DCS Road Test – James Mathers and Friends Evaluate The Panasonic Lumix S5

by | Apr 29, 2021 | Essays | 0 comments

This is the second in a series documenting my ongoing quest to find the right small form factor camera to add to my equipment arsenal.  I own several full featured Digital Cinema cameras including a couple of Panasonic Varicams, a Blackmagic Design URSA Mini Pro 12K, and a few trusty old HD cameras from Canon.  However, what I find I am lacking is a small, nimble capture device that can be carried around all day, placed on a handheld gimbal, or mounted in a tight space. A camera that keeps a low profile for documentary work, yet gives me the necessary image control and has the capability to intercut when necessary with my bigger cameras at a minimum of 4K resolution.  And yes, auto focus is also a very desirable feature these days, and it would be nice to have at least one camera with those capabilities.

Stills MotionBlurringLineI narrowed down my list to six contenders from Sony, Canon, Sigma, Fujifilm, Blackmagic and Panasonic as detailed in my essay for the DCS eNewsletter, Crossing The Blurring Line Between Still and Motion Picture Cameras.  Now it is time to delve into the Panasonic Lumix S5.

LumixLineNow the S5 is not the top of Panasonic’s mirrorless line, that distinction goes to the S1H which shoots 6K 4:2:2 10 bit and recently had major software features added.  For example, now in addition to Apple ProRes RAW recording, the S1H has the ability to output 5.9K RAW which is compatible for recording Blackmagic RAW on Blackmagic Video Assist 12G HDR.  This is just one of the many free firmware upgrades adding functionality and compatibility with other manufacturers recorders and lenses to have been recently announced for the whole Lumix S1 model line.

However, at an MSRP of almost $4,000US, the S1H may be a bit more than I currently require.  Instead, I zeroed in on the S5 because I feel it has what I need to fill the void in my camera ensemble,  with all the essential features I require, plus it has a smaller footprint and lighter weight than the S1.  It features a full-frame 24.2MP CMOS sensor for UHD 4K 10-bit internal recording, a claimed 14+ stops of dynamic range, up to 180fps Slow Motion when cropped to APS-C, and 60fps in full HD. It has 4:3 Anamorphic support, which is always fun, and especially important to integrating with my particular package is its Dual Native ISO feature and its ability to shoot in V-Log/V-Gamut, just as my two Varicams will do.

As regular followers of my reviews know, I like to put the gear I test in real world shooting situations, what I call “Road Tests”.  Since I didn’t have any pro assignments booked when I was able to get my hands on a demo camera to review, I offered it to my good friend and longtime collaborator Cameron Cannon.  Cameron is a Cinematographer who has worked with me for many years as an Operator and/or Second Unit DP.  He also shoots most of our DCS projects, from our trade show interviews and event coverage to our documentaries.

CameronOnTheRiverAriLumixPackageAs is happened, Cameron had just booked a job to shoot a promotional documentary about a Riverboat cruise operation triumphantly returning to service on the Missippi after the pandemic.  The Producer/Director Ari Minasian owns other Lumix cameras including an S1 and S5, so this model would be very compatible and a welcome addition to the package for this shoot.  It also helped that Cameron, who had previously worked with Minasian on many a project, was already familiar with the S5.

Cameron is a big fan of the camera, especially the form factor when shooting on jobs like on the Riverboat where a handheld gimbal was often employed.  He also likes the ability to quickly switch between various modes including stills, high-frame-rates, and variable ISOs all the way to 4000 without too much noticeable noise when V-Log is applied.  The speed and precision of the auto focus is also something he mentioned as a significant plus.

Enrique1Another good use of the camera came up during the loaner evaluation period, covering behind-the-scenes of a mini documentary DCS was producing to cover the Cineo ReFlex R15.  I served as Director and On-camera Host while Cameron Cannon was the DP, so we enlisted the services of another friend and collaborator, Enrique Del Rio to shoot the BTS.  Enrique is a Camera Operator who also has a background as a DIT and owns a wide variety of high end camera and lens packages including the Sony Venice, Phantom High-speed, and an array of Fujinon, Angenieux, and Canon lenses, among other gear.  However, Enrique didn’t have too much experience with this new class of mirrorless cameras.

The Lumix S5 was a perfect option since we were shooting the main unit with the Varicam V35.  The V35 was selected for its ability to shoot at 120fps in 4K V-Log at a high ISO, which is often necessary when shooting very high frame rates, especially with the Infinity Probe lenses we were planning to use.  Although I’ve been shooting with this camera for over 6 years now, (which is an eternity in the life of Digital Cinema cameras,) it is still the one I turn to for situations such as this, or when I require full 4K 4:4:4 for things such as critical visual effects compositing work.

