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Panasonic Lumix S5 evaluation: the digital camera of an actual fanatic

“The Lumix S5 is imperfect, but capable and the miniature S1 that we have always wanted.”

Excellent design, build quality

Improved face / eye autofocus

96MP high resolution mode

Unlimited 4K / 30 recording

30 minutes 4K / 60

Low resolution EVF

The auto focus lags behind the competition

Slow continuous shooting

When Panasonic launched the full-screen Lumix S series in 2018, one thing became very clear: This was not a Micro Four Thirds (MFT). With the obvious change in format, the S1 weighed well over 2 pounds – outperforming most DSLRs – with a massive handle, viewfinder bulge, and battery. There was no doubt about it.

The smaller Panasonic Lumix S5 turns this idea on its head.

At 1.5 pounds, the S5 is not only Panasonic’s lightest full-frame camera, it is even lighter – barely – than the Lumix GH5, the company’s flagship MFT. It’s not quite the lightest full-frame camera, but it has a fully weatherproof magnesium alloy body.

Starting at $ 2,000, I think the S5 is the camera many Panasonic fans have been hoping for in 2018. It is dimensioned and cheap that it can keep up with the Canon EOS R6, Sony A7 III and Nikon Z 6. The question now is whether this is the case enough to withstand this competition in 2020. Panasonic is still catching up in some areas, but the S5 brings a lot to the table that helps it stand out.

Design and handling

The Lumix S5 is smaller than the GH5 in every dimension and is a bold move for Panasonic that will undoubtedly make customers worry about the fate of Micro Four Thirds. Personally, I still think MFT cameras have a place, and even the 3 year old GH5 has some advantages over the S5 when it comes to recording speed and video.

Panasonic Lumix S5

There is no doubt, however, that the S5 is a tempting full-screen upgrade for MFT shooters.

Fortunately, while the S5 is smaller, it broadcasts most of the buttons and dials like the S1, giving it a significant amount of random access control. There are a few buttons down, but the bigger change is the removal of the top LCD display, which now houses the mode dial (interestingly, the mode dial doesn’t lock, but at least has strong resistance between positions). .

Overall, the camera feels great. Even as someone over 6 feet tall with fairly large hands, I found the S1 a little too big for me, but the S5 is just perfect. The weight saving is clear, but it still feels reassuringly dense, reminding you that this is actually a progressive quality camera.

There’s also a new battery pack, as the S1’s huge 3,050 mAh battery literally doesn’t fit inside the S5 (it’s as tall as the camera’s deck height). The new battery has a capacity of 2,200 mAh, but is designed for 470 photos (1,500 in energy-saving mode), which is about 100 more than an S1.

How is that possible? This is where the bad news comes in.

Most of these energy savings are likely due to the lower resolution electronic viewfinder (EVF), which is only 2.36 million pixels. To be fair, it’s still an OLED display and looks a lot better than I expected, but compared to the staggering 5.7 million point EVF in the S1 cameras, it’s significantly worse. It’s usable enough, but low-resolution viewfinders don’t belong in a modern $ 2,000 camera in 2020. I’m not sure why Panasonic hasn’t given the S5 at least a 3.69 million point EVF, which is commonly used by many brands, which would still have left a noticeable spec gap between it and the S1.

Autofocus and recording speed

If there’s one thing that has bugged Panasonic cameras for years, it’s a little piece of technology called Depth from Defocus (DFD). Invented by Panasonic, this auto focus system relies on lens profiles stored in the camera, which contain information about the blurring pattern of each lens so that the camera can determine whether an image is in front or back focus. In other words, it knows which direction to move the lens in to get focus, reducing the hunt and speeding up focus time. It sounds like a complicated process, but it has helped Panasonic overcome the usual limitations of autofocus with contrast detection.

Keeping up with cameras with faster phase-detection focus was also never enough. Unfortunately, that’s still the case with the S5 – but that doesn’t mean Panasonic hasn’t made great strides.

Daven Mathies / Digital Trends

For still photography, DFD now works much more reliably for continuous autofocus (AF-C). As Panasonic explained to me, with older cameras, DFD does not stay active during AF-C because it requires too much processing power and they are forced to fall back on standard contrast detection. This is still the case with S1, S1R and S1H. As it turns out, most complaints with DFD may not affect DFD at all.

However, these processing problems appear to have been resolved. Now DFD remains permanently active in the S5 in AF-C.

The detection of subjects has also seen some pretty dramatic improvements thanks to updated algorithms. The S5 can recognize bodies and faces that are half the size of the S1 – as small as 2.5% of the frame – and the camera can now recognize a human head separated from the face and body.

The detection of subjects has also seen some pretty dramatic improvements thanks to updated algorithms.

That sounds like a good, duh feature at first, but Panasonic told me that head detection was critical in improving the overall reliability of the focus on object detection. If the camera loses sight of a face, it can remain fixed on the head while the previous system had problems switching from face to body recognition. (And if you’re wondering, yes, the S5’s AF enhancements will roll over to the S1 cameras via firmware updates later this year.)

