Panasonic Lumix S9 Initial Review: Small, Pretty, and Confusing

One of my favorite cameras of all time was the Panasonic GM5. With its interchangeable lenses and ultra-compact design, I could truly take it anywhere and still have full manual control. Compromises had to be made given such a small design, and the Micro Four Thirds format did limit potential image quality, but I had an EVF and a creative camera that was perfect for travel.

Close-up image of a green and black Lumix camera with textured surface and a silver button on the top. The photo captures part of the lens and the Lumix brand name in clear white letters on the top front edge.
The Panasonic S9 may look reminiscent of the old GM series but it’s all full-frame power under the hood.

Disclosure: Panasonic provided PetaPixel with travel and accommodations for the purposes of this video. It had no input on content and all opinions shared are those of PetaPixel

This past month I found myself traveling to Japan to see the new Panasonic S9, and I can’t help but be reminded of the GM series again. However, the S9 is a different beast altogether, not just because of its larger full-frame design but also because of how Panasonic wants to change the way we think about photography with it.

Black and white photo of a person in traditional Japanese attire standing by a brick archway. They are wearing a kimono with intricate designs and holding an umbrella, smiling and gazing to the side. The background includes multiple arches with shadows and texture.
Japan is always a wondrous place to visit and has both beautiful people and natural beauty to be photographed. NEOPAN 640 LUT.

With a pre-production S9 in hand, I explored the streets of Kyoto and Osaka, night and day. I appreciated the compact form factor wandering the alleyways of Higashiyama or the crowded streets of Dotonbori over hours and hours on foot. Panasonic gave us the pitch that the S9 is trying to approach photo taking in a different way and I was skeptical. Is the S9 a revolutionary camera design or just a different flavor of something we’ve seen before?

A bright orange wall in sunlight, casting sharp shadows including a staircase silhouette. A red vending machine dispensing beverages is positioned near the wall. An individual in a camo hat and dark clothes walks past, carrying a transparent plastic bottle.
Street shooting around Osaka is one of my dream situations. The S9 is a handy size for walking around endlessly. Standard Photo Style.

Panasonic S9 Initial Review: We’ve Been Asking For a Compact Panasonic Camera

The body is basically a scaled-up GM series camera — at least superficially — with a rather boxy design and flat grip. Coming in variations of the three primary colors plus black, the S9 certainly has some head-turning street style. In the hand though, the camera body feels very lightweight at only 14.4 ounces (409 grams) and has a fairly simplified control structure. There is a front command dial which works well and a rear thumb wheel “joypad” design which I tend to criticize due to its propensity to modify white balance or ISO accidentally. I understand the compromises involved when trying to keep a camera as small as possible but it does hamper the shooting experience, especially for more advanced photographers.

Close-up of the back of a camera showing the control dial, buttons, and part of the menu screen. The menu options include "Film(Video)" and "File Recording," both set to "OFF." The control dial features buttons for ISO, MENU/SET, and WB (white balance).
Controls are sparse and basic. I far prefer two separate control dials but the smaller and fiddly thumb dial on the back will have to do.

There isn’t much room for customizable buttons either, so the top of the camera simply has a video record button and an exposure compensation button. On the back of the camera is an AF-ON button and the new Realtime LUT button, which I will come back to. These buttons can be customized to carry out other commands if you wish.

A group of people are participating in a festival game booth decorated with colorful packages and toys. One person aims an air rifle at a prize, attempting to win. The booth features Japanese signs and a golden statue in the background.
There is nothing wrong with the 24-megapixel images of the S9. It borrows a fair amount from the more expensive S5 II. Standard Photo Style.

Now the older GM series cameras didn’t have much in the way of extra controls either but they were tiny and space was limited. I feel that the larger body of the S9 has plenty of real estate to put extra controls and buttons but we are left with a very basic control scheme instead. One of the most obvious — and painful — omissions is the lack of an EVF. My eyes aren’t getting any better and although I can see the intent for a camera that is shot at arm’s length or from the hip in a fun and freeing way, I have also criticized many a camera in the past for the exact same thing. It would be unfair to give the S9 a pass.

A man wearing a bandana and a black shirt is busy preparing food behind a wooden counter in a cozy, dimly lit restaurant or food stall. Shelves filled with cups, jars, and other kitchen items are seen in the background. Warm lighting enhances the intimate setting.
The streets near Hozen-Ji temple are full of small shops and bars. A perfect opportunity for a little teal-gold split-tone LUT. Warm Crush Retro LUT.

