Shooting with the S1H: an enthusiast videographer's perspective

By Richard Butler

When I first started using the S1H I was immediately impressed by how accessible it made top-notch video shooting, before realizing this may be because I've spent so much time testing and shooting with Panasonic's GH series.

Essentially it feels like a bigger GH camera, which will be great news for anyone already using a recent model, since they'll feel immediately at home. But even Panasonic stills shooters will be able to pick up an S1H and use it as they would their current camera.

I'd been wanting to shoot a video at my local soul club for a long time, but several factors made this difficult: firstly, the very low light and secondly, the need to license some music that would sound right. The S1H's full frame sensor addressed the low-light aspect, especially once I'd been able to borrow a Sigma 24mm F1.4 Art lens, but there were still challenges.

The soul night only takes place once a month and, being completely un-staged, presents a fairly chaotic environment to shoot in. I'd used the S1H a little bit, but to make sure I didn't get caught out, either missing a shot or making my subjects self-conscious by asking them to repeat something I'd missed, I decided to configure the camera to ensure I had quick access to every setting I might need.

Camera setup and configuration

First I set up the Q.Menu to put features such as focus peaking and zebras somewhere I could quickly access them. But I was surprised to discover that I couldn't assign video crop area to the Q.Menu or to a button.

I spent a fair amount of time trying to identify where the option lived in the menus, so that I could search for it in the comparable section of the similarly-arranged button customization section. Yet it wasn't there, most odd.

However, as I prepared for my shoot, I decided to put together a custom 'My List' of the shooting modes I planned to use, to make sure I didn't shoot any clips in 8-bit, or the wrong frame rate. While configuring this list, I discovered that sensor area is built into the 'Rec Quality' settings that you define.

Resolution Frame Rate Sensor region Bit-depth
4096 x 2160 23.98p Full width 10-bit 4:2:2 400Mbps
4096 x 2160 23.98p Super 35 10-bit 4:2:2 400Mbps
4096 x 2160 59.94p Super 35 10-bit 4:2:0 200Mbps

Not only did this let me pre-define just the three settings I wished to use: it also allowed me to assign 'Rec Quality (My List)' to one of the camera's front buttons. This way I was able to quickly switch between my chosen modes, but without the risk of forgetting to leave Super35 mode after each 60p clip.

Having set up a 'My List' of my preferred video options, I was able to assign this list to one of the function buttons, for easy access

I set another button up to access the dedicated audio levels screen, letting me adjust the mic volume before I recorded each interview. You can have an on-screen monitor if you prefer, but since I didn't need to adjust things on-the-fly, I figured a dedicated screen would focus my attention on setup, rather than adding to the on-screen clutter while shooting.

Overall, I found the S1H to be not just powerful and feature-packed, but pretty easy to configure so that I had the tools and modes I wanted immediately to hand. If it were a camera I expected to shoot with regularly, there's also the option to save my settings to an SD card, so that these settings are always available, even if someone else has used it in the meantime.

During the shoot

Right from the off, I'd decided to manual focus this project. Unpredictable motion (with people walking and dancing around a club, unaware of where I was trying to move the camera), meant there was no sensible way of anticipating the correct AF setup, and extreme low light meant the risk of unreliable focus was too high to risk.

Unfortunately, the light proved to be so low that focus peaking was failing to highlight anything, regardless of what sensitivity setting it was set to. Thankfully, the S1H's high resolution viewfinder meant it was possible to set pretty accurate focus by eye, even without any option to magnify, while shooting. The downside being that you can't access the viewfinder when the camera is on a gimbal. Overall, the mis-focused shots in the video are more often down to my lack of experience of focus pulling than any shortcoming of the camera.

One feature I really appreciated was the ability to engage full-screen waveforms when setting exposure, and then downsize them while shooting. This wasn't possible on the GH5 and makes it much easier to be confident with exposure.

I wouldn't call it light, but the S1H with Sigma 24mm F1.4 attached wasn't too much of a handful, even with the added weight of the DJI Ronin-S

Overall, the camera gave me the sense that it would do whatever I asked of it, so long as I knew what to ask. I swapped a near-depleted battery out after just under an hour's shooting, but it probably would have seen me through the whole hour if I wasn't being so cautious. Interestingly, Jordan had quite a different experience, suggesting battery life may reflect how hard the fan is having to work.

The S1H is surprisingly easy to balance on a gimbal. The DJI Ronin-S has pretty powerful motors, which were happy to handle the body along with the fairly sizable Panasonic 24-70mm F2.8, as well as the Sigma prime I used in the final shoot. I had to shunt the camera all the way to the right to center its weight, slightly trapping it behind the gimbal's vertical strut (meaning I had to adjust the lateral position every time I wanted to mount or dismount the camera). But, despite its weight, I was able to operate the camera single-handed for a couple of short clips.

For static shots, the camera's own stabilisation worked admirably: it may seem big by stills camera standards, but it felt compact and flexible when in use, simply because you can do so much without having to add anything to the camera.

Workflow considerations - as a stills shooter

Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned during this project was just how much space high bitrate video will rapidly take up.

I knew my project was going to be shot in very low light (hence a high level of hard-to-compress noise). I also knew that it'd be shot under lighting with challenging color casts, with lots of near-black detail and would include a lot of movement. All these factors, along with a desire to show the camera to its full advantage, meant using its most data-intensive 400Mbps 10-bit mode.

400Mbps sounds like it's within the realms of the 100Mbps that most consumer cameras produces. But think about it. 400Mbps is 50MB/s. No problem from a memory card perspective (I had a couple of V90 and V60 cards to hand), but an increasing issue once I got back to my computer.

As a stills photographer you might think you've got your data handling and storage workflow sorted, by that's just peanuts compared to the amount of space you'll need for video work.

50MB/s is around 3GB per minute. The 25 minutes of interviews I'd shot before the club opened had eaten 75GB of space before I'd shot any of my primary footage.

People often say that storage is cheap. But fast working space isn't, necessarily. Around an hour of footage had not only generated nearly 180GB of data, but now I needed somewhere it could live while I edited. Somewhere that could be read fast enough to make editing relatively smooth, and with spare capacity to store the various proxies and render files that would be generated during the process.

Even this modest shoot for a 3-5 minute video was demanding more room than I could clear on my external SSD or the internal SSDs of any of the computers I have access to.

And that's just during the creation and editing phase: if I want to archive my footage, I'm going to need tens, perhaps hundreds of gigs of extra capacity for every project I undertake. This is more than I generate in months of stills shooting.

Video professionals will be thinking 'well, yeah, obviously,' but for anyone looking at the S1H as 'the best video camera I can afford,' it's worth being aware of the need to plan a fairly robust workflow if you're going to shoot this camera at anything like its highest quality settings.