What does Phase Detect autofocus mean for Panasonic’s future?

Jan 9, 2023

John Aldred

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.

What does Phase Detect autofocus mean for Panasonic’s future?

Jan 9, 2023

John Aldred

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.

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The Panasonic S5 Mark II announcement brought with it a big change of direction for Panasonic. One that Panasonic shooters (including myself) had been wanting for years. Finally, Panasonic has a mirrorless camera with Phase Detect autofocus. It seems that Panasonic has finally gotten around to addressing all of the complaints and issues users had with their DFD autofocus system, especially when shooting video.

But what does this mean for the future of Panasonic’s full-frame and Micro Four Thirds mirrorless lineup? This interesting video from Chris and Jordan at DPReview TV takes a look at this exact topic, discussing the benefits that PDAF brings to the S5 Mark II and what it could mean going forward.

As a Panasonic shooter, autofocus has been something I’ve completely ignored. I still keep my Nikon DSLRs for shooting stills, and when I’ve shot video, I’ve always used manual focus. Are there times when autofocus would be advantageous for video? Absolutely. If it worked. But historically, it hasn’t with Panasonic. It’s plagued by hunting and jittering, which makes it pretty much useless for most applications. Even if it’s not entirely useless all the time, it’s still often just quicker and easier to go manual focus than to try autofocus and do a dozen takes in the hope that it gets it right eventually – because it usually still doesn’t.

The good news now, at least for Panasonic S5 Mark II users, is that those issues seem to be a thing of the past. All of the reviews for the new camera have been very positive, showing some very impressive autofocus capabilities – at least on par with the likes of Sony, Canon and Nikon. It’s nice to finally see Panasonic joining the rest of the world with Phase Detect autofocus. The video above was actually shot using the S5 Mark II with autofocus enabled.

But what does this mean for future Panasonic cameras? Well, I think it’s pretty clear going forward that all full-frame bodies are going to see PDAF implemented. The Panasonic S5 series is essentially the entry-level in Panasonic’s full-frame L mount lineup. Replacements for the Panasonic S1 series will be on the way at some point, and it wouldn’t make sense for higher-end and more expensive bodies not to have this feature. I think we can be reasonably sure that any S1 Mark II or S1H Mark II will also have PDAF.

As far as the Micro Four thirds bodies go, this will be an interesting one. As mentioned in the video, people are already asking why you’d buy a GH6 when you can get the full-frame S5 Mark II for the same or less money. Should Panasonic have waited a little longer to ensure the GH6 also had PDAF? Well, the GH6 still has some advantages, especially if you’re used to and ok with manual focus, but they’re valid questions. I think the only way MFT will be able to survive is if Panasonic also starts to implement it in MFT bodies, especially the higher-end ones.

Jordan believes that given the recent release of the GH6, it’s possible that we might see a GH6S interim release within the next year or two before a GH7 is announced. It would be a really long wait otherwise. A hypothetical GH6S could offer many of the relative benefits that the GH5S had over the GH5, but with the addition of PDAF. Will we see an update to cameras like the Panasonic G9, though? what about Panasonic’s lower-end lines (that haven’t been killed off yet)? Well, that remains to be seen.

There’s no way for us to know what Panasonic will do without them making an official announcement, but with proclamations of Micro Four Thirds being a dying format almost daily and Panasonic’s full-frame offerings not selling anywhere near as well as Sony, Canon or even Nikon, this gives us a lot of hope for the future of Panasonic and both of their camera systems.

This change of direction for Panasonic might have actually convinced me to go L mount as my Nikon DSLRs start dying off, especially if Sigma gets their act together and finally announces that full-frame Foveon camera – which is also rumoured to potentially have phase detect autofocus!

Are you considering Panasonic in your future photographic or video life?

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John Aldred

John Aldred

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.

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