Panasonic Lumix DC-S5 Review

Introduction

Initially released in the summer of 2020, the S5 is a brand new full-frame mirrorless offering from Panasonic. It came as quite a shock to the industry, as most users expected the long-awaited update to the GH5. But, it seems that the wait will continue. Instead, it marks the 4th model to continue Panasonic’s flagship LUMIX S series. In price, it’s technically an entry-level full-frame camera. But, not so much in features. Panasonic’s known for jam-packing each release, and this camera indeed follows suit. It brings 4K 10-bit 60 fps video, anamorphic support, 60 fps burst shooting, and much more.

However, Panasonic’s S series hasn’t quite made the biggest splash in the market. And the primary reason is that this lineup is rather niche and exceedingly expensive. Even the S1, their jack of all trades camera, was bulky and priced too high. But, in 2020, things are changing. And we now have a lightweight and affordable entry-point into the lineup. Dubbed as “the ultimate camera for filmmakers and content creators,” Panasonic’s made an exciting move with this camera. At first glance, the S5 indeed appears to be a miniature S1H or a full-frame counterpart to the GH5. And it sports many of their higher-end attributes but at a far more approachable price point.

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”Panasonic charges forward, and their latest release paves new grounds.”

They aim this camera at hybrid shooters looking for the essence of a conventional S series camera in a more compact, lightweight package. And they also hope it’ll compete favorably against Sony’s A7C, Olympus’ E-M1 Mark III, Fujifilm’s X-T4, Canon’s EOS R6, and Nikon’s Z6. Tough competition.

So, is the end of the popular GH range? And given the level of competition, here, how does this camera stack up? Let’s find out.

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What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the Panasonic S5? 

Pros:

Image Quality

It features a full-frame 24.2MP CMOS sensor without an optical low pass filter (OLPF) and the Venus Engine processor, a similar configuration as the S1. With that, overall image quality is virtually identical. And from a photography standpoint, this camera is excellent. It’s RAW images leave plenty of details for large format printing, with Panasonic’s accurate but faithful color rendering. And both the RAW and JPEG formats provide ample fine detail and 12 stops of dynamic range.

It obtains an updated Auto White Balance (AWB) option, including AWBw and AWBC, which retain reddish or bluish tints.

It obtains Panasonic’s full suite of Photo Styles, including their Monochrome L and D profiles for realistic Black & White images.

You can now record photos in Panoramic formats, including 65:24 and 2:1.

It obtains the HLG Photo Mode, which increases the dynamic range and improves detail. And the camera either saves these files as the new HSP file format or standard JPEG or RAW.

It offers continuous shooting speeds of 7 fps without AF or 5 fps with continuous AF and tracking. And the camera offers a reasonable buffer of 24 RAW or virtually unlimited JPEGs before slowing. While these capabilities are slower than the S1, they do match the standards in this segment.

Video Quality

It blends many video capabilities from its predecessors. With that, it shoots 4K UHD video up to 30p in full-frame or 60p using the APS-C crop mode, like the S1. It also shoots 1080p Full HD video up to 60p or up to 180p using the Slow & Quick mode. More on this below. And both resolutions shoot to either the MOV or MP4 formats via Long Gop.

The camera records video internally with 10-bit color in the 4:2:2 subsampling for both 4K 30p and 1080p 60p. And it offers reasonable data rates of 150 Mbps or 100 Mbps, respectively. You also can drop down to 4:2:0 subsampling and push the data rate to 200 Mbps using the H.265 compression. But, doing so will be rather taxing on your computer.

Like many Panasonic cameras, it offers unlimited video recording time in 4K 30p and 1080p 60p with 8-bit color 4:2:0. However, 4K 60p and 4:2:2 recording both have 30-minute recording limits. But, this is a fair trade-off. And the camera records confidently without overheating, unlike some rivals.

