What Panasonic Needs to Win the Full Frame Fight

What Panasonic Needs to Win the Full Frame Fight

The GH5 was a huge success for Panasonic and consumers, but the stakes are much higher now. What will prevent Panasonic from being overtaken?

In short, I want to talk about how Panasonic needs to make proper L-mount adapters, so they can attract users to their camera line up without needing to commit to the Leica L mount. So far they’ve made huge advances with the S1, S1R, and S1H. However their lens solutions are still lackluster. Why add friction?

Step 1 of 1: Convert Users to Your System

Right now, you can shell out thousands for Panasonic's new L-mount lenses, or pick up an adaptor. The first option is prohibitively expensive for prosumers, as well as an untested and risky investment for pros.

Unfortunately the second option hasn't been properly figured out yet. Panasonic has relied on Sigma to make an EF to L adapter, but it unfortunately leaves room for improvement. Sigma's MC-21 doesn’t seem to match the advancements made for E-mount adaptors, which was part of Sony’s full frame success. It doesn’t allow for continuous auto-focus, can’t be updated without a dock, and only officially supports Sigma glass.

Without improvement, I'm not sure pros are going to take the leap and support Panasonic's $4,000 S1H. Check out the MC-21’s reviews on Amazon and B&H – for some it’s fine, but that’s not good enough.

I hope that Panasonic takes a leaf out of Canon's book, and makes their own adapter. Canon made a suite of adaptors to convert EF to their new mirrorless RF mount. Here's what I'd like to see from that:

  • Compatibility with a wider set of lenses, not just guaranteed compatibility with (some of) Sigma's own glass.
  • Full auto-focus compatibility.
  • The ability to use both the lens IS and the IBIS within the camera, for full 5-axis stabilization.
  • And if they really want the pro-video market, built in filters between the lens and the sensor, or a locking adaptor.

Canon's adaptors range from $99 to $400, and aim to provide more functionality.

Canon Versus Everybody Else

Canon seems to have done this all correctly. So wonderfully, that RED is supporting the new system in their upcoming micro cinema camera. That's a pretty stellar seal of approval. What's happening here though, is that Canon are cannibalizing their new lenses a little.

If you're running a video production company, and have been tasked with buying some new glass. Would you invest in Canon's RF mount lenses? Of course not, because even if you need to use that mount, you know that Canon has made reliable and useful adaptors for their ever-popular EF mount. Remember, Canon's EF lenses are among the most purchased and rented around. It's in their best interest to keep that popularity going.

Now look at Panasonic. Their EVA-1 camera uses Canon's EF mount, and their higher end Varicam uses PL mounts. Previously Panasonic took a bit of a chance on micro-four-thirds, and it paid off. Their own Micro Four Thirds lenses sell for a pretty penny, and support an entire ecosystem for their Micro Four Thirds cameras.

Panasonic is trying to re-create what they did with Micro Four Thirds. Unfortunately, I think they're going to get their lunch eaten. While the S1, S1R, and S1H are killer cameras, I think they've overestimated their market. The GH5's success was ultimately pushed forward by a top-notch suite of adaptors by Metabones, which brought the cost of switching down significantly.

Part of me worries that Panasonic has locked themselves into a deal with Sigma. If I was running Sigma, I wouldn't want Panasonic to make their own Canon-esque adaptors. It would mean more users could use other lenses, and ruin the whole "buy Sigma with the new Panasonic cameras" marketing that's been going on recently.

What Could Happen

Canon just announced the C500 Mark II. What's significant is that it uses the new CF Express cards, and needs them to record massive data. You can now pre-order the cards.

Do you think that no other camera manufacturers have thought about using CF Express? If there's an a7s III around the corner, there's every chance that it will support CF Express (Sony did get behind it's predecessor, the XQD card, before dropping it last year). Within the next year, the S1H is going to have some very serious competition, and the friction that Panasonic have put in place puts them at a significant disadvantage.

If neither Panasonic, Metabones, or Sigma, make a better suite of adaptors, then the S1H won’t stand a chance against the competition. However, if Metabones creates an adaptor that works perfectly, then Sigma loses out. It’s a tricky game for Panasonic, and one that ultimately hurts the consumer.

If Panasonic truly wants the perfect hybrid between a classic mirrorless and cinema camera, they'd better change something.

