2020: The Year Of The 5

Earlier this year Nikon rolled out an entry full frame model called the Z5. Today Panasonic rolled out a new "entry" full frame model called the Panasonic S5. Soon, we expect Sony to roll out an entry full frame model more aimed much more at vlogging, which should probably be called an A5, but won't be. Want to move up to full frame? Just get a 5. 

bythom panasonic s5vlog

Panasonic, like Nikon, seems to have decided to put their entry model very close to their previous entry model in terms of specifications and performance (that would be Z6 for Nikon, S1 for Panasonic). The implication for both is that those older models will now iterate upwards. One difference, though is Panasonic is pushing the video and vlogging aspect more than Nikon is, and has put enough additional (mostly video) features into the S5 that it will get put at the US$2000 price point.

Panasonic, like the other Japanese companies, has finally gotten around to labeling their target market as "creators."  It seems that "photographer" is now a dirty word. 

One thing you look at with the bottom model to a lineup is this: what lower cost parts did the maker substitute to keep gross profit margin up despite the lower retail price? 

In the case of the Panasonic S5, that turns out to not be a lot. The most noticeable downgrades are the 2.36m dot EVF (down from 5.76m) and an articulating 1.84m dot rear display (a change from tilting and 2.1m dot). The S5 also gets two SD slots (only one UHS-II) instead of an XQD and SD UHS-II slot. Weight and size is also down, which would tend to indicate some differences in structural parts materials and simplifications. These all seem like reasonably compromises for the base model in a product line.

The next thing you look at is performance differences, as they also often indicate places where the camera maker has trimmed something. With the S5 those seem somewhat minimal: 7 fps instead of 9 fps, but surprisingly few others. 

As usual with Panasonic, with the S5 we get the usual 4K and 6K photo options, while autofocus is by DFD and not phase detect. Focus bracketing is supported. Communication is USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C, and Wi-Fi 802.11a/n/ac (also b/g/n). Body construction is said to be dust and splash resistant.

What I find more interesting is the overall body bulk: I found the S1 models to be very DSLR-like in size. The S5 is slimmed down and much more akin to the Z5/Z6/Z7 now. Because the functions/performance is so similar, but there's a US$500 price differential, it is now difficult to tell where the S1 fits into Panasonic's plans. They already have an S1H model that ups the video features and an S1R model that ups the pixel count, so it's unclear to me whether there's room for an upgraded S1 in Panasonic's lineup moving forward (and it would have to either go downscale to be the new entry product or substantively upscale in features and performance.

One also has to wonder about Panasonic's m4/3 line with this new model. The S5 (full frame) is smaller than the G9 (m4/3), though the S5 weights two ounces more (56g). As I've noted before, Panasonic got a little off the mark with m4/3 camera size (as did Olympus with the E-M1X). Yes, you can still save bulk/weight with lens selection, but even this advantage is starting to go away as more companies explore full frame lenses that are smaller and lighter (including Panasonic themselves with the 20-60mm f/3.5-5.6 and an apparent four-lens set of f/1.8 L primes that are compact),


So, as of today, we have all four full frame mirrorless makers with solid base products to their full frame lineup:

  • Canon: RP at US$1000 (with R, R6, and R5 models above)
  • Nikon: Z5 at US$1400 (with Z6 and Z7 models above)
  • Panasonic: S5 at US$2000 (with S1, S1H, and S1R models above)
  • Sony A7 Mark III at US$2000 (with A7R, A7S, and A9 models above)

Does that look odd to you? It does to me. A 2x price differential at the low-end of what should be products competing for the same (or at least similar) customer is unheard of. Thus, Panasonic must think that they are targeting someone different. But who would that be? 

Yep, it's probably that vlogger, though many of the video functions in the camera might be "above" the experience of most true vloggers (10-bit 4:2:2, 4:3 anamorphic support, etc.)

Or perhaps (1) Panasonic has another lower-priced camera in the works; or (2) Panasonic has decided to forego the <US$2000 market. Time will tell.


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