Will Panasonic finally give us phase-detection autofocus (PDAF) in its full-frame and Micro Four Thirds Lumix mirrorless cameras? Maybe. This seems to have been skipped by most of us, but last month Panasonic announced a new PTZ camera. Now we occasionally cover PTZ cameras, like the Insta360 Link and that crazy Sony Cinema PTZ camera we saw at IBC 2022 in September, but mostly they’re kind of boring.
However, this one, the imaginatively titled Panasonic AW-UE160W/K, offers something new. At least it’s something new for Panasonic. Phase detection autofocus. Ordinary Filmmaker spotted this and put together a video discussing his thoughts on what this could mean for the future of Panasonic mirrorless cameras.
The key paragraph in the press release for Panasonic’s PTZ camera is as follows:
1. Uncompromised recording performance and operability.
In addition to the high sensitivity of F14 / 2,000 lx 4, which is equivalent to that of a studio camera, and the latest generation of LUMIX image processing, the AW-UE160 is equipped with a newly developed phase-detection autofocus (PDAF) that enables high-speed focusing and can also be used to capture fast-moving subjects. The new PTZ is equipped with a variety of features that enable high-precision video production, including a new PTZ mechanism and hybrid image stabilization.
A PDAF system specially designed for video. This is pretty big news for Panasonic. So far we’ve only seen Panasonic’s Depth-of-Defocus AF system in Panasonic’s mirrorless cameras, which is great for stills, doesn’t work at all with video and only works with Panasonic’s own lenses, not third-party lenses. That being said, it’s basically all just plain old contrast-detect autofocus that’s slow and annoying, chasing randomly for no reason and often missing the subject entirely.
According to Panasonic, the AW-UE160 includes a “newly developed phase-detection autofocus that enables high-speed focusing and can also be used to capture fast-moving subjects”. It was rumored that there would be phase-detection autofocus in the Panasonic GH6, although that obviously didn’t happen – leading to a lot of disappointment in Panasonic MFT shooters. Now that Panasonic has actually implemented it in a camera (even if it’s not an interchangeable-lens mirrorless camera), it bodes well for the future of Panasonic’s Lumix mirrorless cameras.
As someone who owns six Panasonic Lumix MFT mirrorless cameras, I always focus manually when shooting video because autofocus is just too unreliable and unpredictable. And while I wouldn’t use autofocus for video very often, even if it had PDAF, there are certainly times when it would be extremely valuable, even if it was just for convenience when shooting. It might even convince me to go full frame with Panasonic once my Nikon DSLRs start dying.
There hasn’t been any confirmation from Panasonic yet that future mirrorless cameras could get PDAF, and it’s entirely possible that next year’s camera announcements may be too far down the development chain to add PDAF now, so it could be a couple of generations , until we see it, but I suspect it will eventually come. All I can say is it’s about damn time!
The L-mount ecosystem never really caught my eye when it came to replacing my DSLRs, but with Panasonic finally implementing PDAF in a camera, it gives us hope. And if Sigma pulls itself together and gives us a full-frame L-mount Foveon camera for stills too – which might also support PDAF! – it’s pretty much a done deal for me.