Is Panasonic finally going to give us phase detection autofocus in Lumix mirrorless cameras?
Is Panasonic finally going to give us phase detection autofocus (PDAF) in their full-frame and Micro Four Thirds Lumix mirrorless cameras? Well… Maybe. This is one that seems to have skipped by most of us but last month, Panasonic announced a new PTZ camera. Now, we do cover PTZ cameras occasionally, like the Insta360 Link and that crazy Sony Cinema PTZ camera we saw at IBC 2022 in September, but mostly they’re kinda boring.
This one, though, the imaginatively titled Panasonic AW-UE160W/K features something new. At least, it’s something new for Panasonic. Phase detection autofocus. Ordinary Filmmaker spotted this and put a video together going over his thoughts on what this might mean for the future of Panasonic mirrorless cameras.
The key paragraph in the press release for Panasonic’s PTZ camera is this:
1. Uncompromising shooting performance and operability.
In addition to the high sensitivity of F14 / 2,000 lx 4, equivalent to that of a studio camera, and the latest generation image processing found in LUMIX, the AW-UE160 is equipped with a newly developed phase detection autofocus (PDAF) that enables high-speed focusing and can also be used to shoot fast-moving subjects. The new PTZ is equipped with a variety of features that enable high-precision video production, including a new PTZ mechanism and hybrid image stabilization.
A PDAF system specifically designed for video. In Panasonic terms, this is pretty huge news. So far, in Panasonic’s mirrorless cameras, we’ve only really seen Panasonic’s Depth from Defocus AF system, which works great for stills, doesn’t work with video at all, and only works with Panasonic’s own lenses, not 3rd party lenses. Other than that, it’s basically all just plain old contrast detection autofocus, which is slow, annoying, randomly hunts for no reason whatsoever and often completely misses the subject altogether.
Panasonic says the AW-UE160 contains a “newly developed phase detection autofocus that enables high-speed focusing and can also be used to shoot fast-moving subjects”. Phase detection autofocus was rumoured to be coming in the Panasonic GH6, although that obviously didn’t happen – leading to a lot of disappointment among Panasonic MFT shooters. Now, though, with Panasonic having actually implemented it in one camera (even if it’s not an interchangeable lens mirrorless camera), it’s a promising sign for the future of Panasonic’s Lumix mirrorless cameras.
As somebody who owns six Panasonic Lumix MFT mirrorless cameras, I’m always in manual focus when shooting video because the autofocus is just too unreliable and unpredictable. And while I wouldn’t use autofocus often for video even if it did have PDAF, there are certainly times when it would be extremely valuable, even if just for expediency when shooting. It might even convince me to go with Panasonic for full-frame once my Nikon DSLRs start dying off.
There’s been no confirmation yet from Panasonic that future mirrorless cameras may get PDAF and it’s entirely possible that next year’s camera announcements are already too far along on the development chain to add PDAF now, so it might take a couple of generations until we see it, but I suspect that it’s going to be coming at some point. All I can say is, it’s about damn time!
The L mount ecosystem never really hit my radar when it came to replacing my DSLRs, but with Panasonic finally implementing PDAF in a camera, it gives us hope. And if Sigma gets their stuff together and gives us a full-frame L-mount Foveon camera for stills as well – which might also potentially feature PDAF! – it’s pretty much a done deal for me.
John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.