Panasonic's Lumix S5 Packs a Lot Into a Little, With One Achilles Heel

The Panasonic Lumix S5, in many respects, seems like it could be a spiritual successor the much-loved Lumix GH5, or at least it's certainly trying to be its full-frame big brother.

YouTuber and photographer Kai Wong took a look at the Panasonic S5 for a review with renowned photojournalist Dan Chung, and while it was intended to be a deep dive of the camera, he kept coming back the same issues that have dogged Panasonic cameras from day one: autofocus.

You see, since pretty much the beginning of its foray into mirrorless, the company has staunchly, or stubbornly, depending on how you look at it, used contrast-detect autofocus in its cameras, starting with its Micro Four Thirds offerings and continuing all the way to its full frame models, the Lumix S series cameras. While contrast detection autofocus is always incredibly accurate, it brings with it a lot of downsides to the AF party. Notably, contrast detect autofocus has a bit of a "wobble" at the end of finding focus, as it has to focus back and forth past the subject to accurately judge focus. Sometimes this is done so fast it's barely noticeable, but as light or contrast drops, it can be very noticeable.

For the same reasons, this makes tracking autofocus on Panasonic cameras perform just a cut below its phase-detection capable peers. Panasonic has added some tricks to the technology, such as Depth From Defocus (DFD) which looks at the focus of two images, compares their focus characteristics, and adjusts the lens accordingly, all very quickly. It was introduced in the GH4 and continues on the S-series models today, though reviewers have complained that it still doesn't track moving subjects all that well. There was some improvement though when the frame rate was bumped up to 60 fps or 50 fps in 4K, which is something, though at that point the image is cropped.

That said, despite the autofocus issues, for the price the camera offers a lot of the goodness of the other S models in a smaller package with a smaller price tag. The sensor remains at 24 megapixels, which is about average these days, but still retains excellent colors and dynamic range, according to Wong. Additionally, the kit lens goes out to a wider-than-normal 20mm, which could be a boon for YouTubers looking to film themselves with the flip screen.

Likewise, the controls and size are very similar to a GH5, which is an indication that perhaps the GH5 didn't really need to be that big for packing a sensor so small. As Wong notes, unlike the GH5, you'll actually want to shoot photos and video with an S5 versus just video on the GH5 (though as a GH3 owner to this day, I've always found the stills acceptable).

What do you think of the Panasonic S5? Worth the price of admission or DOA with Canon, Nikon, and Sony already in the game?

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.

Log in or register to post comments

I'm not interested in video. It does look interesting for stills photography, but from what I've gathered my EF lenses will not work with continuous autofocus.
That is rather a deal breaker for me.

You have to say the autofocus problems of the latest panasonic cameras are mainly a big issue in shooting video. In stills, the tracking works good and most stills in a series are keeper. However the way it works was a little distracting, but panasonic seems to overcome this part of the problem with the latest algorithms which also get to the S1H, S1 and S1R due an update.

Always talking about that one thing Panasonic cameras aren't the best of the bunch. Looking forward to a Sony or Canon review in this site talking about the hand full of things they're not the best at.

Looking forward? You must have selective sight and memory. There's been many unfavorable reviews/articles here about Canon and Sony, mostly Sony. This as one example: You even commented on so I know you've seen it.

You found the exception to the rule. Great.

Maybe you don't read so well. I said there are many and that was just one of them. You'll need to put on your big boy pants on and do your own research. I gave you a little nudge, the rest is up to you.