Panasonic Reveals Cinema-Oriented S1H

bythom panasonic s1h

Panasonic today pulled a Sony, beginning to coordinate their still and video product lines via a unified lens mount (E in Sony's case, L in Panasonic's). The camera was pre-announced at Cinegear, and won't be available until fall.

The result is an interesting product, the S1H. This US$4000 addition to Panasonic's L lineup is squarely aimed at professional video. The highlights that make that so are:

  • 6K 3:2 video capture at 24P, 5.9K at 16:9 and at 30P
  • 4K video capture at up to 60P
  • 10-bit 4:2:2 is recorded internally at up to 4K/30P with no time limitation (externally outputs at 60P)
  • V-Log and V-Gamut compatibility with the Varicam and GH5/GH5S
  • A slightly modified body design to dissipate heat better (a bit wider and deeper, some minor control changes)

This is in addition to most of the expected S1 features, the L mount, and more. 

With this third model, Panasonic now has the crossover (S1), high pixel count (S1R), and video-optimized (S1H) lineup that matches up well against Sony's A7 models (A7, A7R, and A7S, respectively). What will be interesting to see is if the Panasonic Varicam line now adds an L-mount model or two.

To set things in context, the video camera market is maybe a third the size of the still camera market (it depends upon what you measure on the video side), and also contracting. The reason why >4K video is getting talked about so much is that the video camera makers hope that such products will generate another round of updating and buying. If you're shooting for one of the video-oriented studios, such as Netflix, they've been pushing >4K to their shooters for awhile now, and that pressure is only going to get more intense.

You may wonder why you'd want to shoot in 6K if you're going to output in 4K. Two things come to mind: the ability to crop in during editing to fix composition issues, and the ability to use those extra pixels to do software-based image stabilization.

The three dominate players in video cameras are Canon, Panasonic, and Sony, with JVC probably being the fourth broad player. We also have companies like Blackmagic Design and Hitachi—the latter's first digital products were my entry back into digital video back in the late 1970's—plus some very specialized folk like Arriflex.

But the big three in video you're likely to find at a camera store are Canon, Panasonic, and Sony. The big three in still cameras are Canon, Nikon, and Sony. 

Panasonic's announcement should send a few shivers down the Canon and Nikon spines, but for different reasons.

Panasonic and Sony now seem to be settling on common lens mount for both high-end still and video. Panasonic still has its hands in m4/3, obviously, and remains active there. That's a little messier than Sony, which only has the E mount now for (truly) current products. Panasonic and Sony are leveraging assets across both still and video categories now, and that helps them deal with the contraction issue.

Canon, meanwhile, has five mostly incompatible mounts going (EF, EF-S, PL, M, and RF). Canon's Cinema cameras—C100, C200, C300, and C700—are EF mount (PL is also an option), but Canon's lens production has mostly shifted to RF. Oops.

Canon isn't getting any benefits from putting their camera/lens developments into one simpler grouping as Panasonic and Sony are now doing. That means more Canon R&D money spent for less return. There's little question in my mind that Canon has to make an upcoming generation of Cinema cameras RF (with PL as an option). Otherwise, they get stuck with EF and RF lens lineups that duplicate and are inefficient. (EF-S goes away, and M, well, who knows?)

Nikon doesn't have a video division. The good news is that they could launch a dedicated video Z camera and that would put them on immediate parity in the "single mount" war that's brewing. The bad news is that Nikon hasn't shown any particular interest in trying to wedge into the hotly competitive video camera market. They keep pushing from the fringes (still cameras that do competent video). 

This is one of the reasons why I question Nikon's actual mission ("we're an optics company"). There are broad swaths of optical use that Nikon doesn't really cater to, or does only dabbling at. The Z system lenses don't have the ability to clutch the focus ring for precise focus pulls, for example. Once upon a time in Hollywood, Nikon lenses were a big thing. Not today. And apparently not tomorrow if the Z lenses keep being all fly-by-wire.

If Nikon Imaging continues to contract, it's because they never saw beyond "we make SLRs, plus try our hand at consumer cameras every big cycle." 

Reading this, you probably are guessing that I think Panasonic is pursuing the right strategy here. Yes, at least as far as they've gone. It's still a nascent strategy, not fully backed up yet by multiple products and a line of video-desirable L lenses. Still, it's a correct approach, IMHO, and one that Canon needs to pay close attention to.

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