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Panasonic LUMIX BS1H and SIRUI 50mm T2.9 1.6x Lens Review

SIRUI – the Chinese manufacturer of tripods, gimbals, and lenses seems to be very determined to once again revolutionize the market by introducing an affordable 50mm T2.9 1.6x full-frame anamorphic lens in a variety of camera mounts (L/E/RF/Z). I took the lens for a short spin and decided to combine it with a Panasonic LUMIX BS1H camera for a review. Mixing products is never too good for SEO, but interesting enough, it was a good chance to “catch” two birds in one “hand”. After all, this lens is the PERFECT fit for such a Panasonic LUMIX camera since it gives the option to shoot in 6K/24p and fully utilize the 3:2 sensor. This, of course, can result in an appealing 2.4:1 aspect ratio which contributes to the much desired “cinematic look”. So let’s dive right into it. Here is my Panasonic LUMIX BS1H and SIRUI 50mm T2.9 1.6x lens review. (If you are interested to know how the SIRUI lens performed together with RED KOMODO, head to my colleague Francesco’s review here).

I’m a bit late to the full-frame anamorphic “party” but please don’t mistake me or anyone from our amazing CineD team for being lazy. It is simply a “madhouse” here covering so many of the newly announced products. So, speaking of, please take a closer look at our recent Sony a7 IV review, and DJI Ronin 4D, Action 2 reviews. Believe me when I write that SO MUCH more is about to come… so stay tuned!

Vusa and Julie
Vusa and Juliet, taken from the timeline. Credit: CineD

Acknowledgment – Vusa Mkhaya and Juliet Tschank

What is a review without the opportunity to film something engaging? Thanks to our family friend Juliet (who is the actress in the above music clip), I met Vusa Mkhaya, a gentle person who happens to be a talented singer and songwriter coming from Zimbabwe. He was kind enough to collaborate and help me in executing this camera and lens review. The above song “Naisiyai” is taken from his album “Umnyanyatha songs from the Soul of Zimbabwe”. If you want to hear more about Vusa, head to his website or YouTube channel.

In general, my intention was to film the clip in a single long day with minimum equipment and to make it personal, so from the get-go, I ruled out using a gimble and follow focus. The consequence of my decision was a more static clip, but I think taking the song’s pace into account, it can make sense. So the bottom line is, I ended up using my prime review equipment (LUMIX BS1H and SIRUI 50mm full-frame anamorphic lens), next to a small slider (Smartta mini), a couple of lights from Godox and Cineroid (my current favorites), and my “secret weapon” for defusing the image a bit, the Freewell Vari Mist ND.

Panasonic BS1H and SIRUI 50mm lens rig
Panasonic BS1H and SIRUI 50mm anamorphic lens. Image credit: CineD

LUMIX BS1H and SIRUI Anamorphic Lens – “the combo”

The “Pana-RUI” has been sitting on my table for quite some time now, and at first, the combination seemed perfect, but I will let you be the judge of that.

Anamorphic filming at the plan of your hand
Anamorphic filming at the palm of your hand. Image credit: CineD

Panasonic LUMIX BS1H

This new tiny versatile “box-type” LUMIX camera has been announced at the beginning of October and caused a bit of a stir. Looking at our backend statistics, the information that we shared featuring the new camera proved to be popular content and this is no coincidence. Box cameras, in general, are becoming attractive for many, and in all honesty, I can and I can’t understand why at the same time…

Z CAM, Panasonic with their previous m4/3 box-type camera model, and even RED, all have their own very small and capable cameras and the only thing they have in common is their “box style” housing. Each and every camera is directed to a different type of audience and of course, their loyal fans. When thinking about it, the Panasonic LUMIX BS1H might have the chance to be the Swiss army knife in their category, as it can simply appeal to a wider crowd, be it for rental houses, drone operators, live events organizers, filmmakers, content creators, and more. Having big selectable resolutions/frame rates options, full-frame sensor utilization, and even inner “anamorphic de-squeeze mode” makes this camera a very desirable (and affordable) filming device. (The current closest de-squeeze mode is 1.5x. Not a biggie with the SIRUI 1.6x lens, yet not 100% accurate).

1.5x in-camera de-squeeze
1.5x in-camera de-squeeze mode instead of 1.6x Image credit: CineD

A missed oppertunity?

So what Panasonic did here was “simply” to strip their flagship mirrorless camera the LUMIX S1H and house its interior differently. For those who are not comfortable with appearing on a set together with a mirrorless camera, this of course might be the perfect solution. But for others, like myself who could not care less about “what people will say”, this camera is a bit of a step back. I need to be completely clear here: for SO MANY usages this box-type camera is the perfect solution (“streaming” is the new buzzword), but when utilizing it in my narrow documentary filmmaking world, it is indeed a step back. Let me explain: with its sibling LUMIX S1H mirrorless camera one gets a built-in EVF and more importantly, IBIS (In Body Image Stabilizer). Oh, and yes, it is a photo camera as well… Sure it is nice to see that Panasonic took these missing elements into account when calculating the price in favor of the BS1H, yet in my eyes, this is still a bit of a missed opportunity.

