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Panasonic Lumix DC-S5 initial review: Digital Photography Review

Image quality

Out-of-camera JPEG.
ISO 100 | 1/160 sec | F5.6 | Panasonic Lumix S 20-60mm F3.5-5.6 lens @ 40mm
Photo by Jeff Keller

Featuring a familiar 24MP sensor that’s similar to competing cameras, the Panasonic Lumix DC-S5 turns in really solid image quality in Raw, and its JPEG engine produces some really nice out-of-camera images.

Key takeaways:

  • Great Raw detail capture, similar to other 24MP rivals
  • JPEG engine offers excellent performance, even at the highest ISO values
  • Dynamic range is also a match for rival cameras
  • High-res mode is truly excellent, so long as you’ve got a sturdy tripod; best results with static scenes, but motion compensation is a strong suit

Our test scene is designed to simulate a variety of textures, colors and detail types you’ll encounter in the real world. It also has two illumination modes to see the effect of different lighting conditions.

Right away we can see that the 24MP sensor in the Lumix S5 offers great detail capture all over the scene that’s broadly a match for its peers. Though like its peers, it does exhibit some moiré (false color) patterning. The S5 continues to perform competitively at higher ISO values as well.

JPEG images hold onto detail well at default parameters, just edging out the Nikon here. But while detail retention is strong, we’ve noticed some stair-stepping artifacts in various places that give a sort of ‘artificial’ look. As ISO values climb, the S5 does a really impressive job, largely avoiding the color blotching the Sony exhibits while still holding onto even low-contrast detail with tenacity. If you’re primarily a JPEG shooter, the S5 is really worth your consideration, as it keeps noise at bay and yet puts up the strongest showing here. Finally, JPEG colors are generally pleasing, though reds aren’t quite as ‘red’ as the pleasing tones Canon cameras (and newer Sony cameras) exhibit, and blues are – like red – slightly magenta shifted; greens are slightly cool and yellows slightly muted compared to the warm greens and golden yellows we prefer from Nikon.

High-res mode

Like its sister model, the S1, the S5 offers a 96MP high-resolution mode that shifts the sensor and combines 8 images together for an impressive level of detail. What’s new to the S5 though is that the camera can now output a JPEG image straight from the camera, whereas the S1 would only produce a Raw file for you.

To our eyes the high-res JPEGs look really good, pulling a nice amount of detail out of the Raw files, which themselves look a bit soft but sharpen up nicely if you do some further fine-tuning. And of course, when downsized to the original 24MP the S5 outputs, the high-res shots show a distinct detail advantage and, because they’re made from multiple images, there’s a noise benefit at higher ISO values.

As we covered earlier in the review, the S5’s high-res mode has a motion compensation option for use with real-world scenes where there’s likely to be some movement of subjects in the scene. We’ve found it to work really well overall; even in this torture test of a real-world scene, the S5 does a reasonable job of handling complex, random motion. Artifacts remain in the water in areas of significant motion, but are just barely visible at high magnification. Meanwhile, static portions of the scene benefit immensely from additional detail and less noise. We think that of all the high-res modes on the market today, Panasonic’s is the one to beat.

Dynamic range

Our exposure latitude test shows no surprises; similar to the Panasonic S1, the S5 turns in a slightly better performance than the Sony a7 III, and easily surpasses the Canon EOS R6. In essence, this is an extremely capable sensor that will stand up to extreme shadow pushes in its Raw files.

As with other cameras that use this similar 24MP chip, the Panasonic S5 isn’t entirely ISO invariant as it uses a dual-gain design; this effectively means you get maximum dynamic range at base ISO, but the camera switches to a higher conversion gain at ISO 800 to give better noise performance from there on up.

In short, this means that if you shoot Raw there’s no advantage to increasing ISO above 800 when using the same shutter speed and aperture, vs. brightening the Raw file yourself in post. Shooting this way helps protect highlights when shooting, for inclusion in post-processing by selective brightening when editing. This method of working can afford you many stops of additional highlight detail provided you utilize an appropriate post-processing workflow and you’re alright with the dark image preview.

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