Overall, the footage supplied by the camera is excellent.  It oversamples the video from a 5.9K sensor to create genuine 4K UHD with plenty of dynamic range. Coupled with the V-Log, V-Gamut, and Cinelike profiles, it has a flat, but accurate color rendering, which works well for post-processing. And these deliver the same color science as the S1H and flagship Varicam, at a fraction of the price. While the camera only offers data rates of 200 Mbps, which is half that of the GH5 and S1H, 10-bit recording provides the ultimate quality and extensive flexibility. And it’s ideally suited for post-production work.

It has zebras for exposure warning indication.

It also has waveforms for more advanced monitoring. And the camera offers both V-Log and HLG View Assists.

It also obtains Anamorphic recording from the GH5 and S1H, with in-camera de-squeezing for proper monitoring. And like these cameras, it offers Dual Native ISO’s of 100 and 640. This particular feature reduces noise and improves sensitivity when working in varying lighting conditions. But, unlike the S1H, the camera switches automatically between the circuits, so there’s no manual control.

Note: Dual ISO only works in videos, not stills.

The camera also obtains several video-centric Photo Style Modes, including Flat, Cinelike D, V, Like 709, V-Log, and HLG profiles. And with V-Log pre-installed, recording in this profile captures a flat neutral gamma that increases the dynamic range to 14 stops. Otherwise, shooting in any of these profiles helps post-processing grading, as they offer more flexibility than the standard profile. And you can even apply LUT’s in-camera to make monitoring footage easier.

Note: V-Log is also backward compatible with the V-Log L profile, for easy synchronization across multi-camera setups.

Like the GH5, the camera can output a clean 10-bit 4K 60 fps 4:2:2 signal for use with external recorders.

It has the new Luminance Spot Meter, a freely positioned spot meter for quickly checking overexposure from middle grey. This is an excellent option to preserve highlights and avoid clipping when shooting in high dynamic range scenes.

It obtains the new Slow & Quick Mode, first introduced on the G100. This gives you immediate access to the in-camera slow and quick recording modes. And doing so allows you to shoot in-camera stop motion animation or super-slow-motion videos. And it’s now a dedicated mode position on the Mode dial, saving time digging through the menus. But, some notes here. The camera records full sensor width up to 120p with autofocus. But, at 150p, you’ll lose AF, then 180p loses both AF and adds an APS-C crop. The quality also degrades slightly at 180p, so that’s something to consider.

Note: The camera doesn’t record audio in any super-slow motion mode above 60p.

It has built-in Time Code, and you can customize the settings via the menus.

It obtains the Frame Marker feature from the S1H, which allows the camera to display unconventional aspect ratios for better composition. And like the G100, you can customize the color and the masking.

It also obtains the Red REC Frame Indicator from the S1H, which displays a red box around the frame to indicate video recording is active.

It obtains Vertical Video support, tagged in the video’s metadata for proper vertical playback smartphones or social media platforms. And the camera also conforms the video to portrait orientation so you can transfer the file to a smartphone for direct sharing online.

Low Light Performance

It features a native ISO range from 100 to 51,200, further expandable to 204,800. Since the camera inherits the same sensor, processor, and dual native ISO capabilities as the S1H, its performance is mostly identical. And users can expect usable images up to ISO 12,800 and videos up to 6,400. With these kinds of results, it now becomes arguably the best low light camera at this price point.

Focusing Performance

For focus, it uses their standard 225-area contrast-detect AF system with Depth from Defocus (DFD) technology and support down to -6 EV. This particular system has been used on several recent releases, including the S1, S1H, GH5S, G100, and more. And like these releases, Panasonic’s doubling down on the system, with a firmware-based approach to improve performance.

But unlike these cameras, they’ve rebuilt this system from the ground up to improve the speed and accuracy. And they’ve also refined the subject tracking algorithms. Together, the camera focuses in as little as 0.08 seconds, fast but, interestingly, slower than the LUMIX G100. But, like the G100, Its advanced AI technology now accounts for subject type, color, size, and motion to added precision.