Regardless, the S9 is functional to use in a simplified way and simple can be a great thing. I got used to the handling pretty quickly and Panasonic provided a SmallRig custom grip for the S9 which improved the feel of the camera in-hand immensely. I also absolutely appreciated the AF-ON button placement and functionality as this is my preferred way to focus a camera. The S9 uses the same 1.84 million-dot back LCD panel as the S5 II and it fully articulates to accommodate shooting at awkward angles or for vlogging purposes.

A Lumix camera with a green body is displayed on a wooden surface. To the right of the camera is an extended screen showing a LUT (Lookup Table) library menu with options including "Vlog_709" and "Sample LUT1, LUT2, LUT3.
The back panel folds around for vlogging purposes and shows off how small the S9 can be.

Otherwise, we are mostly seeing the internals from the S5 II. It has the same 24-megapixel sensor and the same excellent IBIS capabilities. However, another important feature has been omitted: there is no mechanical shutter in the Panasonic S9, and although this does aid in shooting at slower shutter speeds, lacking one does have some ramifications elsewhere.

A black and white photo of a bustling city street in Japan during twilight. A vintage car passes by a brightly lit building adorned with large, bold Japanese signs. Overhead wires crisscross above, and several other buildings are visible in the background.
Handheld shots at night are easy to capture because of the excellent IBIS built-in to the body. NEOPAN 640 LUT.

Firstly, shooting on the vivid streets of Dotonbori at night exposed the camera to lots of artificial lighting. The S9 has a synchro scan feature that adjusts the shutter speed ever so slightly to dodge as much flicker as possible. This largely works but there are some situations at faster shutter speeds where some banding is visible. Having an electronic shutter does allow the S9 to shoot up to 30 frames-per-second but I was happy shooting up to eight with live view.

A comparison image of a backlit bar shelf with various bottles of liquor. The left side shows a photo taken with a 1/40 shutter speed, appearing brighter. The right side shows a photo taken with a 1/640 shutter speed, appearing darker.
Banding can be a real issue when shooting faster shutter speeds under artificial lights.
A bearded person wearing a brown beanie, eyeglasses, and a dark jacket stands in an outdoor urban setting holding a camera. They have a tan shoulder bag strapped across their body and appear to be looking thoughtfully to the side with buildings and greenery in the background.
Rolling shutter will also show up as a strong diagonal, like on this moving truck. Sadly there is no mechanical shutter or even EFC to help out. Autumn Leaves LUT.

The sensor in the S9 does not scan particularly fast and therefore rolling shutter is also an issue. If panning the camera to follow a subject or if something like a bus or train moves across the frame, any vertical structures will appear as slanted diagonals instead. There is no way to avoid this effect short of only shooting stationary subjects and keeping the camera still. There will also be no ability to use this camera with electronic flashes as the scan speeds will cause horizontal bands with any flash photography. This also explains why the shoe on the top of the camera has no electronic connection and therefore is only a mounting point for microphones and battery-powered accessories.

A person wearing a traditional Japanese kimono stands on an old stone bridge, surrounded by lush autumn foliage. The scene is peaceful, with rich green and golden leaves framing the bridge and a glimpse of a building roof in the background.
I do like the compactness of small Sigma primes like the 90mm f/2.8 I used here. Big zooms will be unwieldy on such a small body, however. Standard Photo Style.

Panasonic S9 Initial Review: Get On Board the LUT Train

Using the S9, I can’t help but feel like much has been stripped away from the camera, therefore creating limitations and quirks that will annoy more advanced photographers. One thing has been added, though, which is the defining feature of the S9.

A photo editing interface showing a split-image of flowers against a blue sky with color adjustments applied on the right side. Below the image are a thumbnail of the original photo, a plus sign for adding new styles, and an option labeled "Flat" for the base photo style.
You can preview, download, upload, and tinker, with any of the LUTs available on the Lumix Lab app.

Panasonic has included the option to upload LUTs and presets to its cameras for some time. However, along with the debut of the S9 is a brand new app called Lumix Labs. Coupled with the 5Ghz WiFi built into the S9, the app allows for quick and simple connectivity to your phone. From here, images can be transferred back and forth and — more importantly — you can create your own presets with a variety of tools and sliders. You can also browse a cloud-based library of other creators’ presets and upload your own creations to share with others too. Think the democratization of presets with the more popular ones rising to the top and everyone able to share and modify presets to their heart’s content.

