Panasonic DC-S1 Hands On + Sample Footage

It’s finally here, the Panasonic DC-S1, a Full Frame, mirrorless camera that has built great anticipation in the stills and video community but also has many worried that it heralds the end of Micro 4/3’s. Will the S1 find the popularity that Panasonic has gained for its GH line?

In short, this camera looks very promising indeed. The body is robust and solid and feels like a professional video-making tool. Add to it the XLR hotshot module that works so well with the GH5 and you have a great video-shooting camera in a stills format. The weather sealing of the body is excellent as well; it’s not waterproof but is splash and dust resistant and that it will operate far below zero without freezing.

Furthermore, the battery is big and that’s great news, stick a few in your pocket and shoot all day! The screen is interesting as it doesn’t flip right round like the GH line but instead tilts and turns at an angle.

Not good news for vloggers but for most shooters, especially for interviews, a good compromise. The screen is RGBW – meaning it has an extra white layer and as such a nice bright, punchy picture. If you prefer shooting like stills then the EVF is high quality, 5.7 million dots, bright and sharp.

There are 2 memory card slots, SD and XQD, which should ease any worry about footage loss. There is IBIS – In Body Image Stabilisation – and it works really well. The IBIS in the GH5 (not GH5s) works well and the S1 claims up to 5.5 stops of stabilization, 6 with a stabilized lens, perfect for hand-held shooting.

So that’s the hardware side of the Panasonic S1, how about what’s going on inside?

Well, everything is run by the Venus processing engine, a power chip that delivers all the great features you would expect following from the GH5. The headline stats from Panasonic – ‘4k 60fps video’ – need a slightly deeper dive than the press material though.

The S1 shoots 4K at 30frames /second, 10-bit, full frame video internally – fantastic! All video shooters will be delighted to hear this headline figure and the image from the S1 should look excellent.

Does the S1 shoot 4K 60fps as promised in the advertising? Yes, it does, but with a couple of important caveats. Firstly, the bit rate drops to 8-bit and that will make a difference in color grading but perhaps, more importantly, the sensor is cropped to APS-C size.

Since the big selling point of this camera over the GH5 is the larger sensor, this is a shame and the marketing could be a little clearer about this. This crop and drop in bit rate will be due to processing and overheating issues and no camera can have everything but it is something to keep in mind when considering buying.

4K 60fps at 10-bit is available via HDMI but at this time it’s not clear if that will also be cropped when recording to an external recorder.

The S1 is optimized for video with a sensor that is lower resolution than the sister camera, the S1R. The lower resolution, 24.2 megapixels vs. 47.3, means no line skipping and a higher quality image that doesn’t waste power and processing downsampling the sensor.

Now for a few negatives and questions about this new camera.

V-Log and 10-bit are paid upgrade options. Panasonic has done this before and it does bother me. V-Log is great for video shooters and of course, we will want to shoot 10-bit so why advertise the top line specs on this video-optimized camera without including those specs in the bo?. It’s easy to pay and get the upgrade but is anyone really buying this camera and not caring about getting those advertised specs?

The high-speed shooting is also well publicized but less well known are the trade-offs. Shooting in full HD goes all the way up to 180fps, great, but that is also a cropped image with no sound recording and no autofocus. There are also time limits for shooting in 4k 60fps – about 30 mins – and this is due to overheating in the camera.

The weather sealing is excellent but Panasonic did rather score an own goal with the promotion of this feature with a poster image promising “Dust and splash resistant*” and just below “*Dust and Splash resistant does not guarantee that damage will not occur if this camera is subjected to direct contact with dust and water”. Hmmm.

The auto-focus is contrast-based and it does a good job but if you are used to the autofocus in newer Canon cameras then contrast may leave you a little bit sad. By its nature, it has to hunt at least once to find the focus point and that’s not going to change.

Also missing from the specs in the S1 is the ability to record 400mbps in an All-I codec which was present in Panasonic GH5 and EVA-1. 150mbps in Long-GOP or H265 are the only options, but perhaps ALL-I will be added in future firmware updates.

Panasonic Lumix DC-S1 Highlights

  • 24.2MP Full-Frame MOS Sensor
  • Venus Engine Image Processor
  • 5.76m-Dot 0.78x-Magnification OLED LVF
  • 3.2″ 2.1m-Dot Triaxial Tilt Touchscreen
  • UHD 4K60 Video; HDR and 10-Bit Recording
  • ISO 100-51200, Up to 9 fps Shooting
  • Contrast-Detect 225-Area DFD AF System
  • Sensor-Shift Image Stabilization
  • Weather-Sealed Construction
  • 96MP High-Res Mode, Dual XQD/SD Slots

In summary, this looks like a fantastic camera and in 4K 30fps, utilizing the full frame width of the sensor it will capture a beautiful image. It does raise a real question about in-body image stabilization, sacrificed in the GH5s as it isn’t a “Pro-video” feature but present here in the video-focused S1.

As always, no camera is perfect, all will have pros and cons and a lot of the issues I have with the S1 are more down to the marketing than the actual camera. Panasonic’s move to full frame from 4/3’s is a gamble given their strong market position and brand loyalty with the feature-rich GH5 cameras. To compete with the Nikon, Canon and market-leading Sony’s offerings, perhaps it was only a matter of time. I still expect to see a GH6 coming soon and maybe that’s a little more exciting.

[source: ProAV TV]

Order Links:

Panasonic Lumix DC-S1 Mirrorless Digital Camera (B&H, Amazon)

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