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It is 2023. 14 years of mirrorless cameras and finally the perfect one might finally be upon us. Autofocus that works perfectly in every mode, no crop 6K, 10bit LOG, full frame and all for under $2000. I am of course referring to the Panasonic S5 II. But there are other interesting choices too.
Here I’ll give you some thoughts on purchasing a new piece of kit for between $1000-$2k, about the runners and riders in this price category.
I recently tried the S5 II for the first time at WEX UK in Manchester. Granted the experience wasn’t quite the same as being in Tokyo for the official launch but it was quite informative. Here’s what I found:
Personally I got on well with the AF system after a rocky start with my Canon EF lenses via the Sigma MC-21 adapter in Single-shot AF mode. In this mode it was hunting and being unreliable. I still have a large collection of Canon lenses and haven’t yet invested in much L-mount. I expect these to work on the S5 II as well as they do on a Sony A7 IV. Thankfully switching to Continuous AF mode and video mode made these older Canon lenses work as well as they do on a Canon Dual Pixel AF body. This was good enough for me. Of course as expected all the native L-mount lenses were completely fine in both modes. So maybe the MC-21 just needs a firmware update for reliable S-AF performance?
The EVF is now also much better – about double the resolution and noticeably larger. It sits between the GH5 and S1H EVF in terms of niceness. The S1H is by the way a massively underrated camera and can be had for the same price as the S5 II now if you’re prepared to search for a used one.
The S5 II’s grip is now a bit deeper, and there are vents around the viewfinder bump which give it a bit less of a ‘consumer camera’ look, and lend it some seriousness. Overall though, it needs to look a bit more serious and a bit less LUMIX G100 vlogger camera. The ergonomics are perfectly serviceable it just doesn’t have as much charm as a Fujifilm or as much photographic DNA as a Leica SL. Good design costs nothing and to spice up the way the camera looks would serve the brand well. Overall the body feels like a Sony clone from China. So work to do there.
The 6K image you get in video mode on the S5 II is probably the best you can get for the price. It has a beefy codec, very wide dynamic range, brilliant colour science, overall it is very close to the S1H.
IBIS has also taken a step forward and now seems to be even more locked down for static shots. This is very good thing, as the ultimate holy grail for IBIS as far as I’m concerned is to properly mimic a locked down tripod shot as to make one obsolete. Only the tiniest, slightest movement or change in framing distracts from that cinematic look. With the brief time I had with the S5 II it was the closest yet to being completely locked down while allowing graceful panning from the palm of your hand.
Canon EOS R7 and Fuji X-H2
I’m a Fuji X-H2 owner and have found the perfect Micro Four Thirds continuity candidate if the format dies. Although it is of course a Super 35mm APS-C camera it has a Micro Four Thirds crop mode perfect for my beloved Super 16mm c-mount lenses. At 40MP it has enough resolution to crop to perfect detailed 4K in this mode. It also shoots 8K ProRes for $1800 with perfect AF and IBIS so not much to complain about really. Although I do prefer Canon LOG to Fuji’s F-LOG. It’s less noisy and easier to grade.
I have noticed that the Canon EOS R7 exists, and has done for a year. It is about $600 less expensive than the Panasonic S5 II, and $400 less than the X-H2. I hadn’t considered trying it until now. As far as APS-C cameras go this and the Fuji X-H2 stand out from the crowd in 2023. If it is full frame you need then the S5 II is without a doubt the value for money king out of all 3 though.
The R7 is a bit like a mini R5, but much more affordable. Certainly better value for money than the EOS R6 II as well. The only thing really lacking on the video side is 8K, internal RAW or 4K/120fps, none of which you’d expect to find for $1400.
The X-H2 is definitely more technically capable than the R7. For an extra $200 from Fuji you’re getting internal ProRes 8K, 6K and 4K all oversampled with no crop. The R7 does oversample from 7K with no crop – yes Canon finally caught up with the Samsung NX1 8 years later.
These on-paper specs complaints don’t do the camera justice though. It’s a nice step forward for $1300 cameras in general not just Canon’s APS-C range. 10bit internal C-LOG 3 for this price is very generous compared to what Canon has given us until now.
The X-H2 will give you that full 8K 10bit ProRes though, should you need it. It also behaves very well with Canon EF lenses via the Fringer XF-EF adapter. Oddly enough, Canon’s latest mirrorless cameras aren’t playing well with adapters to EF or manual focus stuff. Whereas classic lenses work fantastically well on Sony E-mount, Fuji XF and Panasonic L-mount, the R7 IBIS loses 90% of its performance when a non-Canon manual focus lens is attached. So you really need to use RF lenses on the R7 for the best stabilisation performance, and it smacks a bit of a cripple hammer to entice you to buy the native lenses.
This is the case with the EOS R3 as well. I am told that Sony are playing games too – making sure to reserve the best IBIS performance with certain telephoto lenses versus Sigma’s competing alternatives. So it seems to be a bit of a sad trend developing.
Speaking of a sad trend… Thankfully there were no overheating issues on the R7, ditto the X-H2, all fine. S5 II also fine. Barely an issue now but for all the hottest, longest shoots. With the new more power efficient cooler running sensors and image processors, we’ve moved on. Canon has certainly learnt their lesson, miraculously having cured the EOS R5 with a firmware update which rewired the hardware with a little robot, removed the magic screw from the battery card door and did a little dance on the way out.