A person is dressed in traditional Japanese attire, holding a vibrant red umbrella and wearing ornate hair accessories. The photo shows a color editing interface with tone curves and color options, suggesting the image is being edited.
Using Lumix Labs, I ended up making a split-tone retro LUT, a black and white LUT that mimics Fuji NEOPAN 400 at 640 ISO, and a warm autumn leaves LUT.

Panasonic is banking the success of this new venture on the hope that they can convince users to universally accept the look-up table, or LUT, as the new terminology for presets, whether for photography or videography. LUTs are commonly understood in the video world and are basically color and contrast presets applied to flat-looking video footage in post. In the photo world, we more commonly use terms like photo styles, film simulation modes, filters, or presets. These have been customizable on most camera systems for many years now but the Lumix Lab app allows you to apply them to downloaded photos, tweak them, and then upload them back to the camera to be used as your own custom looks.

A person walks through a dimly lit tunnel adorned with graffiti, featuring large, intense eyes on the wall. A bicycle is parked on the left side, and sunlight filters through the ceiling onto the pavement below.
I went for a wander north of my hotel and wandered into a cool underground area full of pachinko parlors and directional light. NEOPAN 640 LUT.

I don’t know how successful Panasonic will be at making the term LUT universal for photographers but I do have to say that the process to make your own LUTs is fun and easy, and the interface Panasonic has built makes them simple to share. I spent quite a bit of time making my own looks and applying them to my photos. There is joy in experimenting on the streets with a new LUT and seeing what happens. I definitely recommend shooting RAW+JPEG, though, to have a RAW file that can be edited in a different direction if desired because any applied LUTs affect only JPEGs, and any room to edit afterward is minimal.

An elderly man wearing a striped shirt and light-colored pants walks by a colorful mural painted on a brick wall. The mural features various abstract shapes and patterns with vibrant colors. The scene is lit by sunlight, casting shadows on the ground.
Sometime I chose to capture images without using the custom LUTs. This was taken with Panasonic’s Vivid profile.

I mentioned earlier that we would come back to it, and it’s time to talk about the LUT button. By default, this customizable button brings up all the downloaded LUTs for quick and easy selection and the dedicated button makes it easy for beginners to find and use. However, I found that I wanted more control than just applying a LUT, so I customized some of the “My Photo Styles” options instead. Here I could add grain, change the opacity or strength of the applied LUT, and even combine two LUTs to experiment. I feel like these controls should be available right off the blocks using the Real-Time LUT button because as it was, I never ended up using the LUT button after discovering the more advanced control through the quick menu. This did at least free up the LUT button to be customized to something else but I felt like the RealTime LUT feature was something to graduate out of rather than use regularly.

Close-up of a black button labelled "LUT" on an electronic device. The button is prominently featured in the center of the image, with another partially visible button labeled "AFON" on the right side. The surrounding surface appears to be textured.
Many users will grow out of using this LUT button and might want to customize it to something else.

It’s also important to note that the LUTs in Lumix Lab can be made for video recording as well. These can be as simple as highly stylized looks applied just like you would on photos but you can also make LUTs for the V-Log profile. This is a more traditional workflow for videographers but keep in mind that any LUTs applied will be baked into the video file and currently, there is no option on the S9 to have a proxy that is edited and an untouched video file if you want to change your mind later. You can still shoot standard V-Log and edit in post later.

A busy street food stall at night in Japan, featuring bright orange signage with Japanese text and a takoyaki sign. A person wearing a hat stands behind the counter preparing food. The warm glow of the lights illuminates the scene.
I enjoyed the Warm Crush Retro LUT to give that split-toned look to street scenes. Shooting in RAW+JPEG means I still have an alternative.

Also, keep in mind that using a V-Log-based LUT by accident when taking photos will put your camera into V-Log mode and thus raise the ISO to 640 with the expectation that you would correct for this with ND filters and appropriate exposure changes. This is just one example of a pitfalls that will confuse the beginner photographer and I predict some frustration will invariably occur.


