DPReview: Open letter to Panasonic: Innovations in manual focus could make Lumix S a winner for cinematographers

https://www.dpreview.com/opinion/3202272540/open-letter-to-panasonic-long-overdue-innovations-in-manual-focus

“Jack Lam is a cinematographer based in Beijing and Hong Kong. His body of work includes TV commercials, seasonal TV drama series and theatrical feature films. His commercial clients include Cathay Pacific, Lenovo, Airbnb, Alibaba, and Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group. He also works with DJI as a design consultant for their cinema products….

… As a working cinematographer, I am super excited by Panasonic’s announcement of the Lumix S mirrorless camera system. The Panasonic GH5 is so well-designed, it has become a reliable workhorse for many video shooters. I have no doubt a full-frame version of it will be amazing, and everything I read about the S1/S1R confirms that.

However, Lumix S has the potential to become much greater that what we see in this product launch. With this brand new camera system, Panasonic has a unique opportunity to create the perfect small camera system for professional cinematographers. But doing so requires Panasonic to address a long-standing problem that is overlooked by all other camera makers, as well as some rethinking of conventional ideas on camera design.

This missing feature – one that can become a potential killer feature for Panasonic – is good manual focus control for video….

… I want MF control that is simple, accurate, reliable, repeatable, predictable, measurable and ergonomically sound. It should also be wireless-capable and highly integrated as part of the camera (so that we can keep the camera small and don’t need to add six other accessories just to pull focus). Do you know of any small (DSLR/mirrorless) camera in the market that fulfills all of the above requirements? I have found none.”

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Panasonic Lumix DC-S1 35mm sensor mirrorless camera with Panasonic Lumix S 24-105mm f/4 Macro OIS standard zoom lens.

Commentary

olympus_m.zuiko_primes_square_17_25_45_1024px_60%
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 17mm f/1.2 Pro, Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 25mm f/1.2 Pro and Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.2 Pro professional prime lenses with manual clutch focusing, brilliant for shooting video or stills where accurate focus is absolutely critical.

Please note that Jack Lam’s open letter was written late 2018 before the official launch of the Panasonic S1 and S1R cameras and lenses, before detailed specifications were released.

The elephant in the room of mirrorless and DSLR hybrid cameras is manual focusing, and it is pleasing that Mr Lam has addressed it in depth.

The autofocus capabilities of modern mirrorless cameras have been steadily improving for use in stills photography, but I often find myself flipping over into manual focus whenever starting off with autofocus when shooting video, no matter how much innovation has gone into each camera’s video autofocus functions.

The problem of manual focusing limitations in cameras is further compounded by the manual focusing and focus pulling limitations of the lenses that are made for them, with their reliance on non-linear focusing control rings or lack of focusing rings altogether.

Whenever possible I invest in lenses that have manual clutch focus mechanisms and hard stops at each end of the focussing scale, but these lenses can be far and few between in any camera system.

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Fujinon XF 14mm f/2.8 R prime lens with manual clutch focus, equivalent to 21mm in the 35mm sensor format.

Lenses manually focused via control rings are more common, whether the option of switching from non-linear to linear operation is offered in cameras’ firmware or not.

Given a choice, I will always select a manual clutch focus lens over autofocus-only or control ring-only lenses, but then there is another factor, the all-too-common lack of an aperture ring.

The ideal lens for me has both, with a switch for clickless and clicked operation of the aperture ring being the best option for riding exposure in variable light.

I write about this stuff as often as I can but I am nobody and no camera manufacturer pays attention to what I have to say.

It may be a different matter for Jack Lam.

I hope that Panasonic is not the only camera and lens maker that may read Mr Lam’s open letter.

I want Blackmagic Design, Fujifilm and Olympus to read it and act positively upon it too.

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Olympus O-MD E-M1X camera with fully-articulated LCD monitor. I relish having fully-articulated monitors on my Panasonic Micro Four Thirds cameras and use them constantly for photography and video. I am not so enamoured of the two-way, three-way and non-articulating monitors that have been appearing on recent cameras by other manufacturers including Fujifilm, Sony and now Panasonic in its S Series cameras. Full articulation, please, camera makers. 

Manual focus and focus-pulling for video with mirrorless hybrid camera should not have to suck.

I am beyond tired of it sucking on the cameras that I try out and consider for purchase.

I am tired of having to mention it all the time in my articles in the hopes of things changing for the better.

I am sure that my contacts at the camera and lens companies are tired of me and reportedly many others asking them to lift their game.

Mr Lam makes a number of other excellent suggestions on page two of his article as published by DPReview, or you may wish to read it at source, at Mr Lam’s The Right Lens web log below.

For good measure, here is his list of other necessary features, all of which I agree with:

Other Good-to-have Features

While we are at it, here are some good-to-have features that I’d like to see in the Lumix-S system. But they are not nearly as important as a good focus control system.