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22 Comments

Stephen, you are 100.00% correct on this!
I have tons of Canon glass as well as a lineup of Sigma Art glass for EF. Plus GH5 & GH5s bodies.
Love the specs on the S1H and would buy at least one right now… except for this very issue. I can't put my existing good glass on this body without losing what makes the small size the awesome thing it could be. Heck, when I bought my Sony FS7, it **came with** a Metabones EF adapter! Sony knew what they were doing. Granted, that adapter kinda sucked. But they tried.
Love the Panasonics, but sorry, not going to lose good AF putting my existing (quality!) glass on via a half-baked adapter. Nope. I have a Panasonic 12-35/2.8ii lens with IS that's pretty incredible on the GH5 body.
Apologies to Sigma and Panasonic, but I'm not going to fork over $20K to replicate what I already have.
If they get the adapter thing right, yeah, this S1 and S1H would really take off. But I'm not going to plunk down $4k for lame AF or the "opportunity" to shell out another $20K in glass I essentially already have.
I hope Panasonic peeps see your article. Seriously.

Jon The Baptist's picture

If Panasonic wants any of the pro stills market, they need to get with the program and allow native tethering into Capture One, like Fuji. I would drop everything for that, I was hugely impressed with the S1R, but no C1 tether compatibility makes it a non-starter. It’s just too expensive of a system to be screwing around with it otherwise

Rk K's picture

A miracle is what they need to win. Started way too late and the actual products are meh.

I wouldnt say meh, have you actually tried the products?

Rk K's picture

They are only competitive as video cameras, which is a much smaller market. S1R is not competitive in any way. They are oversized and ridiculously heavy, battery still sucks, the lenses are overpriced, oversized and incomplete, c-af doesn't work... So yeah, a meh, half hearted attempt.

FYI they are approx the same size and weight as a Nikon D850, a highly recommended camera and darling of the unwashed masses.

Have you tried them? I have an s1, and used most of the systems in the current market, and besides the fact that AFC is not at Sony level, (which camera producer is?), the rest is as good or better.....

Jon The Baptist's picture

Except for tethering too, the backbone of commercial photography

You can do tethering... they have a tethering app. You just need to set lightroom or C1 to work with it, not complicated.

Jon The Baptist's picture

Running a watched folder is not an acceptable solution.

Rk K's picture

A lot of things aren't at Sony level - af, battery life, weight (I hike, so this is super important for me), lens lineup, price/value, sensor (for the s1r, the rest use Sony sensors)..

Weight and size can be seen as a plus, if you use small primes yes the sony size can be seen as a plus, but the moment you add a pro lens to the camera, as a GM lens, sonys handling becomes horrible. There is no space between the lens mount and grip, so even with the grip this is no fix. Its uncomfortable, unless you have very small hands. Also in theory the body from the panasonic, is way more robust and sealed, (in theory, not sure yet in practice). So it all depends as with any tool what you are planning to shoot and how :) Regarding the sensor, you dont have much of a difference, the s1 for example is supposed to be better than the a7iii, but the difference is so small is irrelevant.

But pretty clear from your comments you havent use the Panasonic. I currently own one, and i also been a sony user, so yes i know what i am talking about ;)

Rk K's picture

If you were a Sony user you'd know that your fingers fit just fine. I use gm lenses regularly, even the 100-400, and it's perfectly comfortable. I just have an L bracket on the camera. Anything more than the new grip on the R4 is a disadvantage for me, no matter the lens.

I am panasonic s1 user and completley agree with your statement and the lack of a useful adapter. I got into the system cause I really love the body, and the sigma 1424mm is an amazing lens.... but the lack of primes is really a big issue which could easily be solved with a working adapter.

I agree. I don't want f1.4 art lenses. the 45mm F2.8 is the right concept but personally I would prefer a wider assortment. Well natural selection at work here, Panasonic will either get it and thrive or not...

True, a 28mm or 35mm 2.0 will be great. The Leica APO is a wonderful lens, but so expensive, we need other lenses like the sigma 45mm, but 2.0 :)

The S1R is an amazing camera only hampered by availability of lenses . It has a great build and it’s featured packed . Sure it doesn’t have the best eye AF , but its current AF is more than usable . I love the fact that it has backlit buttons . I saying this as a Nikon user .

I just spoke with the Panasonic rep for the Western Division of the U.S. yesterday. He shared they will definitely NOT be developing an L Mount adapter for any lens — especially the Canon EF mount. He did share they were supporting Sigma directly in developing a Mark II version of the MC-21 that hopefully addresses some of the concerns from the first version.

He also thought it was a real possibility that Metabones might enter the market if sales of the 'S' series was high enough. We can only hope.

Stephen Kampff's picture

I've been told all sorts by Panny reps, hoping this pans out!