Daven Mathies / Digital Trends

In practice, the S5’s autofocus worked well most of the time and I immediately noticed the improvements in AF-C and subject tracking. Unfortunately, it remains far from perfect. DFD is exceptionally fast, but occasionally misses focus for no apparent reason. If you zoom in in AF-C mode, the camera turns off, causing a significant lag in focus even if the subject hasn’t moved. It is best to set the zoom before half-pressing the shutter button to avoid this. However, in some quick situations, this is simply not possible.

The autofocus cannot keep up with continuous shooting. The S5 reaches a speed of 7 frames per second and drops to 5 with continuous autofocus. So the AF-C focus has improved, but you can’t move it very far.

This is one area where the Panasonic GH5 outperforms the S5. The Micro Four Thirds camera can shoot up to 12 fps or 9 with AF-C. I don’t know why AF-C performance is so different between the S-series and the G-series.

DFD will also delight videographers, at least YouTubers and vloggers who rely on autofocus. As Panasonic explained to me, DFD cannot work faster than the sensor’s refresh rate. In photo mode, Panasonic can rotate up to 480 frames per second. However, in video mode, in which the sensor is actively recording and reading pixels, it only reaches 30 fps or 60 in APS-C crop mode. This gives DFD a fraction of the samples to work with, and the autofocus predictably suffers from it.

Nevertheless, the video autofocus of the S5 has been improved compared to the S1 cameras. I was able to test it side by side with an S1H, and the S5 tracked my face and eyes much better as I moved through the frame (the S1H was all but useless). However, it still struggled when I moved out of direct light or when I got too close to the camera too quickly. Compared to the incredibly good autofocus on Sony cameras, the S5 still doesn’t stack, despite notable improvements. Fortunately, there are other video features that redeem it that I will get into later.

Image stabilization and high resolution recording

The S5 uses a redesigned sensor shift stabilization system to suit its smaller body. Fortunately, it’s still a good performer, rated for 6.5 stops of shake reduction with a compatible stabilized lens, just half a stop behind the S1. I don’t think there will be much of a difference in the real world. With the 20-60mm kit lens not stabilized, I shot to 1/6 of a second with impressively sharp results, but 1/3 of a second was suddenly in the unusable zone. As always, performance varies from shot to shot and lens to lens. However, don’t expect a seconds-long hand exposure to come out sharp.

The high-resolution 96-megapixel mode of the S1 also made it into the S5, turning the humble 24-megapixel camera into a monster with resolution. You can not achieve more resolution by far.

Somewhat more surprising is that the S1’s 96MP high-definition mode made it into the S5 as well, turning the humble 24MP camera into a resolution monster. This makes it the only full-frame mirrorless camera worth $ 2,000 with pixel shift resolution mode. If you have a tripod and still subjects, you simply can’t get higher resolution near this price point. (You can also use it on moving subjects where you want motion blur, such as waterfalls or trails of light. However, it only increases resolution in non-moving areas of the image. If the moving areas are blurry, it probably isn’t Problem.).

Panasonic’s implementation of high resolution recordings is also more user-friendly than Sony’s (which is only available on the A7R series) as the file is processed in the camera and is either RAW or JPEG. No special software is required and you can check the high resolution composite directly on the camera monitor.

picture quality

Panasonic emphasized that the S5 uses exactly the same sensor as the S1. That means 24 megapixels and no optical low-pass filter. A low pass filter, such as that used on the S1H, subtly softens the image to combat moiré. This is an issue I encountered while reviewing the S1 which is still a potential issue with the S5. Personally, I’d rather have a slightly softer image than the risk of moiré as the difference is minimal, but that’s me. Most manufacturers nowadays do without low-pass filters.

I haven’t been able to view the RAW files yet, but based on my experience with the S1 there shouldn’t be anything to complain about. This camera delivered excellent performance all round. A new feature is Live View Composite, in which the highlights from a sequence of long exposure images are merged to create light trails and at the same time control the ambient light in stationary subjects. It’s great for shooting stars and unlike similar modes in other cameras, it can actually save the composite as RAW, which is pretty neat.

The 20-60mm f / 3.5-5.6 kit lens is an interesting look. I like the focal length, which starts at a much wider angle than most kit lenses, but the variable maximum aperture is a problem with video recording. If you don’t set it to f / 5.6 or less, your exposure will change as you zoom.

Fortunately, I was also able to test the S5 with Panasonic’s Lumix S Pro lenses with 24-70mm f / 2.8 and 70-200mm f / 2.8, which were provided by Lensrentals for this test. While these lenses are almost ridiculously large on the S5, they’re gorgeous and show what the camera is really capable of. Thanks to Leica and Sigma, there are many extraordinary L-mount lenses to choose from – but avoid the Leicas if you want to have some money.

Video

As a video camera, the Lumix S5 is like a pickup. It’s not flashy or quick, but it works reliably and you can trust it to get the job done.