I know that many creators from our community believe that a camera should consist of a strong “brain” only and the rest should be compensated by adding external elements “à la film camera”. This might be true if the manufacturer is targeting a specific type of user, but with such a camera, the BS1H could have done MUCH better if it had a “deal-breaker” element built in it. Why did the IBIS disappear? Why is there no internal ND filter? No clue. (Maybe camera body size limitation?). All I’m saying is, that a greater amount of creators would have considered buying this camera over the competition if it had at least one of these elements.

Utilizing the 3:2 sensor
Utilizing the 3:2 sensor for full-frame anamorphic filming. Image credit. CineD

Furthermore, utilizing the 3:2 sensor for anamorphic filming is great, but bear in mind that this can be done at a lower bit rate (200Mbps), inferior color space (4:2:0), and more compressed codec (Long GOP).

The other thing is “noise reduction”. Panasonic is known for striving to give its users the BEST possible picture quality, but the question is of course, “what do we consider the best”. It seems that in Panasonic’s eyes, best is equal to “the cleanest possible image” while for others, “best” is may be more about “picture identity”. Knowing I’m at the edge of digging myself into a hole here, I’ll try and elaborate further:

There are MANY ways to achieve that specific “desirable look”, be it with lights, lenses, and such, but fundamentally, we start with the camera and the picture it produces. In our case, Panasonic is applying the noise reduction algorithm to anything that the camera records internally. This “smoothes” the picture and makes it beautiful for some, but the result is somehow a “sterile” picture. Actually, I would love to compare it to LEICA’s SL/SL2 cameras. Those companies are collaborating tightly, but in LEICA’s case, NO NR is being applied while recording internally. (This is true for the LEICA SL, SL2 and I’m questioning myself in regards to the SL2s. More on that in a separate review). But back to the NR topic, the differences in “picture identity” are staggering. The LEICA looks more “organic” almost “out of the box”.

LUMIX BS1H flat buttons
LUMIX BS1H flat buttons. Image credit: CineD.

The camera body

I could have summarized it in a sentence and write it’s tiny…but in all seriousness, it is amazing what Panasonic was able to create here in terms of features and size. (Kudos to all other companies from our industry who are able to squeeze so much into such limited spaces, too). One thing that I can definitely highlight on the negative side is the “operating buttons” found on this camera. Most if not all are simply “too flat” making it hard to distinguish between the camera body itself and the buttons. I had to constantly look for buttons while filming and make sure that I was pressing the actual button. Other than that, I had no major concerns as my expectations from such a box-style body have been fulfilled.

Pansonic LUMIX BS1H – conclusion

The new LUMIX BS1H camera will certainly appeal to many as it has multiple personalities and extended usage scenarios. I truly like the form factor and when combined with a nice lightweight rig it is a no-brainer to move around. Speaking of “moving around”, Not having an IBIS was restricting for me. In fact, putting the new SIRUI anamorphic lens “cried” for teaming it up with a handheld camera (especially when filming a music clip), but by putting it on the office LUMIX S1 I would have missed the opportunity to test the new BS1H.

So all in all, the camera is good and the price is fair too. The question is, could Panasonic take that box-style device a step further? And how far can firmware updates actually support the future of this camera? After all, its mirrorless sibling the S1H was introduced to the market at the end of September 2019 which is a “lifetime” ago in the current camera production circle.

SIRUI 50mm, T2.9
SIRUI 50mm, T2.9, 1.6x Squeeze, Full-Frame Anamorphic Lens. Image credit: CineD

SIRUI 50mm, T2.9, 1.6x Squeeze, Full-Frame Anamorphic lens

Lesson number one at the Filming University of Life has taught me that a camera without a lens is a brick. Want to fulfill your creative ideas? Better attach a lens to it…

So, before jumping in and talking about the new lens, I’d like to say a word about SIRUI: Personally, I’m fascinated to see how much progress this company made in a relatively short time. According to SIRUI, their previous 1.33x anamorphic lens Indiegogo campaign brought to the company 5.8 million dollars! And now, their announced plan to grow their family of full-frame anamorphic lenses even further will ensure additional exposure and a stronger industry footprint. (Future lenses will consist of 75mm, 35mm, and 100mm lenses, planned to come out during 2021).

Now, the company was kind enough to send me a lens (I asked for an L-Mount for obvious reasons). Their new 50mm full-frame anamorphic lens is in many ways, a “state of the art” product. In fact, there are very few companies that are able to do what SIRUI is doing, producing an affordable full-frame anamorphic lens(es). In my recent trip to Japan, I’ve tried to understand “why Japanese lens manufacturers are NOT following (or even leading) the “anamorphic on the budget” trend, and I came up with a conclusion that the cultural gap is the obstacle here. Producing something is an art, and a Japanese manufacturer will not settle for a piece of gear unless convinced that it is simply perfect. The Chinese on the other hand will strive to do their best but in the end simply “go for it” and see how the market responds. There is no “right or wrong” with either attitude, it is just that in reality, a very limited number of manufacturers are producing on-the-budget anamorphic lenses for mirrorless cameras, and SIRUI is one maker out of the two I know. (Great Joy is the other).