– GH5-style Flip-out Screen. It is already so good. Don’t change it.

– High-bright Screen. Make it viewable under sunlight. I know it eats battery and heats up quick. But it really is super useful outdoor.

– Internal ND

– 4K 10-bit Log 60fps

– Build-in Video Transmitter or make it an add-on module that is highly integrated with the camera. Monitoring thru WiFi isn’t reliable enough. (I know I am getting greedy…)

– Sturdy, Positive-locking Lens Mount. For the time when we do use a cinema lens. (Just like the mount upgrade option on the Canon C300 MK2)

– Ergonomics. For the video-centric pro model, please, don’t make it too large, otherwise the whole talk about small cameras getting good focus control becomes moot. At least give us one video-centric model with DSLR-like form factor. And please, for god’s sake, don’t make it shaped like the Canon C100 / C300. They have the worst ergonomics.

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L-rumors.com: (L5) Major Panasonic S1-S1R announcement will happen around January 30

https://www.l-rumors.com/l5-major-panasonic-s1-s1r-announcement-will-happen-around-january-30/

We are now 99% certain that Panasonic will have a major S1-S1R related announcement on the days around January 30. This means we will likely get the full specs information and preorder pricing.

Stay tuned for more info to come!…

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Panasonic Lumix S1R 35mm mirrorless digital camera.

Panasonic S1 and S1R

Scenes from photokina 2018 and CES 2019, photographs courtesy of Panasonic.

Commentary

I bought into Panasonic’s excellent DSLR-style and rangefinder-style Micro Four Thirds sensor camera and lens system for documentary stills photography and video when Fujifilm dropped the ball with its first try at an interchangeable lens APS-C mirrorless rangefinder-style camera, the X-Pro1.

The problems making that camera sadly unusable for me were remedied with the later X-Pro2 and also the DSLR-style X-T1 and X-T2, with the recently-released X-T3 delivering almost everything one might desire in a DSLR-style stills/video hybrid camera with the exception of raw video recording via external monitors/recorders such as the Atomos Ninja V, in-body image stabilization, and a fully-articulated LCD monitor for maximum viewing usability whether shooting movies or photographs.

I was so impressed  by my experience of a loaner Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 that I ordered one immediately for documentary work and added a Lumix DMC-GX8 as a second video camera that almost immediately became my number one photography camera.

Both cameras constituted my documentary stills kit with the addition of the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro standard zoom lens with manual clutch focus, the lens that changed my mind about zoom lenses.

I soon added a second Olympus zoom, then a Panasonic prime followed by a Panasonic zoom lens.

I am holding off on more Micro Four Thirds lenses while waiting to see how developments with Olympus’ coming E-M1X pro-quality photography and video camera, Olympus M.Zuiko Pro prime and zoom lenses, Panasonic’s Lumix S Series and the amazing Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Summilux 10-25mm f/1.7 wide-to-normal zoom lens work out this year.

Rumors have it that Olympus’ M.Zuiko Pro lenses are designed in collaboration with Sigma, and whether true or not, Sigma’s membership of the L-Mount group alongside old allies Leica and Panasonic is exciting.

As a longtime though sadly no longer Leica camera and lens user, I would love to be able to afford their current cameras and lenses but Sigma’s Art line prime and zoom lenses’ specifications, image quality results, prices and most of all range of focal lengths impresses as does the company’s cine lens collection.

As I discovered with Fujifilm’s XF APS-C lenses and Panasonic’s M43 Lumix G and Leica DG lens lines, the seldom-spoken downside to new sensor and camera ranges is that it takes years and buckets of manufacturer cash for them to eventually acquire full collections of lenses to suit all their users’ needs.

It is estimated that Canon, for example, took 40 years to achieve that goal with lenses for its 35mm sensor DSLR camera line.

Will Sigma’s presence in the L-Mount consortium and its promised large L-Mount lens collection be persuasive enough to turn 35mm sensor camera users’ heads away from their Canons and Nikons?

The recently announced High Resolution stills and HLG video modes of the Lumix S-Series cameras are impressive but there is more to know about its other features and those of Panasonic’s other cameras in the series.

As a documentary and portrait photographer, I tend to prefer the more portrait and magazine-friendly 4:3 or 3:4 aspect ratios of Micro Four Thirds cameras over the often too-narrow 3:2 or 3:2 of 35mm sensors, and find that fully-articulated LCD monitors are far more useful than any fixed, two-way or three-way tilt screen solutions.

On the other hand, sensor megapixel counts of around 50 or more help produce portraits that possess an uncanny sense of being there especially when printed beautifully and large.

I am looking forward to Panasonic’s January 30 announcements and product shots.

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