Daven Mathies / Digital Trends

At a time when complaints about overheating were the focus, mainly due to problems with the Canon EOS R5, but also with the video-focused Sony A7S III, Panasonic has taken a conservative approach with the S5, but its features largely meet expectations $ 2,000 equals camera. There’s no 6K like the S1H, let alone 8K or 4K / 120. It shoots 4K / 60 but not out of full frame, which is a bit of a disappointment, but no different from the S1H.

On the other hand, you can record it in virtually any setting and it won’t turn you off. If the S1H has a fan to actively cool the sensor, this is not the case with the smaller S5. Even so, Panasonic tested the camera at 104 degrees Fahrenheit – about 30 degrees hotter than most of the manufacturers who test their cameras. Based on these tests, 4K / 60 and all 10-bit options are limited to 30 minutes. Assuming you don’t have 104-degree weather, you can start another clip immediately after that 30-minute cutoff. I tested the camera in direct sunlight on a 70 degree day and there were no issues running a second 30 minute clip in 4K / 60.

At lower frame rates at 8 bit, the recording time is only limited by the battery life and the memory card capacity. With dual card slots and USB power support, you shouldn’t have a problem with the S5 staying awake longer than possible.

But let me put this brief remark aside: while the camera can take long shots on massive SD cards, the footage is still split into 4GB chunks because of the FAT32 file system. “Really?” We haven’t found a solution yet? Oh, but we have: The S1H uses the ExFat file system which allows for much larger files (like 16 exabytes). Now I am not entirely clear how Microsoft licenses ExFat. I think it’s a flat fee for digital cameras, but there might be a new license required for each line of models or volume restrictions and the S5, a higher volume camera than the S1H, would make licensing too expensive. Not only is this a Panasonic issue, it’s a bit absurd that we are still relying on FAT32 in 2020.

In terms of video quality, you mainly get S1-level compression options. That means 10-bit 4: 2: 2 at 150 megabits per second. You get both HLG and full V-Log, which is great, but the S1H’s all-intraframe codec at 400Mbps is not available. The same codec is also in the GH5, the other area where the MFT flagship surpasses the S5.

The video above used the S5 at 150Mbps alongside the S1H at 400Mbps, both in V-Log. The main two-shot is the S1H, while the second angle and B-roll are the S5. The two cameras have been edited well together, but you can definitely take the S1H footage further when it comes to color grading. (This shoot was awesome last minute and very rough so please only judge the cameras and not my skills.)

The S5 also lacks other high-end video functions of the S1H. DCI aspect ratios, the option to use shutter angle instead of shutter speed, and some video support tools like a vectorscope are missing.

But here’s the crazy thing. Panasonic has already announced a firmware update that will bring all of these things to the S5 later this year. What’s even more impressive is that while it doesn’t get an intra-frame codec or 6K internal recording, it does get the same 5.9K RAW video output as the S1H. This essentially means that you can get S1H quality with a camera that is half the price.

These are all downright niche capabilities, but it gives the S5 a unique edge over its competition. It also makes it the perfect B-camera for the S1H – or the perfect alternative for those of us who can’t afford one. An S5 and Atomos Ninja V Recorder would cost roughly $ 2,600, $ 1,400 less than an S1H alone.

You can get S1H quality from a camera that is half the price.

Is Panasonic really okay with this? It just brought out the RAW edition of the S1H earlier this summer, and this is the company’s most expensive full-frame camera. It has now been announced that the most affordable full-frame camera will offer the same functionality. It’s huge.

As long as you don’t mind using an external recorder and you don’t need reliable continuous autofocus, the S5 is becoming a very impressive high-end video camera.

Our opinion

For some customers, the Panasonic Lumix S5 is exactly what the S1 should have been, and it might seem a little overwhelming now, two years later. Late or not, I think the S5 is exactly the camera Panasonic needs, and it should help expand the L-mount to a new demographic.

The camera grew a little more on me every day that I had it. Even with the incomplete autofocus and low resolution viewfinder, this is still a real enthusiast camera. It sits comfortably in the hand and the controls are ergonomic and functional. Panasonic didn’t do it stupid, and I really appreciate that. It’s a miniature workhorse that can keep up with its larger, more expensive siblings.

Speaking of which, I’m no longer sure what the S1’s selling points are.

Is there a better alternative?

The $ 2,000 price range is quickly crowded with excellent options. For the still photographer, the Sony A7 III and the Nikon Z 6 are valid alternatives. Both offer autofocus with phase detection and faster continuous shooting. However, none of them can match the video quality of the S5. The Z 6 offers RAW video output via a firmware upgrade that is subject to a fee, but only with a 4K resolution without line transition.

How long it will take?

This may be a “Mini S1” but it is still built to withstand professional wear and tear. It should take at least 2 years for a replacement model to arrive. However, expect it to last many years longer if you don’t feel the urge to keep updating. Panasonic has a spectacular history of supporting cameras through firmware updates for years.

Should you buy it?

Yes. The Lumix S5 is a great hybrid camera at a fair price. However, vloggers, YouTubers, and sports photographers who rely on reliable continuous autofocus should carefully consider the alternatives.

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