Panasonic First in 2023 With Third Try

bythom panasonic s5iiwlens

Panasonic today announced the S5 Mark II and IIx models, its third stab at establishing itself as a strong contender with a 24mp full frame camera. One key difference this time? A critical change in the autofocus system.

Yes, Panasonic has finally added phase detection to their cameras, now coupled with the DFD work they’ve done in the past and a human/animal subject detection capability. Obviously, this new focus system is one of those things that will need testing to see how it truly performs, but the hope of Pannyfans is that this finally brings them back into some form of competitiveness with the others, all of whom have been using phase detect technologies for some time now. 

The other new features of the new models tend to relate to video. The Rear LCD now becomes articulating, for instance, while we get what takes literally pages of specifications to iterate all the video capabilities in even modest detail. Basically, the US$2000 S5 II can be thought of as a 6K/30P open gate camera or a 4K/60P camera, with a lot of other capabilities, including anamorphic support. The HDMI connector goes from Type C (mini) to Type A (full), as if to show the video changes off. The Iix version of the camera is US$200 more and adds raw video support, internal ProRes and All-I compressions, IP streaming, and video recording to an external SSD (via USB). You can update a II to include raw video output for US$200 update, but you don’t get the other things.

A few other aspects of the camera changed, as well. The EVF moves to a 3.68m dot OLED one, Bluetooth is upgraded to version 5BLE, and the image buffer appears to be deeper. Physical size of the new version is close to the original, but slightly bigger, but previous accessories still work.

Along with the new camera, Panasonic also announced a new US$799 Lumix 14-28mm f/4-5.6 macro lens. This brings Panasonic’s contribution to the L-mount to 13 autofocus lenses, and rounds out something that looks like a variable-aperture zoom set.

Commentary: Panasonic is still trying to find traction against the full frame competition. The S5 is usually compared against the Canon R6 Mark II, Nikon Z6 II, and the Sony A7 Mark IV. All these cameras have mature generations of phase detect autofocus, while the older Panasonic S5 was still using contrast detect (with Panasonic’s proprietary DFD technology). Since focus performance is something that’s easily noticed, Panasonic had a tough slog of it in the previous generation. At that competitive point, Panasonic was a distant fourth in terms of sales, despite the fact that the S5 was otherwise a very capable camera. 

The question is whether the update changes anything. 

Note the heavy emphasis on video changes. Amazingly, Nikon, who’s not known for being a video leader, was able to step in with the original Z6 and its Z6 II update to stake a claim at being one of the best 4K hybrids on the market (particularly so if you opted for the optional raw video update). Not only did Nikon leap towards the front of the pack, but it did so being the low-cost provider (the Z6 II’s pricing has been lower than that of Canon or Sony. (Caveat: for Christmas 2022, the S5 dropped to US$1500 while the Z6 II only dropped to US$1700.) 

Pricing the S5 II at US$2000 puts improved video characteristics up against the Nikon Z6 II at the same price point. If Nikon ups their price to US$2400-2500 with their Z6 III update as I expect, that would put Panasonic as the low-price leader in 24mp full frame mirrorless. 

Panasonic is known as a video leader, not just at the small, mirrorless camera end, but also at the big Hollywood- and Broadcast-production end. The thing Panasonic needs to preserve is its position in the professional video market, while along the way it needs to pick up new users who are looking at getting into video. 

The problem I see is that Panasonic is mostly aiming at the wrong spot(s). The GH6 already hits where the S5 II tries to, so in some ways they’re competing with themselves in the small hybrid form factor. Panasonic, on the other hand, has no true entry vlogging-style camera at the moment, while Nikon and Sony do, and Canon’s coming soon. Meanwhile, Panasonic’s professional lineup needs a great deal of attention, too. They need to standardize on L-mount lenses on the big, pro cameras, much like Sony did with the E-mount many years ago. 

To me, Panasonic is iterating a bit too slowly and without a clear product line differentiation. Their strategy feels more like whack-a-mole than clearly articulated. That, of course, doesn’t make the S5 II a bad camera. It just calls attention to the fact that Panasonic has a lot they need to do at the moment, and the S5 II, by itself, might not fix their real needs. 

Since Canon and Sony have already iterated models at this product point, the ball is now in Nikon’s to show us what a Z6 III looks like. 

What to Expect in 2023

bythom 2023

I'm going to try to stay away from trying to predict specific camera models and features coming in 2023, even though from conversations with various sources I'm hearing a number of details about upcoming products. Instead, I want to write more generally about where we're at now that all the camera companies are committed to mirrorless moving forward.

It’s the Volume, Silly

The tricky thing no one is really talking about is that mirrorless has finally hit 2x the unit volume of DSLR, and DSLRs are clearly going to drop more precipitously in 2023 in terms of volume. That makes the very first challenge for the mirrorless camera makers a simple one: while 2022 interchangeable lens camera unit shipments probably hit 5.8m, coming close to that in 2023 is going to be a real stretch. That’s because I don’t think that mirrorless volume increases can make up for the DSLR volume decrease.

