Panasonic S5 Mode Dial

I had such high hopes. And my S5 first impressions were largely (very) positive.

But in the end the Panasonic S5 is (surprisingly) not the hybrid going forward for Stark Insider photography and video projects. Shame that. It ticked so many boxes, including a special 96MP High Resolution mode for capturing uber-detailed photos using some nifty software wizardry. See below a quick test I did using that feature to take a 96MP photo of a painting by Loni Stark.

Out of the box the S5 feels great in the hand. All the ergonomics are on point, especially for someone like me looking to move up from a GH5 to full-frame. Menus are familiar and intuitive. Build quality is excellent. Also, promised firmware updates will make video capabilities — already quite good — even better by end of the year.

But the autofocus…

Oh boy.

I didn’t expect the S5 AF to be as good as Canon’s phenomenal Dual Pixel Auto-Focus (DPAF). Nobody can touch that. I’ve enjoyed it over the years shooting vids for Stark Insider on so many Canon bodies, from the EOS 60D and 70D to the 80D and Cinema EOS C100 II, and have constantly been amazed at DPAF. Yes, when shooting creative projects I use manual most of the time. But when you need it in a pinch Canon DPAF nails focus close to 100% of the time… and fast.

However, I’ve now become very familiar with the differences, at least in performance, when it comes to phase detection AF systems (as those found on Canon DPAF, and also Sony and others) versus contrast detection AF systems (Panasonic S5). Turns out if you really want reliable AF you’re probably going to want to look for a camera with the former.

Panasonic S5 vs GH5 comparison top
Panasonic S5 (left) next to the Panasonic GH5. I was hoping to replace my GH5 with the S5 as a true hybrid for highres photos and high quality 4K video.

In some ad-hoc tests around my home, the S5 struggled to nail focus. Time and time again. Nothing fancy. Just shooting everyday objects like a plant or an iPhone on a charging stand or a water bottle. Boy, did the S5 struggle. Not only that, I find the interface less than confidence inspiring when it comes to feedback on focal points and status. The green lines and confirmation boxes are very tiny and often don’t appear at all. Worse still, half pressing the shutter to activate AF (as it works on almost any modern day camera) is hyper sensitive on the S5. Consequently more often than not I’d end up taking a photo — out of focus — when I merely wanted to activate AF to lock in focus on a subject.

So disappointed was I that I did something I never do. Who does? Yet: I downloaded the S5 manual and read the entire section (Chapter 5) on focus to make sure I had all the settings correct. From what I can tell, yes, everything was A-Okay. I should note that all my tests were using the Lumix 12-60mm kit lens. Regardless the AF performance was sub-par, at least when it comes to shooting stills.

To be certain I wasn’t asking too much of the S5, I picked up my (still great) Canon EOS 80D and attempted all the same shots. Zero issues. DPAF in action, locking in lickity split. Insanely good. Again, I knew the S5 wouldn’t be up to DPAF levels, but it’s so far behind I’d have very little confidence during a photo shoot.

Panasonic S5: 96MP High Resolution Mode

Not to be all Debbie Downer, I will say the High Resolution mode is absolutely fantastic, and works as promised. To capture a 96MP photo, you start the mode in the menu (possibly can be assigned to a FN button… I’m not sure). Then frame your subject and push the shutter release. The S5 then shoots 8 frames in succession using electronic shutter, shifting each slightly and ultimately combining them into a super-sized photo.

Original on Panasonic S5 High Resolution Mode — SOOC JPG

Panasonic S5 High Resolution Mode Test Results

50% Zoom on Panasonic S5 High Resolution Mode — SOOC JPG

Panasonic S5 - 96MP High Resolution Mode Test

Original on Canon 80D 24MP — SOOC JPG

Canon EOS 80D Original JPG -- SOOC

50% Zoom on Canon 80D 24MP — SOOC JPG

Canon EOS 80 Zoom vs. Panasonic S5

Whereas a standard 24MP shot on the Panasonic S5 (and Canon 80D) results in a JPG with dimensions of 6000 x 4000 pixels, in High Resolution mode you get one that is 12000 x 8000 (33.5MB JPG / 165MB RW2 RAW) . Zooming in on the photo on my Windows desktop I was impressed with the detail. Just incredible. I do wish Canon offered this feature on the R5 and R6. Since the functionality is driven by software it would seem doable.

Painting “Pie” © Copyright 2020 by Loni Stark.

Disclaimer: at this point you should realize you’re not on DPReview and the above are just quick & dirty tests.

Panasonic S5: Video

Panasonic S5 Video - Quick Thoughts

Knowing already that the S5 wasn’t going to be our go-to hybrid mirrorless, I didn’t want to spend much time diving deep into video. What was the point if auto-focus spoiled the photo side anyways?

Still I did set up the S5 for 4K 24p 4:2:2 video. To my surprise the image on the LCD when in video mode lags. A lot. So much so that again I thought I might have something set incorrectly. I checked everything. Power cycled the camera. And still as I panned or otherwise moved the camera to frame and shoot video of Loni Stark while painting everything on the LCD was blurry to the point of being unusable. Given that I haven’t seen others complain about lag-iness of the LCD on the S5 this could be a defective unit so I won’t harp on it too much here, but I will be interested to see if others experience similar issues — or that I had a setting incorrect. There was damage on the corner of the S5 box I received from Amazon so it’s very possible there’s something wrong with this unit.(Note: the above photo is from a day earlier. When I was testing and shooting video the mode dial was appropriately set to the film camera icon “Movie” mode.)

In any case, sadly the S5 will go back and I’ve bitten the bullet in terms of budget and re-ordered a Canon EOS R5.

Oh, and one more thing. Don’t forget to watch our latest film project below.


A Place in Time. A Woman in Time.

A Film Project by Clinton and Loni Stark