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?