Since I write articles alphabetically when referencing companies, I going to start by saying that… 

Canon will be the only major player trying to take a real swipe at getting the mirrorless volume up in 2023 to make up for DSLR volume loss. Canon has both EF-S and M volumes they now absolutely need to replace, and I believe we'll see them become very aggressive in doing so. EF-S sales are tanking, and M models are mostly no longer in production and discontinued. We’ll see lower-end RF-S cameras to replace the M cameras, and I suspect we'll see at least another model in the R7/R10 SLR-like RF-S line to help pick up the EF-S Rebel/Kiss volume. Plus the R and RP are due for some sort of retrenchment at the bottom of the full frame lineup, and Canon doesn’t yet have a vlogging style RF camera yet. In short, I believe this is going to be a Canon-keeps-announcing-cameras type of year. If you weren't sure about their commitment to mirrorless before, you will be by the end of 2023. I guar-an-tee it.

Fujifilm, meanwhile, made a strong statement in late 2022 (X-H2, X-H2S, X-T5). First to stacked APS-C, and first to 40mp APS-C, so what do you think of them apples, Canikony? Meanwhile, 2021 was a strong Medium Format launch year for them (GFX50S II, GFX100S). I'm thinking that Fujifilm really needs 2023 to be a clean-up-the-mess-that’s-left year. A lot of generational and differently-designed models clutter their lineup, and I believe that more models than the X-A# and X-T### will have to hit the retirement couch. So in 2023 maybe we'll just get an X100VI and some de-cluttering.

Leica quietly left the APS-C realm, and also somewhat quietly dropped a 60mp M11 in 2022. What's left to update? The SL, basically. But the rumors of Panasonic and Leica getting back together after a trial separation might mean things go a different way. Do we get a Panasonic-Leica S body? Both Leica and Panasonic need L-mount to do better in order to stay relevant, particularly in full frame. I believe that will come into focus—see what I did there?—in 2023.

Nikon, like Canon, has a lot to prove. They also have three cameras due for a refresh plus a gap or two they need to fill for a truly full product line. I've written for some time now over on that things at Nikon in 2022 were probably partly slowed due to image sensor changes they need to start making. I'll bet 2023 is the year that we learn what it was Nikon was really working on and why those were slowed. I expect them to surprise, and once again try to move away from Sony Semiconductor in some way (fifth time’s a charm ;~). Previous times that happened, Sony Semi bought all the firms Nikon had contracted with or licensed their intellectual property. I don't think that will happen this time. I believe that Nikon is going to try to spread their business and take back some of their sensor mojo. If true, we should see the first part of that within the next three months. 

OM Digital Solutions now has two cameras with their own branding, instead of the old Olympus brand and naming that needs to be retired. Two or three more models to go. Expect an OM-10 as one of those. The trickier part is that other than the 1, 5, 10 trio, what else will OMDS do? What can they do? I don’t think 2023 is when we find out. 

Panasonic management is having one of those love you, hate you relationships with their camera division. On the one hand, corporate wants higher profit margins than most of the imaging products are returning. On the other hand, there's a lot of "I can't quit you" refrains going on. I already noted the renewed Panasonic-Leica relationship. That's real and heating up. They seem to be in the hot tub smooching and conjuring up things. If Sigma would snuggle up more, it would be a throuple. But what does it mean? I think it means that Panasonic isn't going to leave the m4/3 or full frame markets, but hopes that Leica and some new tech will somehow help them make more profit. I fail to see how that works, and quite frankly, Leica's old reputation for being a bestie lens maker is in my opinion no longer warranted. 

Next we have the company that decided to put their R&D in reverse, and look at developing a new film SLR instead of a mirrorless camera: Ricoh/Pentax. It seems far too easy to write that we won’t see anything mirrorless from them in 2023. But they’ve ghosted us long enough now that we just have to assume being out of mirrorless isn’t some form of corporate pranking.

Which brings us the samurai of mirrorless, Sony. They are becoming more difficult to read. As of late they’ve had a strong vlogging/video emphasis in the E/FE mount: ZV-E10, A7C, FX3, FX30. Moderate updates to two other A7 models. I can’t even remember what the A9 Mark II changed. No A6### updates in three years. Sony tends to work in sequences (themes), so what’s the sequence for 2023? I don’t know, other than to think they’ll have one.

The good news is that the Sony fan base seems to think that the company is “ahead on everything”, so it might not be a big deal to Sony users that there’s no wizard working behind a curtain right now. If I had to predict the Sony theme for the year, it should be APS-C plus firmware updates for the full frame models. But something tells me that I might not be right. They could simply be on a break.

Overall, we got 15 new mirrorless cameras in 2022, and 11 of those were in May or later. The one thing I think I do know is that we won’t see the same sluggish start to 2023 for new products as we did in 2022. I expect the first quarter of 2023 to be very active for new product launches, particularly if CP+, the big consumer trade show in Japan, welcomes visitors again as planned. 

Buckle your belts, folks. The ride is about to get exciting again.

Looking for gear-specific information? Check out our other Web sites:
DSLRS: | general:| Z System: | film SLR:

sansmirror: all text and original images © 2023 Thom Hogan
portions Copyright 1999-2022 Thom Hogan
All Rights Reserved — the contents of this site, including but not limited to its text, illustrations, and concepts, 
may not be utilized, directly or indirectly, to inform, train, or improve any artificial intelligence program or system.