Continuous autofocus for photos works well, though it’s still behind Canon and Sony. The AI is good at locking onto human faces, bodies and eyes, and also works with animals, cars and motorcycles. It’s not a sports or wildlife camera by any means, but the majority of my photos were in focus.

Like the S5 II, the S9 shoots 14-bit RAW images in single-shot mode but drops to 12-bit RAW for burst shooting. As this was a pre-production camera without the final firmware, I was unable to test RAW quality, but I’d expect it to be in line with the Panasonic S5 II.

Photo quality otherwise is good from what I’ve seen so far, with realistic colors and skin tones. In low light, I wouldn’t go past about ISO 6400 as noise can get bad compared to cameras with similar sensors, like Nikon’s Z6 II.

Panasonic S9 mirrorless camera sample imagesPanasonic S9 mirrorless camera sample images

Steve Dent for Engadget

I liked the S9 as a street photography camera, as it’s discreet, silent and lightweight. However, the new $200 pancake lens that helps make it so light is manual focus only and has just one f/8 aperture setting which may turn off buyers. On top of that, with no electronics in the lens, the zoom window doesn’t pop up to aid focus. As such, you need to rely on the focus peaking assist.

As a video camera, the S9 is generally excellent, but has some pluses and minuses compared to the ZV-E1. On the positive side, the higher-resolution sensor allows for up to 6.2K 30p or supersampled 4K 30p video using the entire sensor width. It also supports full readout 3:2 capture that makes vertical video easier to shoot.

4K 60p requires an APS-C crop, and to get 120 fps video you need to drop down to 1080p. Like the S5 II, it supports a number of anamorphic formats with supported lenses.

Panasonic S9 mirrorless camera hands-onPanasonic S9 mirrorless camera hands-on

Steve Dent for Engadget

The ZV-E1 has half the resolution, so video isn’t quite as sharp, but Sony’s camera can shoot 4K at up to 120 fps and rolling shutter isn’t nearly as bad.

One potential issue with this camera for creators is the limited continuous recording time, which is capped at just 10 minutes at 6.2K and 15 minutes at 4K. That’s due to the small size and lack of a fan, but you can start recording again immediately after it stops — so this would mainly affect event shooters needing to do long takes. We’ll see if these recording times remain in the final firmware.

The S9 has excellent in-body stabilization, with up to 6.5 stops using supported lenses. Like the S5 II, it offers a boost mode that’s best for handheld shooting with limited movement, and an electronic mode with a 1.4x crop in the “high” setting.

Panasonic S9 hands-on: A powerful creator camera with a patented LUT simulation buttonPanasonic S9 hands-on: A powerful creator camera with a patented LUT simulation button

Steve Dent for Engadget

The latter can smooth out footsteps and other jolts well enough to replace a gimbal in a pinch. It does a better job than the ZV-E1 with abrupt movements, but the latter crops in slightly less at 1.3x.

Autofocus mostly keeps subjects sharp, but it can occasionally lag. The AI-powered face-tracking stays locked on a subject’s eyes and face, though sometimes the autofocus itself doesn’t keep up. However, these could be pre-production issues.

With the same sensor as the S5 II, quality is very similar. Video is sharp and colors are realistic, with pleasing skin tones. It’s not quite as good in low light as other 24MP cameras like the Canon R6 II, with noise starting to become noticeable at ISO 6400. The ZV-E1, in comparison, can shoot clean video at ISO 12800 and even beyond.

Panasonic S9 mirrorless camera hands-onPanasonic S9 mirrorless camera hands-on

Steve Dent for Engadget

I enjoy shooting Panasonic V-log video as it’s easy to adjust in post and offers excellent dynamic range. It’s one big reason Panasonic cameras are so popular with professional videographers, so it’s nice to see this on a less expensive model.

So what about the new LUT feature? To get the most out of it, you have to go into the new Lumix Lab app. Panasonic has a handful of presets to get you started, or you can load custom LUTs from a variety of creators. You can also make your own in an editing program like DaVinci Resolve.

Panasonic S9 mirrorless camera hands-onPanasonic S9 mirrorless camera hands-on

Steve Dent for Engadget

Applying the LUT bakes the look into the video, which makes it hard to adjust it later on. However, you can shoot standard or V-Log footage and use the LUT as a preview, then apply that same look in post without being locked in.

The LUT button is a clever idea, as it allows creators to create cool shots without the need to futz around in post. However, many may not even be familiar with the term “LUT,” so Panasonic has an uphill battle selling the benefits. By comparison, many influencers understand the advantages of Fujifilm’s simulations.

Panasonic S9 mirrorless camera hands-onPanasonic S9 mirrorless camera hands-on

Steve Dent for Engadget

With the S9, Panasonic is trying to attract influencers with a small, stylish camera that makes it easy to create interesting video looks quickly. At the same time, it has nearly all the capabilities of higher-end models like the S5 II.

It does have some flaws that make it a hard sell for photographers. And I’m concerned about the $1,500 price tag, as that’s just a bit less than the S5 II, which has an EVF, mechanical shutter, extra card slot, better ergonomics and more.

So far, it comes out well against the ZV-E1, though. I like the extra resolution and sharpness, and it has superior stabilization. It’s also cheaper, but only by about $300 at the moment. It looks like a good first try and I have a few quibbles, but I’ll know more once I’m able to test the production version.

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