LUMIX S9 Review

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LUMIX S9 Review
Welcome to the LUMIX S9, the new full-frame mirrorless made by stuffing the inner workings of an S5II into a tiny little camera body. Panasonic didn’t skimp on features, and even added a few new ones. Let’s take a quick look at why the new LUMIX S9 is such a great addition to the L-mount collection, and why I think it’s a tonne of fun.

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The essence of this new addition to the L-Mount and S-Series collections is simple: How much of an S5 Mark II can they fit into a tiny camera body and still function?

I love that full-frame cameras are getting smaller while still retaining so many features. And that’s what we have here with the Lumix S9, we have all of the features. They kept the internal stabilisation, which means we also get the hires mode that uses pixel-shift to capture a 96MP RAW file. And they kept the pre-burst feature in the drive modes. And we still get lovely 4K 10-bit 422 video with the best stabilisation of any full frame camera. Indeed we still get 6K video if we want it. This camera is the S5II, but literally jammed inside of a smaller camera body.

Size matters to a lot of people. I see this so much on my tours and workshops, and it’s not merely a matter of being lazy. We’re not lazy just because we want to carry a smaller bag, or have room for more than just cameras in our bag. I think about the gear I used to lug around in the DSLR days and I don’t know how I did it really. Smaller cameras are about having confidence to carry it around a city all day and not feel too self-conscious, and not feel worried that your neck is going to pinch a nerve from all that extra weight.

Smaller cameras reduce that hurdle to simply getting out there and enjoying your craft.

A few things you don’t get on the S9 are a viewfinder, active cooling, and a mechanical shutter. I am 100% OK with these compromises. When I shoot wildlife I want my G9II anyway, not full-frame. I have also spent a lot of time shooting with electronic shutter instead of mechanical and it’s very very very rarely that this is an issue for me. In the studio we now shoot entirely with continuous lighting anyway, so we don’t need flash sync anymore.

And when I’m not in the studio I want to travel light, and that for that I love the idea of a really really small full-frame camera.

The main feature of the S9 is straight up being a very small camera. Indeed attaching my little tiny S-35mm F1.8 prime onto this camera body makes the lens look huge. And a tad silly. LUMIX are releasing a new pancake lens to go with the S9 as well, something about the size of a lens cap! It’s going to be a 26mm lens with fixed F8 and manual focus. They’re just going all-in on the small form factor. It sounds like a lens that won’t be much use to me, but they’re aiming for a different audience there.


Exactly who will find that pancake lens interesting? LUMIX are taking a bet here that folks who are currently using smartphones for content creation will see value in this unique combination. People who love editing a video on their iPhone for example, but want a better image and a chance to enjoy a full-frame camera. They’re aiming at “content creators”.

They’ve also taken the Real Time LUT concept and ramped it up a notch with this release. There’s a dedicated button to access the LUT menu – Keeping in mind, they stripped MOST buttons off the camera when downsizing. Yet they added a LUT button. You can reprogram that to do other things of course if LUTs are not your thing.

LUMIX also are releasing a new app for iPhone and Android, one that lets you edit the LUTs and download to camera more easily. It also does a better job of connecting to the phone and is easier to setup compared to the old LUMIX SYNC app. Once connected to your camera you can pull down stills and video in real time and have them ready to edit on the phone. Immediately. They even developed a new video codec just for content creators, with a smaller data rate and social media friendly specs.

I’ll be honest, most of these “content creator” features are not that interesting to me personally. I am not the target audience here. I do see value in the LUTs for photographers though. Being able to see on screen an image that looks closer to what your final processing will be is helpful. The new app makes it easier to manage the LUTs and that’s a really important step forward. LUMIX have also worked with a handful of photographers to have a bunch of LUTs ready to play with in the new app too. There’s some real polish to the overall experience.


What draws me to this camera is the smaller form factor, and that custom dial. Seems like a small thing perhaps, and I know the vast majority of photographers out there are not taking sufficient advantage of their custom settings feature. I’ve written loads of articles about that in the past, and will do so again. (Check back here in a few weeks and I’ll have my custom settings posted on the blog and free to download. )

My major gripe with the Sony ZV-E1 was the absolute shambles they made with custom settings. I cannot stand that menu system and in particular trying to recall or update my own custom modes. I am so happy to see those little C1/C2/C3 letters printed on the S9 mode dial.

