Panasonic grabbed the camera headlines at CES 2023 by announcing two full-frame cameras that bring a much-needed new feature to the Lumix lineup – phase detection autofocus.
The successors to the Panasonic Lumix S5, the Panasonic Lumix S5II and Lumix S5IIX are shaping up to be impressive video work thanks to their 24MP full-frame CMOS sensors. A first for Lumix cameras, this sensor brings a hybrid phase-detection autofocus system, which should (in theory) be a big leap from the contrast-based detection system seen in its previous cameras.
So what is the difference between the Lumix S5II and the S5IIX? The S5IIX is a little more expensive and will arrive later this year, but it brings some pro-grade video features including internal ProRes recording, raw video output, and the ability to record directly to an SSD drive via USB. But other than that, the two cameras are pretty much the same and should rank among the best camcorders you can buy.
The Lumix S5II and S5IIX can both shoot 6K/30p video (with a 4:2:0 10-bit color depth). They can also record 4K/60p video using the full width of the sensor and offer an APS-C mode for a narrower field of view. Thanks to the addition of a new fan located on the top of the camera below its logo, the cameras can also shoot video for unlimited periods at most frame rates and resolutions.
But the new on-sensor PDAF system is the really big news. The lack of PDAF has been a longstanding criticism of Panasonic cameras, as it means their autofocus is more prone to hunting or ‘wobble’ than competitors that combine both phase-detection and contrast AF.
The new autofocus system in the S5II and S5IIX should be particularly useful to videographers and includes subject recognition AF modes, which can recognize humans and animals, along with face/eye detection in a scene. The two new Lumix cameras also have improved in-body image stabilization (IBIS), which Panasonic claims is twice as good as the original S5.
While the Lumix S5 and S5IIX are designed mostly for video, they also bring improvements to still photography. Both can shoot at 9fps with the mechanical shutter, but manage 30fps when switching to the electronic shutter (albeit with the potential downside of the rolling shutter). There’s also a 96MP Pixel Shift mode for high-resolution snapshots, though it can only be used in still scenes.
Impressively, the Panasonic Lumix S5II has the same US launch price as its predecessor, which will still be on sale. You’ll be able to buy it later this month for $1,999 / £1,999 / AU$3,199. The Panasonic Lumix S5IIX will arrive later this year (towards the end of May in the US and Australia, or ‘winter 2023’ in the UK), costing $2,199 / £2,299 / AU$3,499.
Analysis: A long-awaited moment for Lumix fans
The arrival of phase detection autofocus (PDAF) on Panasonic cameras is a big deal—not just for Lumix fans, but for anyone looking to buy a hybrid mirrorless camera.
The company’s previous AF systems certainly weren’t terrible, and many shooters will simply use manual focus for stationary targets. But in theory, the new system should bring the Lumix S5II and Lumix S5IIX closer to the higher autofocus watermark set by Canon and Sony. If so, that could make Panasonic’s new launches very tempting given that they offer video features that these competitors don’t.
The lack of phase-detection autofocus on the recent Panasonic Lumix GH6 was so significant that the company apologized for the omission. During a candid chat to launch the GH6, Matt Fraser, Panasonic USA’s director of business development, said he was “well aware that it’s not the direction people hope we’re going” in terms of the camera’s autofocus, but that “it just wasn’t possible for us to get It has a phase-based autofocus adjustment on the camera’s new sensor.
This has now changed in the Lumix S5II and S5IIX, which have new 24MP full-frame sensors that provide crucial PDAF autofocus points. We’re still testing this system, but in theory it should provide more reliable autofocus in video and also for stills when shooting moving subjects with continuous autofocus. This is because phase-detection AF is usually faster than contrast-based AF for tracking moving subjects.
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that hybrid shooters should discount the Panasonic Lumix GH6. While this camera has a smaller Micro Four Thirds sensor and more limited autofocus, its sensor offers faster readout speeds to avoid rolling shutter issues in 4K/60p and 4K/120p shooting without cropping.
If you want a full-frame hybrid camera, the Panasonic Lumix S5II and S5IIX are strong new competitors to the Canon EOS R6 Mark II and Sony A7 IV. It offers pro features like waveforms and open-gate recording (which uses the full height of the camera sensor so you can easily export in different aspect ratios), along with stronger in-body image stabilization that can make it ideal for run-and-gun shooting. We’ll bring you our full reviews very soon.