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High-Value Hybrid

Panasonic’s newly announced Mark II version of its highly-rated Lumix S5 model includes significant upgrades and yet it’s still available at a highly tempting sub-£2000 price point.

Panasonic Lumix S5II

When the original Panasonic Lumix S5 made its appearance in September 2020 it was instantly lauded as a full-frame L-mount mirrorless model that offered exceptional value for money at just £1799.99 body only. Ostensibly a hybrid model, and with plenty of capacity to produce decent quality still thanks to its 24.2MP sensor, the real strength of this camera lay in its filmmaking credentials, together with its ultra-compact size. 

The original model offered a video feature set that included 4K 60p/50p 4:2:0 10-bit, and 4K 30p/25p 4:2:2 10-bit internal recording. It was also capable of 4K 60p/50p 4:2:2 10-bit HDMI output, while in 4K 30p/25p 4:2:0 8-bit internal recording there was no time limitation, thanks to highly efficient heat dispersion technology. Add to that 14+ stops of dynamic range, plus a variety of recording formats and options including 4:3 Anamorphic mode, Slow & Quick Motion, 4K/60p interval shooting and 4K HDR, and you had a model that, for a very reasonable outlay, could cope with a wide range of high-end video applications while also turning in good quality stills when required.

Two years on and the Mark II version of the S5 has been announced, with a newly developed 24MP full frame chip and imaging engine at its heart, which enables video recording capabilities including internal 4:2:0 10-bit 6K (3:2) and 5.9K (16:9) at 30fps and 4:2:2 C4K and 4K at up to 60fps, while a new low-profile heat management system allows for unlimited recording times without increasing the size of the camera body. The new S5 II also supports HFR (High Frame Rate) recording at up to 120fps and Slow & Quick capture at up to 180fps.

Despite all this upgraded tech on board the price point remains a fraction below £2000, at £1999. Given how prices on cameras have been rising steadily across the board over the past few years, that has to look like an exceptional offer.

CVP’s Technical Marketing Manager Jake Ratcliffe had the opportunity to take a pre-production version of the S5 Mark II out on an extensive test shoot, and you’ll be able to click through to view the video he subsequently produced directly from this feature. Given this hands-on experience, together with his extensive working knowledge of the original S5, Jake’s in a prime position to give a balanced overview of how fundamental the improvements to the model have been, and whether or not they might justify an upgrade.

“The price the S5 II sits at is incredibly competitive,” he comments, “considering what you get and how much more expensive cameras in general have gotten over the years. Panasonic has done a brilliant job of offering a great blend of usability and image quality in this camera.”

Autofocus Issues

Despite all the advanced technology the original camera had to offer, one of the key things holding it back was AF performance which, although decent enough, lagged behind rivals from the likes of Sony and Canon. Given that the slightest focus pop during a motion sequence will ruin the entire take, this was something of an Achilles heel for the camera, one that could potentially be a deal breaker for some. 

However, the new model promises to overcome this issue with the addition of Hybrid Phase Detection AF (PDAF), a first for Lumix cameras. The S5 II uses a new Phase Hybrid AF system combining PDAF with Contrast Detect AF. Said by Panasonic to be fast and dependable, and providing 779-area metering, the new system can detect target subjects in difficult conditions such as low light and backlighting and, once locked on, will remain tracking them even if there might be other moving objects in the frame. Continuous AF during zooming and AF micro adjustment is also available.

This kind of step forward on the AF front is something that many, Jake included, have been eagerly awaiting. It’s potentially a highly significant development from Panasonic and it was the headline new feature that Jake couldn’t wait to try out.

“The addition of PDAF to Panasonic’s mirrorless cameras has been a long time coming,” says Jake, “and with this technology on board the S5 II performed way beyond what I was expecting, particularly since this is the first time this technology has been seen in a Lumix camera. It’s just so much better than Panasonic’s previous iterations and I can’t wait to see it added to more of their cameras going forward. During the time I’ve spent with the new camera it’s been decently reliable and, although I need to spend some more time to really see what it can do, it does appear to be a really impressive update.”

Also new is the Lumix S5 II’s ability to track subjects, something that again is going to be of prime interest to those who might be looking to allow AF to, at the very least, supplement the need to manually focus. Here again Jake reported a big improvement over the original camera, although his endorsement was tempered to a certain degree with a slightly surprising caveat.

“I found it a little confusing when I was looking for the camera to track focus on human faces,” says Jake. “When the camera is set to Face & Eye mode, if it can’t see a face or eyes at any point, it will default back to whatever focus mode you are in, which can result in some weird behaviour.

