12.18.2020

Finally got around to diving into the Panasonic/Lumix S1R firmware update and assessing the new features. Some were surprising. Surprisingly great!

Here's a link to the video on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/492645355

You know how you can sometimes get really busy with lots of pressing details and you've upgraded something, made sure it still works, and then moved right back to getting your ongoing and not-related details sorted out? Well, that's where I was with the S1R. I did the firmware updates for all three of the S1x models and then turned my attention right back to finishing up jobs and doing year end taxes. I shot a few still frames on the S1R, determined that it still made nice photographs and then put it back in the drawer where it normally lives. 

This morning though I stumbled across a video that outlined the differences in feature sets between all the full frame, Panasonic S series cameras and it immediately became apparent that I had not spent enough time understanding and testing all the goodies that were bestowed on the S1R at the time. 

The video above is about 15 minutes long and might bore the socks off you. On the other hand it's a sample of what you might expect to get out of your S1R in terms of how well it focuses on me throughout the video, how much detail is retained in the files and, the charming image quality of the video.

I don't want to cover every upgrade to the camera because only a small subset of you own that camera model but I do want to call out a couple of major, and newly acquired, feature improvements. 

Or, you can sit back and watch me ramble on in the video. But if you are looking to make visual quality judgements I'd suggest you click on the link above to Vimeo and watch it there after selecting the largest available size. 

Focusing: I've always found the Panasonic S1 cameras to be very fast to focus but that's probably because of the way I use them. I'm fond of single AF and equally fond of selecting a single focal point or square to use. If you use continuous focusing with back button manouvering your experiences in the past will no doubt be different than mine. 

But what people complained about 90% of the time was the just average performance of continuous autofocus in video. That the cameras were slow to lock on and had a tendency, in non-optimal situations, to hunt or pulse. Panasonic true believers hemmed and hawed and talked about how "real" cinematographers only used manual focusing lenses anyway. Well, even I know that a whole new generation of film makers are thrilled to use continuous AF for their projects. One of my best friends made that a primary consideration when recently upgrading his gear from a Sony FS7. 

After the firmware update I believe that the S1x cameras have become much more competitive with their C-AF focusing. But instead of taking my work for it just go look at the video I posted. There's no "pulsing" between the foreground subject and the cluttered background. None that I can see, anyway. And the camera goes from out-of-focus to nicely in-focus smoothly and without any obvious over-shoot and re-focusing. I thought the results were confidence inspiring and will consider using C-AF for on-camera interviews, going forward.  

So, that's the first big feature set, which I approve of, but I will add a caveat. Many users are experiencing some interference in focusing performance when working under flickering, non-continuous light sources. Mainly fluorescent lights and cheap LEDs. These conditions make focusing much slower and sometimes inhibit focusing altogether. Yikes. 

I haven't experienced this but enough people have written about this that I felt duty bound to report it. 

5K video: For me this is the biggest improvement. Right out of the box the S1R had the poorest selection of available file options for video. You didn't have the choice of selecting .Mov. You could only work in M4p. There were also no options for 10 bit color depth and nothing beyond 4:2:0. Still, the files coming out of the camera in 4K looked good. It's just that the paucity of higher data rate files reinforced the idea that the camera was more squarely aimed at photographers and that most everything else about the camera was merely a polite nod to hybrid users--- and Panasonic's camera heritage.

The update delivered a new choice. Now you can shoot in 5K and you can do so with 10 bit color at a data rate of 200 Mbs. The camera delivers tons of detail but it does so in an odd aspect ratio. The native 5K files at 30p or 24p are 4992 pixels by 3744 pixels. It's a much more square-ish format than we normally expect to see out of a consumer video camera. But it works. Go look. 

The 5K files are only available as .Mov files and that's fine. The increased bit depth and higher overall resolution mean that your final video, exported as 4K or 1080p is going to look great. Really great. 

If you want to stick to 4K the S1R has some interesting new advantages there as well. You'll be shooting in M4p but if you want to shoot at 60p you'll find that instead of mandating an APS-C crop as is required by nearly every 24 megapixel camera shooting with current Sony full frame sensors (not fast enough read speed to write our the full width of the frame!!!) you'll have only a 1.1 X crop with the S1R at 60p. And that's almost no crop at all. You'll get the nearly full advantage of the format all the way up to 60p and that's while writing to an internal memory card. 

