Panasonic LUMIX S1 – Closer Look and Sample Footage – A New Lowlight King?

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The Panasonic LUMIX S1 is the latest in Panasonic’s offerings. It is a full frame camera, aimed at advanced photographers, but can also capture high quality 4K videos. The new camera will greatly benefit from the firmware update scheduled for later this year, so the appeal for videographers will be even higher. I’ve been running around with the yet to be released camera and had a chance to explore its video capabilities a little  further. 

While getting to know the new Panasonic S1 in Barcelona was nice, I felt that there is much more to explore about it and have therefore decided to dedicate some extra time and review the camera, although it is still in a pre-production stage. First, let’s have a quick recap in regards to its video specifications.

Panasonic S1 Video Specifications:

  • 24.2 MP CMOS Sensor
  • 4K HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma) internal video recording, HEVC codec in 10-bit 72Mbps
  • 4K 50/60p, 4:2:0 8-bit, cropped to APS-C, internal recording limited to 29:59 min
  • 4K 24/25/30p Full Frame, 4:2:0 8-bit, unlimited recording
  • Various Full HD recording modes
  • Various High Frame Rate recording options in 4K and HD (No control on any of the recording parameters like shutter speed and ISO, no autofocus, no sound. 150fps and 180fps in HD mode are cropped)
  • Native ISO of 100-51,200

Future paid firmware update unlocks:

  • 4K UHD up to 30p, 10-bit 4:2:2 internal recording (At 150Mbps)
  • 4K UHD 50/60p, 10-bit 4:2:2 external recording via HDMI with APS-C crop
  • FHD at up to 60fps, 10-bit 4:2:2 at 100Mbps
  •  V-Log

Panasonic S1 top view – Large, robust, comfortable to hold

Panasonic LUMIX S1 – First Impression and Handling

As a reviewer, I get to use many of the new cameras out there and leaving specifications aside, there are always those cameras that simply feel more comfortable in the hand – the Panasonic LUMIX S1 falls into this category. This mirrorless camera is big, heavy and robust (especially when equipped with the new 24-105mm f/4 L lens), so you better think of it as if you are carrying a DSLR, but in this particular case, this is NOT a bad thing, as the camera felt very balanced in my hands and I could work with it for exceptionally long periods of time. This brings me to another advantage of working handheld with this camera: its IBIS (In Body Image Stabilization) system is simply working very well! If you feel the need for even extra smoothness in your shots, you can turn the E-Stabilization (Video) “ON” and – on the expense of a slight crop – you will get perfectly steady shots. (Everything that you see in the above video nut two shots, was shot handheld and although the stabilisation is enhanced digitally, to my eyes, there was no drop in picture quality).

Panasonic S1 E-Stabilization option

Call me an old-fashioned cameraman, but a viewfinder is a much more valuable and suitable for my style of working than an external monitor, as it gives me an extra gripping point when working handheld and also, in bright light, I can judge the exposure more accurately and easily. The reason I’m mentioning this here is because up until now, most – if not all – of the mirrorless cameras I’ve worked with had “just an OK” EVF (with the exception of the Leica SL). The Panasonic S1 brings back the faith in the possibility that an excellent EVF can be included in a mirrorless camera. I can report first-hand that manual focusing is a breeze and eye fatigue is a thing of the past, when extensively using that particular EVF. Well done, Panasonic! Last but not least, a word about battery life. The new DMW-BLJ31  7.2V 3,100mAh large capacity battery did very well during my shooting day(s). Again, Panasonic kept its reputation of equipping their cameras (aka GH5/GH5S) with long lasting batteries.

Panasonic S 24-105mm f:4 L mount lens – ISO 5000

 

Panasonic S 24-105mm f:4 L mount lens – ISO 30,000

 

Panasonic S 24-105mm f:4 L mount lens – ISO 2000

 

Panasonic S 24-105mm f:4 L mount lens – ISO 12,800

Lowlight capability (The above images were taken from the editing timeline)

This is where the camera REALY shines! Previously, I’ve seen similar results only when testing some of Sony’s cameras. As a documentary filmmaker, the lowlight capabilities of a camera can be a deal breaker, when considering what camera to purchase, as I never know where I’m going to find myself filming, or if I will have the time to set up proper lighting on location (whenever possible). With the Panasonic S1, there is absolutely nothing to worry about. Aggressive NR (Noise Reduction) or not, you can shoot and expect clean images up to ISO 30,000. (Not that above that figure the images are not usable, they are but with additional noise). As a picture is worth more than a thousands words, I encourage you to take a look at my above video and see for yourself.

Autofocus system

If there is anything that needs some extra care and attention from Panasonic’s side, it is the autofocus system. The main thing, when using autofocus with any camera, is the ability to get good and constant results. With the Panasonic S1, I got mixed bag results. At times, I was very happy with the speed and accuracy of the autofocus system and then, there were times where the camera simply did not function well. As I was testing a pre-production model with a non-final firmware, I assume that Panasonic will do all they can do, in order to fine-tune the autofocus system within this camera, before it hits the stores.

Dynamic Range Test

We are continuing with our tradition of testing the Dynamic Range of new cameras, and although the sample unit we had is NOT a final one, we were rather curious about what ballpark range we stand in. Please head to this link in order to learn more about our Dynamic Range tests.

Gunther, our DR specialist has tested 3 picture profiles and modes. HLG, Cinelike D and the new Flat picture profile. Here are his observations: 

HLG option in the camera menu

HLG, ISO 400 (12.2 stops)

V-Log will come at a later stage, with a paid firmware upgrade, however with the Panasonic S1 you can already shoot in Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG) mode. (HEVC codec, 4:2:0 10bit long GOP 72Mbps). 