” If you set the camera to human tracking mode, however, face and eye detection will still be on and prioritised, but the system will also keep tracking humans, even if it can’t actually detect a face or eyes at any point. So, for most scenarios, staying in the human tracking mode would appear to make the most sense.”

Adapting Lenses

There’s a decent series of L-fit lenses available for Panasonic S-series cameras, and the S5 II is compatible with all 14 of the Lumix S lenses, plus further full-frame L-Mount system lenses produced by partners such as Sigma. However, Jake was also interested to pair the new camera with Sigma’s MC-21 Mount Converter (CVP price £238.80) to see how well it could perform when paired with a Canon EF 16-35mm, and this was quite an important area to check out since it clearly opens the door to a far more extensive choice of optics. 

“I was quite surprised by how good the autofocus was when I fitted the adapted lenses,” says Jake. “It means that using this adaptor could be a great option for anyone who owns EF lenses already, and I now want to try it out with some of the Sigma optics to see the differences between running adapted glass versus native.”

Jake worked with the Lumix S5 II alongside the Sony A7 IV (CVP price £2278.80), since the price point of the two models is broadly comparable. “The Sony is going to be the S5 II’s closest competitor,” he says, “and both cameras come with different pros and cons. However, I think the biggest determining factor in terms of deciding which camera you might decide to go for will be what lens ecosystem you want to buy into, namely E or L mount. Whether you’re looking for a hybrid model to be more geared towards stills or video will also be a consideration, since the Sony is more stills orientated, while the Panasonic veers more towards video production.”

One area where the S5 II does appear to have a significant edge, however, is in image stabilisation, and here there are clear reasons why this model might be one that will become a staple for budget video production in the years ahead. Quite simply the new system employed on the S5 II, known as Active IS, is outstanding, and for the single operator who doesn’t want to get involved with traditional stabilisers this could prove to be a game changer. 

The new system works to provide highly stable video recording by optimising horizontal, vertical and rotational correction. Compensating by as much as 200% compared to conventional stabilisation, Active IS is especially effective if you find yourself shooting video footage in traditionally challenging conditions for handheld shooting, such as times when you might be working with longer lenses or when you’re filming while walking along.

Having tried out the camera in a variety of situations, Jake doesn’t sit on the fence on this particular issue: “The IBIS system in the S5 II is probably the best I’ve ever seen in a camera,” he says. “Panasonic already had some of the best in any mirrorless camera, but the S5 II definitely represents a significant step up. Our comparison against the Sony A7 IV in our review of the S5 II really shows just how much better it is in this department, especially for those that happen to be video shooters.”

At a time when we can perhaps get a little blasé about new technology coming along and changing up the business, it’s clear that the new Lumix S5 II genuinely does represent a significant step forward, with Jake even posing the question of whether this could be the best value hybrid camera out there in the title of his video. He deliberately doesn’t give a definitive answer to that, but it’s clear that he’s been impressed by the fact that an already well regarded and keenly priced full frame mirrorless model just got significantly improved, without a big hike in price.

There is one further point to consider on this price point, which is that the original Lumix S5 is staying in production, but with the Mark II model now somewhat overshadowing it the cost of the camera has been dropped, so that it’s currently available through CVP for just £1464.20. And this, remember, is for a full frame model that, for all of its focusing issues, is still highly regarded and capable of a high-end professional performance.

Might it make sense perhaps to go for the budget option and to take advantage of the price drop rather than splash out the extra £500 or so to invest in the new model? In Jake’s opinion the extra investment is probably going to be worthwhile, but for those who might not have such a need for AF speed the original S5 is now a mouth-watering snip.

“For most people the autofocus and IBIS upgrades alone will worth the extra cost,” he says, “but there’s no doubting the S5 is still a solid option if you’re on a really tight budget.” It’s great to have that choice, and there’s no doubt that the full frame mirrorless hybrid market just got that little bit more interesting!

cvp.com 

CAPTIONS:

Seen side-by-side, with the S5 II on the left, there are only marginal differences visible between the original model and the updated version. 

Viewed front on it can be seen that the pentaprism on the Mark II model is slightly larger to house the all-new cooling system.

As with the original S5, there’s a useful flip out viewing screen on board, but it’s not as versatile as that on the LUMIX S1H or GH6.

Lumix GH6

A new low-profile heat management system allows for unlimited recording times. 

The S5 II, on the left, now comes with the addition of a full-sized HDMI-port.

Key upgrades on the new S5 II  include Hybrid Phase Detection AF and a stunning  IBIS system. 

VIDEO:

Scan here to watch CVP’s in-depth review of the new Panasonic Lumix S5 II. www.youtube.com/watch?v=XwhzD5rjzGI

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