. She records her surroundings so her father can experience the world as she does. So when she travels to another planet and is stranded there, she manages to send those same audio recordings so that her father knows she's alive and living marooned on a marvelous world.

What Schwarz loved about the S1H is that he could have the same 6K image with multiple sensor croppings and switch between Super 35mm and full-frame depending on what the scene demanded. Schwarz also believes that the digital 6K emulsion of the S1H could work well, not only with other Panasonic cameras but other camera brands as well. 

Cinematographer Jacob SchwarzCinematographer Jacob SchwarzCredit: Panasonic

Final Thoughts

So when you put the Panasonic S1H into an experienced hand, the camera will perform like the racehorse that it is, squeezing every bit of data and dynamic range out of it.  Can it grow with a new filmmaker who decides to invest the $4,000 into this solid platform? Absolutely. The images are really the best that you can get out of a full-frame sensor. Just some, like the ones above, are going to be more compelling than others.