Is the Panasonic S9 the Full Frame GM1 We Always Wanted?

Is the Panasonic S9 the Full Frame GM1 We Always Wanted?

I have spent much (digital) ink on how great a camera the Panasonic GM1 is, even in 2024. Someone at Panasonic must think so too, because the new S9 looks like it’s channeling big GM1 energy, and that’s an awesome thing.

When the image first came across my feeds, I thought I was looking at the GM1 reborn. And while it may share the design, it’s definitely larger than the deck-of-cards-sized GM1, to the tune of about an inch longer, 0.7” taller, and 0.6” deeper while doubling the weight (half a pound vs. a pound). OK, so it may look the part on its own, but it’s certainly a chunkier camera than its Micro Four Thirds forebear. But unlike the GM1, this one’s packing a full frame sensor.

Before Panasonic introduced the S-series, I often remarked how great the company’s Micro Four Thirds offerings were when it came to noise performance and dynamic range. While the S-series has been around for a while now and by all accounts the sensors are pretty good, none of the cameras have broken the traditional mold of what traditional camera manufacturers are doing. But the S9 was finally the one that made me look twice.

Just look at the back of the cameras. Both are minimalist works of art.

The S9 on the left, GM1 on the right.

Where the GM1 had a pop-up flash, the S9 loses that but instead gains an articulating screen. The screen is worth the bump in size, in addition to that full frame sensor, but it is a shame to lose any sort of flash possibility with only a cold shoe up top. The controls definitely draw from the earlier camera but add some "pro" features such as the LUT and AF-On button.

The front is where things get a little funky. I’ll admit, it was the Lumix S 26mm f/8 pancake lens that really fooled me into thinking I was looking at a GM1 reborn. In truth, it’s a truly an insult to pancake lenses. Canon and Nikon are able to make full-frame pancake lenses with autofocus that hit f/2.8. At f/8 and manual focus only, it’s a perplexing choice for a camera without a viewfinder, and at almost $200, it’s just a nutty choice to use on this camera. It seems like it makes for great marketing photos, but unimpressive spec sheets.

It’s not like Panasonic can’t do it. It's often kitted the Lumix G 20mm f/1.7 II ASPH. Lens with its small GF series Micro Four Thirds cameras. Even the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH. The lens in the picture above is quite a bit faster and still just as tiny. In my opinion, those wonderful and small lenses made the entire system shine in the early days of mirrorless cameras, and to push this f/8, manual focus lens with a new $1,498 camera seems to be a major step backwards. Indeed, Panasonic doesn’t offer much else in the way of small-but-mighty full frame optics, a glaring omission from its lineup now that the S9 exists.

The beauty of the GM1 was all of the fast optics you could slide in front of it, something the S9 doesn't quite have right at launch.

The GM1 was such a good camera that it screamed “take my money” back in the heady early days of mirrorless, so much so that Panasonic did take my money for it, three times over. The S9 has the potential to spark that same kind of magic and creativity of that old camera, but with much more horsepower under the hood. However, it can’t do that without a proper set of official pancake lenses, and so as close as it comes to the GM1, Panasonic just needs to do a little work on the lens front to make it so.

What do you think of the Panasonic S9? A win, or no? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Wasim Ahmad is an assistant teaching professor teaching journalism at Quinnipiac University. He's worked at newspapers in Minnesota, Florida and upstate New York, and has previously taught multimedia journalism at Stony Brook University and Syracuse University. He's also worked as a technical specialist at Canon USA for Still/Cinema EOS cameras.

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I never wanted a GM1, full frame or not. If it doest have an EVF, its useless in bright sunlight. And what's the point of a tiny camera (S9) with giant FF lenses? Stupid camera, even stupider lens (the 8mm).

You forgot to mention the absolutely idiot 15 minute video record limit too, on a camera targeted at YT and TT vloggers no less *facepalm*

Great camera. I can finally move away from Fujifilm. I've been dancing around the a7CII for months, I just never was in love with the Sony look, but the LUT system on Panasonic looks great, and the community aspect is awesome too. It will be nice to finally have the camera that Fujifilm doesn't want to make for us casual users.

Better IBIS, better AF, smaller than most fujifilm cameras, cheaper than the X100, flip out screen, great video features, full frame. All of that is such a fantastic value proposition.

They do need to offer some compact f2.8 primes or something though. A 28f2.8 like Nikon and Canon have at least.

I know whingey whining professional Internet reviewers and commenters will be complaining about the EVF, hot shoe, and electronic shutter — but honestly I've shot the GRIII for years in Mexico and never had much issues with the LCD only workflow in bright sun, I'm not going to be shooting fast paced sports or wildlife on a mega tele lens, and I won't be using a bulky flash unit ever. It's supposed to be a small everyday casual camera, you'd be an idiot to trying to force it into one of those hefty pro niches. Not everything needs to be a family sedan, sometimes it's nice to go on a bike ride.

If I want all that I'd get the S5II for its value proposition. For me the S5II is too big, I'd leave it at home. So the S9 offers me infinitely more value right off the bat.

I like this take on it.

I think a lot of the hate dumped on the GM1 here is from folks who haven't used it. Yeah, it doesn't have an EVF or flip screen and all that, but, it's just a great camera with a big sensor that fits in even a small pocket, which makes me take it more places, which is really the point.

I love my R5 and my Canon M stuff, but still just a bit too big for an everyday carry like the GM1 was.

Photos of the 18-40mm compact zoom, to be released in September, give cause for optimism.

I never wanted a camera without EVF... Market will talk, but I don't understand this (As for old Canon M6 mk2, again without EVF).

You could add an EVF to the M6 Mark II - I have the setup and it's quite awesome. The only downside is that adding the EVF to that camera precludes using the hotshoe for a speedlite or transmitter.

Truly if Canon re-used the EOS M5 body and modernized the internals, that would be awesome. That was an excellent feeling camera in the hand (also, I have one) but its autofocus just isn't quite as accurate as the models that came after that have eye-detection focus.