There's also a bonus level. Go into the HDMI menu and you can choose to write to the camera at 8 bits or to an external recorder at 60p, 10 bit, 4:2:2. And you still get almost the full width of the sensor there too. If you take the clean signal out with the HDMI and write the files at ProRes 422 you'll also get the advantage of an ALL-I codec. Suddenly the S1R goes from a good video tool to a great one. 

The final bonus of using the external recorder is that you lose the 20 minute, 4K time limit. The system will run as long as the camera battery and memory card are able. Pretty sweet!

And while you are in the video mode you can also set the camera to show shutter angle instead of shutter speeds. It's a quicker way to work and helps assure that you are in the right setting for good, clean, jitter free video. Sorry, no wave forms...no vector scope...

With the update the cameras shares an exclusive feature with the S1H (which I actually consider to be the system flagship). If you use the XLR audio adapter from Panasonic the new firmware unlocks "High Res" audio. You can record your audio at a much higher sampling rate which should improve the sound and decrease noise in the files. Go ahead and listen to the sample I created and see what you think. It's not available on the S1 or the S5...

I'm very impressed that Panasonic took a camera I already liked a lot and made it even more valuable to me. Like all the S1x cameras the S1R has a full sized HDMI which makes me want to connect it to my Atomos recorder along with headphone and microphone jacks on the body. I'm very happy right now. If you just updated your S1R you're probably also happy. Ah, happiness. Fleeting but tasty while here. 

So, that's what I experimented with today. Thanks for all the comments on yesterday's post. Seems like many of you have found great ways to work around the pandemic. Gave me hope and a smile when I read the comments. 

Video notes: The video I embedded and linked to was created in a small corner of my office. Everything you see is unedited, not color graded, not corrected for exposure or tonality. It was recorded directly into the camera so it's 5K, 10 bit, 4:2:0. The audio is 96kHz. I shot at f2.8 and 2/3rds of a stop with a Sigma 45mm f2.8 L-mount lens. The scene was lit with a single 500 watt tungsten light in a Lowell Tota-Light fixture. 

So, both the audio and the video are absolutely STRAIGHT OUT OF CAMERA. No monkey business. No LUTs and no Log files. Nice to see the camera delivers so well with so little intervention. 

Next time I'll try to find a more glamorous on camera model. This one was definitely not cute enough. 

Thanks. KT

A Production Photograph from "Harvey." From a more mellow time. Warning: dire introspection included.

 


For a while my biggest concern, after paying for Ben's college and funding retirement accounts, was just getting through Austin's tangle of traffic to arrive on time for dress rehearsal photo sessions over at the theater. I'm sure other things bothered me but nothing seemed existential and none rose to the level of.... worry. 

Now we have a mentally damaged, wannabe dictator trying to take over our country, and we also have the pandemic of a generation. Oh, and our infrastructure is falling apart... and we're in the middle of a profound recession. Did I miss anything?

As recently as last year we could distract ourselves from the horror of the politics with joyful and renewing episodes of live theater, live music, good dinners with family and friends, fun travel and a general sense that the machinations of the far right in Washington would be like a pendulum and voters would swing back toward the middle. Or maybe just a bit more to the left than middle (progress.).  We were still shopping, celebrating life's milestones and enjoying our cultural lives.

Now the theaters are shuttered. Restaurants are a faint nostalgic nod to the richness of dining in the past, and our friends join us at a distance in lawn chairs set in warm and humid backyards where we and they are relentlessly attacked by mosquitos. And, in the suburbs, the relentless roar of leaf blowers wielded compulsively and relentlessly by worried fathers now "working" from home.

Most of my wealthier friends are already back at work. There's zero unemployment among millionaires. No, that burden (unemployment) falls to the least wealthy and those who are the least reinforced against disaster. Some families take their private planes to vacation in Aspen and Telluride while others pack into ancient minivans to wait in line and pick up groceries at the food banks. 

The simple things that made life less mean seem to have vanished. I'm working on producing video for a fundraiser but I've started to wonder about the morality of putting off, potentially, the ultimate demise of entertainment non-profits, which return uneven dividends to the community as a whole. versus putting that time and money to use for projects that deliver more directly and to the most needy.