Panasonic S9 Initial Review: Video Features for a Social Media World

Speaking of video, the S9 has similar capabilities to the S5 II with full-width open-gate recording at 6K which allows for the flexibility to shoot one clip and reframe it for both vertical and horizontal video uses in post. 5.9K wide-screen is also available but these two modes are capped at a maximum of ten minutes. Recording is possible in 4K up to 60p but there will be a fifteen-minute restriction to those clips. The reason recording is restricted at all, compared to the S5 II experience, is because there is no active cooling in the S9 — there just isn’t any room for it. The camera records 4:2:2 10-bit internal but there isn’t any ALL-I, ProRes, or external RAW recording available either.

Close-up of a hand opening the microphone port cover on a black electronic device. The cover is hinged to the side, revealing the MIC port labeled on the inside. The device has a textured green grip section visible in the image.
A mic jack is nice but no headphone jack is almost criminal.

Social media creators will also appreciate the new 4K MP4 Lite mode which reduces the data rate to 50 Mbps and allows recording up to 30p. This takes up way less space on the phone and is easy to upload and the quality drop it incurs should be imperceptible on platforms like Instagram and TikTok.

A person wearing a colorful shirt and pants stands on the sidewalk pointing to the right while holding a smartphone. A bicycle is parked nearby against the black building wall reflecting sunlight. There are Japanese signs on the wall and an orange sign in the background.
The autofocus algorithms are the same as the S5 II and worked quite well to grab quick shots on the go. Autumn Leaves LUT.

The Panasonic S9 certainly has some merit as a Vlogging camera with its fully articulating screen, good eye-detect AF, and straight-to-smartphone app but the lack of a headphone jack will upset both basic shooters and commercial videographers alike. Panasonic has simplified the video and photo features on this camera to the point that it could alienate more advanced users and at the same time leave beginners wanting for more sooner than later.

Who Should Buy The Lumix S9?

I am honestly struggling with answering who this camera is for because the S9 is quite enigmatic for such a simple camera design. I do at least prefer the handling and controls to similar cameras like the Sigma FP series and the LUTs are an enjoyable if somewhat limited way of avoiding the whole editing game altogether. In so many ways though, it is a very pared-down camera and yet I did have fun using it in specific situations. Perhaps it’s better to approach the question at hand by describing what potential I see in the S9 as a useful tool.

A serene nighttime scene in a traditional Japanese setting, with a wooden lantern, rock wall, and flowers in the background. A cat sits beneath a tall vertical sign with Japanese text, quietly observing its surroundings.
The cats that live in Hozen-Ji temple are by far the most popular models in the area. Standard Photo Style.

Most of the shooting I did was on the streets and here the S9 shines as a pseudo point-and-shoot meets analog camera experience. By using only the most basic manual controls and treating the camera as a from-the-hip stylish pocket camera, it certainly delivered an enjoyable experience. I could shoot JPEGs and mess around with the various LUTs and focus on capturing interesting subjects and worry less about technical perfection. Crushed shadows and blown highlights be damned, the S9 can give a similar experience to all the funky retro-inspired 35mm film out on the market today without the analog hassles. In this regard, the S9 was fun to use.

A traditional Japanese temple with intricate tiled rooftops set against a cloudy sky. The structure features ornate details, including a spire and a golden ornamental piece, highlighting the architectural beauty and cultural significance of the temple.
The fun experimentation won me over in the end, but I would simply go back to the versatility of a RAW workflow myself. Warm Crush Retro LUT.

I also see the merit in the S9 being an influencer-specific camera where quick video clips can have a stylish-looking LUT applied and then uploaded to social media without needing to edit color or contrast. Photos can also be thrown up onto Instagram for example, without having to tweak sliders because the LUTs have already been edited thus streamlining the process. This also allows the user more freedom to find their own look beyond what the social media presets offer.

A black and white portrait of a woman dressed in traditional Japanese attire. She is wearing a decorated kimono and an elaborate hairpiece with hanging ornaments. Her expression is calm and poised.
Using the customizable My Photo Styles menu, I could tweak grain, opacity, or combine two LUTS. NEOPAN 640 LUT.

The real challenge arises when you consider that all these features and so much more can be found on the S5 II for just a little bit more investment. This will be even more true when the Lumix Lab app becomes available to other Panasonic cameras like the S5II, unlocking arguably the most fun and exciting part of this whole experience without purchasing the S9. Take the Lumix Lab app away and you are left with a very basic camera that will only appeal to those users who want either the smallest full-frame L-mount experience possible — or the most simplistic.