It also obtains the latest versions of Face, Eye, Head, Body, and animal detection.  Head detection, in particular, is a new introduction to the lineup. But, it now allows the camera to maintain tracking even when the subject turns in profile or away from the camera.

Frankly, the continuous AF and tracking functionality are greatly improved. The camera delivers substantially more accurate real-time detection speeds, and it’s quite reliable. And it gets better when shooting in the APS-C crop mode. While it’s slightly confusing to see Panasonic double down with a contrast-based system, this is easily the best installment to date. And, for what it’s worth here, it’s quite a joy to use. The camera provides a tremendous hit rate, with little focus wobbling, and it now delivers much-needed confidence. Panasonic claims this camera offers the best AF performance of any LUMIX camera, and the rumors are true. Autofocus, for the most part, is no longer their Achilles heel.

The camera also obtains AF Custom Settings for videos, so you tailor the tracking speed and sensitivity for better results.

It now offers Touch Face Detection, allowing you to track a face by touching the display. And this feature works surprisingly well so long as subjects remain in the frame.

It obtains several manual focusing aids such as focus peaking, focus magnification, and Touch MF Assist.

Battery Performance

It uses the new BLK22 battery, and battery life is excellent. Panasonic rates the camera to deliver 470 shots per charge using the EVF and over two hours of continuous recording. And, surprisingly, you can get upwards of 1,500 shots when using the Power Save LVF Mode. Interestingly too, these new batteries are even backward compatible with the GH series cameras and the G9. Overall, the battery performance is a substantial improvement, particularly over the S1, which only offers 400 shots per charge in comparison.

Display & Viewfinder

It uses an OLED electronic viewfinder with a resolution of 2.36M dots, 0.74x magnification, and a variable refresh rate up to 120 Hz. The eyecup surrounding the EVF has also gone back to the traditional shape, instead of the circle design featured on recent models. It’s a small change, but one that may help some users. Otherwise, the viewfinder is excellent. It’s entirely lag-free, with no RGB tearing or artifacts. And it’s reasonably sharp, with superb color rendering. While this is a lower resolution and smaller EVF than the GH5, it’s par for the course at this price point.

It also features a 3.0-inch vari-angle touchscreen LCD with a resolution of 1.84M dots. Overall, the display, while slightly darker than other S series cameras, is excellent. It’s sharp, and the colors are very accurate. And since it’s a touchscreen, it also supports the full suite of functionality, including touch AF, touch shutter, and full menu navigation.

User Interface

It uses standard Panasonic user interface and menus, which remain exceptionally well organized. Long ago, Panasonic mastered its user interface, and this camera continues the tradition. Newcomers will find this camera easy to navigate and quickly mastered. And current Panasonic shooters will be immediately pleased as the interface will seamlessly integrate with any of their latest releases.

It offers three custom mode positions on the Mode Dial, C1-C3, to quickly recall shooting presets.

It obtains the Quick Menu, accessed by the Q Button, which recalls an on-screen menu of critical shooting settings.

Physical Layout & Ergonomics

Physically, the camera follows a similar design and build as other LUMIX S cameras. And it borrows several elements but in a smaller footprint. Considering size was one of the most criticized aspects of the S lineup, this is a welcomed step in the right direction. And this new camera is substantially smaller and lighter. At 714 g, it’s even slightly lighter than the GH5, which weighs 725 g and 25% lighter than the S1. But thankfully, it uses a magnesium alloy chassis with similar weather-resistant construction as the GH5 and S1.

Even so, Panasonic overhauled the ergonomics, including a deep groove that makes the camera extraordinarily comfortable and secure given its size. The grip is also well textured, further improving the reassurance. Overall, the economics are excellent and closely match the Nikon Z6 in this regard.

In layout, the camera follows both the S1 and GH5. And all of the buttons and dials provide nice clicky feedback and tactile control, with enough resistance to prevent accidental changes. And it delivers excellent one-handed operation and control.

It obtains the large video record button and anodized red ring from the S1H.