1/4'' screw hole
1/4” screw hole at the bottom for additional support. Image credit: CineD

SIRUI 50mm Anamorphic – what I liked

Build quality: Simply put, it looks like a very durable lens. Geared aperture and focus rings are very smooth to use (Focus rotation is only 143.6° so very easy to use as a “one-man-band”).

Size: The lens in general is very compact (140-143mm) and relatively lightweight if compared to other lenses in its group. (1030g-1073g depending on the lens mount type you choose). If you have concerns regarding the strength of your camera lens mount, you can always attach it via the existing 1/4” screw hole at the bottom. The front 82mm diameter allows easy mounting of filters that one already owns from previous purchases.

Optical quality: It is also worth mentioning that chromatic aberration is controlled well!

Price / Performance: For around 1500 USD one grants him/herself an “on the budget” anamorphic lens with the possibility to de-squeeze the image to two different aspect ratios (2.4:1, 2.8:1) depending on the camera and recording format used.

Uneven flares
Uneven flares. Image credit: CineD

What I would like to see improved

Visual quality: To my taste, this lens is too sharp, or should I write, too clean. For many, it might be a good thing but for me, it seems as there is no “saying” in the image. (Lack of caricaturist).

Flares: Those are a bit tricky. At times they look beautiful and then, they are distributed across the image as someone “just threw them there”. Of course, it is a matter of lighting too, but the lens does not help here either.

Image distortion: Distortion is noticeable when filming at minimum focus (0.75m) and up to around 1 meter away. Be prepared to see objects or people fuller than in reality.

Focus breathing: This is well-controlled but certainly there!

Lowlight performance: At T2.9 maximum aperture, most modern cameras won’t have an issue when setting the ISO high for lowlight recording, but I felt that T2.9 is a bit “on the border” for on-the-go documentary work.

Julie's face
Julie’s face is more rounded at a 1-meter distance. Image credit: CineD
Julie's face
Julie’s face is slimmer when further away. Image credit: CineD

SIRUI 50mm Anamorphic lens – conclusion

All in all, SIRUI did a good job here, but don’t expect your footage to look phenomenal. The squeeze factor is still not strong enough and I encourage SIRUI to seek an intermediate solution to enhance it. Since all their upcoming full-frame lenses will have the same 82mm diameter, maybe creating an optical attachment that can “improve” the squeeze factor to 1.8x or even 2.0x is doable. Needless to say that moving that attachment between lenses should be fairly easy as all lenses’ front diameter is the same. Can it be done technically, as well as optically? I don’t know but Great Joy did it before.

So to conclude, this entry-level anamorphic lens is truly nice to have as long as you are aware of its’ limitations.
If you are interested in this lens, you can check out their IndieGoGo campaign for at least the next couple of days.

LUMIX BS1H and SIRUI 50mm anamorphic lens
LUMIX BS1H and SIRUI 50mm anamorphic lens. Image credit: CineD

LUMIX BS1H and SIRUI 50mm Anamorphic Lens Combo – conclusion

After working with both, LUMIX BS1H and attached to it the SIRUI 50mm lens, I came to the conclusion that both products are nice to work with but combined you might face getting a very clean image. Maybe too clean for my taste. Remember this when using other cameras from the LUMIX line like the S1H and S1. Both are wonderful cameras that give you the possibility to utilize the 3:2 sensor but unfortunately with limited/no control on noise reduction too. In regards to the SIRUI lens, it is a great entry-level to the world of anamorphic filming. The ease of use is fantastic, the size and weight are perfect also for handheld filming and the price is right. Hopefully, future lens generations would emphasize the “organic anamorphic look” with greater squeeze factors and more controlled flares.

From the timeline before grading
From the timeline before grading. Image credit: CineD
Grading with fylm.ai
Grading with fylm.ai. Image credit: CineD

Production notes

  • I used the aspect ratio calculator made by our friend Tito Ferradans in order to create the right dimensions for the timeline.
  • For creating my own original LUTs, I used fylm.ai, a truly revolutionary easy-to-use cloud-based color grading solution. Expect to hear more about this soon.
  • Through out this test, I tried keeping one of the LUMIX BS1H’s dual native ISO settings turned on in order to allow best DR and cleanest image possible (640 / 4000 in V-Log).

The new SIRUI full-frame anamorphic lens is already shipping. What is your experience working with it? Both LUMIX S1H and RED Komodo cameras can utilize filming in 3:2 portion of the sensor. At what aspect ratio do you prefer filming, 2.4:1 or 2.8:1? Please share your thought in the comment section below.

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