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Panasonic’s new mirrorless camera gets the autofocus overhaul we’ve been waiting for

Panasonic’s new mirrorless camera gets the autofocus overhaul we’ve been waiting for


The Lumix S5II is mostly an incremental update, but its hybrid phase-detect autofocus system may be a turning point for Panasonic playing some much-needed catch-up. And a sick, blacked-out S5IIx variant is coming later.

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A three-quarter view of the Panasonic Lumix S5II camera, with lens attached, sitting on a wood dock in front of a body of water.
It’s a black camera, but trust me when I say it could be blacker. And thankfully Panasonic will soon do something about that.
Image: Panasonic

Panasonic’s new cameras are finally making the leap to a new autofocus system, potentially putting them in line with the latest offerings from Sony, Canon, and Nikon. At CES, the company is announcing the Lumix S5II and its stealthy, blacked-out cousin, the S5IIx — a duo of 24-megapixel full-frame mirrorless hybrid cameras for both stills and video, due out in January for $1,999 and May for $2,199, respectively. Also announced alongside them is a $799 14-28mm f/4-5.6 S Macro lens, arriving in February.

Unsurprisingly for Panasonic cameras, the S5II pair have a lot of video features, like 6K recording with real-time LUTs. This year, they ditch the dated and clunky contrast-detect autofocus for a new hybrid phase-detect system Panasonic claims can track multiple people. That might make these new cameras more reliable and up to the task for fast-action stills, which has been a sticking point of Lumix cameras for years now.

Autofocus has been a sticking point of Lumix cameras for years

Aside from new autofocus, the S5II brings a variety of little improvements over the two-year-old S5 that it looks nearly identical to. It’s got a new sensor and faster processor, so it can achieve up to 30 fps with focus tracking in electronic shutter mode (the mechanical shutter tops out at 7 fps with continuous focusing). Since the sensor is not a stacked design, you may get rolling shutter effects from panning or moving subjects if you shoot that fast — though Panasonic says the images are “skew-corrected” in the camera.

The S5II also features unlimited video recording with a new internal fan design that Panasonic says should keep it rolling without much fear of overheating in heat up to 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Its electronic viewfinder has been improved to an OLED panel with 3.68 million dots of resolution, reaching parity with many other cameras out there. And in addition to a new eight-way rear joystick, the HDMI port is now a full-size connector instead of Mini HDMI.

Now we’re talking! This may be the new frontrunner for the “none more black” camera.
Now we’re talking! This may be the new frontrunner for the “none more black” camera.
Image: Panasonic

If that’s not enough features for you, once May rolls around Panasonic will also sell a $200 software update that enables Apple ProRes Raw video recording to an external Atomos Ninja V recorder. Though, if you need that paid update I feel the better buy is to hold out for the S5IIx: at just $200 more than the S5II, you get the software update built-in, as well as some other small improvements like USB tethering to a smartphone and wireless / wired IP streaming. But, frankly, the real upgrade of the S5IIx is that you can finally get a camera that’s fully blacked out like it should be. This thing looks sick, and I wish all camera manufacturers would stop worrying about the self-promotion and leave their front-facing wordmark in a stylish and discreet black.

More cameras should be stealthy black like this

Panasonic has been in an odd position with its Lumix camera lineup for a little while now. It went from being a pioneer of mirrorless and taking chances to reach new segments through a partnership with Leica and Sigma to seemingly stalling out. You’d be forgiven for believing Panasonic was resigned to leaning on video-centric cameras and ready to let Canon, Sony, and Nikon have all the photographers and hybrid users. But hopefully, this is a sign that the company is righting itself and getting back in the game because the more competition, the merrier.

While this release shows Panasonic finally giving its users the tech everyone has been asking for, there are still some strange oversights in its camera lineup to address. For example, the S1 and S1R cameras of 2018 first jumpstarted the full-frame offerings for the Lumix line, and yet they’ve been left to languish while a more recent model now gets the big autofocus upgrade first. And while the L-Mount Alliance with Sigma and Leica is ongoing, the new S5II and S5IIx are claimed to be products of a newer partnership solely between Lumix and Leica — dubbed the incredibly imaginative L2 (L-squared) Technology. When I asked Panasonic what the L2 partnership meant for the development of these new cameras, I got mostly marketing fluff that didn’t really tell me anything solid.

Despite all those oddities, the S5II looks like an intriguing camera — especially that S5IIx because I’m a sucker for all things all-black.