Though popular with videographers, Panasonic's mirrorless cameras have always been at a disadvantage to Sony, Canon and other rivals due to the inferior contrast-detect-only autofocus. Now, the company has finally introduced its first cameras with hybrid phase-detect AF (PDAF), the full-frame L-Mount S5II and S5IIx. They're designed to make focus "wobble" and other issues a thing of the past, while also introducing improved video and photography features.
Both cameras have an all-new 24.2-megapixel sensor with 315 contrast and 779 phase-detect AF points. The new chip features Dual Native ISO with a range of ISO100-51200 (50-204800 expanded), and Panasonic has also introduced the new L2 Engine that processes twice as fast as before. That allows for additional performance and less rolling shutter distortion.
I've yet to test the cameras, but Panasonic seems confident that its new PDAF system can keep up with rivals, speed- and reliability-wise. It said that the AF can now works in conditions that had previously been a challenge, including tracking, multiple people, products, backlit conditions and low light.
The company also introduced a new in-body stabilization system called Active IS, designed to shoot video while walking. It said the system can compensate for "even significant camera shake, approximately 200 percent more than conventional systems" with select lenses. If the claims are accurate, Active IS could make the new models ideal for vlogging.
As before, they can record 6K "open gate" 3:2 video (4:2:0 10-bit internally), 4K 30p supersampled video using the full sensor width (4:2:2 10-bit), 4K 60p with an APS-C crop and FHD at up to 120p with a 1.5x crop.
However, they're significantly improved over the original S5 when it comes to record times. Where the S5 was limited to 30 minutes at 4K 60p or 4K 10-bit 30p due to heating, the new models have no recording time limitations at any resolution. Panasonic achieved this by adding a small cooling fan in the enlarged EVF hump.
Panasonic didn't improve the S5's 200 Mbps data rates for the internal MOV and LongGOP formats on the S5II and S5IIx. However, the S5IIx does support internal SD card recording up to 600 Mbps in All-Intra (All-I) mode, so it appears to be limiting the capabilities of the S5II.
Both cameras offer Panasonic's V-Log as well as V-Gamut recording options that deliver up to 14+ stops of dynamic range, according to the company. It has a LUT view assist for easier monitoring, as well as the ability to apply your own LUTs in real time — an industry first, Panasonic says.
Other than the fully blacked-out body, the S5IIx has some interesting features not found on the S5II. You can record to the USB-C port, much as you can on the GH6 via a recent firmware update. Formats supported include All-I, ProRes 422 HQ and ProRes 422, all in 10-bit. That includes 5.8K (17:9) at up to 25p (1.6Gbps) and C4K (4,096 x 2,160) at 60p with an APS-C crop (1.9Gbps). That will require some kind of rig to mount a USB SSD, but those already exist and aren't tremendously expensive.
In addition, the S5IIx will output full-frame 12-bit 5.9K 30p (16:9) ProRes RAW video, along with cropped 12-bit 4K (actually 4,128 x 2,176) and 3.5K (3,536 x 2,656) video at up to 50p externally to an Atomos Ninja V+ HDR monitor-recorder. Both cameras also offer S&Q and HFR recording, letting you capture at high frame rates and either output at the same speed for HFR or get slow-mo in the S&Q modes.
There are a number of other improvements over the S5. The EVF resolution has been boosted to 3,680K dots compared to 2,360K on the last model, removing one of my biggest complaints. It now offers a full-sized HDMI rather than a fragile microHDMI port plus a USB 3.2 Gen2 (not Gen1) slot, and has two UHS-II SD slots instead of just one. The EVF's eye-detect sensor has been moved up to reduce accidental activations, and the joystick now supports 8- instead of 4-direction operation.
Otherwise, it has much the same layout as the last model (including the fully-articulating display) and is about the same size and weight. It supports 4-channel audio via the same XLR microphone adapter, offers a variety video assist functions (wave form, vector scope, zebra, anti-flicker), Lumix Tether for remote USB shooting and wireless streaming via USB tethering (S5IIx only).
Finally, photography clearly isn't this camera's raison d'etre, but it does offer 7fps RAW shooting speeds in mechanical mode and 30fps in electronic mode with AFC enabled — up over four times compared to the previous model. And with the phase-detect AF, focus should be more accurate when shooting bursts, meaning fewer blurry photos.
That takes us to the most interesting part of these cameras, the pricing. The Panasonic S5II is going on sale this month $2,000, making it cheaper than rival full-frame models like the Sony A7 IV and Canon EOS R6 II — and it's no longer deficient in the autofocus department. While the S5II doesn't come with external RAW video, you'll be able to update to that feature in the future via a $200 firmware update. Panasonic also upped its native lens count to 14 with the launch of the Lumix S 14-28mm F4-5.6 Macro lens arriving in March for $800.
Meanwhile, the S5IIx will arrive in May 2023 for $2,200. It not only has has the RAW video, but also supports USB-C capture and live streaming, features the S5II will never have — for just $200 more. Panasonic says that's because the former is designed for vloggers and the latter for video pros. Frankly though, if I was a vlogger and interested in the S5II, I'd try to find the extra $200.