Yes, a popular live theater provides work for artists, dancers, lighting engineers, sound designers, costumers and make-up people. A ballet provides work for dancers, teachers, and other niche professionals. But with single ticket prices for shows averaging close to $75 who in our community benefits from all these efforts other than those wealthy enough to afford $250-$500 date nights?

The artists certainly aren't doing much more than running in place, financially. Most have been furloughed or laid off weeks or months ago. The fundraising work now seems to be aimed at sustaining just a core suite of above the line employees with the goal of outlasting the viral pandemic and the conjoined great (new) recession. Even if it lasts years...

Would all the work be better leveraged doing more direct projects aimed at helping the neediest? It's a hard 
question. 

On our shoots we're taking pains to pretend (other than wearing face masks) that everything is fine, no corners need be cut, and everything will work out great if we just produce good art. But... are we already beyond the point where a dogged hold on what we did in the past, and what worked in the past, is doing anyone any good? Are we working for a brighter future or just putting off the inevitable closures and waiting to see how theater, art, dance, etc. will be re-invented in a different time and different economic space?

I don't have any of the answers. I can't predict the future. I like to remember what a writer in one of the old, established quasi-intellectual magazines wrote just after the current president's surprising and very suspicious election. He said (and I paraphrase): This is not the successful ascendency of a mean, nasty and selfish new order, rather it is the last gasp and the last hurrah of certain groups of old, rich men clawing to the bitter end to hold on to their power. The future belongs to a new and far more inclusive generation. One that, we hope, will disengage money from political influence and try to do right by everyone instead of a selfish and evil few. A new generation which will outlast the oligarchies of the past and shine brightly in the future.

I know that few here like it when I write about politics but it's hard not to right now. It's hard to be keenly interested in the latest cameras and lights when a cursory walk through town shows the reality of hundreds or thousands more homeless.

I was surprised and depressed when I drove to a job in far north Austin a couple weeks ago. We exited the main highway and drove on the access road, heading to the wide boulevard where our client headquarters. Usually, as in most keenly affluent societies, the roads are free of litter, clutter and trash and there is the appearance of order and purpose. At a stop light I looked over to the underpass and was shocked to see a large tent city of homeless people. A city garbage truck was making a stop to empty their dumpster ---  which was a clue that this assemblage of desperate people had been there for weeks, not days. 

As I drove home in the evening I noticed more and more small clusters of poverty along the route. The next morning, when I drove to the theater I went by the main park in the center of town and saw a tent in the middle of the big soccer fields. With clutter and trash around it. When I came back by an hour or two later the tent was gone but the city had erected a temporary fence around the plot of land, complete with caution tape outlining the area. Ostensibly to prevent the transmission of disease... 

These are things I have NEVER seen in Austin before. Not in the decades I've lived here. To settle in at the desk and write about the wonders of yet another tripod or the almost magical qualities of some new computer peripheral seems inappropriate for our time; especially if by studied exclusion I omit my own feelings about the current pain and mental suffering people are living with. It seems disingenuous to pretend that both political parties are equally responsible when the evidence is so obvious. It seems the height of sociopathy to rationalize away the damage being done to us, to our culture and to our fellow citizens, with the idea that since we are protected by wealth or circumstances so we get a pass. Or because we appreciate and support opera that we're doing our part...

Photography sucks right now because everyone is trying so hard to pretend that everything is fine. Just get that cute model to take off her face mask and smile and we'll keep posting to Instagram. 

It's beginning to sink in, at least to me, that this is an unnatural and dangerous time for our society and it won't be fixed by getting the lights back on in the venues that mostly serve only wealthy patrons. Not when most of the people providing the entertainment can hardly keep the lights on. In fact, I'm a bit ashamed to have been buying gear instead of sending the same money to front line charities. 

Just a few thoughts this morning. Sorry if they don't match whatever alternate reality you've created for your own consciousness. Just go ahead and unfollow if this pisses you off

Or, donate to charities that directly help families and children survive. 

There will be brighter days ahead but bring your rough weather gear because we may have to get through a vicious storm or two to get there.