It has an AF joystick for quick focus point selection or menu navigation.

It has an AF-ON button for convenient back-button focusing.

Niche Features/Extras

It has 5-axis image stabilization, which they rate for 5 EV stops of compensation. And this system can combine the built-in sensor-shift stabilization with lens-based O.IS, using Panasonic’s Dual I.S II. And this combination increases performance to 6.5 EV stops. Overall, it’s excellent, and it effectively lets you shoot sharp handheld exposures up to 1/4 second shutter speed. Moreover, you can now switch between optical and in-body stabilization when using third party lenses.

It obtains the High-Resolution Mode, taken from the S1, which uses the stabilization system to capture 96MP RAW or JPEG images rendered in-camera. It does this by shifting the sensor slightly between eight separate exposures. And this mode is ideal for shooting static subjects to produce more detailed and color-accurate images. Interestingly, Panasonic has also added two motion processing options to reduce motion blur.

It has built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Low Energy (LE), which allows you to transfer images wirelessly, and remotely control the camera via the Lumix Sync app. And it now obtains the 5 GHz band for faster transfers than 2.4 GHz alone.

It has dual SD card slots, one supports UHS-II the other UHS-I.

It has a USB-Type C port, supporting faster file transfer speeds, USB charging, and continuous power delivery.

It has a microphone input. And you can adjust the levels and add a limiter via the menus. However, you can only set the levels down to -12 dB, not -18 dB, like the S1H. So take care with sensitive microphones.

It has a headphone output.

It obtains Panasonic’s extensive suite of 4K Photo Modes. But the camera can now pull 8MP still images from 60 fps videos, not just 30. And the 6K Photo Mode now captures 18MP stills from 30 fps videos. Plus, it also offers the Burst, Pre-Burst, and Burst Start/Stop Modes, like most modern Panasonic cameras.

It obtains the Live View Composite Mode, which creates an in-camera composite where only changes in exposure are recorded. It’s a useful feature for astrophotography, star trails, and long exposures to see the exposure in real-time. And a nice addition to the S series.

It has built-in time-lapse, and it can generate a 10-bit 4K time-lapse movie in-camera or output the RAW files.

It has several in-camera lens correction options, including Vignetting and Diffraction Compensation, to help combat lens anomalies.

Cons:

Video Capabilities

Not surprisingly, it lacks the 5.9K internal recording of the S1H. But, more importantly, it also lacks the ALL-I codec. And for GH5 owners, the loss of ALL-I could easily become a deal-breaker, depending on your workflow. Otherwise, Long GOP alone should be sufficient for most users.

Autofocus Performance

While Panasonic has made great leaps and bounces with improving the autofocusing system, it’s still fairly inconsistent. And the default configuration may not deliver the best results for each specific situation. Thus, you’ll want to take the time to analyze the camera’s behavior to tune its AF to your shooting style.

Display

At only 2.36M dots, some users will find the EVF dated. And you can easily see pixelation during use. But, as a trade-off, it’s a fair move that doesn’t significantly detract from the user experience.

It lacks the top-deck status LCD of other S series cameras.

Lacking Features

It uses the smaller and less secure micro HDMI Type D connection, which isn’t ideal for larger setups or rigs. However, it’s a small trade-off in the grand scheme given the camera’s size and the remaining I/O.

It lacks a tally lamp.

It lacks a PC Sync port of other S series cameras.

Is this a good beginner camera?

Yes.

At its launch price, including the kit lens, it offers tremendous value for money. And as a beginner’s camera for those wanting an entry point into full-frame, it’s capable. For the price, you get a complete feature set, much of which matches several pro-level cameras. And it’s a solid option for long-term development if your budget allows.

What are the best lenses & bundles for the Panasonic S5?