BTS S5 Montage2It was really wonderful the way Cameron was able to place the Lumix S5 into Enrique’s hands for the first time, give him a two minute rundown, and have him go to work getting some really great footage under difficult conditions.  Shooting behind-the-scenes is always a challenge as you are trying to tie in fully lit subjects in front of the main camera with the filmmakers lurking back in the dark recesses of the set.  It was especially challenging on this job since the subject of the piece was the brightest LED on the market.  As you’ll see if you watch the video, the Cineo ReFlex compares to a 2,500 HMI or 5K tungsten fixture, yet has the ability to plug into a household circuit.  I think the Lumix S5 performed admirably, but you can judge for yourself here:


Enrique’s feedback was mostly positive; he liked that the menus and touchscreen were intuitive and fast to master.   He also commented on the brightness of the LCD along with the flexibility to angle it in so many directions making it easy to undersling or to get a high angle shot by holding the camera above his head and tilting down the LCD.  He also liked the low light capabilities and ease of adjusting the exposure which came in very handy on this job where he was constantly going between extremely bright to very dark subjects, often in the same shot.

The Lumix cameras use the L-mount, as do Sigma and Leica mirrorless cameras, but I don’t personally own anything with the L-mount.  I figured I could employ my large assortment of Canon EF lenses, so I requested a Sigma EF to L-mount adapter along with the S5 loaner from Panasonic.  When investing in a new camera platform, I would like to avoid also having to replace all my lenses.

SoundAdjustI hate those fragile little mini connectors as camera inputs so I also requested a Panasonic XLR Microphone Adapter.  It connects to the camera directly through the hot shoe and provides two XLR inputs.  It also features a good sized control panel with physical switches and dials that are easy to adjust, even with my clumsy digits.

2LumixLensesThis is the package Enrique had to work with, and although he rarely complains, he did mention that the auto focus was a bit slow on the uptake.  Fearing this was the result of adapting my aging EF lenses, and not wanting that to reflect badly on the cameras, I later requested two Lumix lenses, the 24-70 f2.8 and the 70-200 f2.8.  By the time I had a chance to actually shoot with the camera myself, this is the package I had for my personal evaluation, and I was suitably impressed.

JM ShootingCallieLumixIn fact, the focus assist/autofocus performance of the S5 is one of its highlight features.  The DFD (Depth-From-Defocus) technology, a contrast-detection type method, quickly calculates the distance to subjects and adjusts the focusing position in as little as 0.08 seconds. AI Technology has also been employed to gauge subject type, color, size, and motion vectors to intelligently lock-onto the moving subjects especially the face, eye, head, and body, as well as animals.  This allows for prioritizing focus on a certain subject or even specific areas of the subject.

FocusAdjustmentsFocus peaking is also available for manual adjustment as well as Touch MF Assist for touch-to-focus operation. Other AF features include an AF Point Scope setting that temporarily magnifies the subject by 3x to 10x for confirmation of the focus position and a custom selectable AF zone for Multi AF or Custom Multi AF.  Image stabilization is another great feature of the S5 particularly when used in combination with lens stabilization.  Combining the 5 stop-rated 5-axis sensor-shift stabilization technology in the camera along with lens-based 2-axis image stabilization really helps smooth out any appearance of camera shake which is great for longlegs handheld operation.

BMD RecorderOnLumixI think they have also done a great job with the various recording options available.  It has dual SD memory card slots for onboard recording, and although really fast SD cards were at one time very pricey, they continue to drop in price and have become really affordable.  The only problem is that whatever you pay for such high-end SD cards today, it will be far less tomorrow.  The S5 also supports an HDMI Type D port for feeding 4:2:2 4K UHD to monitor recorders such as the pictured Blackmagic Recorder 4K which allows for dual recording in any number of formats.

I have a documentary passion project I hope to embark on once the pandemic travel restrictions ease up.  In addition to a lot of travel, it will involve some covert shooting situations, which is why I have put a lot of emphasis on form factor.  The S5 fits the bill nicely in this department; weighing only about 1.5 lbs. with a built-in stereo mic, it can be a nice self contained 4K capture device.  Wireless remote operation may also come in handy, and a free Lumix Sync app is available for both iOS and Android which allows remote viewing and some wireless control via Bluetooth.

All-in-all, the Lumix S5 is a great camera and a real contender in my search for a small form factor cinema capture device.  Its recording format compatibility with my Varicams, high sensitivity, relatively low price, and small size are all pluses.  The only downside for me would be that if I go with an L-mount, I’ll need to replace my cherished EF glass if I want to get the most out of the impressive focus assist capabilities.  The only feature I might have opted for from the higher end Lumix S1 line is the ability to jam sync time code.  That said, I didn’t miss it on these projects since the editing software is getting to be so good at syncing by matching the audio tracks.  Check in next month as I hopefully have evaluated another camera on the list.



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