Panasonic says the reason PDAF took so long was to not compromise image quality
In an interview between Gizmomo Freaks and Panasonic during the launch of the recently announced Panasonic Lumix S5 Mark II and S5 Mark IIx, the obvious focus of attention was the addition of Phase Detect Autofocus into the new camera. Sure, PDAF isn’t the only thing the S5 Mark II holds over its predecessor, but this is the first Panasonic interchangeable lens mirrorless camera ever to have PDAF. So, it’s kind of a big deal.
Why did it take so long for Panasonic to implement it, though, while all of the competition had been using it for years? Well, in short, the official answer was that they didn’t want to compromise on image quality, and they felt that the technical limitations of how phase detection autofocus works would do exactly that. Now, though, technology appears to have come to a point where all that’s changed.
The 23-minute video is in Japanese, so if you don’t happen to speak the language, you’ll want to enable subtitles. It talks about a number of topics, like why the S5 Mark II came out before a successor to the S1 series – they wanted to beef up their mid-range offerings in the full-frame market – comparisons to other cameras in not only Panasonic’s lineup but some of the competition, too.
Panasonic Lumix representative Kisho Shiomi also speaks about why it took so long for Panasonic to implement phase detect autofocus in the first place.
Until now, our company has adopted “image quality” (priority) contrast AF. For image plane phase difference AF, it is necessary to embed a sensor for distance measurement in the sensor, and since color information and luminance information cannot be obtained from the embedded part, the image processing engine must compensate for it, and Panasonic is the best in photography and video. The important thing is image quality, which cannot be compromised. That becomes our philosophy.
Conventional image processing engine technology has not been able to guarantee image quality that satisfies us. This time, the image processing engine has greatly evolved, and it has achieved a very large evolution in filling in the distance measurement sensor and correcting it. .
We don’t mean to say that we have simply installed focal plane phase detection AF, but we want to deliver solid image quality to our customers. In addition, this time I would like to tell you that you can use image plane phase detection AF while maintaining good image quality.
Basically, the processing engines weren’t able to adequately compensate for potentially missing data that the sensor couldn’t see due to PDAF sensors taking up space on the image sensor around and in between the actual pixels. One could argue that “Well, Panasonic should’ve gotten their act together and developed better image processing engines sooner. The competition all managed it just fine!” but we also don’t know exactly what level of standards Panasonic was hoping to achieve vs what the competition was aiming for.
Of course, pretty much all of the competition now produce excellent image quality with phase-detect AF systems, but that doesn’t mean it always started that way for them. Perhaps other companies felt it was worth the hit in quality to adopt PDAF early to be able to offer better autofocus at the expense of ultimate image quality. After all, it’s usually a lot quicker to develop something after you implement it and you start to see some real feedback from users than it is to develop it secretly behind the scenes, the way Panasonic seems to have done.
Either way, it may have taken a while, but it looks like PDAF is here to stay when it comes to Panasonic now, which holds a lot of promise for its future as a camera company. Maybe we’ll even see some greater brand adoption as more cameras in Panasonic’s full-frame and Micro Four Thirds lineups are replaced by PDAF-capable bodies.
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.