If you’re new to LUMIX then let me explain that C3 is a bit special. You have quick access to jump into any of the custom settings, but C3 has a library of up to ten more modes that you can setup. You simply assign any of those ten settings to be the current C3 on the dial. As required. And, you can give each one a name that means something useful to you!

There will be a lot of comparisons between the S9 and ZV-E1 in the coming months. The S9 doesn’t have the same level of on-camera audio as the Sony, but then again I always use a professional external mic anyway. You don’t get a hot shoe, just a cold shoe. That’s fine, I’ll still have somewhere to attach the wireless audio receiver. The S9 also has it’s own reply to Sony’s “Clear Zoom”. LUMIX call theirs “Crop Zoom”, and it takes advantage of those extra pixels that the ZV-E1 misses out on. On the flip side there’s still no 4K 120p and it still crops down to Super35 for slow motion video.

It is an S5II under the hood, 100%. It even uses the same battery as the S5II.

There is good news for compatibility with your RAW editing software too. Because the sensor is the same as the S5II, I can tweak the exif data of my RAW files and tell Capture One that it’s not an S9 but an S5II, and the files open up without any drama. Because we all know Capture One put LUMIX last on their to-do-list, and don’t expect any support for the RAW file soon. The exif solution is a little bit geeky, and annoying to have that extra step, but it means I am getting really good value from my software and don’t have to upgrade to a version where they moved all the tools once again.

If you can install “EXIFTOOL” onto your computer then all you need is the following command to trick your RAW editor...
exiftool *.RW2 -Model="DC-S5M2”

Here’s another small detail but an important one, and I think demonstrative of the thoughtful design put into this camera body: There's not many buttons on the top of this camera, but their is one for Exposure Compensation. On the larger bodies you have a rear dial that you can assign to Exposure Compensation, but that's absent on this smaller body. So instead they've included a button to engage Exposure Compensation via the main dial. Good result that one.

Another really small detail but very well delivered is that little notch where your thumb goes. This made it so much easier to carry around all day. It just gives that little bit of grip where you need it.


I am interested to see what owners of MFT think about this new model. If you own a G9 or an Olympus, does a camera like the LUMIX S9 appeal to you at all? Does this camera body do enough to reduce the size and weight of moving to a full-frame system? Lenses are usually much smaller on the MFT, so this camera won’t fix that. Unless the F8 pancake lens works for you? I can imagine folks who like hiking but don’t like carrying heavy lenses will LOVE this new combo – they can step into the world of full-frame and further down the track think about buying better lenses.

In many ways this is the camera I wish Sigma had released all those years ago when the L-mount alliance launched. The Sigma FP was such a great little unit, but had some critical failings. No stabe. No flippy screen. And a strange choice of video codecs. I really wanted to like the Sigma FP, but they just missed the mark on so many important factors. The LUMIX S9 feels completely different – They did not miss. The build quality is excellent, the compromises are well thought through, and we now have a new addition to the L-mount family that fills an important gap for many photographers.

The major penalty for being small is less room for buttons and dials. Not having a bunch of buttons isn’t too bad when there’s an effective custom dial to pre-load all my favourite shooting modes anyway. There’s even another menu system hidden inside the touch screen, for quick access to the things I need.

I’m sure people will make a big deal about the lack of active cooling for the sensor, and maybe being restricted to an electronic shutter. Or the single SD slot, or perhaps complain about not having a CFExpress slot instead. The LUMIX S9 isn’t the best camera in the world, and it’s not even the most expensive one from Panasonic. It’s pretty much their version of “entry level”, and suffice to say it is loaded with features that hit well above the price point.

It’s also a very good looking little camera. I’d go as far to say “charming”. There’s a good feel to the body and the buttons. The multi-function dial on the rear of the camera is my least favourite, mainly because it reminds me of the old days of shooting with a little GX7 when I reviewed my very first MFT. Indeed this camera body feels about the same size, just with a gaping huge hole that fits a full-frame sensor and it’s L-mount.

If size matters to you, but so does image quality, the LUMIX S9 is a very appealing setup to invest in.

A version of this review can also be found on my YouTube channel:

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This feature was last updated on Thursday 23rd May 2024
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