Setting both, sharpness and noise reduction (NR) to -5, I was able to get a Dynamic Range of 12.2 stops at ISO400 for a signal to noise ratio (SNR) of 2 (13.4 stops at SNR = 1), see figure 1 below.

Fig. 1: Panasonic S1 waveform plot of the step chart in HLG ISO400, noise reduction set to -5 (lowest). Visually, 12 stops above the noise floor are visible – a very good result!

This is a very good result, which is only topped by the Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro – see figure 2 below.

Fig. 2: Dynamic Range comparison of the Panasonic LUMIX S1 – it comes in just behind the URSA Mini Pro 4.6

If we compare this result to the Dynamic Range of the Panasonic GH5S in HLG mode (ISO800, NR = 0) coming in at 9.9 stops, this is about 2.3 stops higher! Now, the same GH5S has a Dynamic Range of 10.7 stops (ISO400) with V-Log L, hence, there is some potential for the Panasonic S1 to have an even better DR reading once V-Log becomes available!

Looking at the noise floor and the lower steps of the step chart of the Panasonic S1, there is very little noise visible – it looks ultra clean. Although noise reduction was set to the lowest setting, we can assume that there is still a lot of internal noise reduction going on. (I also tried shooting the chart with noise reduction set to 0 (NR = 0), but there was very little difference).

Personally, I would prefer to have more influence on the internal noise reduction through the settings – maybe a future firmware update will enable this. For me, if the image is too clean, it lacks mojo.

Cinelike D picture profile (10.8 stops)

Panasonic LUMIX S1 Cinelike D DR result

If you are not interested or ready to shoot in HLG, Cinelike D might be a good option. As you can see from the chart above, we got 10.8 stops of DR in this mode.

Flat picture profile – Unmeasurable

Flat picture profile – Unmeasurable

I was very curious to measure the new Flat picture profile – especially as Johnnie shot all of the above video in that mode – but to my surprise, it was unmeasurable. As you can see in the above figure in the upper chart, there is a very abrupt transition in the brightness value (density) response curve from the higher into the lower stops (representing the Xyla 21 patches). Furthermore, in the middle chart the RMS noise curve falls off to zero between -5 and -4 LOG exposure values (on the x-axis), and in the lower chart again, between -6 and -4 LOG exposure the lower stops (shadows) of the Xyla chart show zero pixel noise (lowest chart of the three) – thus confusing IMATEST. The software, therefore, shows a wrong 12.6 stops for all signal to noise ratios – which cannot be real, of course. I don’t know what it is, but it seems as if a very aggressive noise reduction is responsible for those unmeasurable results. In general, we can only hope that Panasonic will consider giving us more control on the noise (meaning, the ability to turn the reduction off all together) in a future firmware update.

Choose between FullFrame or APSC filming options

Conclusion

The LUMIX S1 camera is Panasonic’s first attempt (alongside the S1R) of entering the world of full frame sensor cameras and as such, I think they did really well! They are presenting a well-balanced shooting device (specification- vs. performance-wise), although I have to say that I wish the video images received would have a bit more “mojo” in them. The Current  image is very clean – maybe too clean, at times. It is only in post-production that you can actually turn it into having a more distinguished identity (keeping in mind that it is an 8bit camera, so color correction needs to be treated gently)… Moving to pricing, in Panasonic’s eyes, this is probably a camera for photographers first and then for us filmmakers, hence, I do understand the reason why they decided to charge extra money for the additional features. I guess, they do not want photographers – who are the main target of that camera – to pay a price if it is not needed. Fair enough. Saying that, it is an expensive camera and the price cannot be neglected, when doing the overall calculation before buying (any) camera. And further than that, we have gotten spoiled, while one of the companies to spoil us most is… Panasonic. They proved in the past that they are able to provide us with cameras that can shoot high data rate, 10bit, 4:2:2, all Intra, internally, so I won’t be surprised if this will be the case this time, too. The basics are all there, all Panasonic needs to do is top up the video specifications and produce a “video centric” camera and charge us a fair price. In case this ever happens, it’s going to be a real treat!

The above video was shot handheld on a pre-production Panasonic LUMIX S1 camera. Image quality is not final. Picture profile “Flat”. Edited on Adobe Premiere CC latest edition and color corrected with FilmConvert.

The music used in the video above is courtesy of Music Vine. Get 25% off your next music license with code C5D25 (valid for one use per customer).

What do you think? Does the new Panasonic LUMIX S1 interest you? Will you consider buying it or do you prefer waiting for Panasonic to produce a more capable camera that shoots video? Share with us your thoughts in the comment section below. 

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 Reuben Evans
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Johnnie is stud. He simply owns every YouTuber out there with so much class.

Lukedriftwood
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Lukedriftwood

Thanks Johnnie, could you test HLG on X-T3 as well?

HDvideo4K
Guest

All this is wonderful and I’ll probably buy one because my entire Zeiss lens collection is full frame but again, this camera has the wrong form factor for shooting video. Why cannot any Japanese camera maker simply reproduce Sony’s NEX VG30 with modern 4K sensors and electronics. A skilled operator can always capture better unscripted, documentary video with ENG styled cameras, not DSLRs.

Oscar Goldman
Guest
Shock Value

Well, the NEX VG30 is not an ENG camera. It’s WAY too small to put on your shoulder, so I don’t see what advantage it has over an SLR-type design.

You can counter the instability of the SLR design with a rig. The biggest challenge is putting the center of gravity on your shoulde;, since the body of the camera is so small and essentially integrated into the lens (often the heaviest item), which must be in front of your shoulder so you can operate it.

I addressed this by counterbalancing the camera with brick batteries, which I can move back behind me on the rails.

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