Initial thoughts

By Dale Baskin

Back when Panasonic made only Micro Four Thirds cameras, choosing the right body for video was generally pretty easy: you just bought the newest model in the GH series and went to work. Does that truism extend to Panasonic's full-frame line of cameras as well? It turns out the answer is a bit more complex.

For starters, Panasonic's own S1 body with the SFU2 firmware upgrade already brings a lot of video-centric features, including full V-Log support, built-in LUTs and waveform displays to its full-frame lineup. In fact, it's quite a capable video camera, which raises the question, 'Is the S1H just an S1 with a fan?'

Compared to the S1 with SFU2 firmware upgrade

It turns out it's much more than that.

Panasonic has been making video-focused mirrorless cameras for ten years now. It's been around the block a few times and has gained a pretty good sense of what users are looking for in this type of camera. The S1 is very capable; the S1H is just a lot more capable.

The Panasonic S1H (left) and S1 (right).

Let's start with obvious differences. The S1H can record 6K video, includes high bit rate codecs (including H.265), supports true high frame rate recording, and facilitates unlimited recording time. With the exception of unlimited recording time, a skilled videographer could probably get by without any of those upgrades except in edge cases.

What's likely to matter more to many videographers, however, are the subtle differences that impact workflow or the ability to deliver footage with as little in-camera processing as possible. This is where the S1H comes to life.

For example, Panasonic's dual native ISO implementation gives camera operators more control over what their final product will look like. It allows them to decide when to use the high or low gain settings based on what's more important to them – keeping noise to a minimum or retaining highlights.

Panasonic's dual native ISO implementation gives camera operators more control over what their final product will look like.

Similarly, features like more flexible video scopes, new video settings display, and dual-zebras put a lot of information at an operator's fingertips. The luminance spot meter allows for precise metering of subjects, while frame markers and masks make it easer to shoot for non-native aspect ratios. There's a lot of Varicam influence happening here.

Even the really subtle things, like a lighter approach to in-camera noise reduction, will matter to some.

In aggregate, these things will make a big difference to someone who spends a lot of time shooting video, but not to everybody.

Video: DPReview TV's Jordan Drake shares his first impressions of the Panasonic S1H.

It's not all upside, however. The move to full-frame does result in more rolling shutter. (There's a reason the likes of the Sony Venice cost more: in some part because of the need to mitigate this problem). That's not a showstopper, since the camera also supports Super35 and native resolutions as well, but its a reminder that you can't always have your cake and eat it too.

In the market

Panasonic has historically led the way when it comes to video-oriented mirrorless cameras. Of course, other manufacturers offered video too, but capabilities typically haven't been at a level that represented a serious threat to Panasonic's GH series.

But the landscape has changed. The S1H enters a market that's more competitive for video. Most full-frame cameras now offer respectable video capabilities, and in some cases threaten to push even further than Panasonic. Nikon, for example, has promised ProRes Raw output in a future update to its Z6 (though we have yet to see it).

In fact, the S1H is even in the position of having to compete against its own sibling, the upgraded S1. In contrast, the GH series never experienced that type of internal competition.

For a long time, Panasonic's GH series cameras led the way in video without much serious competition. Today, the landscape has changed and the S1H arrives in a more competitive market.

It's almost certain that other models will out-spec the S1H here or there, but given the totality of its feature set, the S1H will still stand out to serious videographers. In fact, its biggest competition for video might be entry- to mid-range cinema cameras from he likes of Blackmagic, Sony, or Canon, all of which offer models at similar or slightly higher price points, though none has a full-frame sensor.

Final thoughts

The S1H has some real advantages over the S1 when it comes to serious video work, but it's great that Panasonic is giving us choice by providing a subset of the S1H's video features via firmware upgrade (it must have been tempting to hold back the S1 to avoid internal competition). That subset may be enough for some users, in which case the S1 could be a great option. If you do need the additional functionality, the S1H is there.

Lest we forget, the S1H should be an outstanding camera for photography as well. It's basically an S1 with an anti-aliasing filter to reduce moiré, so we expect it to be very competitive with the various 24MP full-frame cameras on the market.

In fact, what may be the S1H's greatest value is its dual capabilities as both a still camera and a video camera. Based on history, and our experience with the S1, we expect it will excel at both. That said, $4000 is expensive for a 24MP camera, but if you care enough about video to appreciate what the S1H brings to the table, then you'll know the price difference is worth it.