Arriving in stores only weeks apart and at the same price, the Panasonic S5 IIX and Sony ZV-E1 are full frame, video optimized cameras designed for creators. Obviously, I had no choice but to compare them!
I wanted a real world test, so I filmed our Leica M11 Monochrom episode on the ZV-E1 and an upcoming episode on the S5 IIX. For a point-by-point comparison of how they stack up in a number of categories, you’ll want to watch the video embedded above. But if there is one takeaway I found while shooting those episodes, it is that these cameras will each appeal to two very different types of creators.
The Panasonic S5 IIX is essentially the already very capable S5 II body but with several additional video features. ProRes recording, All-I compression, USB to SSD recording, enhanced live streaming functionality, and external RAW video capture are all useful video functions that would have added to the S5 II’s price, so Panasonic has wisely given photographers the option to save some money, and videographers these useful features at a $200 premium (albeit months after the S5 II release).
For years, Panasonic cameras have been celebrated by videographers including myself for their excellent image quality, intuitive controls and handy assist tools. The compromise until last year was enduring the sub-par autofocus or relying on manual focus. The S5 II and now S5 IIX changed all that, implementing phase detect autofocus alongside all the historic Lumix strengths. While the sensor resolution and readout are unchanged from the older S5, the addition of useable autofocus and some of the GH6’s new tools make it feel like a completely new camera.
If you have a video background, the S5 IIX is an absolute pleasure to shoot with. I think camera operators who film a variety of subjects will find this camera to be the best choice at this price.
The Sony ZV-E1 takes a completely different approach. Forgoing an EVF, dual card slots, and full size HDMI of the a7S III, Sony made an incredibly light and compact full frame camera. The very fast 12-megapixel (actually 48-megapixel quad-bayer, but don’t worry about that) sensor allows full width 4K/60P recording and minimal rolling shutter. It was previously only offered in the much more expensive Alpha 7S III, FX3, and FX6, and makes perfect sense for vlogging and travel video.
The ZV-E1 is packed with professional video functionality, but Sony has really focused on making the camera approachable for creators who might be intimidated by video jargon. In a new touch screen menu, “Brightness” replaces exposure, “Background Defocus” replaces aperture, and “Color” replaces white balance. Dedicated buttons for “Product Showcase” (which will prioritize focus objects held up to the camera), and “Background Defocus” (which toggles the background in and out of focus) serve to make the ZV-E1 even less intimidating. The built in microphone and included fuzzy cover combine to make it possible to get usable audio without purchasing an external mic.
Despite being full frame cameras directly targeting creators, the ZV-E1 and S5 IIX will end up being best suited for different users. Anyone with a background in video production will find the Panasonic to be immediately intuitive, and the features added specifically to the S5 IIX will meet any delivery requirements their clients might have.
Experienced users can certainly achieve fantastic results with the ZV-E1, but they might find themselves annoyed as they past all the features designed to make the camera more approachable, into the very deep menu system to find what they need. I certainly found the ZV-E1 much more cumbersome to use than the Alpha 7S III or FX3.
However, creators without a background in video production will likely find the Panasonic S5 IIX to be initially intimidating — it certainly requires some know-how to take full advantage of its powerful feature set. This is where the Sony excels, many of the features that got in my way while testing the camera will help creators to immediately be, you know, creative. I suspect both cameras will find a large, but unique, audience and hopefully you now have a better idea which might be the better choice for you.