Lens Adapters:

Sigma MC-21 Adapter (Sigma EF-Mount Lenses to Leica L)

General Photography: 

Panasonic LUMIX S 20-60mm F3.5-5.6
Panasonic Lumix S Pro 24-70mm F2.8
Panasonic LUMIX S 24-105mm F4

Landscape & Astrophotography Photography:

Panasonic Lumix S Pro 16-35mm F4 Wide Zoom Lens

Portrait Photography:

Panasonic LUMIX S PRO 50mm F1.4
Panasonic LUMIX S PRO 70-200mm F2.8

Sports & Wildlife Photography:

Panasonic LUMIX S PRO 70-200mm F4

Extra Batteries:

Panasonic DMW-BLF19 Lithium-Ion Battery Pack (Black)

SD Cards:

SanDisk Extreme PRO 32GB
SanDisk Extreme PRO 64GB 
SanDisk Extreme PRO 128GB

Tripods & Gimbals:

Manfrotto Befree Advanced Travel Tripod
E-Image 2 Stage Aluminum Video Tripod
Zhiyun Weebill S Compact Gimbal Stabilizer

Microphones & External Recorders:

Rode Wireless Go
Rode VideoMicPro
Zoom H1n Portable Recorder

Is this a good camera for you?

Yes.

For photographers, this camera is an excellent choice in their current LUMIX lineup. Combined with its larger full-frame sensor, 96MP high-res shot mode, and IBIS, it’s a powerful package. It’s also reasonably capable of shooting slower sports or action with its 5 FPS burst and 30 FPS 4K photo mode. And, in many respects, it’s the more compact S1. So, unless you specifically want its larger body, robust shutter, and faster burst shooting, this camera is the better choice.

This camera is also an excellent choice for high-end vloggers, given its surprisingly compact size, outstanding IBIS, and powerful video capabilities.

This camera’s an excellent b-cam and lightweight backup for current Panasonic owners, especially for the S1H. And in some respects, it could be a budget-friendly alternative to the S1H altogether, with only minor trade-offs in display resolutions and lack of fans. Otherwise, its video specs truly keep pace, minus the 5.9K and 4:2:2 internal recording.

Current GH5 owners should also consider an upgrade. In several respects, this camera is indeed its spiritual successor. And it adds improved low light performance and better autofocus. But, it keeps the familiarity you know and love. Overall, it’s a brilliant upgrade and a substantial improvement in image quality.

For hybrid shooters, this camera is an excellent package and arguably the best one to date.

For videographers, this camera represents a more affordable way to get the best of the S1H. And it’s a strong alternative to the Micro-Four-Thirds sized GH5. While it lacks some of these cameras’ advanced video-centric features, the price makes it quite compelling. With its 10-bit 4:2:0 internal 4K 60 fps video, this camera’s a powerful tool for freelance videographers and content creators. And it’s also the easiest and most affordable way to obtain the full V-Log and V-gamut experience on a full-frame body.

In the end, Panasonic’s S5 is their best camera at this price point. And it’s clear they’ve put much thought into the development of this product. Considering its feature set, it punches far above its weight in the “entry-level segment.” And it’s easily one of the top options in the category. As it stands, the S5 is an excellent entry-point into the LUMIX S lineup and a strong alternative to the S1 and S1H. And it’s an evolutionary step over several previous releases, not just the S series. With the substantial overhaul in AF performance, Panasonic has finally done away with their ultimate Achilles heel and now has a complete and reliable system. And compared to the competition, it’s the far superior video camera at this price. Surely, this is a camera to consider if you want high-end hybrid capabilities in a small, lightweight body. And it’ll be quite a popular option from now on.

Overview
  • Image Quality
  • Video Quality
  • Focusing Performance
  • Low Light Performance
  • Dynamic Range
  • Battery Performance
  • Display & Viewfinder
  • User Interface
  • Physical Layout & Ergonomics
4.6

Summary

With the S5, Panasonic has done away with their ultimate Achilles heel. And they’ve done so while going leaps and bounds over rivals. As an “entry-level” camera, it becomes the ideal entry point into the S series. Yet, it’s also currently the best camera at this price.