The R7 has a 15fps mechanical shutter which is at the level of a 1D X Mark II from a few years ago. This is very impressive for such an affordable camera. I do still prefer a mechanical shutter for stills. Both for trivial and real reasons. In terms of the trivial, I like a good slam and satisfying clunk when taking a photo. Let’s the subject know you’re actually doing something too. However on the EOS R7 the shutter sounds like a hamster being decapitated with office stationary, where the Fuji X-H2 is far superior, with a much softer and more satisfying shutter mechanism.
On all of these cameras without stacked sensors, rolling shutter is still an issue in the full sensor, full resolution electronic shutter modes. It only really comes in handy for me when doing Timelapse, to avoid running down the life of the mechanical shutter, or for very bright light at very fast apertures to achieve 1/16000. In video mode, it depends what frame rate you’re using as to how bad the rolling shutter is. It also depends how you’re shooting and what. 4K 60fps on the R7 and S5 II won’t give you much noticeable jello to worry about. In 4K/24p they are still a bit iffy!
Crop mode fun
The S5 II doesn’t crop in the open gate anamorphic 6K 3:2 and 4K up to 30fps. The 6K now comes in 17:9 and 16:9 not just 3:2 which is a sensible change! Unfortunately the S5 II does still crop to achieve 4K/60p (crops to APS-C) whereas the older S1R pixel bins instead to achieve 4K/60fps in full frame. Would have been nice to see this compromise on the S5 II as well. Especially as the Canon EOS R6 Mark II does full frame 4K/60fps. If it’s 4K/60 you’re interested in shooting 99% of the time then you will either need to get an S1R and forgo the nice new AF, or go for one of the APS-C cameras (X-H2, R7).
On the X-H2 there are additional crop modes in the menus. You can for example select 1.4x crop which produces a 2x overall crop identical to Micro Four Thirds. In this mode you may use Super 16mm c-mount and Arriflex lenses. For me this is a big plus. I adore these lenses. On the R7 you can select a 1:1 sensor crop for extra reach and it punches into about 2.8x overall. That is quite a bit further into the image circle of the C-mount lenses but closer to actual Super 16mm, thus what these lenses were designed to do. You lose some of the attractive funkiness though.
If you are interested in using S16mm lenses I think the X-H2 is the best choice on the market today. It has the very high resolution sensor to do very good quality video in crop mode and it has the adapters to XF mount. The only RF to C-mount lens adapter I know of is by Kipon and doesn’t seem to be widely available. An additional crop can be coaxed out of the R7 by enabling the enhanced IS mode in APS-C but this degrades image quality and there isn’t a Clear Image Zoom feature like the one found on Sony’s mirrorless cameras.
So what would I go for in 2023?
Suppose I wanted a second body (or in my case a 223rd) or had a budget for a new camera under $2000, not including new lenses. Full frame I would go for S5 II or a used S1 / S1R. They have the best image, the best features. You’re getting a $3000 level image and feature-set for much less. I would go for the S5 II over the Sony A7 IV, but only if you’re not already invested in the E-mount ecosystem of lenses and adapters. Anamorphic, I would go S5 II also, since the other manufacturers still don’t seem interested in implementing support for it. Real-time LUTs and phase-detect AF round off the S5 II in summary, a superb value for money camera.
If I didn’t need full frame and wanted change left over for a lens, I would probably pick the Fuji X-H2. The paper-specs push the mid-$1000 camera market forward dramatically. We’re talking new territory with 8K and internal ProRes recording, 40 megapixel sensor, plus the fact overall it gives a general feeling of tip-top quality, from the soft shutter mechanism, to the huge EVF and new 40 megapixel sensor, they didn’t cut many corners at all given the price. I also find the Film Simulations a big draw.
The R7 is a good option if you’re planning to invest in RF lenses. I don’t think it’s entirely ideal for adapting manual focus stuff to. It’s a crop sensor. The IBIS packs up and goes home. Stick an RF 18-150mm on there though and you have a great shot-getter. Remember the XC-10? Well this is that on steroids.
The R10 is also an interesting option if you’re planning to spend even less. It does quite a bit of what the R7 does, but lacks IBIS and the larger EVF & bigger battery. It lacks 10bit and C-LOG 3 but you can add mine.
The last remaining big difference is that the R10 doesn’t do 4K/60p without a crop, whereas the R7 can do this full width with pixel binning or 1:1 crop of the sensor. The R10 has a 24 megapixel sensor though vs 32 megapixel of the R7. In terms of K that is 6K vs 7K. The 4K/60p has a crop factor closer to Micro Four Thirds than to Super 16 on the R10.
What about the EOS R6 Mark II?
That’s a factor too, but right now at the time of writing it is a hefty £2700 in the UK body only which is a full £700 more than the Panasonic S5 II. Canon’s pricing seems to be based on the Sony a7 IV which came out at £2500, itself a big increase on the previous A7 III.
Both of them are too expensive now the S5 II exists. Canon and Sony have a lot of people locked in though.
My advice to anyone not invested in RF or E-mount lenses and thinking of getting an R6 Mark II or A7 IV is consider the S5 II instead.